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Horrors of Korean War ended hard-nosed Marine's military plans

Growing up in Kenmore, a young James E. Pickard recalls how impressed he was by the stories he heard from neighbors who had served as Marines in some of the toughest battles of World War II.

"One of the guys told me how he was wounded at Iwo Jima and ended up in the hospital for 2½ years," Pickard said.

For the teenaged Pickard, such heroism was inspirational and he wanted in on the action.

He had missed out on the Second World War by a few years, but when he turned 17 he enlisted as a Marine Corps reservist for a year and entered active duty on his 18th birthday. In September 1950, he was among the first waves of troops setting foot on the Korean peninsula.

"I was part of the Inchon landing. We went through Seoul and it was totally destroyed. Then we went back to the ships and went around to the Sea of Japan and landed at Wonsan," he said of the Marines' pursuit of the North Koreans.


James E. Pickard, 87
Hometown: Buffalo
Residence: Cheektowaga
Branch: Marine Corps
Rank: Sergeant
War zone: Korea
Years of service: 1947 - 1959
Most prominent honors: Korean War Service Medal, six battle stars; Presidential Unit Citation, 1 battle star; Good Conduct Medal, United Nations Ribbon
Specialty: Infantryman


But that brought them no closer to the enemy, he said, so they again boarded ships and headed further north.

"We went to Hungnam and headed to the Chosin Resevoir and that's where the Chinese trapped us. It was bad. They were up in the mountains shooting down on us and every so often they would attack," he said.

He was 20 years old and now, 67 years later, Pickard says the memories and horrors of what he experienced remain vivid.

"At times, the enemy was 15 or 20 feet from me. I was shooting my M1 rifle at them. I was saying a lot of prayers, too. The enemy was shooting mortars and throwing grenades at us."

Spared hand-to-hand combat, he says that was a blessing.

Harrowing service in the Korean War earned James E. Pickard a host of medals, but also turned him from a hard-nosed Marine into a 'very sentimental' veteran. (Mark Mullville/Buffalo News)

"A lot of the guys in that didn't make it," said Pickard, who prefers not to go into details about what he witnessed. "It just brings back too many memories."

But he lets slip a telling sign: He and other young men started to prematurely gray.

And their worries were more than combat. They also were battling brutal winter weather.

"It was cold and snowing. It was 30 degrees below zero."

When American troops and other United Nations forces finally escaped, Pickard said they were evacuated with North Korean civilians at Hungnam.

His service at the Chosin Resevoir earned him the right to be known as one of the "Chosin Frozen" and membership in the "Chosen Few," an organization of all service members who fought there.

Pickard explained that he had intended to make a career out of the Marines, but his year of combat and the chance of ending up in another war, such as Vietnam, played heavily in his decision to leave the service in 1959.

Back home, he worked at different jobs, before securing employment as a welder at Harrison Radiator in Lockport. He held that position for 28 years, retiring in 1992.

Married to the former Norma Becker, they have seven children, 14 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Family, he says, is a blessing.

And in its own way, he said, it was a blessing to serve as a Marine. In fact, he still considers himself a Marine.

But Pickard does not sugarcoat his lifelong burden from having experienced combat and taking lives.

"When I first went into the Marines, I was hard-nosed and could deal with anything, but these days when I talk with other veterans or see movies or anything that is sad, I start to cry," he said. "I'm very sentimental."

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