It was 1953 and the Korean War had ground to a halt when Dick Cooley of Columbus, Ohio got word to report to his local draft board.
“I had signed up for divinity school when I received the letter from my draft board. My pastor went down there to the board with me,” the 79-year-old said who lives in Burnt Store Lakes subdivision south of Punta Gorda, Fla. “I told them, ‘I don’t want to kill anybody, but I want to serve my country.’
“They told me, ‘We’ll make you a non-combatant medic and send you to Korea. You can meet the Lord there.’ That’s how I wound up as a medic attached to the 25th Infantry Division located along the 38th Parallel (separating North and South Korea).
“When I reported to the lieutenant in charge of the ambulance company he told me he was looking for a driver. I volunteered to drive his Jeep. As a consequence I wasn’t used as a medic in Korea, I became a Jeep driver,” the old solder said.
“While working for the lieutenant I also became his personal typist and handled all his reports. About that time the battalion headquarters was looking for a typist to replace a guy who had gone home,” Cooley recalled. “They chose me to replace him, so I became a typist for a while.
“Later they were looking for an assistant to the sergeant who was in charge of the battalion’s supply department. They made me a corporal and I became his assistant.”
It was in this capacity, while driving down to Seoul, the capital of South Korea, to get the division’s mail, Cooley had a near deadly encounter with the enemy.
“Two of us had a Jeep and headed down to Seoul to get the 25th Division’s mail. It was about evening when we spotted what we thought were six Marines standing in the dirt road in front of us with their rifles at port arms. I said to the driver, ‘Let’s stop and find out what’s going on.’
“As we pulled up in our Jeep to what we both thought were Marines a couple of these soldiers started raising their rifles and pointing them right at us. At that point I said to the driver, ‘They’re not Marines they’re Chinese soldiers! Let’s get out of here.’
“All six of the Chinese soldiers started shooting at us. But none of their bullets even hit the Jeep we were in,” Cooley said. “The Lord kept the bullets away from our Jeep.
“When we reach Seoul we reported the six Chinese soldiers. They were captured a short time later by Americans and became POWs,” he said.
Cooley’s only other brush with the enemy, while serving in Korea, happened one night when a couple of the enemy slipped into the supply tent where he was sleeping.
“By then I had become supply sergeant after Sgt. Monk returned to the U.S. I woke up in my sleeping bag and someone was prowling around my tent one night,” he said. “One of these guys walked near me and took my lucky silver dollar my father had given me when I left for Korea.
“I reported to headquarters that my lucky silver dollar had been stolen. The next edition of the 25th Division newspaper had an article saying a silver dollar had been received from one of the POWs that had been captured,” Cooley said. “I went down to division headquarters and got my silver dollar back.”
In June 1954 the Korean War had been over for almost a year and he was sent back to the States.
“I remember our ship pulled into Fort Lewis, Washington and there was a big sign that read: ‘Welcome Defenders of Freedom!’ I got on a train and went back to Fort Sheridan, Ill. where I was discharged.”
Cooley started out working as a bill collector for a Columbus bank. Then he got a job working for a collection agency, a position he held until July 1, 1971. At that point he went into the collection business for himself in the Columbus area. Twenty years later he owned nine different collection businesses.
In 1991 he and his wife, Carolyn, retired and moved to the Fort Myers area. For the next few years he managed eight condominiums he owned in Fort Myers.
The couple moved to their new home in Burnt Store Lakes about a month ago. He has a son and three daughters: Richard Cooley II, Jennifer, Melissa and Melinda.
Name: Richard E. Cooley
D.O.B: 5 June 1932
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 18 Sept. 1952
Discharged: 14 July 1954
Unit: 25th Division – 25th Medical Battalion
Commendations: Korean Service Ribbon w/2 Bronze Campaign Stars, United Nations Service Mdals, National Defense Service Medal
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 and is republished with permission.
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