Heartbreak Ridge, DMZ - Barker on Hill 931, Heartbreak Ridge. Photo by Ministry of Defense, Republic of Korea. 1989

 

 

Wide View Of the Hill 851-520 ridgeline.

Picture 

Hill 931 October 1951. Looking north. Photo by 23d Infantry.

 

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 Return To Heartbreak
Ridge

A Journey Into The Past

By Hal Barker
 

 

Chapter One

Purple Heart

I leaned back and threw the medal high in the air. The wind caught the symbol of blood spilled. The token of war sailed out of sight down the face of Heartbreak Ridge. The South Korean Officers with me applauded, and then became silent. We had our thoughts. I looked at my watch. It was 6 P.M., February 15, 1989. I couldn't feel the wind or the cold.

I was thinking what happened here, right here on this mountain, in the bitter fall of 1951, during the Korean War. A young Marine Corsair pilot, of Chicago, was hit by friendly fire over Heartbreak Ridge on October 7, 1951. His aircraft exploded, a wing came off, a parachute opened.

An urgent call came in to the operations tent at Marine Observation Squadron Six a few miles to the southeast of Heartbreak Ridge. Major Edward Lee Barker of Crockett, Texas, volunteered to attempt a helicopter rescue.

The Silver Star citation reads:     

"...Making his way through a heavy artillery  barrage, (Major Barker) bravely pressed on toward his objective and although his aircraft was hit and damaged, carried out three daring attempts to pick up the downed airman, returning to base only when it became apparent  that rescue by helicopter was impossible..."

The Colonel

We stood on the apron at El Toro Marine Corps Air Base in September 1951, watching my father leave for the Korean War. I was almost 4 years old, a Marine brat born at Aiea Naval Hospital overlooking Pearl Harbor.

On that same transport plane was another Marine  pilot, 2nd Lieutenant Arthur D. DeLacy. I have only  the barest memories of the concrete, the smell of exhaust and the noise of the engines, the steps up to the aircraft, the control tower to my right, my mother holding my hand,  the warm California sun. I was too young to understand what was happening. I would learn years later what it  meant.

The Colonel I knew from photographs wore his medals well.  And proudly. But without words. He would not talk about Korea, or really much else. I grew up with him, watched him, but knew  nothing abouthim. Nothing at all. He was the Colonel, and I was the younger son. We were glad years later, when he went overseas again, it was a respite from order and  discipline. My older brother took the brunt, nothing was expected from me. I lived my own life, deep in books.  I was ignored, and I seemed to like it that way. I paid a  price I could not afford.

My father would never talk about the medals on his  dress blues. I found out for myself. A letter to Headquarters Marine Corps in 1979 brought the copy of  his citation. I let it lay for a while.

It was tough growing up the son of a United States Marine pilot. I was a sickly child, with asthma and allergies, and all that goes with being sick a great deal  of the time. I would strike out at baseball, and dad  would yell at me as if I was an idiot. Coach put me in  right field. I vividly remember my last baseball game at  ten years old, Kingsville, Texas, when the fly ball landed at my side. I picked it up, threw valiantly, and  struck the runner in the leg. Another error for Hal Barker,  and I never played ball again. Later, the doctors at Camp Lejeune would find I was almost blind, and prescribed thick glasses.

In reality, I gained breathing space. I learned to smile  and to take things easy. Most importantly, I learned to laugh at myself, that tough little kid in right field.

Twenty years later, I would read a book by Pat Conroy, The Great Santini. It was as if Conroy had  gotten inside my head, telling the story of a Marine fighter pilot and his family. I put the book down, and called my father for the first time in years. I wanted to finally resolve a conflict. I  flew to San Francisco a few days later, but it did not  work out. He was still the Colonel, and I was the little kid who always struck out.

I didn't give up. In 1982, the Colonel and I finally talked about Korea.

"It was a case of getting up in the morning before daybreak, flying missions, coming back, sleeping when you could, and flying missions..."

"I wasn't a hero. I was scared. Medals were a dime a dozen. It was unbelievable what we did out there. It was the beginning of helicopter warfare. But medals were not just given, they were earned."

"I saw DeLacy. I knew him. He was lying flat on the ground. His parachute was beside him. We figured he was tied down, or severely injured. He may have been a decoy. I hovered over him, and we were hit by small arms fire. I went down into a valley while our aircraft strafed the area. I went back three times, and the  third time we called it off, the F4-U's in the area had to go home, they  were out of ammunition."

" I couldn't get him."

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