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"Written in memory of a little child who suffered and died during the Korean War..."
- Richard Cooper
"SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN TO COME UNTO ME"
Richard W. Cooper was born on December 22, 1929 on the Hawk farm in Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps December 28, 1946. In October of 1950, he arrived in Korea, where he served with the 5th Air Force. He was wounded in January of 1951, and nursed back to health on a hospital ship in Pusan. He should have gone home, but asked to remain with his outfit. He returned to the United States in April of 1952. During the rest of his service, he was with Strategic Air Command.
On March 1, 1955, he got married in Denver, Colorado. He and his wife settled in Denver, where he started his own business, Mr. "C" Audio/Visual Service Co. He was in business for 30 years, at which time he sold the business, and he and his wife retired to Grand Junction, Colorado in 1996.
I have considered telling you this every time I visit your website. If I have the courage to do it is in doubt, but I must try. This is the first time I have spoken of this. It hurts - has hurt for fifty years. But if that is God's will, so be it. Here I go....
The following event took place in a field just outside the defense perimeter of our Ammunition Dump, located in the side of a mountain on the Japan Sea coast, about one hundred miles north of Pusan. About 3:00 in the afternoon of a freezing cold December day (27th), I was on guard duty on the west perimeter of our Ammo Dump. I spotted a small Korean walking in the direction of the Dump from about 1/4 mile out in a paddy.
It was not unusual for Korean children to come up to the guards and ask for food or candy. I always carried whatever candy my Mother sent me for the children, because they touched my heart so. But, this time was different in two ways. We had just gotten word a couple days earlier of a small Korean child being used as a human bomb, walking into an outfit north of us, and being blown up through the use of a "rip" cord controlled by North Koreans hidden some yards away. This thought still fresh in my mind, not the fear it could happen to me, but the thought of the horrible act, served to alert me that the North Koreans would stoop much lower than I had imagined.
For some reason, the hair on the back of my neck stood out as I watched this little Korean child walking toward me. I tried to tell myself that I was making something out of nothing-that this was an innocent child coming for candy. But, I also kept thinking that I am not on that guard site to hand out candy, but to protect our precious stockpile of ammo, and my buddies depended on me for that and their own safety.
My mind started screaming wildly-"What to do? What to do?" I did learn to say, "stop, go back", in Korean (it has left me now), and I started shouting that to the child. It was as if the child was deaf and just kept coming. My mind told me that I must consider this little child a danger to our ammo dump and my buddies, and, if I must, shoot to stop this child. But how could I do that? I love children. I can't hurt them.
Then came the time as my shouting was having no effect and the child was getting close. I tried to get the attention of one of my buddies for help, but activity in the dump was making lots of noise. It dawned on me that I was on my own: make a mistake and kill an innocent child and no one would ever understand. I would be labeled a child killer. Or, do nothing and find out the hard way that the child was wired with explosives. I fired two rounds into the field to both sides of the child, still yelling, "stop, go back." I thought about walking out to meet the little child, knowing that I would be asking for trouble if there were explosives involved, but it was a way to avoid shooting a child.
Just as I was thinking about that, my sergeant came by and saw what was taking place. He told me that I had to shoot before it was too late. I told him I couldn't. I knew that was wrong because if I disobeyed him, I would be up for court martial. All that aside, it was my duty to defend my post, and one way or another, I knew down deep I was going to do just that.
We decided I would try for a leg shot to stop her. We had no idea where the explosives would be if there were any, but we figured not on the legs since the child had to walk some distance before an explosion would be effective. My sergeant and I spent what seemed like hours working on a solution, but actually it was only about five minutes. The child was about a hundred yards away, and to avoid dangerous percussion waves from doing damage to our ammo, we had to act now.
Lynnita, the last time I tried to write about this, I ended up vomiting for fifteen minutes. After fifty years, I am feeling sick in my stomach. My belt feels too tight. I've got to loosen it. I am going to jump through this fast....
I shot that child in the leg. There was a scream, the little child rolled on the ground for a second, and then exploded. As I am now, I cried and cried. I got sick all over myself, wet my pants, and just kept screaming, "You bastards!" I threw my rifle down and ran out into the field. I heard two gunshots in the distance and hit the ground. After a while, a jeep went past me like hell to the spot where the little child was. My sergeant came and got me, and we went back to camp. One of my buddies gave me a half bottle of Seagram's. I finished it and started vomiting again.
For the next few days, I was questioned, comforted, given time off. I was then, and still am, hurt to the core. I don't ever see how I will forget. It just seems that I am torturing myself with this always in my mind. I am convinced that I must bear this burden in the memory of that little child. I never found out if the child was a boy or a girl.
How do I ask others to honor this child when I know nothing of the child except of the horrible death the child suffered at my hand. If God hears my prayers, I know this child is in a better place. I have prayed hundreds of prayers for salvation for a nameless, unknown child who lost life in a paddy one cold December day in Korea. I have asked God for forgiveness for my horrible deed, but I put myself in His place, and I decide that I don't deserve forgiveness. Understanding-maybe. But I can see I will carry this hurt forever. I don't ask others to walk in my shoes just to understand why it is so hard for me to walk in them. I don't think that's asking too much, considering what most of us vets have seen and done.