Writer has regrets after finding papers, photos of uncle’s military service following his death.
(Editor’s note: Gordon Paulus, Communications specialist with Gulf Power, shares a story on who he will be thinking about on Memorial Day … his Uncle Russell, who served in the Korean War.
In writing Memorial Day features over the past 14 years on employees who shared their stories on a family member in the military, I asked a lot of questions.
I now wish I had asked more questions of my Uncle Russell.
Russell Henry Paulus Jr., who died in 2016 at age 89, served in the Korean War with the U.S. Army. When I visited with him over the years, he briefly mentioned his time there. I knew he was an MP; he worked in a field hospital.
As a military history buff, I’ve read a lot about the Korean War, where more than 50,000 U.S. military personnel died between 1950 and 1953. It’s called The Forgotten War. I already had a tremendous appreciation for the sacrifice those soldiers made in some brutal conditions.
Uncle Russell would recall the story of walking alongside prisoners to a prisoner of war camp with an empty M-1 carbine semiautomatic rifle because they didn’t want the guards to be captured with ammunition that the prisoners could use to escape.
Uncle Russell and his wife, Regina, never had children, so we nephews and nieces were put in charge of his possessions after he died. I received his military papers that detailed his history
When I first looked through the container, I was stunned. It was a history buff’s treasure trove. I found yellowed copies of his service records. Then, I spied yellow boxes of about 300 35-millimeter photo slides.
I started trembling with excitement. He had written Korea War on some of the boxes. As I held a few up to the light, I saw images of scenes from the Korean War. I was even more stunned after I got the slides back from a developer who put the photos on a CD.
Many were photos that my uncle took of himself and the scenes in Korea where he served. (I also found a photo slides of his honeymoon after the war, but I don’t think I’ll develop those.)
His military papers were meticulous in their detail. He saved copies of all of his orders. He joined the Army in 1948, at age 22, completed basic training at Fort Ord, California, and joined the ranks of the 1stBattalion 22ndInfantry regiment. He was assigned to the Arkansas Military District as clerk-typist. But next to that designation, he also qualified as a sharpshooter.
In August 1951, he resigned from his post in Arkansas, then re-enlisted in the Army to serve in Korea. He was promoted to sergeant and left for Korea on Feb. 15, 1952.
He was assigned to the 92ndMilitary Police Battalion, guarding prisoners of war. In November 1952, he was assigned as an administration specialist to the 14thField Hospital, which served prisoners of war from North Korea and China.
He had photos of the prison camps, the field hospital and scenes from around the country. Photos of a general and his staff inside a prisoner camp were among the collection.
After some research, I found out that those photos were of Gen. Francis Dodd, who shortly after Uncle Russell took the photos, was taken hostage by prisoners of the camp on Koje-do Island, located just off the southern coast of South Korea. As I was looking at YouTube videos of the prisoner riots, the footage showed prisoners being marched down a dirt road with MP soldiers flanking them. And Uncle Russell suddenly came into view.
The war ended in July 1953 and Uncle Russell was released from the U.S. Army later that year. He returned to Arkansas where he married and began his career working for the state.
As I poured over his records and photos, I became more regretful that I did not ask him more questions about his time in the Korean War. What made him re-enlist so he could go to Korea? What were the prisoners like in the camp and the hospital? Did he ever get to carry a gun with a bullet?
But his military papers and his treasure trove of photos from that time has increased my appreciation of his service in the military. I know that many veterans keep their military experiences private, but if you have a family member who is a veteran and willing to talk, ask them questions and learn about their history.
Even though I missed a chance, seeing the military papers and photos of my uncle gives me a greater appreciation for veterans on Memorial Day and every day.
Thank you, Uncle Russell.