"In the summer of 1950 I was assigned to CO. L, 87th inf. Regt. 10th inf. Div., Fort Riley, Kansas for basic training. While I was not sent to Korea, many of my fellow trainees were and many of them did not come home but they lost their lives in the frozen hills of Korea. I would just simply say to all of them, those that came home and those who did not, thank you for your service. They may call it the forgotten war but I shall never forget the brave men and women that served in Korea."
New Berlin, WI
MEANING & HISTORY
In 2010 we recounted the final days in the life of PFC Charles Johnson, Killed in Action while fighting in North Korea on June 12, 1953. Charlie's high school buddy and fellow soldier, Donald Dingee, shares the story of how Charlie's selfless actions on the battlefield saved his life and the lives of many in the platoon.
In 2010 we commemorated the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War. On June 25, 1950, North Korea, with Russian support, invaded South Korea. American and U.N. troops rushed in to help defend the South Koreans. For a year, vicious battles raged up and down the Korean peninsula and then there was a stalemate. The Chinese send in their army-- and for two more years, as peace talks drug on, each side continued to fight- and die- over a few feet of territory. In isolated, remote outposts, our troops fought under the harshest conditions imaginable; freezing in winter, broiling in summer. They were under constant assault and artillery attacks. Young recruits who haven't seen much action were sent in as reinforcements. Among them, were two 20 year-old soldiers, Private Donald Dingee, and Private First Class Charles Johnson.
On the Concert acclaimed actors Gary Sinise and Dennis Haysbert shared Don and Charlie's story.
THE STORY OF FALLEN HERO CHARLIE JOHNSON
GARY SINISE [AS DON] I was just a kid- didn't know anything about war, except to follow orders, try to be brave, and do what it takes to stay alive. After three weeks on the front, I was sent back to get some rest. which meant I was handed a shovel and put on garbage detail. I was digging down in a hole when I looked up and couldn't believe my eyes- there was my high school buddy Charlie Johnson!
DENNIS HAYSBERT [AS CHARLIE] It was great to team up with Don-- the fact is, most people at home thought that we were having a picnic out here on the front line. I wish I could've clued them in on the deal. I carry an automatic rifle- the barrel would get so hot it burnt the skin off my wrist. I didn't report it though, so my mom wouldn't get a letter I'd been wounded.
DON DINGEE That was Charlie. Always thinking of others. To tell the truth, we all looked up to him in high school-- he was a great athlete, a musician, a class officer. You know, for the first time, blacks and whites were assigned to fight together in combat. A few guys had a problem with that, but we'd remind them we had to fight together against an enemy, and protect each other. And there was no doubt that you wanted Charlie on your side.
CHARLIE JOHNSON We'd been through a lot of gruesome stuff, but it was nothing compared with what was coming. On June 10th, thousands of Chinese wiped out one of our companies on Outpost Harry. The next night, we were sent up as replacements- and told to "hold at all costs."I didn't have a good feeling about it. I gave our squad leader, Cpl. Robert Hooker, a letter to my mom to mail for me. "I ain't gonna make it tonight," I told him. We both knew it was going to be a screwed-up mess.
DON DINGEE It had been raining; the trenches were muddy and filled with water. We were squish-squashing up the mountain- someone called it Death Valley Road-- for a mile and a half. passing by dead bodies stacked three or four feet high, blood still running in the trenches. The stench was unbelievable. We were all getting sick.
CHARLIE JOHNSON Hooker, Don and I were the lead squad on the hill. You know the Chinese are out there- but you can't see a thing. Then at five minutes to midnight, their speakers start blaring. Someone's screaming in English, "You're going to die, G.I.!!" The drums are beating, the bugles blowing, huge lights come on-- and then POW...all hell breaks lose.
DON DINGEE Seemed like the sky was falling in. There is nothing to describe the noise, the dust, the screaming. First, the Chinese throw their artillery at us and then they start to come up the hill. We learned later there were almost three-thousand of them. We were outnumbered 30 to one.
CHARLIE JOHNSON It's like ants swarming at you- you shoot one, and there are eight replacing him. We just keep firing and firing and firing. Knocking them off and knocking them off and they just keep coming. Waves upon waves of Chinese swarming over the barbed wire perimeter, onto the hill. into the trenches. You have a bayonet in one hand, a grenade in the other. It just doesn't end. You get a little tired of killing: throwing grenades, shooting, doing everything you can to keep you and your buddies alive.
DON DINGEE About 3 a.m, there's a huge explosion -- we're all three knocked out cold. When I wake up, all I see is a Chinese soldier, tossing a grenade into the bunker. I instinctively try to kick it out- but it blows up just as I put my foot on it.
CHARLIE JOHNSON When Don comes to, I put my hand over his mouth, "play dead," I whisper. The Chinese pass us by, stick Hooker with their bayonet.Then they take our weapons and leave. I use our t-shirts to patch Hooker up and put a tourniquet on Don's leg. Don couldn't feel anything from the waist down -- I had to get him to the command post fast.
DON DINGEE Charlie's dragging me and fighting his way through the enemy, for maybe a hundred and fifty yards. When he gets me to the bunker, there are at least two other wounded there - and four or five more in the next bunker over.
CHARLIE JOHNSON Chinese are still swarming all over the place; we're almost totally overrun. These guys can't protect themselves. I tell Don I'll put myself in-between the two bunker .and try to hold the enemy off until help arrives.
DON DINGEE I told him not to go, but he said it was the only way. He said I should put my worries in God's hands, and then both of our worries would be in the same place.
CHARLIE JOHNSON I've tried to go to church services here in Korea whenever I could, but you never realize how important it is to have faith in God until you get into something like this.
DON DINGEE It was about four thirty a.m. and I could hear Charlie firing for another hour, then nothing. Dawn came and it started to rain. All I could think about was my buddy - did he make it? When the reinforcements came, two guys took me down the hill on a stretcher. Most of our platoon was killed or wounded. I made them stop and turn over every body we passed by. The fifth one. was Charlie. Hooker told me later he saw Charlie trying to save more wounded. Hooker kept telling him, "Charlie, they're dead, you're just pulling pieces back" - but Charlie wouldn't stop. He was standing up, in the line of fire, dragging guys over a hill. That's when they got him. When you're in battle, you're just trying to stay alive, and get back home. But Charlie was always looking out for the other guy. He saved my life. Twice. And it wasn't just me. At least 7 or 8 wounded guys were in those bunkers.
Without Charlie, none of us would have made it. Not a day goes by I don't think about my buddy. Every once in a while, Charlie's there, and I close the door and I cry like a baby. And then I talk to him. I'm going to tell him all about tonight, you can be sure. I'm going to tell him I love him and he will always be my hero.