Korean War Hero: Sgt. Cornelius H. “Connie” Charlton
Cornelius H. “Connie” Charlton was born on July 24, 1929 in East Gulf, West Virginia as the 8th of seventeen children to parents Van and Clara Charlton. In 1944, Van Charlton became an apartment building superintendent and moved the family to The Bronx in New York City, New York.
From a young age, Charlton wanted to join the Army. As a student at James Monroe High School, Charlton asked his parents to let him drop out of high school and enlist, citing a desire to fight in World War II. His parents refused and when he graduated in 1946, his parents allowed the 17-year-old to enlist after seeing his commitment to the Army was still present.
Charlton started basic training later in 1946 in November. The Army was still segregated when Charlton, an African-American, joined. Two years later, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, desegregating the US military. Many units still remained segregated at this time and African-Americans were placed in service units as well as in non-combat roles.
Charlton was sent to Allied-occupied Germany after completing basic training and when his enlistment finished, he re-enlisted and was sent to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Maryland as part of the engineering battalion. Charlton was assigned to an administrative position in Okinawa, Japan in 1950 working with Eighth United States Army engineers.
He requested to fight in the Korean War on the front lines and was assigned to C Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, which was part of the 25th Infantry Division. This regiment, was made up of solely African-Americans. When Charlton arrived in 1951, he was ranked a Sergeant. While his commanding officers were suspicious about Charlton when he arrived, he quickly won them over with his leadership abilities and made a platoon sergeant with a recommendation for a battlefield commission by May of 1951.
Charlton earned his Medal of Honor and Purple Heart for his heroism in Korea. During Operation Piledriver, Charton’s platoon was under attack by Chinese infantrymen near Chipo-ri, a village northeast of Seoul. When the unit’s leader was evacuated due to injuries, Charlton assumed command and using a rifle and grenades, he destroyed two hostile positions as well as take out six enemy soldiers before his unit was driven back due to grenades.
Charlton sustained a chest wound but refused medical attention. He moved his unit up the ridge and spotted a Chinese bunker. He sent orders to destroy the bunker and went ahead of his soldiers to destroy two machine guns the Chinese were using as well as force them back. He was hit by a second grenade at this time and died on the battlefield at the age of 21 on July 2, 1951, nine days before his 22nd birthday.
Charlton was awarded the Korean Service Medal in addition to the Medal of Honor and Purple Heart for his heroic actions in saving his platoon. His body was returned to the US and buried in the family plot before being re-interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA in 2008.
Korean War Hero: Pfc. Lavern C. Ullmer
Pfc. Lavern C. Ullmer was born the middle of three children to John and Helen Ullmer in 1928 and grew up in Riverdale, Ohio. Not much is known about his life prior to his military service, but the most interesting anecdote is that he was not buried until 2016, even though he died in a North Korean Prisoner of War camp during the Korean War, “It’s an amazing story that our family can have such closure,” said, Cathy Summerfield, Ullmer’s niece, 60, of Spartanburg. S.C.
The Department of Defense was recently able to identify his remains recently through DNA analysis. Ullmer was part of Company B, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division while overseas. His unit specifically fought in heavy combat in North Korea in 1950 against the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces. Half of his unit was killed within a few days as they battled the enemy in an area known as “the Gauntlet” between Junru-ri and Sunch between November 25 and December 1, 1950.
During the battle, Ullmer was declared missing in action on Nov. 30, 1950. When cross-referenced on Prisoner of War lists that were released by Chinese military personnel and the North Korean People’s Army, Ullmer’s name was not listed. Ullmer was listed as deceased after two repatriated Americans, who were also Prisoners of War at the same time, reported back that on Jan. 21, 1951, Ullmer died in Hofong Camp at age 23.
Decades later in April 2005, a Joint Recovery team of American archaeologists and anthropologists were excavating in Unsan County in South Pyongan Province, North Korea when they stumbled upon the remains. They were then flown to Dayton International Airport from a laboratory in Hawaii that specializes in military identification.
When his family found out that Ullmer’s remains had been identified, they were happy to be able to lay to rest their beloved family member, even those who never met him, “I was in awe,” said Charles Lavern Aleshire, 63, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who was named after the uncle he never met. “I was really in awe. But I was also grateful and thankful that they were able to do that research and make the findings. Honestly speaking, I didn’t think it was possible through all of those soldiers who were lost and I didn’t think it would ever happen. But when I did find out it was like a big sigh of relief.”
On Veterans Day 2016, Ullmer’s family and friends gathered at the SouthBrook Christian Church in Miami Township, Ohio to honor their fallen family member. At the memorial service, his family was presented with his combat medals, including a Purple Heart. A burial with full military honors followed at Willow View Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio. Ullmer was laid to rest between his parents.
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