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Saluting our War Heroes: Chuck Harvey, Korean War vet who wanted to play bugle but got Purple Heart

Chuck W. Harvey, 81

Hometown: Niagara Falls

Residence: Town of Lockport

Branch: Marine Corps

Rank: corporal

War zone: Korean War

Years of service: enlisted, February 1952 - February 1955

Most prominent honors: Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge, Korean War Medal

Specialty: infantry, and drum and bugle corps

 

As they climbed down rope cargo nets on the side of the troop ship, the sergeant barked at the Marines.

“Don’t look down and don’t step on your buddies hands below you.”

Eighteen-year-old Chuck W. Harvey, carrying all of his fighting gear on his back, managed to follow orders and dropped into a landing craft without incident.

He was one of 5,000 Marines arriving on Feb. 5, 1953, at Incheon, South Korea, to fight against the North Koreans and Chinese in the Korean War.

Harvey’s heart was torn.

“Every Marine received advanced combat training, but I played the trumpet and had also received four months of training with a drum and bugle corps. Four or five day before we landed, I was told I was going to be transferred to a front-line outfit.”

As the landing craft motored toward shore, Harvey realized he might never return home to Niagara Falls.

“I had quit Gaskill Junior High School when I was 16 to become a baker at Niagara Fancy Bakery on East Falls Street but it didn’t work out and I went back to school for a short time. I quit school again to join the Marine Corps.”

He remembers what the school principal told him.

“He put his arm around my shoulders and said, ‘You know, Charles, this isn’t what an educator is supposed to say, but I think this is the best selection for you.’ It was comforting to hear that. I was still basically a kid.”

Harvey’s mother, Harriet, had signed the early enlistment papers so he could join at 17.

Once ashore at Incheon, he and the other Marines boarded a northbound train “headed as far as the train could take us to the front lines.”

Then they climbed into northbound trucks covered with green canvas roofs.

On the way, he started talking to another 18 year old, Herbie Moore from Wisconsin. It was the start of a lifelong friendship.

“When we got out of the trucks, we walked and all I could hear was artillery, machine guns and mortars. The mortars were the worst damn things,” Harvey said.

Members of “Item Company,” 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Harvey and Moore climbed a steep hill to their bunker, relying on a rope so that they would not lose their footing in the mud and darkness.

Inside the bunker, Harvey and Moore made friends with other Marines and familiarized themselves with the 3.5 rocket launchers they would be operating.

“We would climb out of the bunker and over the top of the hill and into the trenches on the front lines. We were multi-taskers. We replenished ammo, fired our rocket launchers and repaired our bunkers,” Harvey said of the combat routine.

Daytime was rough, but nighttime was even worse.

“We’d go out on night patrols and it was hard to see.”

That, he said, increased the chances of stepping on less-than-lethal “shoe box mines” intended to blow off a foot or break a leg.

“The enemy knew if they just injured a Marine, three or four others would come to his assistance and do whatever they could.”

The enemy also sought kills with “Bouncing Betty” land mines.

“The shrapnel hit you in the stomach,” Harvey explained. “You were cognizant of these things, but you couldn’t let it interfere with what you had to do.”

There were different types of night patrols.

“In combat patrols, we went out looking for trouble, in reconnaissance patrols we gathered information and we also had listening patrols. You could literally hear the enemy talking,” he said. “We could also smell them sometimes. They ate garlic and smoked opium.”

Occasionally, Harvey said, all was quiet “and you could almost rest and that was a blessing.”

Toward the end of his war duty in July 1953, he recalled catching a break with mess hall duty. But it was short lived. He remembers the night of July 8.

“We had just gone to sack, maybe 11, 11:30, and we could hear our guys firing 4.5 Charlie rockets at the enemy and the rockets were going over our tents. Whatever was happening, it wasn’t good.”

Suddenly somebody ran into the mess hall crew’s tent.

“‘Grab your weapons, we’re going up.’ We boarded the trucks and the road we took was ‘76 Alley.’ That was the weapon the Chinese fired at us and they were accurate.”

One of the guns knocked out the truck in front of Harvey’s and in a flash, he and other Marines leaped into a nearby rice paddy.

“You just react. That’s what adrenaline and training can do.”

They continued on foot.

“A lieutenant took charge and a bunch of us were taken to outposts Berlin and East Berlin. They’d been run over by thousands of Chinese.”

A combination of artillery, mortars and additional troops succeeded in pushing back the enemy, although it was far from safe.

“I was on Outpost Berlin and the word was passed to ‘fix bayonets.’ That’s when everything I had experienced up to 18 years old was going through my head at a billion miles an hour. I’m saying to myself, ‘I’m not going home.’” But Harvey was spared hand-to-hand combat. The Chinese did not return.

Yet Harvey was not out of the woods.

In mid-July 1953, he was back on the front lines.

“We knew the armistice was going to be signed and the position we were holding was the gateway to Seoul and the Chinese wanted to break through it,” Harvey said of a last advance expected by the enemy.

On the night of July 19, he felt the brunt of it while out on patrol.

“In a heartbeat, I thought the world was coming to an end. Several rounds were landing per second. I went flying through the air and my rifle was gone. Shrapnel hit my right leg. I was bleeding from my ears from the force of the concussions,” he said, overcome with tears from that 63-year-old memory. “We managed to crawl into a bunker.”

Eventually, his patrol was rescued.

After recuperating, Harvey received orders to return to his unit on Aug. 2, which was several days after the war had ended.

“I was waiting for a truck to take me and I heard all this racket and I asked someone what was going on. It was the drum and bugle corps practicing. So I got permission and went over to see them. All my buddies in it asked where I’d been.”

Harvey shared his war stories and the corps’ sergeant, whom he knew all the way back to his days at boot camp on Parris Island, asked if he would like to return to the music-making unit.

“I said ‘yes.’ It was about the best thing that could happen to me under the circumstances. There was good food, you could drink beer and watch USO shows.”

And while that may sound like a happy ending, Harvey says he has suffered from post-traumatic stress from his war experiences throughout life.

“I see my behavior specialist at a VA clinic in Lockport and he helps me talk things out,” the 81-year-old bachelor said. “It’s difficult, but it is very comforting.”

email: lmichel@buffnews.com

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