These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam

Khalid Elhassan - August 2, 2019

Some Americans served in the Second World War, then in Korea, and also in Vietnam. For example, Elmo Zumwalt served in the Pacific during WWII, winning a bronze star at Leyte Gulf. He then commanded the USS Wisconsin during the Korean War, and eventually headed US Naval Forces-Vietnam. Maxwell Taylor was commanding general the 101st Airborne in WWII, commander of the 8th Army in Korea, and was head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the start of Vietnam. William Westmoreland fought in WWII in Europe, then led a regiment in Korea, before taking command of all US forces in Vietnam. Creighton Abrams served in the 4th Armored Division in Europe during WWII, and made a name for himself at the Battle of the Bulge. In Korea, he served on the staff of first the 10th Corps and then the 9th Corps. He eventually capped that by following Westmoreland as overall military commander in Vietnam.

However, the aforementioned officers are not exactly statistically representative of the thousands of others who served in all three conflicts, without rising to such heights of command. Following are some of the stories of these other remarkable servicemen.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
Ludwig Hoge. WTVR

20. Three Decades and Three Wars

There are not that many people like Ludwig Hoge. He is among the relative few who can say that they saw front line service in the Second World War, in the Korean War, and in the Vietnam War. Hoge is among an even rarer fraternity of servicemen who managed to go through all three conflicts, without suffering a scratch. The secret, according to him, was prayer: “Pray every chance you could get. And by that, I think it saved my life. I really do“.

Hoge began a three decade military career when he was drafted into the US Army in WWII, and ended up fighting his way across Europe with the 36th Infantry Division. He remembers all the times that bullets whizzed by, and shrapnel screamed around him. He lost many friends along the way, but came out of the war physically unscathed, and with a Bronze Star. America’s next war found Hoge, a music lover, serving in the 45th Infantry Division’s band as a percussionist.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
Ludwig Hoge’s band. WTVR

19. Playing Before the World’s Toughest Critics

In 1953, Hoge and his band found themselves entertaining US troops on the front lines in Korea, within hearing of the enemy. For the most part, the communists tolerated, and perhaps even enjoyed, Hoge’s music. However, the Chinese were pretty tough musical critics, who did hesitate to make their disapproval known, in no uncertain terms. As Hoge described it decades later: “As soon as you started playing music they did not like to hear, they started sending [artillery] rounds in“.

Following Korea, Hoge took a fifteen year long breather from danger, until Uncle Sam sent him to Southeast Asia. His reaction? “I said to myself, oh mannn“. In 1968, Hoge, by then feeling himself a bit long in the tooth, found himself serving with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam. He ended up in charge of a service club band, but still came under fire on numerous occasions. In a 2016 TV interview, Hoge was astonished – and grateful – for his good fortune: “I walked away from all three [wars]. I don’t know how many people can say they did“.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
Basil Plumley at age 90. Wikimedia

18. Command Sergeant Major Basil Plumley Started Fighting in Italy, and Kept Fighting Through Vietnam

Basil Plumley was a character ready made for Hollywood. Fittingly, when his character was depicted in 2002’s We Were Soldiers, it stole every scene in which it appeared. A big and raw boned son of a West Virginia coal miner, Plumley enlisted in the US Army in 1942, and first saw combat in 1943, during the invasion of Italy. He also saw combat on D-Day as a gliderman in the 82nd Airborne Division. His next glider assault came during Operation Market Garden, in September of 1944, during which he earned a Purple Heart after getting shot in the hand.

All in all, Plumley made four combat jumps in WWII, and another in the Korean War with the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment. In that conflict, his fights included the battles of Old Baldy and Pork Chop Hill. As Plumley rose through the enlisted ranks, he earned a reputation as a gruff and no-nonsense sergeant, and a true believer in tough training and discipline who earned the nickname “Old Iron Jaw”. However, he was not a hardass just for the sake of being a hardass: experience had taught him that soldiers had to be prepared for the horrors of combat. The hard training and discipline would serve him and his men well in Vietnam.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
Basil Plumley, right, and Hal Moore in Vietnam. Pintrest

17. “Old Iron Jaw” in Vietnam

By 1965, Basil Plumley was Sergeant Major of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore, when his unit ran into and was surrounded by two North Vietnamese regiments. In the ensuing Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, Plumley shone. At one point, when he was surrounded by enemy soldiers, he pulled out his .45, hollered to his soldiers “Gentlemen, prepare to defend yourselves,” and rallied them into beating off the foe. His commander praised him to the skies, as an outstanding leader and NCO.

After 32 years in uniform, Plumley retired as a Command Sergeant Major in 1974, by which point he had become an Army legend. He gained wider fame with the 1992 publication of Hal Moore’s We Were Soldiers Once… And Young, about the battle of Ia Drang Valley, in which Plumley was prominently featured. His legend grew even more when the book was adapted by Mel Gibson into a movie in 2002, in which Plumley was portrayed masterfully by Sam Elliot. Command Sergeant Major Basil Plumley passed away in 2012, in Columbus, Georgia.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
Ed Freeman in Vietnam. Pintrest

16. Ed Freeman’s Military Career Took Him From the Navy in WWII, to the Army in Vietnam

Basily Plumlely was not the only WWII and Korean War veteran who distinguished himself in the Battle of Ia Drang. That engagement also witnessed the exploits of a helicopter pilot from Mississippi, named Ed “Too Tall” Freeman. A captain in the 1st Cavalry Division’s 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, Freeman repeatedly flew through heavy gunfire to supply the surrounded Americans, and to fly out dozens of wounded.

Freeman had dropped out of high school to join the US Navy during WWII. He ended up serving aboard the USS Cacapon, an oil tanker that supplied the American advance in the Pacific, including operations in the Solomons, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. Discharged from the Navy after the war, Freeman graduated high school, then enlisted in the Army in 1948. Two years later, he was a first sergeant in Korea, fighting in the Battle of Pork Chop Hill. Out of 257 Americans at the start of that battle, Freeman was one of only 14 survivors. His conduct earned him a battlefield commission and command of a company, which he promptly led back up Pork Chop Hill.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
Ed Freeman receiving the Medal of Honor in 2007. Stars and Stripes

15. Ed Freeman’s Heroics in Ia Drang

Ed Freeman’s commission made him eligible to become a pilot, but when he first applied, he was told that at 6 feet 4 inches, he was “too tall” – hence his nickname. The height limit for pilots was raised in 1955, and Freeman finally qualified to fly helicopters. Ten years later, during the Battle of Ia Drang, enemy fire was so intense that the landing zones were closed for evacuating wounded troops. Freeman volunteered to fly his Huey anyhow, and made fourteen trips through heavy fire, bringing in water and supplies, and taking out dozens of wounded.

Freeman was nominated for a Medal of Honor, but a deadline was missed in filing the paperwork, so he ended up with a Distinguished Service Cross, instead. Decades later, the deadline rules were changed, and Freeman became eligible once again for the country’s highest award. It took 42 years, but Ed Freeman’s 1965 heroics finally received their just recognition in 2007, when he was awarded the Medal of Honor. He passed away a year later, and was buried in the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery, in Boise.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
3rd Marine Division riflemen advancing through the mud of Bougainville. World War Photos

14. Marine Scout Sniper Walter Valentine Fought All Over the Pacific

Sergeant Major Walter Valentine joined the Marine Corps in 1942. After completing his training in Camp Lejune, he was assigned to the 3rd Marine Division, and sent to fight as a scout sniper. He took part in the 1943 assault on Bougainville, then headed to Guadalcanal for additional combat training, before participating in the amphibious landing that recaptured Guam in 1944. The following year, Valentine fought in Iwo Jima, where he earned a Purple Heart.

Iwo Jima left another mark on Valentine: as he recalled decades later, describing one of those dramatic moments of that battle, “I will never forget the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima“. After a 5 year break from fighting, Valentine next saw combat in Korea, where he became one of the “Chosin Few”, in the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. His next taste of combat would come a decade later, in Vietnam.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
Walter Valentine at the time of his retirement from Camp Pendleton. San Diego Union Tribune

13. Valentine in Vietnam and Beyond

During the Vietnam War, Valentine earned his combat air wings as a helicopter door gunner. Reminiscing about his experiences decades later, he stated “I served with many fine and heroic men and women during some of our countrys major combat missions … The friendships and respect we have for one another has lasted through the years“. In 1973, after 31 years in uniform, Valentine retired from the Marines with the rank of Sergeant Major.

However, retirement did not end Valentine’s involvement with the Marines. In 1980, he got a job in Camp Pendleton as a civilian employee, running retirement seminars for Marines and sailors, and helping them land jobs in the civilian world. By the time that second career came to an end three decades later, Valentine estimates that he had helped about 20,000 transitioning service members. All in all, Sergeant Major Valentine spent 65 years with the Marines, both in and out of uniform, before finally retiring for good in 2014.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
Robert Arthur White. Oklahoma History Center

12. Robert White First Shone in WWII

Robert Arthur White was born in Clarion, Iowa, in 1924. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, a teenaged White enlisted in the US Army in 1942, and ended up as an infantryman in the 100th Division. His unit was sent to the European Theater, and after landing in Marseilles in the fall of 1944, the 100th was assigned to the US Seventh Army. It ended up fighting in the Moselle region and the Vosges Mountains. On December 9th, 1944, White’s platoon came under heavy German attack, and he was wounded in his left hand, both arms, and his back.

The fight raged into the night, with both sides taking heavy casualties. By the following morning, the 36 man American platoon had been reduced to seven men, including a wounded White. Between them, they only had 90 rounds left. White was the only non-commissioned officer still alive, so he took charge of the survivors, and led them in a breakout to the nearest American lines. However, that involved crossing an open field, 600 yards wide, under enemy fire. White was wounded again, this time by shrapnel in his left leg and ankle. One of his men was severely injured, and was unable to continue, so White picked him and carried him to safety. His wounds in combat earned him a Purple Heart, and his conduct earned him a Silver Star.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
Robert Arthur White. Memorial Solutions

11. Robert White in Korea and Vietnam

In March of 1945, Robert White earned a Bronze Star with “V” device, for heroic action near Spitzberg, France. On that occasion, White, by then a technical sergeant, skillfully maneuvered his platoon to overcome an enemy blocking position, and thus allowed his unit to continue its advance. He was discharged after WWII, but reenlisted four years later – just in time for the Korean War’s outbreak in 1950. On August 19th, 1950, White earned another Purple Heart, when he was injured by North Korean artillery fire.

He recovered, and stayed in the Army, to serve two tours in the next major conflict, the Vietnam War. During his second tour in Vietnam, in 1971, White found out from the Army Times that he had been promoted to Command Sergeant Major. His last posting was CSM of an artillery battalion in Fort Carson, Colorado, where he served until retiring from the Army in 1975. He then moved to Wichita Falls, Texas, where he became a fruit farmer. On his free time, he did volunteer work in nearby Sheppard Air Force Base. He moved to Lawton, Oklahoma, in 1998, where he died in 2012.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
Soldiers of the 43rd Infantry Division landing at Rendova Island in the Solomons, in 1943. Wikimedia

10. Charles Alex is One of the Oldest Surviving Veterans of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam

In 1940, Charles Alex joined the Connecticut Army National Guard, as an infantryman in the 43rd Division. The division was activated for federal service in February of 1941, and when America joined WWII, it and Alex were sent to the Pacific Theater. There, Alex, saw significant combat, as the 43rd first fought in New Guinea, then in the Northern Solomons, before finally ending up in Luzon, in the Philippines. However, Alex got a reassignment in 1944, that sent him to the other side of the globe, in the European Theater. He served in France, then Germany, until the war ended.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
Charles Alex in 2019. Connecticut Examiner

After the war, Alex stayed in the National Guard, and was called back to active duty in 1949. The following year, he was sent to Korea, and a decade later, he ended up serving in Vietnam. After a long military career, which he began as a E-1 buck private, Alex retired in 1969 as a lieutenant colonel. Today, Charles Alex is still going strong, at 99. On June 1st, 2019, he was the oldest veteran at a picnic to honor WWII veterans in Middle Haddam, Connecticut.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
Tomas Fajardo during a 2013 BBQ at Fort Sam Houston. US Army dot Mil

9. Sergeant Tomas Fajardo, of ‘Maine’

Sergeant Tomas Fajardo lived his entire life, except for his 20 years in the US Army, in his birthplace of San Antonio, Texas. As he often joked “I always told the guys when they asked me ‘where you from?’ that I’m from Maine … the ‘main’ part of Texas, San Antonio“. He enlisted in the Army during WWII, and counts himself lucky to have made it to retirement dinged and scarred, but still in one piece.

Fajardo’s most dramatic moment in uniform came when a mortar shell exploded nearby, rendering him deaf and blind for two months, before his sight and hearing started coming back. After WWII, it was on to Korea, where Fajardo served from 1950 to 1951. A decade and a half later, he was in Vietnam. There, he escaped traumatic injury, but was exposed to Agent Orange, which left him with health problems for the rest of his life. After retirement, Fajardo spent much of his free time doing volunteer work, helping disabled veterans in nearby VA hospitals.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
Raymond Stephen Morales. Obituary

8. Gunnery Sergeant Raymond Morales Lied About His Age to Join the Marines

In 1943, Stephen Raymond Morales, then all of 16 years old, wanted to become a US Marine. So he lied about his age, and convinced a USMC recruiter to sign him up. After training, he was sent to the Pacific Theater, where he took part in numerous operations. Morales was discharged after the end of WWII, but his Marine days were not over: he reenlisted in 1947, and ended up in Korea when the war began there three years later.

Morales served with the 1st Marine Division in the Korean War, where he earned the Purple Heart for wounds suffered on September 26th, 1950. He recovered from his wounds in time to become one of the “Chosin Few” – those who fought in the icy hell of the Chosin Reservoir. Morales stayed in the Marines after Korea, and was still in the USMC when the Vietnam War came along. He saw combat with his beloved Corps in that conflict, including during the Siege of Khe Sanh. Morales retired from the Marines as a Master Gunnery Sergeant, then worked for the General Services Administration for another 20 years. He passed away in 2002, at age 75.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
GIs during the Battle of the Bulge. National WW2 Museum

7. Harry Miller’s Unforgettable Memories

Harry Miller spent 22 years in uniform, first in the US Army, then in the Air Force. What still stands out the most in his memories from all that time is the soul sapping cold weather he experienced as a teenager during the Battle of the Bulge. He had joined the Army when he was only 15, after lying about his age in order to enlist. After completion of his training, Miller ended up in northern Europe, assigned to the 740th Tank Battalion. On December 19th, 1944, his unit came face to face with elements of the 1st SS Panzer Division.

After a brisk engagement in which the lead three enemy tanks were destroyed by a trio of refurbished American tanks that the 740th had received just a few hours earlier, the Germans were forced to retreat. As Miller recalled decades later: “It was so damn cold — ice and snow on the roads and the tanks would slide around … But we pushed them out of there. Thats the highlight of my service – the 740th Tank Battalion. That’s my first love“.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
Harry Miller. Stars and Stripes

6. From the Army to the Air Force

Harry Miller stayed in Europe after the war, until 1948, when he was reassigned to Japan. There, he ended up as a communications specialist in Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters. When the Korean War broke out, Miller accompanied MacArthur when he became commander of the UN forces in that conflict. Unlike in Europe, Miller’s HQ job kept him away from the front lines in Korea. After his tour in MacArthur’s HQ ended, Miller tried to get new orders for Korea, but it did not pan out.

In 1954, after completing his second enlistment, Miller joined the Air Force, and ended up in the communications staff of the Strategic Air Command. In that capacity, he helped plan the communications and cryptology of bombers in the Vietnam War. He retired after 22 years of service, with fond memories of his time in uniform. As he stated in 2018: “I tell people in the military to stay in for as long as you possibly can … For me, I retired 52 years ago and I’ve never once, not for a moment, been sorry about my time in the military“.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
5th Infantry Division during the advance towards Metz. Wikimedia

5. Floyd Madison Wilson, From Czechoslovakia, to Korea, to Vietnam

Floyd Madison Wilson was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1924, and joined the US Army during WWII. He served with the 35th Infantry Regiment, before getting reassigned to the 5th Infantry Division, with whom Wilson saw combat in the European Theater. He distinguished himself as a combat patrol leader, as the 5th fought its way from Normandy in northern France, all the way to Czechoslovakia in central Europe by war’s end.

After the war, Wilson graduated from Fort Benning’s Parachute and Glider School in 1948. When the Korean War began, he found himself back with his original unit, the 35th Infantry Regiment, and fought with them throughout that conflict. He remained in the Army long enough for the Vietnam War, where ended up serving in Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), in an intelligence capacity. He retired as a major, after a long military career during which he received the Bronze Star with two oak leaves, various Purple Hearts for wounds in action, and sundry other decorations. Floyd Madison Wilson passed away in 2003, and was buried in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
Luke Kline in WWII. Quora

4. Luke Kline Began His Combat Career in North Africa

In late 1942, American and British forces invaded French North Africa as part of Operation Torch. It was in North Africa, in 1943, that a 19 year old GI named Luke Kenneth Kline got his first taste of combat. After the last Axis forced surrendered in Tunisia that spring, Kline’s unit was sent to Italy, where he served for the remainder of WWII. In the war’s final days, Kline’s unit was in the vicinity of where Italian partisans caught and executed Mussolini.

Il Duce’s corpse, and that of his mistress, Clara Petacci, were first displayed in the street, where Kline got to see them, before the partisans took them to Milan. There, Mussolini and his mistress was publicly displayed, hanging upside down, dangling by their ankles from meat hooks. Kline was demobilized after the war ended, but his return to civilian life did not last long, and he reenlisted in the Army in 1947.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
Luke Kline in Vietnam. Quora

3. Luke Kline in Korea, Europe, and Vietnam

Having first fought in Africa and Europe, Luke Kline next saw combat in Asia, when the communist North Koreans invaded the south. The way Kline remembered it, fighting in the cold of the Korean Peninsula was far more unpleasant than his experience of combat in North Africa and Italy. After the fighting ended in Korea, Kline remained in the Army, and was posted to Germany from 1956 to 1960. There, he served on detached duty with the CIA as a courier for sensitive documents, escorting people around Germany, and running safe houses for spies.

Kline next served in the US, until 1966, when he was sent to Vietnam. Posted to Ban Ma Thout, in the Central Highlands, Kline supported special forces as they trained Montagnard tribesmen to resist the Viet Cong. He frequently accompanied his colonel as he was choppered around the region, in daily inspections of the special forces teams in the bush. They were hairy rides, and Kline usually sat on his flak jacket, because his helicopter was often fired at from below. He was not safe on the ground, either: on one occasion, his compound was overrun by the VC, and Kline earned a Purple Heart for wounds sustained while fending off the enemy. Luke Kenneth Kline recovered, and lived to be 93, before passing away in 2018.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
Luke Kline in old age. Quora

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
Jim Phelps in WWII. Panama City News Herald

2. Jim Phelps Enlisted During WWII at Age 15

As 1944 drew to a close, Jim Phelps had a dilemma. Many of the young Oklahoman’s friends were going off to fight in WWII, and he wanted to go too, but at age 15, he was just too young. So he got some of his friends to forge a letter purporting to be from his parents, giving their approval for his joining the Army. In 1945, a recruiter accepted the letter at face value, and Phelps was off to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for training.

After training, he was sent to the Philippines as a tank driver, but saw far less action than he’d hoped for. By the time he got there, the main Japanese resistance had been broken, and all that was left were mopping up operations. Phelps did not even get to experience that much mopping up, as Japan surrendered shortly after his arrival. He was then sent to Japan as part of the occupation force, and stayed there until 1947, when he was discharged. He would be back in uniform soon enough.

These Tough Americans Fought In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam
Jim Phelps in 2016. Panama City News Herald

1. Phelps in Korea and Vietnam

Back in the US, Jim Phelps went back to high school, and graduated in 1948. He then took advantage of the GI Bill to get in some college. He left college in 1950 to enlist – this time legally – in the Air Force, and was sent to Korea as a staff sergeant. He did not find his Korean War experience agreeable. As he put it years later: “I didn’t like Korea. Korea is cold and hilly“.

In 1966, Phelps volunteered for service in Vietnam, and he recalls that what stood out the most for him were helicopters. He had seen no helicopters in WWII, and only a few in Korea, but choppers were all over the place in Vietnam. Another difference he noticed between his first war and his last was the civilian response. “World War II was a different kind of thing – everybody was patriotic“. He retired from the service in 1969, and got a construction job in Vietnam, where he met and married his wife. He returned to the US, and became a cop for a decade, before retiring for good in 1980. Thereafter, Mr and Mrs. Phelps spent much of their free time in volunteer work at their local VFW in Panama City Beach, Florida.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Army dot Mil, May 22nd, 2013 – Best Warriors Honor Veteran of World War II, Korea, Vietnam

CT Examiner, June 1st, 2019 – Middle Haddam Picnic Honors WWII Vets

Florida Times Union, October 12th, 2012 – Veteran of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Portrayed in ‘We Were Soldiers’, Dies at 92

NPR, October 11th, 2012 – Veteran Fought in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam

Oklahoma History Center – Command Sergeant Major Robert Arthur White

Olds, Robin, and Olds, Christina – Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds (2010)

Orange County Register, July 28th, 2012 – These Men Fought in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam

Panama City News Herald, November 8th, 2016 – PCB Veteran’s Service Spanned WWII, Korea, Vietnam

Quora – Has Any Single Person Ever Fought in Both World War II and Vietnam?

San Diego Union Tribune, February 26th, 2014 – World War II Vet Retires After 65 Years With the Marines

Stars and Stripes, February 28th, 2007 – Vietnam War Helicopter Pilot Awarded Medal of Honor

Stars and Stripes, May 7th, 2018 – Veteran Who Served During World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, to Speak at VE Day Ceremony in DC

War History Online – This 86 Year Old American Veteran Served WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam

Wikipedia – Basil L. Plumley

Wikipedia – Ed Freeman

WJHG News 7, January 18th, 2018 – Local VFW Serving the Community

WTVR News 6, July 14th, 2016 – Hero Who Served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam Says 1 Thing Kept Him Alive

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