David Cone, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, vividly remembers his experiences during the Korean War, especially when he was wounded during a battle between his regiment and Chinese soldiers 66 years ago.
Cone, who was a second lieutenant on July 18, 1952, was leading his platoon of 40 soldiers, who defended a hill called “Old Baldy” in the west-central section of South Korea, he said. A Chinese soldier about 4,000 yards away fired a 120-millimeter mortar shell, wounding him.
“I would like to shake his hand,” Cone said. “Being wounded the way that I was probably saved my life. If I had stayed on that hill, I probably wouldn’t have made it down alive.”
Cone’s journey to the Korean War started when he graduated in June 1951 from The Citadel in Charleston, S.C.
Cone, who is now 87, completed the basic officer’s course at Fort Benning, Ga., in July 1951 and received additional training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C. He later was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division, and he joined his unit, Company K of the 23rd Infantry Regiment, in Chuncon, South Korea, in April 1952.
After he was wounded, Cone was taken to the 8055th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, where a doctor removed the mortar fragment from near his hip, he said.
An Army doctor later sent him back to his unit. Two months later, his company fought Chinese troops again in the area known as Arrowhead Ridge, just north of 38th Parallel in North Korea, Cone said. His unit repelled the Chinese attack, but his company suffered heavy casualties.
Cone survived that battle with no injuries, he said.
“I went up there and counted 300 dead Chinese (soldiers),” Cone said. “We didn’t mind that at all.”
Cone was later reassigned to an Army base in Japan, but he returned to South Korea in June 1953, where his unit was among the American soldiers who guarded North Korean prisoners of war on Koje-do, an island off the southern coast of South Korea. About 170,000 prisoners of war and civilians were held on the island.
“That was the first time that I actually saw any North Korean soldiers,” Cone said.
Cone was at Koje-do when the war ended on July 27, 1953, in an armistice between the United States, China, North Korea and South Korea.
The war started on June 25, 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea and eventually pushed South Korean and U.S. troops back into a perimeter surrounding Pusan, South Korea. United Nation troops eventually drove out North Korean forces from South Korea. U.N. forces moved into areas near Yalu River and the Chinese border.
Chinese troops helped North Korea drive out U.S.-led U.N. forces. The war was fought around the 38th Parallel, which separated North and South Korea for next two years until the armistice was reached.
The United States reported 33,741 military personnel killed and another 103,284 wounded during the conflict, according to a history of the Korean War on the U.S. Department of Defense’s website.
The remains of more than 8,000 Americans have yet to be recovered.
South Korea had 187,000 soldiers killed, about 429,000 wounded, and 30,000 missing, the Defense Department website reports. Estimates of dead and missing South Korean civilians range from 500,000 to 1 million people.
About 1.5 million North Korean soldiers and civilians died in the war. Estimates for dead and missing Chinese soldiers range from 600,000 to 800,000, according to the Defense Department.
Cone said he saw his share of the casualties.
“I’ve seen more dead bodies than most coroners,” Cone said.
Nevertheless, the United States was morally right to fight in the Korean War, he said. A few South Korean immigrants who live in Winston-Salem have thanked Cone for his service.
“I said, ‘thank you,’ but I didn’t do it alone,” Cone said. “We saved South Korean from being overrun by North Korea.”
The war became known as the “Forgotten War.”
“The American public forget about it as it was going on,” Cone said. “People who had family members there paid attention to it.”
Most U.S. soldiers didn’t resent American civilians who ignored their efforts in the war, he said.
“We just did our jobs,” Cone said. “What civilians thought about the war wasn’t our problem.”
During the mid-1950s to 1961, Cone served as a first lieutenant at an Army/Air Force recruiting office in Nashville, Tenn., before he landed a job a senior ROTC instructor at East Tennessee State College. He then served as a ROTC instructor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Tenn.
Cone was later assigned as captain commanding an infantry company in the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii, he said. He went on to train as a paratrooper when he was assigned as a major to the Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
From July 1966 to July 1967, Cone served in the Vietnam War as a U.S. military adviser to a South Vietnamese Army division based in Quang Ngai, South Vietnam. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel while in South Vietnam.
Cone retired in 1971 after he served as instructor and the deputy director of the Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, he said. In 1973, he landed a job as ROTC instructor at Paisley High School, where he worked until 1984.
He later worked as a substitute ROTC instructor at Mount Tabor High School for nine months in 1993.
“I couldn’t be anonymous in this town even if I wanted to be,” Cone said. “I got former students everywhere.”
For the past 25 years, he has talked to visitors at the Guilford Courthouse Military Park about the history of the American soldier, Cone said.
As a retired officer, Cone is still a member of the U.S. Army reserves, he said. He could serve in the Army again if he volunteered and if the Pentagon needed him, despite his age.
“If there is anything I could do, I’m ready to volunteer,” Cone said. “I wanted to be soldier, and I was a soldier.”