By Paul Wood
CHAMPAIGN — In September 1952, recent MIT graduate Fred McCauley came to Korea to serve as a forward observer for a mortar group.
The Army second lieutenant and two soldiers were in a dug-in position called a “hoochie,” he recalled.
On the first night there, an enemy raiding party rolled two grenades into the log-reinforced structure.
“Three of us went up that hill,” he said. “One died, one was sent home with a ‘golden wound,’ and I spent a month in the hospital.”
The retired chemical engineer, now 85, said he didn’t do much he would consider heroic as an officer in the latter part of the war in Korea, which he considers still un-won, since North Korea remains a threat to this day.
He earned a Purple Heart for serving bravely and being at the very front of that war, but most vividly recalls the fear of that grenade attack.
After the explosions, he and the other surviving soldier, whom he remembers as “Sonny,” waited for three hours for the next attack on the hoochie.
He gave Sonny his .45 automatic and was prepared to defend himself with a pocket knife as they listened to the gunfire.
If the next men into the hoochie were speaking Korean, how could he be sure in the confusion and darkness whether they were there to save them or finish them off?
Luckily, the next guy in was an American, checking on why no one had heard from the forward observers. McCauley was headed to a MASH unit, with three shrapnel wounds from the grenades.
“They’re still finding shrapnel in my hip,” McCauley said, though it causes him no pain.
His favorite story about his two years in the Army is a funny one he tells on himself.
As a green second lieutenant on his first night in Korea in 1952, he was wearing one-piece fatigues and had to use the benjo — a wood-covered ditch latrine.
His wallet fell out of the suit and landed on the dirt wall, maybe 4 feet down.
“I volunteered two GIs to help me,’ he said. “Each one took one of my legs, and they lowered me in until I could grab the wallet.”
And then it was on to the mess tent, he said, with a big smile.
As his time wore on, he became a chemical officer. Armistice came in July 1953.
On the ship heading home, he said, “I was surprised to hear there were officers who wanted us to finish the job.”
“I was glad to be out of there,” he adds, though he believes North Korea remains a threat.
With his chemical engineering degree from MIT, he worked for Hercules Powder for 39 years, taking his family all over the country to different postings.
If you’ve ever had milk out of a carton, he said, you’ve probably encountered chemicals he worked on.
He has been married for 64 years to Priscilla; they have three daughters.
They retired in Champaign because one of the daughters, Ruth McCauley, is a former associate dean of students at the University of Illinois.
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact staff writer Paul Wood at email@example.com.