Sallisaw’s Veterans’ Day ceremonies have been changed to 11 a.m. Thursday due to a stormy weather forecast on Wednesday, Nov. 11, the traditional date. The ceremony will be held on the lawn at Stanley Tubbs Memorial Library in downtown Sallisaw.
Millard McCormack, 85 and a veteran of the Korean War, will be the honored veteran who will lay the wreath at the war memorial. Tom Stites will be the guest speaker.
McCormack was drafted into the U.S. Army in January 1951 and did his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. He served with the 24th Infantry Division, 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion D Co., and was in South Korea for eight months, from the latter part of 1951 into 1952.
“I was in Korea for eight months and I never was in a building that was whole,” McCormack recalled about that cold war turned hot, a conflict with incidents that continue to this day even though an armistice was signed in 1953.
The Korean War was so cold that McCormack’s feet were frozen and toes damaged to such a point that he still suffers the consequences.
“I didn’t go to the doctor,” McCormack said. “I was afraid they would send me to another company. I didn’t want to leave my friends.”
McCormack said he spent most of the time on the front, which was at the 38th parallel that separates North and South Korea.
“We laid anti-personnel mines, serviced roads, built roads and an air strip,” he recalled. “We supported the combat teams.”
McCormack has many stories to tell of his eight months in Korea and nearly three years in the U.S. Army. He vividly remembers the friends he lost. Even though he was in an engineering battalion, he still had to confront the North Koreans.
McCormack recalled he and fellow soldiers had to build fox holes to avoid the mortars sent their way by the North Koreans. He had dug his own fox hole, just big enough for himself. But when the shooting started, another soldier jumped into the fox hole too. And the young man wouldn’t leave. Questioned by the older McCormack, the young man finally admitted to being terrified and only age 15. He survived that barrage, but not the war.
McCormack recalled how that young man lost his life.
“We were on a spearhead, following in the tracks of a tank. They told us not to step out of the tracks because we might step on a mine. But he did. He stepped out of the tracks and he stepped on a mine and he was killed.”
McCormack had to help load the young man’s body into a body bag.
“I had two friends in the company that were killed,” he said. “Another was just coming back from taking a shower and he got hit by a mortar, incoming fire. We had to protect ourselves from the aircraft and mortar shells.”
McCormack said he made friends among the South Koreans too.
“The South Koreans were the laborers for our company. The South Koreans were really nice to us. I bartered rations with them to wash my clothes. I don’t drink and don’t smoke, so I bartered beer and cigarettes and chocolate with them to clean my clothes. We had lots of Hershey bars.”
McCormack has a keen mind and sharp memory, and has many photos to keep those memories alive. He recalls he had a $2 Brownie camera with him in South Korea, and has photos of his friends, fellow soldiers and the South Koreans. The memories mean a great deal to him.
His family at home missed him, and his mother and father filed for and received a hardship award, which would allow their son to come home.
McCormack recalled, “I was on the front lines behind a big rock, and this man stepped out from behind the rock. He gave me an envelope with papers and said I could go home because my parents had filed for hardship. I tore it up and stayed.”
McCormack continued, “I didn’t understand why I was there but I loved my country! I was keeping my family safe at home so they wouldn’t come over here.”
McCormack’s tour of duty in South Korea ended at eight months and he was shipped to Japan.
“I was there on occupation duty for five months and was there when they (occupation forces) turned Japan back over to their government,” McCormack recalled.
From there McCormack moved on to Fort Sill in Oklahoma for another four months. He was discharged on Oct. 18, 1952.
“I reached the rank of corporal,” he said. “They offered me the rank of sergeant if I would re-enlist. But I wanted to come home.”
Asked what the best part of his nearly three years in the U.S. Army was, McCormack answered quickly, “Getting to come home!”
He brought one of those 1950s embroidered satin jackets home from Japan. McCormack’s daughter, Susan Chandler, will wear it proudly at the Veterans’ Day ceremony.
Chandler reports, with pride in her voice, “He’s said that, with all that’s going on in the world today, if they needed him as an old man, he’d be there. He still speaks of his service with pride.”
McCormack’s wife of nearly 62 years, Evelynn, said about her husband, “He loved the service. He loves America. He’s always felt that way.”
She ended with, “He’s a corker, and I love him. I call him my old crow. He’s a good man.”
The kind of good man and veteran that the U.S. of America needs and honors on every Nov. 11.
Members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4518 and American Legion Post No. 27 will partner with the Sallisaw Chamber of Commerce to present the Veterans Day Ceremony on Nov. 12.
Veterans of the two posts will present the 21-gun salute, and Bill Brown and Ivan Boatwright will raise the flag. Frank Sullivan III will be the master of ceremonies.
Bill Aydelott will say the opening and closing prayers. Sallisaw High School students will present the music. Elizabeth Spencer will sing the National Anthem, Bethany Smith will sing “American the Beautiful” and Brandy Bateman will sing “Just a Dream.”
Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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