VERMILION — Earl Hardway was perplexed when his mother called him after Christmas 1950 to say an uncle he’d never heard of needed him.
She said his name was Sam, and he lived in a big white house.
“I knew from that moment on that I’d been had,” Hardway recalled Friday in a speech at ceremonies at the downtown war memorials on the 59th anniversary of the Korean War truce.
Hardway, an 83-year-old city resident, never got to meet Uncle Sam during the 18 months he spent in the U.S. Army in Korea between 1951 and 1953. Hardway, who served with the 4th Infantry Division, was stationed at the Kimpo Air Base just northwest of the South Korean capital of Seoul.
He recalled the barren, war-torn Korean landscape and pulling guard duty on the hoods of idling half-tracks — a hybrid military truck with a tank track in the back — to keep from freezing in sub-zero temperatures. The war, which began with the North Korean invasion of South Korea in 1950 and ended with the armistice signing in 1953, killed nearly 37,000 Americans, 215,000 North Koreans, at least 58,000 South Koreans and at least 148,000 Chinese.
Despite the carnage, Hardway said he kept a positive outlook.
“I enjoyed every minute I spent in Korea. I had fun,” he said. “If you don’t have fun, you’re going to be miserable.”
But drawing enemy fire is never fun. Hardway recalled taking part in the unenviable task at the Han River in 1951. Shortly after his unit withdrew after strafing the area, Hardway said the area they had occupied was obliterated by fire from North Korean and U.S. Navy artillery.
The airbase, which was captured by the North Koreans and then retaken by U.S. forces before Hardway arrived, was also where Hall of Fame Boston Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams crash-landed his F-9 jet on fire while serving with the U.S. Marines in 1953.
Hardway said in a post-speech interview that he vividly remembered the crash landing with the smoking F-9 still carrying a 500-pound bomb under one wing.
“One wheel came down, and the other one didn’t,” Hardway said. “The bomb rolled off down the strip, and they were able to disarm it.”
After being discharged from the Army, Hardway visited his hometown of Gassaway, W.Va., where he lived before moving to Vermilion in 1948. It was there that he met his future wife, Ola Hardway, 80.
“The greatest thing that happened after the war is standing right there,” he said motioning to Ola, whom he married in 1954. “We’ve had a good life. We raised four girls and destroyed a lot of automobiles.”
Hardway, who worked for 25 years for the Ford Motor Co., credits his conversion to Christianity in 1961 for his enthusiasm and long life, which includes regularly preaching at the Assembly of God Church in Vermilion.
“I joined the Army again, and I’m still in the Army of God,” he said. “I’m a busy, busy, busy guy. Folks, if we just sit back in our easy chairs, instead of being above ground we’re going to be below ground.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or email@example.com