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By Kevin Fox
The Korean War has never really ended, although a cease-fire was signed on July 27, 1953. Just as the war has never came to an end for North and South Korea, it has never ended for the brave men and women who served in those conditions in Korea, that can best be described by those there as "horrific!"
In the City of Revere such a man lives, who seems to live his life mostly unnoticed. He has served his town in city government, his community as assistant fire chief and as the Revere Fire Department’s member on the Local Emergency Planning Committee, where he plays a major role in all aspects. People are people no matter where they live and no doubt the people of Revere are no different, so when they see good old Jesse Rye shuffling around town, or visit with him, they pay him little mind. However, as Paul Harvey is so fond of saying there is, "The rest of the story". If Jesse seems a little laid back and taking life a little slower, don’t question it, for this brave man has more than earned that right.
Jesse Rye celebrated his 21st birthday in Korea, a place that he himself described as not the place to turn 21. And there was no time for celebrating. He added, "In fact there wasn’t any time for much of anything including thinking about tomorrow, or next week, or next month. All you had was this moment! You didn’t have the luxury of thinking about the future because for many around you, there was no future, no today, just a past."
Jesse Rye was born and raised in Keokuk, Iowa and moved to Revere around twenty years ago. He enlisted in the Army in 1947 at Fort Sheraton, Illinois. From Illinois, he went to Kentucky and later to Louisiana where he received his engineer training in demolition. After this training, he was stationed in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He had to choose in New Mexico to either go to Alaska or the Hawaiian Islands. From 1948 – 1950 Jesse was stationed in the Hawaiian Islands. Jesse’s military career began while still under stress, at least in a more scenic locale. His job on the islands was to dispose of duds from World War II as well as ammo that were so old that the powder had turned to nitroglycerin.
At the end of 1950 he was supposed to have gotten out of the Army. Instead he got a year extension and was sent to Korea where, one year turned into two years.
Jesse’s unit (A Company 2nd Rangers) traveled from one end of Korea to the other, or from the peninsula to the China border. From World War II until the Korean War the Rangers had been disbanded. Jesse served as a demolition man. In 1950 Jesse said the country appeared to him as nothing but hills and rice paddies. Jesse stated that the summers were extremely hot and the winters were bitter cold and he himself had been out in forty below "With that wind blowing off the Siberian Desert."
As a demolition man, Jesse as well as other soldiers blew up North Korean ammo depots and bridges and just whatever needed destroyed. He was also involved in combat. Jesse also holds the distinction of being a member of the "Frozen Chosin". These are the group of lucky soldiers who survived the combat around the Chosin Reservoir at the end of November to the first part of December in 1950. According to General S.L.A. Marshall, a prominent Army Historian, "The fighting at the Chosin Reservoir was the most violent small unit fighting in the history of American warfare. No other operation in the American book of war quite compares with the show [the battle of the Chosin Reservoir] by the First Marine Division [and attached U.S. Army and British Royal Marines]." Jesses only stated that, "There were only 37 of us who
came out alive from our regiment of A Company, 2nd Rangers. Other regiments had the same stories or worse. A lot of soldiers simply froze to death. We tried to stay warm in whatever we could find. At night we would dig down into a snowdrift in order to get out of the elements. I get asked on occasion if the TV show M.A.S.H. does a good job of reflecting what it was like, and although I’m sure they tried, it didn’t come close! First of all, I do not remember seeing a single helicopter, and there is no way to show combat unless you’re in combat! But the Korean people that I was around on our side were pretty nice people who desperately wanted our help.
Jesse along with the other Korean War veterans received 50-year Korean Service pins from the State of Missouri, as well as from the President of the Republic of Korea. Jesse was also wounded in Korea as he received white phosphorous burns after the 1st Calvary was overrun and lost all their weapons. His feet were also frostbitten.
Jesse stated that he sometimes thinks about the things he has seen and it’s so far removed from the peaceful town of Revere, it’s almost unreal. But then other nights during a peaceful sleep it all comes back to him and the reality of it is shockingly clear. We salute all our veterans and especially our Korean veterans during this time of year, the 54th anniversary of the cease fire.