Fourteen foot soldier survivors of Outpost Harry recently congregated in Oklahoma City to relive and reflect on the time they held ground at all costs in the waning days of the Korean war.
Harold Starr of Conway was there to recall horrifying warfare in all its brutality — its danger, fatigue and trauma that accompanies the unnatural art of killing fellow humans.
During June of 1953, Starr and his compatriots were ordered to hold a small, but vital, piece of ground, a knob of land that held the answer to the outcome of fighting between American and Chinese troops. Starr and his mates fought doggedly and held fast, assuring the end of hostilities in the foreign land.
The survivors on that day of assembly in Oklahoma City heard essential statements about the truism of war from a high-ranking military professional.
"Killing is not a distant impersonal thing. It is personal indeed. The killer sees the eyes of his victim, the enemy, and acts to preserve his own life."
In this action, the officer and the soldier knew before they trudged up the hill to Outpost Harry that they were facing almost certain death, wounding or capture. Nevertheless, the American high command was determined despite all costs to hold that piece of land, acknowledging that it held the answer to victory against the enemy hordes.
Pvt. Starr, a machine gunner, came out of the furious fighting wounded seriously by shrapnel. He arrived home some months later and was hospitalized for a good period of time. But his scars on his body were the obvious ones. The inner damage to his psyche was more intense. For years he was unable to talk about the battle. His actions showed the damage he suffered - sleepless nights, dreams that developed into battery on his mate, and painful spasms. And when he managed to overcome such trauma, Starr became an outspoken advocate for the Korean generation.
"We only had 14 attend the recent meeting in Oklahoma, and this tells you that there are not many of us left," he said.
In brief remarks to the group, Starr lauded the American service man, citing his grit and bravery and offering the belief that the Korean War would have a consequential impact on history.
Quoting General Maxwell Taylor, commanding general of the Far East Command at the time, Starr said the successful defense of Outpost Harry had a psychological effect on both friend and foe. It demonstrated that Americans, when necessary, would "hold any terrain despite the odds."
It is important to note, says the Korean war survivor, that Outpost Harry was the only outpost that remained in American hands when the peace was signed.