Few veterans can boast a service record to match the multi-war career of 80-year-old Master Sergeant William King of Lisbon, who served in World War II, in the Korean War at the devastating battle of Chosin Reservoir, and in Vietnam.

King entered the Army at 17 in 1946, training with the 1st Armored Division.

“We went to Italy,” he recalled, “but the war was over when I got there. Then we were sent to Germany, with the U.S. Constabulary. Our job was to clean up and police. We dealt with left over SS, DP camps, weapons, that sort of thing.” This was in 1946 and 1947. King finished his tour with the Army and came home in 1948.

“But I was back in the Army in 1949,” noted King. “Part of the occupation of Japan. In 1950 it was off to the Korean conflict in the 7th Infantry.”

The Korean War, often thought of as the “Forgotten War”, had General Douglas MacArthur at the head of the U.N. troops. He expected it to be a brief conflict. North Korea had occupied the south in June of 1950. In August, the 7th Infantry, 31st Regiment, including King, was part of the successful invasion of Inchon, Korea, and the recapture of Seoul. Commander MacArthur next planned an offensive drive to push the North Korean Army across the Yalu River into Manchuria. This did not happen.

In October, a new enemy appeared unexpectedly – the Chinese Volunteer Forces, who marched below the border in the northwestern part of Korea.

“We were shipped to the eastern coast of Korea,” said Bill. “and on the 26th of November we marched to the Chosin Reservoir.”

The plan was to cut off the supply lines of the Chinese army and push north to the border, but it didn’t work out that way.

“It was midnight, the 27th, and I was in a tank unit,” said King. “The Chinese attacked – we were surrounded. We were on the East side of the reservoir, headed for the Yalu. It was below zero, we were COLD, and the Chinese just came in … unseen. Two of our battalions were almost annihilated. Less than 400 troops were left from about 3,000. Our battalion tried to get to them, but we couldn’t get the tanks around a hairpin turn. The Chinese were there with bazookas.

“We held the position near the Chosin for three days against this Chinese offensive. Then we retreated. It was very hard to get the wounded out – the trucks got stuck; the Chinese attacked our rear. They stripped our American dead and wounded for the warm clothing – they were freezing, too.

“Moving to Hageru, we had to fight our way. A tank got stuck and we left that night – back to our position on the hill. We weren’t bothered there. The next night, we were ordered back to Hageru with the Marines. There, we were attacked by the Chinese. But they didn’t know we had 16 tanks. We put a stop to them!” he emphasized. “Our tank unit led to knock out the Chinese road blocks. It took two weeks to get out and back. The food was frozen, it was hard to eat.”

King remembers the deaths, the suffering, the hardships of that war, and can be understood for some resentment for the lack of recognition. When asked if he had any photographs, he scoffed that, with the intense cold and constant fighting, “no one thought about taking pictures.” They just wanted to stay alive.

After Korea, King’s duties took him to Iceland, California, Germany, and Alaska. He married in 1955 and had one son, Todd, who resides in Florida.

Service in Vietnam began in 1969 for King, in the 11th Cavalry, the Black Horse tanks. He remembers “the Vietcong guerillas’ constant ambushes, the constant rain, the mud getting into everything.”

In December 1970, King was discharged from the Army, after 26 years. But not quite – his new career was managing the Lisbon American Legion. He remarried in 1991 and he and his wife, Joanne, enjoy a peaceful life in Lisbon. Besides still occasionally working at the Legion, King hunts, fishes, and putters in his garden.

A quiet chapter in a life that saw glimpses of war at its worst – a war of which few people know anything about. The remaining veterans of the above-described Korean battles get together every year as a reunion of the “Chosin Few.”

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