It was a somber moment on Dec. 22 as the family of U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Harold M. Brown was able to lay him to rest at the family burial ground after over 60 years of not knowing his whereabouts.
Sgt. Brown was serving his country in the Korean War in December 1950 when his battalion was overtaken by the Chinese and he was taken prisoner of war. He died short after his capture from exposure to the elements.
Since the announcement four weeks ago that his body would finally return home, his family has been trying to gather his cousins and distant relatives to honor their war hero who’s finally returning home for the respect he deserves.
“The Army took blood samples from my mother and I to use to identify his remains,” Lucy G. Swaim, Brown’s first cousin said. “About four weeks ago my brother called me and told me that the Army had contacted him and they had indentified Harold’s body.”
Swaim said that Brown had no siblings and was only 17 when he joined the Army so he had no wife or children. His mother passed away in 1997. Swaim’s mother, Vetral Brown Gardner, is Brown’s closest living relative.
A soldier’s sacrifice
A service was held for Brown at Gentry Funeral Home in Yadkinville on Dec. 22. U.S. Marine Corps. Lieutenant Colonel David Hudspeth was in attendance to honor Brown’s memory as a fellow serviceman.
“We all come together today to remember a brave American whose disposition for the past 60 years has been known but to God,” Lt. Col. Hudspeth said. “Harold had a sense of the dangers inherent in enlisting in the service in 1947 but he chose to go anyway.”
Lt. Col. Hudspeth said that Brown joined Lima Company 3rd battalion 31st regimental combat team seventh infantry division after his basic training. When the Korean War began, Brown’s division was sent to the west coast of Korea to liberate soldiers.
Brown’s division had assisted in defeating the North Korean military and reunified the country by November 1950.
“On Nov. 27, 1950 hundreds of thousands of Chinese crossed the border into North Korea,” Lt. Col. Hudspeth said. “They slammed into American units and ran over many of them and pushed them back in to South Korea. Harold’s unit was one of the units that was overran.”
Lt. Col. Hudspeth said that Harold’s unit joined forces with the first marine divisions. Sgt. Brown’s unit served as the rear guard and was supposed buy time while everyone else escaped.
“Marines evacuated the soldiers who couldn’t fight anymore and Harold was not one of them so he stayed,” Lt. Col. Hudspeth said. “He continued to fight. A couple of days later they all evacuated but Harold was not one of them because he had fallen and been captured. He bought time to allow people to come home.”
Lt. Col. Hudspeth said that it’s clear that Sgt. Brown was clearly an impressive soldier with admirable qualities.
“His officers and senior enlisted men were all World War II veterans,” Lt. Col. Hudspeth said. “They saw the value in Harold’s character and they promoted him to sergeant and rifle squad leaders at the age of 20. Today that takes four to six years.
“I believe he was a very talented soldier and I think all of you in his family should be very proud of his character and his potential that he displayed in battle because it speaks volumes about you personally,” Lt. Col. Hudspeth said.
Lt. Col. Hudspeth reminded the audience that Sgt. Brown’s death was a symbol of the price that must be paid for our freedom as Americans.
“We’re left with the grim reminder that the price of freedom is not without very painful costs,” Lt. Col. Huspeth said. “So today we lay to rest a very brave 20-year-old soldier who gave his life for our freedom. It was built by men and women like Harold who gave more than was expected or required and who gave it with little thought to worldly rewards or personal safety.”
Sgt. Brown was honored with a Purple Heart, Prisoner of War Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with three Bronze Service Stars, Navy Presidential Unit Citation, Combat Infantry Badge, United Nations Service Medal, Republic of Korea-Korean War Service Medal and Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation.
“I think it’s a great honor to have a war hero like that,” Swaim said. “At the age of 20 and nine months he had already made sergeant and they say that’s pretty hard to do in two years. I’m just proud of him and that he made something of himself.”
Swaim said that the family is relieved to finally have closure after all of this time and they are glad that they will finally have a place where they can go to pay their respects to the family member who laid down his life for their freedoms.
“It’s closure for us,” Saim said. “It was a relief. We found out that he died right after he was captured in 1950 and that he froze to death. I was happy that he didn’t have to suffer a long time and he was able to just drift off to sleep and not experience torture like many of the other soldiers were.”
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.