“We Regret to Inform You ... ”
This is the story of former Sgt. Elwood Fankhauser, 5th Regimental Combat Team, United States Army, who served in Korea from 1950 until 1952. He is a graduating member of the Powhatan High School Class of 1946.
A U.S. Veterans Affairs document entitled ‘America’s Wars Fact Sheet of November 2007’ is a compilation of statistics regarding every U. S. war since 1775, excepting the Global War on Terror beginning in 2001.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is as good a resource as there is for getting records, because it is kept on a personal level. That is, it quantifies the statistics based upon numbers of people involved. Not the social, not the political nor the economics involved, rather the number of people involved. People involved. That is the criterion that affects you and I. The People involved.
Congress, has learned, to our dismay, in these last few years to ‘stage’ our War affairs and ‘control’ the number of people involved. After all, if it doesn’t affect you or someone you know, what does it matter how many people are being killed or wounded. For that matter, we rarely know the purpose for sending people to some of these strange places to die. You see, if it doesn’t affect your family or someone close to you, what do you care? Right?
What would you think about a football Coach who sent his team out on the field without all the equipment needed and telling his Players; ‘Don’t worry about winning, just go out there and have fun’; and don’t worry if you don’t have helmet or mouthpiece or pads. Would you want to play for the kind of Coach, who didn’t care if his team won or not?
War get’s real personal. Just ask someone who has had to stare down the gun barrel of an enemy gun or a bayonet. We have had a few of them in Powhatan. Look up at the Graduating Class Pictures of past students of Powhatan High School on the wall in the Powhatan School Auditorium..
Go up to the Cemetery and study the Military Makers you see. There are almost 800 up there. Those markers will tell you a grand story about some heroes in Powhatan.
The statistics of World War II are interesting. That is a good place to start, because all the World War I veterans are gone. World War II is the one your grandfather or great-grandfather fought. Of the 16 million veterans of World War II, only two million remain.
The Powhatan Veterans Honor Guard has done Military Graveside Honors this year for several Veterans of Powhatan H.S. Classes of 1948, 1945, 1950, and 1956 in the last few months. In October we had a service at 10;30 and one at 11:30.
At graveside Military services for Ralph Fankhauser, PHS Class of 1948, I met his brother Elwood. Meeting him, I exclaimed, “Elwood, I read in a Korean War Website, you were killed-in-action, what are you doing here?” He just grinned. I made an appointment to interview him right then and there.
Elwood fought in Korea. As a matter of fact, the local newspaper reported Elwood killed-in-action the day after the Army sent Elwood’s mother a telegram telling her ‘We regret to inform you ...’ he was wounded. Can you imagine if Elwood’s mother had gotten the telegram the day after the newspaper reported him killed-in-action. Since World War 2 more than 3 million of those “We Regret to Inform You ... ’’ telegrams have been sent to American families.
Elwood was honored at Powhatan School Veterans Day on the 10th of November. He was not able to attend, for medical reasons’.
We tried, unsuccessfully, to arrange to get him there.
We want you to hear his story. He graduated Powhatan High Class of 1946.
Two other Veterans of the same Class who fought in Korea with him are Francis Ciszewski and Bill Freeman. Elwood’s story is the reason we honor these heroes on Veterans Day.
Elwood is a decorated Veteran; he earned the Combat Infantry Badge, which is awarded to a soldier for 30 days on the front lines in actual combat. He also earned the Bronze Star Medal for bravery. As Section Sergeant, He lead three squads of his men on foot through a Communist Chinese mine field with trip wires on a snow covered Mountain in Korea. That’s about as terrifying as it gets in combat. He brought all his men through unharmed. Wasn’t that wonderful?
Elwood told the story of his Purple Heart. He remembers exactly the time of the morning as 5:00 a.m., why he remembers the time he doesn’t know. It was on 13 October, 1951, either on snow covered Hill #643 or #644, he cannot remember with certainty. At precisely 5:30 a.m. a voice told him to cock his helmet down over his left ear. All of a sudden the Chinese Communists opened up with a mortar barrage; he saw one mortar round hit in front of him; he saw the next one behind him; he didn’t see the one that hit him on the left side of the head. Back at the aid station, he threw down his helmet; it was split in two. Someone said; ‘the guy that wore that is dead right?’ But, he wasn’t. He told me it was like someone slamming him in the head his rifle. Elwood came home from Korea after 13 months of combat. Elwood served with the 5th Regimental Combat Team. He told me he was always out in front of the front lines. The scariest thing for him was going out on a three-man patrol at 3:00 a.m. in the morning knowing the Commies were out there waiting for them.
That is what Veterans Day is all about. It’s about people. People like Sgt. Elwood Fankhauser. They have stories to tell. We need to get those stories out. It is a grand privilege to give you a glimpse of Sgt. Fankhauser’s tour of duty.
Go home and look up a Veteran in the family, ask them to tell you all about their service.
That is Veterans Day. The people who were over there, wherever ‘over there’ is. All the stories may not be like Elwood’s, but it’s their story to tell.
America is blessed because of people like Elwood, who are willing to shed blood for others.
PICTURED ARE Elwood Fankhauser, right and his wife Lois as Elwood is presented a certificate at the Bend Fork Christian Church. Fankhauser was not physically able to make the Veterans’ Day Ceremony in his honor.