A 20-year-old corporal from Fort Hancock sacrificed his life on the night of Sept. 6-7, 1952 and became the fourth native Texan to earn the Medal of Honor in the Korean War.
Secretary of State Dean Acheson told a congressional committee on Jun. 20, 1950 that, alarming rumors to the contrary, military conflict in Korea was not imminent. Five days later, the well-equipped North invaded the unprepared South.
Under the banner of the new United Nations, the U.S. and 15 other countries rushed to the aid of the South Koreans. At the peak of the fighting, 1.1 million UN troops (480,000 Americans, 590,000 South Koreans and 39,000 from the supporting cast) faced a North Korean Army a quarter of a million strong backed by 780,000 Chinese “volunteers.”
Frank N. Mitchell was born at Indian Gap in Hamilton County and educated at Roaring Springs in the Panhandle. At 18, he enlisted in the Marines in 1939 and was discharged a second lieutenant at the end of WWII.
Mitchell attended three different colleges and even played football at the third, Texas Tech. The husband and father answered duty’s call and rejoined the Corps.
The first lieutenant was on patrol with his rifle platoon on Nov. 26, 1950, when the unit came under fire. Several of his men went down, and Mitchell grabbed an automatic rifle from one of the wounded and turned it on the North Koreans.
Running out of ammunition, the brave officer lobbed grenade after grenade while at the same time rallying the bloodied Marines. Though wounded, Mitchell organized the crippled platoon for the counterattack that the Marines repulsed in hand-to-hand fashion.
As darkness fell, Lt. Mitchell collected the missing and wounded and directed their evacuation. Then, when least expected, shots rang out killing Texas’ first Medal of Honor recipient in the so-called “police action.”
Four days after the death of Frank Mitchell, Marine reservist Whitt Lloyd Moreland was called to active duty. A Waco native who played high school football at Junction, the 20-year-old intelligence scout was shipped overseas in record time.
On May 29, 1951, PFC Moreland volunteered for a dangerous assault on an enemy infested hill. Once that objective was secured, he led a smaller group of Marines in an even more hazardous attack on a bunker 400 meters away.
Grenades soon started raining down on the Americans. The Texan managed to kick three or four out of killing range but slipped and fell on his next attempt.
Moreland rolled over and came face-to-face with the live grenade. Quoting from his Medal of Honor citation: “He shouted a warning to his comrades, covered the missile with his body and absorbed the full blast of the explosion, but in saving his companions from possible injury or death, was mortally wounded.”
As a fighter pilot in the Pacific during the Second World War, George Andrew Davis, Jr. of Dublin was among the first to fly the P-47. He came home a combat “ace” with seven confirmed kills and a chestful of medals.
Major Davis climbed into the cockpit of his F-86 Saber on Feb. 10, 1952 for his 60th mission of the Korean War. His job on this fateful day was to escort bombers on a low-level run against enemy positions.
The flight of four Sabers was reduced to two after an oxygen shortage forced the leader to turn back with his wingman. Just as the Yalu River came into sight, a dozen MIG-15s broke through the clouds heading straight for the sitting-duck bombers.
The two remaining American pilots ignored the odds and tore into the enemy formation. Davis shot down two MIGs – his 13th and 14th of the campaign – and had a third in his sights, when a direct hit caused the jet to spin out of control and crash into a mountain. The third Medal of Honor winner from Texas died the leading ace of the war.
On the night of Sep. 6-7, 1952, Corporal Benito Martinez from the Rio Grande crossing of Fort Hancock was hunkered down with three other soldiers in a forward listening post. The North Koreans began shelling around midnight in preparation for an all-out assault.
When Martinez spotted silhouetted shapes crawling toward his position in moonlight, he sent his three comrades to the rear. Minutes later the telephone rang in the small bunker. It was his commanding officer ordering him to get out.
Martinez respectfully refused to abandon his post saying he would stay put and keep the enemy busy. The Texan did just that until he emptied his machine gun and fell back to a second partially destroyed bunker with only an automatic rifle and a pistol.
Martinez miraculously held off the North Koreans for six more hours. As dawn broke, he spoke on the phone to his lieutenant one last time. Enemy soldiers were massing for a charge he knew he could not survive.
They found the courageous corporal later that morning surrounded by dead North Koreans. He had gone down fighting with an empty ammo clip in one hand and a .45 in the other.
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