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Remembering the ‘Forgotten War’ in Korea

-        Written by Mary Le Arneal, Tribune Correspondent – Fremont Tribune, November 11, 2002

When Clayton Snover left high school after tenth grade, World War II was coming to a close and he planned to spend his life farming on the family farm.  But world events put a detour in his life plans.

In March 1951 the Korean Conflict, War, Police Action – it has been called many things, veteran groups now call it “the Forgotten War” – was in full swing and 21-year-old Snover was drafted along with 30 other young men from Dodge County.

“It was one of the hottest times (in terms of combat engagement) in Korea when I was drafted,” Snover said.

He went to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for six weeks of basic training and eight weeks of combat engineer school.  On August 23, Snover left Seattle on the U.S. Naval Ship Adder.  After a stop in Japan, he arrived in Korea on September 5, 1951.

Snover landed at Ichon on the west coast of Korea.  He, along with other new recruits, traveled by train to Cumhwaon on the 38th parallel.

“Most of the time I really didn’t know where I was,” Snover said.  “All I can remember is riding in a train up that way.”

He was assigned to the 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Division with an engineer platoon.

The time just before Snover arrived had been one of the costliest, in terms of casualties, periods of the Korean War.  The 25th Division was involved in the battle of the Hill 717/682 which took place from September 6-8, 1951, with the Americans suffering extensive loss.  This was sandwiched between two of the deadliest battles of the Korean War, which accounted for 957 casualties.  This number did not include the casualties at the Hill 717/682.  When Snover arrived, he was quickly reassigned to Third Infantry, Love Company, First Platoon, Third Squad.

“They had been just about wiped out,” he said, “so we were assigned to Love Company.  We quickly got our MOS (military occupation standard) changed from combat engineer to rifleman.”

Snover was on the front for six to eight weeks and then would go back to the reserves for three to four weeks.  While on the front lin they would live in foxholes.  The foxholes were dug out holes 50-100 feet apart, with logs and sandbags on them for reinforcement.  They all faced north, toward enemy territory.

“All it was was hills,” Snover said.  “There were always sniper and mortar fire back and forth.  We would go out on patrols to see where the enemy was and come back with coordinates for aiming the tank.  Mostly we were guarding what we had already taken, making sure the enemy was not making advances.”

Snover said they didn’t do a lot during the daytime, it was at night they had to be alert.  There were usually two to three men in a foxhole, taking turns sleeping.

Night was the worst because you couldn’t see,” he said.  “If you heard something you would yell out for a flare to go up.”

Hot meals would be brought up once a day from headquarters; otherwise they ate C-rations.  Once a week they would walk down to headquarters for a shower and change of clothes.

The 38th parallel also runs through Nebraska, so they weather in Korea was much like it was at home.  Snover credits the Army with warm clothing that got him through the cold nights in the foxhole.  During their time in reserve, they would live in tents and go out on training missions, plus some guard duty.

“It wasn’t that much better,” Snover said, “but you felt safer.”

On March 5, 1952, Snover was working at a new MOS, communications.  Instead of being on the front side of the hill, he was on the backside where he thought he was a little safer.  There was a tank the North Koreans had fired on and damaged its communication line.  Snover was running a communication wire to the tank.

Snover heard a mortar coming so he made a run for his foxhole.  He didn’t make it.  Snover did not realize the extent of his wound. 

“I wasn’t going to go to the medic, I didn’t think it was too bad a wound,” Snover said.  “Someone else looked at it and said I should have it checked out.  They kept sending me to different medics.  Finally, a doctor in Pusan said I had shrapnel laying beside my lung.”

Snover was sent to Japan for surgery to remove the shrapnel.  After three months in the hospital he was sent home for a 30-day furlough.  He arrived home July Fourth to a special family celebration.

Snover was later stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, and discharged from the Army December 15, 1952.

Snover returned to the family farm and a job at Pollard Implement in North Bend.  In May 1953 he married his wife, Carol, and they had three children and now have six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren*.  Now retired, he earned the Purple Heart and Korean Service Metals for his service in Korea.

Five years ago Snover and his wife started attending reunions of the 35th Infantry Regiment, Love Company.  In 1999, the unit received the Distinguished Unit Citation for the “gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps” in defense of Hills682 ad 717, September 6-8, 1951, near Tanguon-ni, Korea.

Snover enjoys these reunions, attending three in the last five years.  He has renewed friendships with men he knew in Korea, and found out the fate of others. 

“I wouldn’t take a million dollars for my military experience,” Snover said.  “I learned a lot, I grew up.  You learned how to take care of yourself.  You learned to appreciate what you had at home.  I wouldn’t want to di it again but I’m glad I had the experience.”

*Update June 16, 2017 – Carol & Clayton now have 8 great grandchildren

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