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Today is July 21, 2019

Grin 'n' Bare It

Memorial Day Memories

By Kay Grafe

Kay Grafe
Kay Grafe

On many past Memorial Days, Mr. Roy grilled out and we had a picnic of sorts. Some of those times included family and friends; but some, like this one, were just the two of us. Before we started to eat our meal, Mr. Roy gave our prayer of blessing and thanks. Then he said, “I wonder how many people today really stop and think about the purpose of this holiday? So many young men and women have given their lives so that we can enjoy the freedoms of this great country. I am always amazed when I think about common people performing uncommon acts of valor during combat, even to the point of sacrificing their lives.”

I remarked, “Yes, and I know you are remembering your friend, Roscoe Woodard.” Mr. Roy said, “Yes, it’s just something that I have to do. Roscoe and I played football together and graduated from high school in the same class. He was a great guy. I can still remember during games he would come back to the huddle with a big grin on his face, which meant he was whipping the opposing guard in front of him. Whatever he did, he put his whole heart into it.” 

I said, “I know that after high school he joined the Marines and was killed in Korea because I went with a friend to his funeral. In fact, my friend Carol Lynn Wilson played taps. Give me the details again to refresh my memory.” Mr. Roy said, “We graduated from high school in April 1951. The Korean War had started in 1950, so it was raging by this time and most young men were faced with being drafted or joining the service of their choice. I remember in September 1951, 

I was at football practice at Perkinston Junior College along with my friend, Johnny Tipton. Roscoe came to visit us and to say goodbye as he headed to basic training. I believe that he probably got to Korea in early-to-mid 1952. I never saw him again.

“The best information the Woodard family received about Roscoe’s last days came from a Navy Corpsman who knew him during this time. His name was Billy Penn. Billy arrived in Korea in February 1953 and was assigned to Roscoe’s company. He soon met Roscoe and described their time together as follows: ‘Roscoe and I had long talks about home. He was from Lucedale, and I was from McComb. We talked about family and the corp. 

‘On a patrol, I was ambushed on the way back. I had one casualty that I was dragging back when I ran into some enemies. I hid in a ditch with the casualty for a long time. After the enemy left, I heard Roscoe calling for me, he had come back for us. Thank God for Roscoe. Roscoe already had two Purple Hearts, and the last time he had been in a Navy hospital for three months. He was given the choice of going home or back to his comrades. 

He refused the opportunity to go home and returned to combat. 

‘One afternoon we got word that a corpsman was needed at the front, and I volunteered to go. I knew that Roscoe was already out there as a machine gunner. There were several thousand enemies attacking. The fighting became fierce and soon turned into hand-to-hand combat. The last time I saw Roscoe, he was standing outside a machine gun bunker, swinging his M2 rifle like a baseball bat, still trying to kill the enemy. I was wounded and captured and never saw Roscoe again.’”

Mr. Roy added, “Billy Penn spent the last four months of the war as a prisoner, tortured mentally and physically. The Korean War ended in July 1953, and Billy returned home. He attended Louisiana State University as a pre-med student and then graduated from the University of Mississippi Medical Center. He later became an OB-GYN and practiced for many years in Baton Rouge.

Roscoe Woodard was only 20 years old when he was killed. His sacrifice is just one of thousands made throughout the history of this great country by courageous young American men and women.”

For more information about Dr. Penn’s experiences and the Korean War, read his “Agony and Redemption” account online at www.koreanwaronline.com.

Kay Grafe is the author of  “Oh My Gosh, Virginia.” To order, send name, address, phone number and $16.95, plus $3.50 S&H, to Kay Grafe, 2142 Fig Farm Road, Lucedale, MS 39452.

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