It’s 70 years since the end of the Korean War and this week we highlight our Valentine veteran, Louis Clark Silcox, who is celebrating his 93rd birthday!
Louis had a few stories to share on our visit with him and he had our interest right from the start with a story of his high school days. He lived in Cloverdale when attending Troutville High School and made friends with the engineer of the railroad. He said occasionally he would hop on what was then the N+W train in Cloverdale and ride it to the Town of Troutville. The locomotive would take him to his destination near Boone Drive where Troutville Town Park is now located. He then got off the train and went across the street to school.
Louis goes on to tell us that he did not get along with the principal and quit school at 15 years old. He went to Baltimore where his cousins lived as they told him he could get a job there. He joined the Army in May 1945 with the help of his cousins lying about his age. He was in Fort Meade going through the process of orientation when WWII soon ended and they found out his age. Louis was hoping to get on the troop train and head to Fort Knox, Ky., with his duffle bag all packed but was told to step in another line up. To his disappointment, that line he was put in had orders to go home. He was able to keep one uniform and it was labeled “Hit ’em Hard” work clothes. He said you probably could have bought the entire uniform down at Sam’s on the Market back then.
Louis went back to school and graduated. He said he had odd jobs to help keep his 1940 Plymouth four-door sedan on the road. He was drafted at 18 years old and went right back to Fort Meade where he said it was the exact same thing from the orientation to the barracks, nothing had changed. It was interesting to hear some of the chores they had to do at the mess hall. He was taught how to properly peel potatoes with no waste and another task was keeping the floors cleaned. He said they were busy all the time.
In Korea he was assigned Tank Assembly Foreman as a driver. The M-39 cargo and personnel carrier transported anything under enemy fire and provided some protection to the driver, who was Louis, along with supplies in the armored utility vehicle. The personnel carriers were also used in WWII along with the uncomfortable helmets that Louis said never fit his head right.
He showed us a picture of his location at Outpost Harry located on a tiny hilltop that consisted of trenches, comparing it to Tinker Mountain looking down at the scales on I-81. He said they were under enemy fire and observation 24-7. He said the Chinese were very good with their mortar fire, artillery and the burp guns. Louis said he wish he had one of those!
He hauled the wounded troops from the battlefield into the bunker. He said they’d transport them on the Bell bubble helicopter, the first one to ever be put in service. Then they patched them up, and sent them to the hospital ship.
We learned about his morning task at daybreak getting supplies in the middle of Chorwon Valley, his thoughts on President Harry Truman and what was referred to as “Police Action” vs. actual war. Louis shared several other stories of his TDY assignment to the 15th Infantry Medical Battalion.
On June 11, 1953, he was in Incheon ready to come home and boarding the ship when he heard the terrible news. It was just seven days later, after he had just left Outpost Harry on June 3, that his company lost 283. It was a hit from 9,000 Chinese thrown on the post and Louis said “the good Lord was watching over me.” His company was 305 men and the only single 3rd Recon Company in the 3rd Infantry Division. Louis said he was wounded four times during his service and it was never recorded, which explains when looking around his home we find no Purple Heart.
After the service Louis tried the insurance business but didn’t like it. He also tried a vending machine business and then went to Nashville Auto Diesel College. Louis was hired as the 13th heavy equipment mechanic for Carter Machinery in 1955. After a few years he went into a sales position covering appraisals traveling all over North America. He worked for two brothers and knew them well telling us it was first called Virginia Tractor Company. Louis retired from Carter Machinery after 35 years.
We ended our visit with a sweet story of what Louis said “it’s a small world any way you look at it.” While transporting to Richmond for shoulder surgery he thought he recognized a familiar face at the VA Hospital. When he approached the young man and asked his name, to his surprise, it was the grandson of his machine gunner in Korea!
Thank you, Louis, for your time and all your stories. We love you and wish you a very Happy Birthday!
~ Lee Henry and The Troutville Sunshine Girls