Vet says military service taught him responsibility
Highly decorated Korean War veteran Walter Rhodes of Saline County is now serving as the chaplain for the Military Order of the Purple Heart Association of Arkansas.
Rhodes recently spoke about his military experiences for a meeting of Provincia de la Sal Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution.
He retired with the rank of lieutenant after serving in Korean and Germany.
For his six years of Army service, Rhodes received the following awards: Distinguished Service Cross; Silver Star; Bronze Star; Purple Heart; Medal of Valor; Korean Service Medal with six battle stars; National Defense Service Medal; United Nations Korean Service Medal; three U.S. Presidential Citations; and German Occupation Medal.
During his presentation for the DAR, he used maps and outlines to explain the battle areas in which he was involved in Korea. He served in that area from Aug. 4, 1950, until Oct. 28, 1951.
After his military service ended, Rhodes worked at Alcoa in Bauxite. He was a supervisor for 26 years and retired in 1991.
In a special veterans section that previously appeared in the Courier, Rhodes reflected on his Korean War service and said he said he knew he was fighting for a good cause.
"At first a lot of us questioned why we were there," he said. "The powers who had been appointed found it necessary that we fight," he said. "And we were trying to stop communism. They treated their people like animals."
Rhodes pointed out that more U.S. soldiers died in the Korean War than in the Vietnam War. He said the war was especially difficult because of the terrain of the country.
"You just couldn't get a line to form together," he said. "The country was only flat in the southern part."
Rhodes noted that through his military service he learned many lessons, especially the lesson of responsibility.
"Being a veteran feels better now than when I was a younger man, knowing what I know now. I realize the responsibility each of us has to our country."
Rhodes' most distinctive honors resulted from the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge, which began Sept. 13. Rhodes first received the Distinctive Service Cross for carrying ammunition while others were fighting during this battle. The following day, he became one of 3,064 soldiers from the battle to earn a Purple Heart.
Rhodes said during the battle, he and his men came upon a steep hill, where the Chinese and North Koreans were "well dug in. There were no trees so we pounded that thing with artillery fire."
At the same time, a 120-millimeter motor shell came toward the U.S. soldiers, hit a tree and exploded, causing white phosphorous to fall on the soldiers and severely burn them. Rhodes suffered extensive burns to his hands and a serious injury to his eye. This didn't stop him from continuing to fight for several more days.
By Oct. 15, he was given orders to go home, but this wasn't the end of the war for Rhodes. Once he returned to the states, he went to Fort Sill, Okla., to further train in field artillery. He was given the title of battery commander in field artillery as a 2nd lieutenant. He was sent to Germany in 1953 as a battery executive officer during the Cold War.
"We were loaded lock, stock and barrel with intentions of never coming back," he said.
A Saline County native, Rhodes is a son of the late Doc and Anna Morrison Rhodes. On May 23, 1952, he married Sammie Owens, with whom he will be celebrating 60 years of marriage this year.
Rhodes and his wife have two children, Debbie Hobbs and David Rhodes, both of Benton; and four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Marilyn Lee, vice regent of the local DAR chapter, introduced Rhodes at the meeting. Shirlene Levart, chapter regent, presented Rhodes an appreciation gift from the chapter.