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Ellis Coleman has more than the tragic memories of his time and his comrades in Korea.
It has been 60 years since the Korean War ended, but he still suffers from health related issues due to his injury suffered by a 120 mortar shell during his first tour as a rifleman in 1951.
He did two tours in the rough climate and mountainous terrain and got numerous accolades including Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.
“I seen things I was so scared I couldn’t move. I seen times I didn’t care. We had all kinds of feelings when you get into combat,” Coleman said.
Thinking about the friends he made there still makes him emotional.
“I seen a lot of buddies go that got killed. It is pretty hard, some of it,” he admits.
Coleman wasn’t quite grown when he made his way out of Eastern Kentucky, where coal mining was the main occupation.
Coleman had errors in his school records saying he was old enough, and at 16 he signed his mother’s name on paperwork permitting him to join the U.S. Army. At 17 he was in Korea.
“I lived up in the eastern part of Kentucky where Virginia and West Virginia’s borders are together. There just wasn’t anything around. It was something I wanted to do,” Coleman said.
From Fort Knox he went to Massachusetts, where he was when fighting broke out in Korea.
Before he knew it, the rifleman was heading overseas.
They took a ship in the middle of the night from Japan and a short time later were in Busan, South Korea.
Coleman joined others in the foxholes in the mountains.
“A lot of times we slept in the foxholes, an hour on, an hour off,” Coleman said.
The North Koreans had pushed into the south and for an intense period the Americans kept moving, pushing them back.
“Up until I got wounded it was on the move,” Coleman said.
He was injured April 11, 1951.
“They drug me off the mountain. The only thing I could move after I got wounded was my right arm. They just got ahold of my poncho and drug me off the mountain,” Coleman said.
He doesn’t remember anything until he woke up in a hospital in Japan a few days later.
“The shell did more damage than the shrapnel did,” Coleman said.
Not long ago at a reunion in Pigeon Forge he saw the two men that pulled him off the mountain.
It was when he returned to his outfit for his second tour in 1952 after being released from the hospital that he began really noticing the internal damage from the mortar, including colon problems.
He still has shrapnel in him today.
“I had it from my heel to my head,” he said of the shrapnel when it hit.
One of the hardest memories for him was losing a whole squad when he was a platoon sergeant.
Six were killed and two were captured.
“I found one dead and I brought him back (out),” Coleman said.
The men had been together quite awhile and built a strong kinship.
When they all got killed like that it really hurt,” Coleman said.
He remembers going further north and having Thanksgiving near the Yellow River.
That same night they began traveling south.
“We didn’t know it, but the Chinese were in the mountains. They were closing in behind us,” Coleman said. “We just made it out. A lot of us, most of our outfit, got out.”
Later they were setting up a line in South Korea to prepare for the Chinese. It was foggy that morning, and when the fog lifted an unpleasant surprise greeted the Americans.
“I never saw so many men in all my life in one place,” Coleman said of the countless Chinese.
Many of the Chinese didn’t even have rifles, instead having a knife on bamboo, swarming over the Americans and grabbing what guns they could from fallen soldiers.
“It was just one wave after another. If it wasn’t for the Air Force we’d all be gone,” Coleman said.
Coleman remembers the winters there being bitterly cold.
“The first winter it got down 20 below zero. Sitting on top of those mountains and that wind blowing—shew,” Coleman said.
Coleman received a number of medals, including three Bronze Stars, for his service.