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Department of Florida (DoF)

Korean Vet (Bill McCraney) Remembers Forgotten War

Posted: May 27, 2013 1:26 PM EDT Updated: May 27, 2013 2:31 PM EDT

By Steve Andrews, 8 wfla.com        See Video


Korean Vet (Bill McCraney) Remembers Forgotten WarBill McCraney was barely 18 years old in 1950.  Too young to vote, too young to buy a beer, and too young for a driver's license in his native Louisiana. 

But he was old enough to enlist in the army, and he was old enough to fight in America's forgotten war.

"They know that you don't have any sense at 18 years old," McCraney said.

McCraney, who now lives in Bartow, hoped to join his brother in Japan. The army sent him to South Korea.

In June of that year, the North Korean army invaded the south. Within a matter of weeks the communists controlled nearly all of the Korean peninsula.

"The whole purpose of the Korean War was to fight communism," he said.

McCraney was with the 25th Infantry. His unit was part of a United Nations force that helped turned the tide of the war.

U.N. forces beat back the invading North Koreans, pushing them far north of the 38th parallel, which divided the two countries.

In October the tide turned again. The Chinese communists rushed hundreds of thousands of troops into the war. They overwhelmed U.N. forces.

McCraney says the 25th Infantry was within 25 miles of the Chinese border at the time. He remembers marching hundreds of miles on frost bitten feet to escape to the south.

The Chinese launched a massive offensive in the spring of 1951, pouring hundreds of thousands of troops into the south.

"They kept coming, wave after wave after wave," he said. "It's terrifying, you're scared al the time. You never find an atheist in the front line, I guarantee you, they're always praying."

McCraney, by then a corporal, says the 25th Infantry fought day after day, night after night.

"We fought three different armies. We fought the North Korean army, we fought the Mongolian army from China and then we fought the Chinese too," McCraney recalls.

By May, the allies had succeeded in beating back the Chinese.

As the U.N. pushed the enemy north of Seoul, McCraney's platoon was ordered to take hill 329.

300 Chinese soldiers waited for them.

"We lost a lot of men on that hill," McCraney said.

An enemy machine gun cut down his platoon leader.

Under heavy fire McCraney crawled over the rugged terrain.

"I don't know why I stood up, I don't know what happened to me, I took out the machine gun nest," he said.

He used hand grenades to silence the machine gun nest, then shot the Chinese soldiers to make sure they were dead.  As he peered out of the nest, he saw hundreds of Chinese.

"I looked at my little old 8 shot rifle, you know and I said, this is not good," he said.

He tried turning the enemy machine gun on the Chinese, but they lobbed hand grenades into the hole.

McCraney jumped out. Shrapnel from a grenade that landed on top of the nest tore through his leg.

He ran down the hill and grabbed a Browning Automatic Rifle.

"I started back up the hill again, and started raking everybody I could see, you know the Chinese," McCraney said. "I looked around and my men had come up there with me, you know, so we got a foothold on the hill. We ran them off, there was 300 Chinese on that hill."

Under heavy sniper fire, he then assisted a wounded soldier to an aid station at the bottom of the hill.

For extraordinary heroism and steadfast devotion to duty the army awarded Bill McCraney the Distinguished Service Cross.

"It's right under the Medal of Honor, I was very proud," McCraney said.

In the battle for hill 329, the army awarded the Distinguished Service Cross to three soldiers, McCraney, along with Lieutenants Willis Jackson and Paul Clawson.

McCraney says he and Jackson remain friends to this day. They work to preserve and honor the memory of Clawson, who died that day in 1951.

More than 33,000 Americans died in combat in the forgotten war. McCraney remembers many who did not come home.

"It is an honor, you know, to fight for freedom," McCraney said.

He plans no special observance this Memorial Day. He just hopes to enjoy the peace, the quiet, the freedom that he earned.