Korean War Story of James R. Henegar, colonel (retired) [deceased 11/16/2019]
The following is a submission in response to the American Legion article in the May 2022 magazine calling for stories of veterans’ experiences during the Korean War. I’m writing this to include my father-in-law’s experience as he recalled it to me during the last years of his life. James passed the day after his 91st birthday in 2019, after living a very successful, full life with a loving family, despite his battles with disease through the years brought on from Agent Orange exposure during two tours in Vietnam. He was an Armor officer who served with distinction for 20 years, earning the rank of colonel, the National Defense Service Medal (1 OLC), Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal w/DVC 60, Vietnam Cross for Gallantry w/Palm, Bronze Star Medal (1 OLC), Army Commendation Medal (2 OLC), CIB, Korean Service Medal, Meritorious Unit Citation (2AWD), Air Service Medal Honor Class, Armed Forces Reserve Medal 10 YR DVC, Vietnam Navy Service Medal Honor Class and Joint Services Commendation Medal.
Col. Henegar served as a young Sherman tank commander [he named his tank Patsy after his gal, who later became his wife of 60+ years!] during the Korean conflict, where he and his tank unit were recognized by the division commander with the unusual award of the Combat Infantryman Badge even though they were armor and not infantry. His unit was involved in battles in the Chosin Reservoir, as well as other key battles. His unit was also the last U.S. Army tank unit on the line when the armistice agreement was signed in 1953, and American forces began withdrawing from the front lines to be replaced by ROK units. As the ROK did not have their own armor units at the time, our tank units had to stay on the line in support of the ROK army. His unit helped establish the military demarcation line, and each day opposing armies pulled back until the DMZ was established with a 2,000-meter buffer, where it remains to this day. Soon after the armistice was established, the North Koreans reached out to the front line on the U.N. side, contacting Henegar’s unit about a G.I. found barely alive in the zone. It seems a soldier had been wounded in the last days of fighting and took to ground, where he somehow survived his wounds and hid out in a depression until he was found by a North Korean patrol. After conferring with Company and higher HQ, it was agreed that Henegar would take a litter with his crew, unarmed, into the DMZ under escort by the North Koreans to retrieve the soldier back to our lines, which happened without further incident. This was a very tense time, as any incursion into the DMZ was cause for either side to resume fighting! The soldier was medevac’d to the States, where he recovered. They apparently reconnected when James returned to the U.S. in San Francisco!
My father-in-law, who proudly served and survived three separate combat tours as an Armor officer, retiring as a colonel after 20 years of honorable service, told me as the young naïve fiancé to his daughter, trying to decide whether to join the Army or the Air Force, the following: he would never forget while having to hunker down in a freezing foxhole under his tank during incoming artillery shelling, looking back in the distance to the air base knowing the Air Force personnel were getting “3 hots and a cot” on a tarmac! Then he said if I intended to marry his daughter, I would not be joining the Army, which is ironic when he was told the same thing by his future in-laws! Needless to say, I joined the USAF, serving 20+ years!