Sister Remembers Brother Killed in Korean War
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 14, 2003 Gernilee Carter, 58, was only 5 years old when her brother, Donovan "Don" Carter, then 18, became one of the first casualties of the Korean War when he was killed on July 12, 1950.
Some 50 years later, July 27, 2003, she made her first journey to the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National Mall for DoD's anniversary of the signing of the armistice ended fighting.
Carter attached a black and white photo of her brother to the memorial's shiny, black granite wall. She said there hasn't been a day in more than 53 years that she hasn't thought about the death of her beloved brother.
His "little sister," and the youngest of five siblings, Carter said she and Don were close. She remembers him as "big, handsome, cuddly, loving and happy."
"He adored me. He was my first love," Carter said.
"He 'lied his age,' as the saying goes, to join the Army in 1948," Carter said she found out after she got older. "His date of birth was Feb. 28, 1932. He wrote upon enlistment that he was born in 1930."
On July 5, 1950, Task Force Smith, the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, was the first U.S. unit to engage the North Koreans, she noted. And her brother's unit -- Company M, 3rd Battalion, 21st Regiment, 24th Infantry Division -- followed "immediately," she added.
According to the information on the Web site for DoD's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the war, most of the men were 20 years old or less; only one- sixth had seen combat. The Americans were vulnerable to enemy flanking attacks, lacked the means to stop enemy tanks and were without reserves. Carter's extensive research indicated that her brother's company was "totally surrounded by the North Koreans armed with Russian-built T-34 tanks. The result was not wonderful and I've never forgotten him for a day."
"I have an individual personnel file that tells exactly where his remains were, where they took them temporarily and what they were wrapped in," Carter said. "I know everything, even every wound he had."
The remains of Army Pfc. Donovan "Don" Carter were brought home to his family about three years after his death on the Korean battlefield. They were buried in a cemetery across the street from where the family lived in Northumberland, Pa.
"Mother couldn't handle that, so we had to sell the house and move away," Carter noted. The family moved across the Susquehanna River, "for my mother's peace of mind."
She said no one else from her family came to DoD's recent 50th anniversary recognition or to visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial, "because they found this all too painful."
Carter didn't attend the dedication of the memorial in 1995, but said she's active on the Internet with the Korean War chat line. On Aug. 1, she attended a "Tiger Survivors" dinner in Northumberland. They are a group of men who survived harsh treatment by the North Korean major who American prisoners of war called "The Tiger."
She e-mailed a message that day saying she was "quite excited and nervous" about talking with her brother's Company M comrades who "were with him in battle when he died."
Carter said she also stays in touch with others who were in the battle with her brother. One, Jack Higdon, whom she said miraculously survived, went on to earn the Silver Star Medal for valor in Vietnam.
"He says Vietnam was a piece of cake compared to Korea," Carter said.
"Death affected the family profoundly in many, many ways," she noted. "Don's young, killed-in-action death shaped our lives in ways that would not have happened had he not been killed in such a place, manner and time. This is probably the case with other families losing members in war."
Standing next to the memorial's long, shiny granite wall, Carter said she didn't realize that the memorial is so large and the statues are spread out so far apart, trying to replicate the rough terrain in Korea.
"I was speechless and overcome with emotion when I first saw the memorial," she said. "The statues are so big, maybe one and a half times the size of a real person. I'm very impressed and grateful that they've done this since it is called the forgotten war."
The 19 larger-than-life, stainless-steel statues of poncho-clad soldiers, Marines and airmen are the memorial's centerpieces. Doctors, nurses, medics, truck drivers, supply specialists, cooks and all the other support troops are represented on the shiny black granite wall.
Carter said people should be aware of the fact that the armistice anniversary that resulted in a cease-fire was just that - a cease-fire. "The war is still going on," said Carter. "The North Koreans present us with danger all the time.
"Therefore, we need to remember that North Korea is still a threat," she noted.
The men honored by the memorial didn't die without purpose, Carter said. The memorial honors Americans who answered the call, worked and fought under the trying of circumstances, and those who gave their lives for the cause of freedom, she concluded.