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James Tate, Veteran of Heartbreak Ridge
(Second Installment)
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 by Frank Shortt
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C
On the lonely hillsides of South Korea in 1951, a young soldier writes to his uncle after he is wounded in action as his Division tries to take, what is later called, Heartbreak Ridge. This is because of all the death and misery encountered there.

James Tate of Backstrop, Louisiana, was called to serve in the U.S. Army after North Korea overran South Korea intending to take them over. He was still in his teens and after training in the U.S., he was sent to South Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division. After he was wounded severely, he was written the following letter from the Division Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Robert N. Young: 

Dear Cpl. Tate,
     We are very grateful to you for the brave and effective service you have rendered for the 2nd Inf. Div. We are truly sorry that you have been so severely wounded as to necessitate your evacuation from this Division. Our best wishes go with you for a complete and speedy recovery from your wounds and that your complete recovery will be soon enough to permit your return to our division.

     You can expect there will be some depressing hours during your hospitalization, and later convalescence, but a man like you, who has proven his courage on the field of battle, will be able to overcome and conquer those difficult days ahead. Keep your spirits up; relax and retain faith in your God and your doctors.

     If you return to the United States, do not forget our old Indianhead “Second to None” Division. For those who wish to join it, and help it maintain its fighting spirit, give words of encouragement. Do this only to those soldiers who, in your opinion, will help us maintain the traditions of this Division, and who are willing to do their duty to take the same chances of making a sacrifice that you, yourself, have done.

     Again, thanks! The best of luck, and God bless you and your family.

     Sincerely,

     Robert N. Young
     Major General, U.S.A.
     Commanding

How must this young G.I. have felt as he read the words of his commanding officer? Did he feel proud? Probably not at the moment he read the letter. Did he feel disdain? Did he feel that this was a needless sacrifice? Did he feel alone? It would have been an honor to have interviewed Jim at the time he received this letter. I had the honor later to have met this man, suffering from PTSD (As it has been named in recent years). He awoke many times in cold sweats, remembering the devastation he saw in Korea. He sometimes turned to alcohol to assuage the pain he suffered mentally and physically, as did many other veterans of that awful conflict that was fought under freezing conditions, also under the strain of realizing that not much help was on the way.

I am reminded of another story I was told by Rudy Caloca, one of the veterans of the same war: “We were on the front lines when Thanksgiving approached. We were promised a hot meal by our squad leader. On Thanksgiving Day, the food arrived alright, but instead of it being hot, it was frozen solid by the time it reached us. We had to thaw it out as best we could with Bunson Burners, glad to have gotten some nourishment!” Such were the conditions that these young men, and some veterans of the Second World war, were fighting under.

The first time Jim was wounded he was only allowed to recuperate a few days then sent back to the front lines as there was a severe shortage of manpower. His wounds were not even fully healed. I am sure he did some complaining, but he had to obey his superiors!

Hopefully, in the next installment, I can copy the letter in full that he wrote to his uncle Woody while in the hospital. This is the stuff that bravery consists of!

Note: One of the readers of the first installment told me that his uncle, Joe Pacheco, was wounded in that same battle for Heartbreak Ridge, and was shot twice by, of all things, a Burp Gun!