Jim Franklin of Port Charlotte, Fla. fought in five major battles as a member of the 82nd Automatic Weapons Battalion attached to the 2nd Infantry Division during the 11 months and 19 days he served at the start of the Korean War in 1950.
The 2nd Division suffered more casualties than any other division in the war. It had almost twice as many as the 1st Marine Division when both units marched to the Chosin Reservoir, along the border with North Korea and China. At that point the Americans were confronted by hundreds of thousands of Chinese and North Korean soldiers as they struggled to fight their way back to South Korea.
The Department of the Army statistics show 7,094 soldiers in the 2nd Infantry Division were killed during the war and 16,575 wounded. The 1st Marine Division lost 4,004 “Leathernecks” and suffered 25,864 wounded by war’s end.
Franklin was a sergeant whose discharge notes he received five bronze battle stars on his Korean War campaign ribbon signifying he participated in five major conflicts. He can no longer remember what they are. He was also awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for valor in Korea.
“Forty percent of the Americans killed in the Korean War were killed during the first year of the war,” Franklin said “The rest of the war was bad, too. Any war is bad.”
When his troop ship docked at Pusan, South Korea in August 1950 the North Korean Army was about to run the South Korean forces, supported by American troops and other United Nations forces, into the sea at the tip of the Korean peninsula.
“I got off our ship at 5 p.m. and the next morning I was on the front line in combat along the ‘Pusan Perimeter.’ I was assigned to headquarters, 82nd Automatic Weapons Battalion,” he said. “The front line soldiers loved us because our unit had half-tracks armed with quad .50-caliber machine-guns.
“When the North Koreans attacked their advanced troops weren’t armed. They’d run through our minefields blowing themselves up to clear the way for those who followed. Because the Japanese had cut down all the trees in World War II in Korea the ground was bare and we cut enemy soldiers down in the open terrain with our quad .50s.”
After weeks of hard fighting throughout South Korea, UN forces started gaining the upper hand. A short time later Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur, the UN’s supreme commander in Korea, won one of the decisive battles of the war at Inchon. His troops performed an “End Run,” cutting enemy forces off from their supplies. In a matter of weeks the North Korean forces were in full retreat. It appeared the war was won by the American forces and their allies.
“We moved through the North and met the 1st Marine Division near the Chosin Reservoir at the Yalu River separating North Korea from China. We thought the war was almost over,” Franklin explained 67 years later.
Mac Arthur had promised his UN troops they would be home by Christmas.
“It was 30 below and we were sleeping in tents and freezing,” the old soldier recalled. “It was Nov. 30, 1950 when we saw the first Chinese troops. They held the high ground and had us surrounded—thousands of them.
“The 1st Marine Division was on our right, we were in the middle and the 7th Division was to the left of us. We were to be the rear guard so the Marines could get out,” Franklin explained. “That’s why the 2nd suffered so many casualties.
“On the 30th some 300,000 Chinese troops crossed the Yalu. By the next morning the 138 men in my unit had almost been wiped out. Only a dozen of us were left. The rest had been killed or captured,” he recalled with tears in his eyes.
“That first day I spent part of it with three of my best friends—the Dunlap brothers from West Virginia and another friend from Pennsylvania. All three were killed or captured by the Chinese. Only one survived the war. When he came back from the North Korean prison camp he was never the same,” Franklin said.
The 2nd Division lost 1,900 soldiers by sun up the first morning of the attack. By day’s end 3,000 2nd Division soldiers had been killed or captured by the enemy. The 1st Marine Division lost a total of 4,004 killed in Korea and 25,864 wounded, according to the Korean War Veterans Association.
“That day I ended up driving the captain’s Jeep. We were surrounded but some how we had to make it through the Koto-Ri Pass. The Chinese were holding the high ground on both sides firing down on us as we slowly moved along the road clogged with our wounded and dead soldiers.
“I drove over bodies with my Jeep. We could hear the wounded screaming—help! help! There was no way we could help anybody,” Franklin said.
“The enemy fire was so intense the captain jumped out of the Jeep and into a ditch along the side of the road. He crawled along on his hands and knees. I scrunched down in the seat as low as I could and headed for the Koto-Ri Pass.
“It was at this point in North Korea I learned to pray. As we were struggling to reach the pass I promised the Lord: ‘If You spare my life I will always serve You.’”
When Franklin, and what was left of the 2nd Division, gained the mountain top they discovered the bridge spanning the abyss in front of them had been destroyed by the enemy. His only escape route was to drive the Jeep down the mountain side into the valley and on up over the next hill.
When they finally made it up the far hill it was daylight. A British tank battalion was waiting for them on the high ground. The British tankers held back the enemy force that had dogged them all night long with a barrage of hostile fire.
“Once we reached the British we were safe,” Franklin said. “We headed south as fast as we could go toward Seoul. The Chinese and the North Koreans were following right behind us. The Chinese came down there and took over the capital.
“We left behind all our dead and wounded and nobody has ever reclaimed those bodies. We had no way to bring them out.
“After that retreat we weren’t fighting to win the war. We were just fighting to kill the enemy.”
Again UN troops pushed the enemy back to the 38th Parallel that separates the two Koreas. This is were they were when the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953.
Before the armistice was signed, President Harry Truman fired Gen. Mac Arthur for insubordination. The general had planned to run the Chinese all the way back into China. If it took dropping atomic bombs on the enemy, so be it. The president would not tolerate such an offensive.
“When Truman fired Mac Arthur we cried. He was our general. He was replaced by Gen. Mathew Ridgeway. He was a good general, but he wasn’t respected like Mac Arthur.
“Since World War II we haven’t won a war. We didn’t win in Korea and the same was true in Vietnam. We haven’t won in the Middle East, in our recent conflicts either,” he explained.
Franklin originally signed up for two year hitch in the Army. President Truman extended his tour another year when the Korean War broke out in June of 1950. He and many of the other members of the 2nd Division returned to San Francisco by ship following a 14-day trip home to the USA in a troop transport.
“We were the first ones to return from the Korean War. We were treated like heroes. We sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and when we docked there was a band playing. They put us on a troop train and we went from San Francisco to Chicago. When we reached Chicago the train split and we headed south for good old West Virginia.
“When I got home I took the G.I. Bill and finished my last two years in college at West Virginia Tech. It was wonderful,” Franklin recalled. “I became an English teacher and taught English and social studies in West Virginia for six years.
“When I went to Korea I took a camera with me. When I returned home everybody wanted to see my war pictures. So I started showing my slides and giving talks around the state.
“There was this little congregation in this West Virginia church. It only had 40 parishioners and no pastor. These folks asked me to come show my slides to them,” he said. “After I gave my presentation they told me they had no pastor and they wanted to know if I would come be their minister.
“I knew nothing about being a pastor. Then I remembered the promise I made the Lord while under enemy fire in Korea— ‘If You spare my life I will always serve You.’
“I became their pastor and served that little church for five years. After that I moved on to a much larger church in West Virginia.”
By the time Franklin retired in 1995 he had served as the pastor of eight Baptist churches around the country during his 44 years in the ministry. Along the way he spent four years in the seminary.
“After I got out of the seminary I became the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Davenport, Iowa. I moved on to become the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Los Angeles County near Long Beach and from there I was the pastor of a Baptist Church in Philadelphia. I ended up with the largest Baptist church in West Virginia.
“I’m still trying to keep that promise I made The Lord in Korea. I’ll be 89 in December and I feel like if I was to break that promise He would have no reason to let me live.”
Franklin and his wife Phillis retired and moved to the west coast Florida in 1995. They have three children: Howard, Philip and Lisa.
Name: Howard “Jim” Franklin Jr.
D.O.B: 18 Dec 1928
Hometown: Page, W. Va.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 8 Sept. 1948
Discharged: 7 Sept. 1951
Unit: 82nd Automatic Weapons Battalion attached to the 2nd Infantry Division
Commendations: Korean Service Medal W/5 Bronze Campaign Stars, Korean Presidential Unit Citation W/Mdl Pendant, Korean Service Ribbon,
Battles/Campaigns: Korean War–Chosin
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, May 15, 2017and is republished with permission.
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