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A Boy Becomes a Soldier – Barbara Sisney Daniel

In July 1949 an eighteen year old boy walked to the Army recruiter’s office and enlisted to become a soldier in the United States Army and was accepted.

Lee Daniel was sent to Camp Chaffee, AR for basic training. The training and heat in July was harsh. He trained for fourteen weeks, then was sent to Fort Sill, OK.

The 79th Engineer Battalion was put together at Fort Sill. Lee became a part of the 79th EB that went to the Marshall Islands. They were a construction group sent to rebuild the Knewetok Island for atomic testing in 1952.

They sailed from San Francisco, CA to the north Pacific island on an older troop ship, the A.W. Brewster. The troops in the 79th Engineer Battalion, A, B, C  worked on Knewetok Island from March to November 1950.

The 79th Engineer Battalion A,B,C was sent to Japan and on to North Korea. The men went from 120 degrees to subzero temperature weather in Hamhung Hungnam Korea. They unloaded the ship and set up their tents. It was muddy and cold. The men pulled their boots off and crawled down into their sleeping bags. They left the boots beside the tents where they found them the next morning frozen in mud. The men had to urinate on the boots to break them loose from the frozen mud.

Artillery was firing over them during the night. They could hear the artillery from the Missouri battleship firing over the 79th A,B,C battalion  all night. The ship was setting off shore to cover the evacuation of the 79th battalion. All A,B,C units were surrounded by the communist Chinese. The North Koreans and South Koreans had started fighting in June 1950. Lee was there eleven months. He went across the 38th parallel, just below the Chinese border. During this time one of his close friends was killed. Paul Short from AR. Lee heard that Roy Lee Hall from Abesville, MO was killed and Billy Harris from Galena, MO had been taken prisoner by the North Koreans. Billy Harris was a prisoner for five years. Lee had attended Abesville School with Roy Lee Hall and Billy Harris.

A burial squad attached to the 79th battalion collected the bodies of the United States soldiers to send back to be buried. Over 35,000 of our men were killed in the Korean war.

Lee saw the black body bags stacked on Army trucks backed up to trenches to be covered. What he saw was when war became a reality.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with the American Legion (November 2019): “You and the State Department have worked hard trying to return the U.S. soldiers’ remains from North Korea. How is the process going?

“There are far too many families who have not had the remains of loved ones returned from Korea. We work on this every day. I hope we have good news in the not-too-distant future.” 

These were men buried in North Korea over sixty nine years ago. Someone’s husband, father or brother, killed in a war that wasn’t recognized. Then President Harry Truman called it a Police Action.

I am so grateful I have been blessed to have seen Lee come home from a war that was as ugly as any war. He has rarely spoke of what he saw in Korea. 

Lee finished his military career after 10 years in the Army Reserve National Guard. He served honorably for our country and became a man in a short time.