Medal honors sacrifice
Published 11:27 pm Friday, November 22, 2013
When Chinese forces swarmed into Korea in the midst of the “The Forgotten War,” Suffolk’s Claude Huffman was among the first to set eyes on them.
With the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 17-year-old Huffman, now 80, had landed on the war-torn peninsula at Incheon in the southwest in September 1950.
By early November, with the North Koreans on the run in the north, his was the first American outfit, at Unsan, to encounter Chinese forces desperate to see communism prevail.
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He has been unable to tell his wife and five children much about what ensued. But a recent chance encounter and resulting friendship with a fellow Korean combat veteran has helped him deal with the troubling memories, as well as guilt at having lived while so many others perished.
Huffman said he was leaving a Walmart in Blackstone with wife Patricia when he noticed a 1st Cavalry — his regiment’s division — patch in the window of a car ahead.
“We followed him (and) he stopped,” he said. “We got talking and we became friends.”
Huffman believes he wouldn’t be among an unknown number of Korean War combat veterans to have received or set to receive an “Ambassador for Peace” medal from the South Korean government if not for befriending Bud Arvin.
Distribution of the medals in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of the conflict began this year. Huffman, who returned from Kenbridge with his wife to live in Suffolk about a year ago, said 82-year-old Arvin ensured he received the medal by reporting his Korean War combat service.
Huffman said he and Arvin were the only ones in their American Legion post in Lunenburg County to receive the medals.
“His own sons have not heard him talk about Korea, but he opened up to Bud,” Patricia Huffman said.
“He had terrible nightmares. I had to be real careful waking him up, because he would wake up fighting. I think he still has nightmares about it.”
Huffman said communist Chinese forces outnumbered the Americans perhaps 60 to one when they entered the war at Unsan. “Thousands of them came across,” he said.
His recalls his unit was up a hill when “two or three hundred” Chinese-Mongol soldiers came up under them.
“In the morning,” Huffman said, “we thought it was a pile of rocks down there, but it was a pile of GIs shot behind the hill. We saw three GIs coming down the hill; two were carrying the one. They said, ‘Haven’t you heard? The battalion’s gone, we are surrounded.’”
Huffman’s unit was given up for dead, he said, but they would not surrender. “They said we ceased to exist. I still don’t know how I got out,” he said.
To increase their chances of escape, Huffman recalled, the men divided into small parties of five or six. “Most were killed or captured before sundown,” he added.
Huffman carried an M1 Granand that weighed about 9 pounds, 8 ounces and engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat with fixed bayonet.
He said he picked pieces of shrapnel out of his legs, ate rotten food from the fields they crept through by night, hiding during the day, and filled his canteen from rice paddies. “You don’t know what you were drinking, but I’m here,” he said.
They were without winter gear as they were meant to be home by Christmas, so whoever stood guard wore the single overcoat between them.
“The worst part, they throw mortars all night, and you lay there and don’t know whether you are going to get it or not,” Huffman said. “I don’t know how I got out, but I ended up coming across the 7th Cavalry,” which essentially ended the ordeal.
The medal Huffman received from South Korea rests alongside a Purple Heart, Korea Ribbon, Occupation of Japan Ribbon, and Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, amongst others he holds now.
He said he appreciated the recognition from a country whose freedom he helped protect, a thriving free-market economy while communist North Korea languishes, keeping its people hungry while stockpiling weaponry.
Claude and Patricia Huffman, who attended Granby High School together but didn’t know one another until he returned from the war, were married in 1956.
Claude Huffman said there was no parade or great sense of recognition when he came off the ship. Unlike the Vietnam War, there was no protest, either. “We didn’t have anybody spitting on us,” he said. “I would have knocked their teeth out.”
He said he joined Norfolk Police Department in 1954, Nansemond County Police Department in 1970, and retired from Suffolk Police Department a sergeant in 1995.
“It’s a surprise,” Huffman said of the medal. “It means a lot, because somebody appreciated the guys that are dead. They showed appreciation for our sacrifice.”