CANTON, Ohio — More than 6,000 miles from home, Stanley L. Evans Sr. could still get his hands on his hometown newspaper.
Every three or four weeks, a stack of Canton Repositories would find Evans camped on some Korean hilltop or hunkered in a valley. When the papers arrived, other soldiers in his Ohio Army National Guard unit crowded around.
“Everybody over there wanted to see it because it was their hometown newspaper,” Evans, 88, recalled.
Like him, most of the men in the 987th Armored Field Artillery Battalion were from Stark County, and they kept up a running conversation with the folks at home through articles, interviews and letters.
Almost 65 years after the fighting stopped, Korean War veterans like Evans still follow news from overseas.
North Korea, South Korea and the U.S. recently made overtures toward a formal peace agreement.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met April 27 at the Demilitarized Zone between their countries for a peace summit, and reports say President Donald Trump and Kim could have their own historic meeting within weeks.
Prospects for peace strike a deeper, personal chord among American veterans of the Korean War, including surviving members of the 987th, the only Ohio National Guard unit deployed as a group to Korea.
Evans gives a peace deal even odds, but in the North Koreans he sees people who only know oppression.
“They’re people like you and I, but they’re being run by a regime,” Evans said. “There’s no one living over there in the North that knows anything about freedom at all (or) democracy.”
The Army called up the 987th on Aug. 14, 1950. North Korean troops had invaded South Korea not two months earlier and captured Seoul, the South Korean capital, and much of the rest of the country. American and South Korean defenders dug in around Pusan, a port on the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, and waited for reinforcements.
On account of its insignia — a red bull on a yellow triangle — the 987th was dubbed the Red Bull Battalion.
Another nickname was “Canton’s own” because most of the men lived and worked in Canton, Alliance and Massillon.
The tank-like machines they took into battle were local, too. The M7 self-propelled howitzer rolled on Timken Co. bearings and Monarch Rubber tires. Diebold armor protected the soldiers as they lobbed 105 mm shells tipped with Hoover Co. fuse parts, according to research by Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Mann, Ohio Army National Guard historian.
At least 14 sets of brothers served in the unit, fighting “family style” on the Korean battlefields, according to a Repository headline.
Howard J. Milhoan, 90, was among the band of brothers.
He had joined the Navy when he was 17 toward the end of World War II and served on landing ships in the Pacific. He was on reserve status with the Navy when the 987th was called up.
Milhoan had two brothers in the unit, including his younger brother, Charles.
“We were very close, and I wanted to go and protect him,” Milhoan said.
The Navy gave him permission to join the National Guard. As it turned out, Charles didn’t go to Korea with the 987th, although he later served as a Green Beret.
“I wouldn’t have joined if I had known that,” Milhoan said.
Evans joined the 987th when he was a high school senior in 1947. His enlistment ended 24 hours before the unit was activated. Figuring he’d eventually be drafted for Korea, he stayed on, preferring to fight alongside guys he knew.
He didn’t have family in the 987th, but his father and uncles had been in the National Guard between the world wars and Evans had known many of his officers since he was a boy.
“They were like relatives,” Evans said. “But you had to do what the hell they said. That was all there was to it.”
The 987th left Ohio with 505 officers and men, according to Mann’s research. After training in Colorado, the unit moved to California, and finally sailed for Korea on Jan. 29, 1951. Eighteen days later the men landed in Pusan.
Korea’s terrain was mountainous and rugged. It always seemed like you were looking up at someone or they were looking down at you, Evans said.
The weather was worse. Monsoons turned dust into mud. Winter temperatures dropped below minus 30 degrees.
“The place is just one big mountain — a mountain with rice paddies,” a soldier from the 987th told the Repository on a visit home. He had fought in the Pacific during WWII. Korea was worse, he declared. “It’s a lousy place.”
Many of the officers and men in the 987th were WWII vets or “retreads.”
“We looked up to those guys,” Evans said.
The “retreads” could be sarcastic and some were upset to be back in combat or resisted authority, but they knew how to act under fire.
Evans, who had never gone through basic training, stuck close to a soldier who won a Silver Star fighting in Europe.
“To tell you how stupid we were when we first got in (Korea), we wondered why they were so nervous,” Evans said. “We found out why.”
“The line is 5 miles behind you.”
The words crackled from a radio in the command tent. It was early morning. For several hours, the 987th had been shelling Chinese and North Korean troops from a place called Sanchang-ni.
Evans, who was hauling fuel and ammunition, ducked into the tent for a cup of coffee when he heard the ominous news. It was April 22, 1951, and the Red Bull Battalion was about to be overrun.
“That was the ‘Battle of Bull Run,’” Milhoan said.
Retreating South Korean soldiers, traveling with their girlfriends and wives, fled from the front line in trucks, one vet told the Repository upon his return to Canton two months later.
Without protection by the South Korean infantry, the M7s were exposed to enemy soldiers who “came forth like ants.”
Falling back, part of the 987th got stuck on a mountain road that was little more than a cart path. Soldiers reinforced the road with logs and rocks, but the M7s were too heavy. Their crews dropped grenades into the howitzers and abandoned them.
In the confusion of the retreat, 10 howitzers were lost and a 987th soldier from Oklahoma was killed. Four others were wounded and two went missing.
Some of the men escaped with just the clothes they were wearing and their weapons.
“You probably have heard of our retreat, but everything is O.K. …” one Canton soldier wrote to his mother. “I am fine but tired. I went for more than 48 hours with no sleep until last night. Sleep sure is fine.”
Nearly 1.8 million Americans served and 36,574 died in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, including 69 from Stark County, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Archives.
The Army released the 987th from service on Sept. 27, 1954. By then, most of the local soldiers had rotated home, replaced by men from other parts of the country. Queens. Philadelphia. Chicago.
The unit fired more than 300,000 artillery rounds in Korea; five men were killed and eight were missing in action, according to the Ohio Army National Guard. None of those soldiers appear to have been from Stark County.
Evans, who was injured when his Jeep went off a cliff during a supply run, sailed home in early 1952. Fireboats welcomed his ship to Seattle, and the locals held a parade, but that wasn’t the norm.
“People were tired of war,” Evans said. “World War II had just done it.”
He returned to his job in the Repository pressroom and settled into life in Canton with his wife, Helen, and their son, Stanley Jr., who was born two days after Evans landed at Pusan. Three daughters followed.
Milhoan had a tougher time finding work. He moved to Michigan, where he spent 40 years working for a cement company. He retired to South Carolina.
Milhoan’s voice tightened as he talked about coming home. Going overseas a second time caused a lot of heartaches and friction, and cost him a wife, he said. But others didn’t seem to notice the sacrifices.
“When we came home from the Second World War, we were welcomed,” Milhoan said. “And when we came home from Korea, nobody cared.”
Evans lives in Massillon but still keeps in touch with Milhoan, who resides in McCormick, South Carolina. Most of their comrades from the 987th have died.
The last reunion was about 20 years ago, Evans guessed.
His lasting memory from the war is of the Korean children he saw wandering without clothes or food, looking for their parents. He wonders: “What happened to those little kids?”
Both veterans take pride in the role they played in stopping Communist aggression, and said they hope the Korean people finally find peace.
“Nobody wants war, nobody likes war,” Milhoan said. “It would be nice if we could find a solution to it and get it settled. Yes, it would be wonderful.”
Information from: The Repository, http://www.cantonrep.com