Enoch: Casualties of war, part III

Published 10:18 am Saturday, December 30, 2023

By Harry Enoch

Contributing Writer

The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when communist North Korean troops invaded South Korea.  The United States would suffer 33,686 battle deaths in Korea.  One of those was nineteen-year-old John J. Clemens, a son of John and Lela Clemens of Winchester.

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John J. Clemens

John Julius Clemens was born March 31, 1932 and grew up on Pearl Street in Winchester.  His father was a long-time employee of the Winchester Water Works.  After graduating from Oliver High School, John enlisted in the Army in January 1951.  Following basic training at Fort Knox, he was assigned to the 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division.  The unit was sent to Japan to undergo additional training in mountain warfare in preparation for deployment to Korea.

The U.N. forces in Korea had been battered in late 1950 when Mao Zedong’s Chinese Army entered the war.  Their objective was to drive the U.N. out of Korea.  They would fail, but in holding off the Chinese Spring Offensive in 1951, U.N. forces suffered nearly 16,000 casualties.  Armistice negotiations began in July at Panmunjom, but after no agreement could be reached, the communists broke off the talks in August.

On August 1, 1951, Clemens’ unit was transferred to the 14th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division under the command of Lt. Col. Roy V. Porter and sent to Korea.  Clemens was assigned to Company L of the 3rd Battalion.  His unit was part of an offensive focused on rooting the communists out of their stronghold in an area just north of the 38th parallel known as the Iron Triangle.  The Chinese and North Korean troops were well entrenched in this rugged mountainous region.  The 25th Division’s push north was delayed by heavy rains that slowed crossing of the Hant’an River, then in September the weather turned so cold that the Army had to begin issuing winter clothing.

The 14th Regiment achieved their goal of reaching the Wyoming Line, just a few miles east of Ch’orwon.  They suffered numerous casualties taking and holding Hill 351.  This hilltop outpost changed hands many times over the course of the war.  Pfc. Clemens was killed in action while fighting in this area on September 19.  He was only 19 years old.  The 14th Regiment counted 44 infantrymen killed in the campaign.  The regiment’s service in Korea earned five campaign streamers and a Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation for gallantry.

John J. Clemens was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, Republic of Korea Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation.

In December 1951, Clemens’ parents were notified that his body was en route to Winchester under a military honor escort.  His was among the bodies of 510 American soldiers returned to the U.S. aboard the Loma Victory after the bloody Autumn Campaign.  Clemens’ funeral was held in January 1952 at Broadway Baptist Church where he was a member of the usher board.  He was buried in Reeves Memorial Cemetery.  A military gravestone marks his resting place.

Clemens’ parents remembered their son in an annual memoriam ever September.  From a 1958 issue of the Winchester Sun:  “In memory of our dear son, John J. Clemens, who lost his life in Korea, September 19, 1951.  Seven years ago today the Lord saw fit to take you away to a brighter world.  God, who gave us you, had a right to claim his own.  Sadly missed by Mother, Dad and Brothers.”

Then in 1966:

“Memories are treasures none can steal.

There is a heartache none can heal.

Some may forget you since you are gone,

But I will remember no matter how long.

Sadly missed by Mother and Dad.”