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St. Clairsville veteran recalls action in Korea

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK St. Clairsville American Legion Commander Larry Barnes, left, congratulates Tom Young as Veteran of the Month. Young served in Korea in 1960.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Tom Young, the St. Clairsville American Legion Veteran of the Month, saw some action far from home when he served in Korea from 1960-61.

As a private 1st class in the U.S. Army, he was a member of First Observation Battalion, 25th Artillery, which dated from the early 1900s and originated in World War I.

By 1960, the Korean War had been largely concluded for seven years following a ceasefire, though a heavily fortified demilitarized zone, guarded on both sides, remains in place to this day.

Young’s primary mission was to locate enemy artillery for U.S. forces to target.

“I was a forward observer. I had to go up near the enemy line and watch the firing of their artillery. Wherever it hit, I had to call the coordinates in so they could change the position of their weapons,” he said.

Young also had to be on alert to move in the event of an offensive from North Korea.

“Our purpose there … was to really withdraw from there should an alert or should we be attacked, and set up our unit above Seoul. We wanted to defend the capital. We were on alert constantly, every day. If the bell sounded, we had to get out of there and cross a bridge and set up our unit down there. Today, there’s no worry about that, because their artillery from the north would reach Seoul at no time at all. We wouldn’t have to have a defense posture,” he said. “U.S. military units are not on the DMZ like I was. They have been placed 10 miles south of Seoul.”

Young described encounters with North Korean troops.

“I had a couple episodes of contact with the enemy. The fighting was still going on across the DMZ. There was name-calling. They would set up an ambush and shoot across the DMZ at us. We would fire back at them. That’s when you hugged the earth to try to save your life,” he said.

He said he volunteered for one special assignment in which he tried to capture North Korean saboteurs.

“We had a lot of fires set around our oil and gas dump, and it was because they were infiltrating. Not across the DMZ, we didn’t know how they were getting there,” he said, adding that U.S. forces later discovered the North Koreans were crossing using tunnels and boats.

“The only weapons weapons we had was a bayonet and a gag because if we did capture someone, they didn’t want the other side to know about it, so we couldn’t make any noise,” he said.

“The second night we heard someone and challenged him. I asked for ID as much as we could because we couldn’t speak Korean. He reached into his pocket and with a swift kick he knocked me down,” Young said. “I took off after him. I tackled him and I tried to grab his mouth, and I pulled his eyeball out. I didn’t mean to do that, but what are you going to do?”

They turned their prisoner over to intelligence after the scuffle.

Young said the environment was different from anything he had known.

“It got cold there, 32 degrees below zero … ,” he said. “Many of the soldiers froze to death on both sides. The weather was hot in the summer, and of course they had the monsoon season in the Far East. You couldn’t even drive a Jeep.”

Young had enlisted in the service due to a lack of jobs at home and because he comes from a military family. He said his grandfather was a Confederate soldier and his father fought in Guadalcanal during World War II. A resident of St. Clairsville, he is originally from Sugar Creek, West Virginia.

Young continues to help veterans. He serves as president of the Ohio Valley chapter of the Korean War veterans and is a member of the Belmont County Veterans Service Commission. In civilian life, he worked for State Farm Insurance as an attorney/negotiator and sold real estate. He received an award from the U.S. Navy in 2019. He said in a five-year period, he has sold 60 to 65 homes to veterans.

“I’m in real estate. I sell a lot of homes to veterans and I won an award for selling the most homes in the area to veterans,” he said, noting the Veterans United financing company refers veterans to him.

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