JAMES RAY JANCA
By Todd Blomerth
James Ray Janca was born in Luling, Texas on October 3, 1931. His father was John Joseph (J.J.) Janca, and his mother was Margaret August (Nied) Janca. He was the third child of the couple. Joseph Edward and Dorothy Margaret were his older siblings. His younger brother was John David (Bubba). J.J. and Margaret were of Moravian and German heritage.
The family lived on the Lockhart Road and later at 321 Walnut Street in Luling. J.J. owned and operated Luling Battery and Electric Company, an auto parts store, for many years. Margaret was active in the Texas Home Demonstration Association. James Ray was to have graduated from Luling High School in 1950. The Aquila has his junior year picture, but there is no senior picture for the Class of 1950. After high school, James Ray enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. After boot camp and advanced training he was assigned to the 1st Marine Division.
In March of 1951, PFC Janca joined up with Company H, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division as a machine gunner. The 1st Division had been fighting in Korea since shortly after the invasion by the North Koreans in August of 1950.
After the United Nations force pushed the North Koreans almost out of their country in the autumn of 1950, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) communist troops, which had been in hiding in North Korea, struck back with a vengeance. The First Marine Division conducted a fighting retreat from the Chosin Reservoir during the misery of the peninsula’s sub-zero winter. Without a doubt it was one of the most seasoned units on the peninsula.
By April of 1951 the US and its allies had been pushed back down in South Korea. After undermining attempts at a negotiated peace, General Douglas MacArthur (who commanded from Tokyo and never spent a night in Korea) was relieved of command by President Truman. General Matthew Ridgway was placed in overall command. His instructions were to stabilize the front lines and stop what had been dubbed an “accordion war.” Chinese and North Korean troops made further advances into the south, but logistically were in trouble and had been badly blooded in trying to recover the initiative and push the United Nations forces out of the Korean peninsula. Their losses were horrific. But their willingness to serve up lives meant that the predominantly US led United Nations troops (which included British, Canadian, Australian, Philippine, Turkish, Republic of Korea, and several other countries’ troops) also took many casualties. The UN established a defensive line roughly along the 38th Parallel, or “Line Kansas.” Then Ridgway initiated Operation “Piledriver” in an attempt to push the communists out of the “Iron Triangle,” just north of the UN main line of resistance in the center of the peninsula, and move north some twelve miles to “Line Wyoming.” The communist Chinese and North Koreans had built up substantial strength here, and had decent rail and road lines into the area. An anticipated strike by the communists would rely on this area’s resources and had to be hit hard. Line Wyoming would afford better defensive positions, and put the UN in a better position to force a truce. Meanwhile to the west, communist forces launched an all-out “Spring Offensive,” pushing the UN forces back toward the South Korean capital of Seoul, which the UN had just liberated in March. The enemy drove south almost twenty miles, until on May 21, 1951, the UN counterattacked and drove the communists back to the 38th Parallel.
The 1st Marine Division continued to attack northward into the Iron Triangle. The Division’s Historical Diary for June 13, 1951 (declassified) reads:
1st Marines: On 13 June, the Regiment attacked on the right in zone to seize and secure Division Objective DOG…. After a heavy artillery preparation, the 3rd Battalion jumped off for Division Objective DOG at 0800K. Regimental Objective 1 was secured without enemy opposition, at 0814K. Following an air strike the Battalion continued the attack on Objective 2, Hill 787. Heavy small arms, and automatic weapons fire was received as the troops assaulted ridge-line 700.Hill 787 was taken by hand to hand fighting at 1055K, and the enemy withdrew toward DT1229-B…. Heavy mortar and 76mm artillery fire was received during the Regiment’s attack throughout the day.
Somewhere in this fighting, near the southern edge of an area dubbed “The Punchbowl,” James Ray Janca was killed, probably by artillery fire.
American forces captured the North Korean capital of Pyongyang on June 14th, but were pushed back three days later. The destruction of many of the strongest communist defenses in the Iron Triangle, and the air interdiction of communist supply lines finally forced the beginning of truce talks on July 10, 1951. For the next two years, fighting would continue along the 38th Parallel.
When news of his death hit Luling, flags were lowered to half-staff. James was brought home and is buried in the Luling Cemetery. On July 29, 1951, a groundbreaking took place on West Houston Street for Luling’s first low-income housing project. The thirty residences were officially designated “James Ray Janca Homes” in his memory. The dedication was sponsored by the Benton McCarley Post 177, American Legion. In attendance were city and county officials, the project’s manager and architect and Ms. Joyce Rutledge, the first Luling Housing Authority executive director.
On October 17, 1951 J.J. applied for a military headstone for his son’s grave. It now rests over his grave. PFC James Ray Janca was nineteen years old.
Acknowledgement: The author owes much to Paul I Gulick’s monograph “How Company, Third Battalion, First Marine Division” revised 2008, http://koreanwareducator.org/topics/branch_accounts/marine/h31_marines_in_korea_part_1.pdf for his exhaustive compilation of daily reports and oral histories that gives a vivid understanding of How Company’s daily dance with death on the Korean Peninsula.
(Historical aside: 1951 was a period of segregation, sadly. The same day that James Ray Janca’s name was memorialized on thirty low-income residences, the Latin American units, ten total, were dedicated to an Hispanic soldier from Luling, Gilbert Gutierrez, killed in World War II. The African-American housing units were named in honor of Willie Lovell Wade, a black sailor who went down with the aircraft carrier Wasp in 1942.)