Korean War Brothers in Arms

Premiere Date: Dec. 25, 2018

Join Ann Curry for dramatic reunions between veterans of the Korean War and the loved ones of servicemen who supported them. Marine Corps soldier Jim searches for two heroic lieutenants who bravely led him in battle, whilst Navy veteran Tony looks for his best friend and confidante aboard the USS Consolation hospital ship who shared the burden of helping the wounded.

Read more about the episode below

Episode 4

Korean War Brothers in Arms

Aired: 2018-12-25 55:00 Expires: 2019-01-23 Rating: TV-PG

Korean War veterans look for fellow servicemen from nearly 70 years ago.

More About the Episode

Often called the Forgotten War, the Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when an army of North Korean soldiers poured over the 38th parallel into South Korea, their mission to impose communism on their neighbors. Over 325,000 American troops went to the aid of the South Korean people on land, air, and sea during the three years of conflict. But for two young men, their fellow servicemen became rocks of support and the inspiration that stayed with them over decades.

Jim Owen and his mother.Jim Owen and his mother.Courtesy Photo Jim Owen

Born in San Antonio, Texas, Jim Owen joined the Marines at age 19 in 1950, inspired by the heroic tales of men from World War II. The idea of belonging to a brotherhood appealed to Jim, who was adopted and an only child. But he never anticipated that soon after he signed up, the United States would enter the war in Korea.

A year later and newly married, Jim was sent to Korea in January 1951. Flown over to replace the decimated numbers of U.S. troops after the Chosin Reservoir campaign that winter, he was assigned to Love Battery, an artillery battery in the 1st Marine Division. Two months later Jim’s unit was part of a spring offensive to recapture Seoul and reclaim lost territory from the North Korean and Chinese forces.

Jim with his child.Jim with his child.Courtesy Photo Jim experienced the Chinese counter-offensive firsthand. Dug into the mud and operating his 150mm howitzer gun, it was his job to pull the lanyard firing shells at the enemy. In the heat of battle, Jim was able to recognize the heroism of two selfless First Lieutenants — Rice and Coffeen — as they dodged incoming artillery fire to ensure the safety and morale of their men.  

Following the war, Jim attended college and seminary in Dallas and Ft. Worth and became a pastor. He served in churches in Texas, New Mexico and Florida before retiring and now lives near Houston with his wife and childhood sweetheart Mary. Inspired by his father’s story, Jim’s eldest son also went on to become a Marine.

The Korean War has been called the “Forgotten War,” but Jim wants to find the two lieutenants and their families and let them know that they are not forgotten.

Tony Ybarra

Tony YbarraTony YbarraCourtesy Photo

Born in Monterey, California, Tony Ybarra was a gunnersmate in the U.S. Naval Reserves when the Korean War started. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in October 1950 and was informed that his unit would soon be activated and sent to Korea.

He trained as a Hospital Corpsman in San Diego from January through March 1951 and went aboard the USS Havenin September 1951. In October 1951 he was transferred to the Consolation, an enormous hospital ship that could hold up to 800 patients.

Hospital ships would make history in the Korean War, as this marked the first time the U.S. military transported the wounded from the battlefield directly to hospital ships via helicopter. Fresh out of training, Tony had to quickly learn how to help in surgery under the extreme pressure of massive incoming combat casualties.

TJ Wilks (second from right) and Tony Ybarra (right).TJ Wilks (second from right) and Tony Ybarra (right).Courtesy Photo

During the grueling hours, exhausting conditions and grim trauma, Tony was helped by his friend and fellow corpsman T.J. Wilkes, who helped him keep his cool and sense of humor during some dark times. But he lost touch with T.J. after July 1953 when he was transferred to the Marine Serpent, a troop transport ship.

After discharge from the Navy, Tony attended the University of California, Berkeley, and graduated in 1957. He taught elementary school and high school, first in Mendocino County and then in San Jose, California. Now 88, Tony recently celebrated 67 years of marriage to his wife, Billie. He’s been reflecting on his life and would like to find the friend who boosted his spirits during the war.

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Tony Ybarra: 'I Was Welcomed As If I Was Family'

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