By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Memories of the “Forgotten War” are now displayed in paint on the walls of the Those Who Served Museum at the Mercer County War Memorial through the work of one local veteran.
Conrad Jenkins, 80, of Lashmeet served during the Korean War and now volunteers at the war museum in Princeton.
“I grew up in the Pin Oak and Spanishburg area, where I was born in 1932,” Jenkins said. “First, I was in the naval reserves, but I was on a waiting list. Finally, I instead joined the army and went to basic at Fort Knox. Toward the end of training, they were talking about sending us to this place called Korea. We had never heard of it. We were taken from Fort Knox to Fort Drake in Japan then to Beppu and finally we were taken by ship into Korea. I served two years in with the Army 3rd Infantry Division, 3rd Regimen from 1950 to 1952 and spent 16 months in Korea.”
An artist, Jenkins has painted scenes depicting various conflicts for the museum.
“I’ve been an artist for 40 years. I painted the picture of the German B17s in the other memorial room,” Jenkins said. “I also painted the World War I cemetery based on sketches we put together.”
However, Jenkins’ latest mural is much more personal. To honor the veterans and soldiers who lost their lives in the Korean War, Jenkins was commission to paint a scene from the conflict. For months, Jenkins has worked on a mural from his own memory, depicting the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.
“I started painting it in April and worked on it all summer long a little bit at a time,” Jenkins said. “Tony (Whitlow) set this up for me to pick up what I remember. I don’t really remember everything, so I painted what I do remember. I can’t change what is in my mind. This is what I remember during the evacuation of the Chosin Reservoir, which we called ‘Frozen Chosin.’ I remember we evacuated one mountain. The planes would come down along the mountains and the people would hold their hands up to be rescued as we passed.”
The Chosin Reservoir Campaign lasted from Nov. 27, 1950 until Dec. 13, 1950 and involved the evacuation of Korean civilians and U.S. military from the frontlines of the war.
“We were trying to get them down to Hungnam so they could board the ships and be evacuated,” Jenkins said. “The northern area of the country was overrun by the Chinese. We had so many military personnel there and the civilians were not capable of standing up to the Chinese forces by themselves, so it was best we got them out of there. The companies were making advances toward northern Korea to stop the enemy from making further advances southward. We had to withdraw the troops and the civilians to save them. The civilians were leaving with whatever they could carry. They were very appreciative we were there and provided any help to us they could.”
Jenkins said soldiers often traded with Korean villagers for food during the campaign.
“We came through a village and had to set up and dig in for the night,” he said. “A fellow soldier asked me if I still had any cigarettes and chocolate so he could trade them. He took them into the village to trade for food because we didn’t have any. He came back with a bowl of rice and an orange. The villagers didn’t have much, but they were willing to trade because they knew they could get a lot of stuff from trading things like cigarettes and chocolate. I took the rice and squeezed my half of the orange over it to flavor the rice. They told us not to eat the fruit because it might be poisoned, but a lot of us ate it anyway. The kids would line up on the side of the road and sell apples. Those were some of the prettiest and best-tasting apples I’ve ever had.”
In addition to Chinese and North Korean forces, soldiers like Jenkins also had to deal with bitter cold during the campaign.
“We carried tripods or machine guns that weighed about 13 pounds each,” Jenkins said. “As far as clothing, we had blankets and parkas that weren’t the best in the world. We wore all the clothes we had in our backpacks to keep warm. We warmed up with fires when we could. We would use oil barrels and light the fire. Of course, we couldn’t light the fires at night because if we did the enemy could find us. Night was always the coldest time. The Chinese would stir up noise, play bugles and yell to startle or distract you.”
Like many, Jenkins suffered from frostbite during the winter.
“I had to walk back across the mountain, and I and 12 others were separated from our company,” Jenkins said. “We had to go up the hill to set up the machine guns and had to walk a long way back across the mountain. I got frostbite in my feet and hands. I still thank the Lord for the 5th Air Force Division for coming in when they did. When we finally caught up with our company, they put us on a transport and sent us to a field hospital for three weeks due to our frostbite. I still have issues with my fingers and feet. I don’t have much feeling in the tips of my fingers. After they released me from the hospital, they gave me a stripe up and returned me to my division. We continued to Hungnam so they could evacuate the military and civilians by ship. We were taken down south to regroup and then started pushing back up north.”
Jenkins said he hopes his mural and other displays at the museum will show his fellow veterans they are remembered and appreciated.
“This is most important to the veterans,” Jenkins said. “They contributed the most to this museum, to get people involved and raise money so these wars and the people in them will be remembered. We are hoping these displays will bring those veterans out. It is so important to them that their local area remembers their service and honors their friends who lost their lives.”
In front of the mural Jenkins has painted is a list of names of local soldiers who were killed during the Korean War. For Jenkins two names stand out: Edwin R. Basham and Ronald C. Huffmam.
“I went to school with them both and we were friends growing up,” he said. “We would run around together. It’s good to see their names here, to see that they aren’t forgotten. We knew most of the people by nicknames. You had friends, but you didn’t know their first names. You didn’t want to get too close to people.”
In addition to honoring local veterans, Jenkins said he hopes his display will educate the next generation about what is referred to as the “Forgotten War.”
“A lot of history about Korea is coming out now,” Jenkins said. “A few years ago, people never thought about it. I don’t know if people who were around back then even knew a lot about it. The goal of this museum is to educate people and school children about this war. People should remember. The younger generations should know not only about Korea but about all of the wars this country has been involved in. This museum gets a lot of visits from school groups, and the students are very excited by it.”
— Contact Kate Coil at firstname.lastname@example.org�