6th Medium Tank Battalion, 24th Infantry Division, The Valley of Death
by Thomas A. Lyke, Second Platoon, 6th Tank Battalion, Korea, 1950-53
I coaxed my mother that if she would sign for me, I would enlist
in the Army, even though I had just turned 16 years of age on
October the 5th, 1948. She laughed but said if I could
convince the recruiting SGT, she would sign. I altered my
birth certificate to show I was born in 1931 instead of 1932.
The recruiter accepted it, my mother signed, and I left WV for Fort
Knox, KY, for basic in January 1949.
After basic, I was shipped to Fort Hood, Texas, for advanced armor training with the 6th Medium Tank Battalion, 2nd Armor Division.
I went home on furlough for Christmas of 1949, when I met my future wife, Charlotte A. Hoch. I returned to Fort Hood to continue training in January 1950.
In July 1950, the 6th Tank Battalion was ordered to Korea, where we were attached to the 24th Infantry Division.
All the UN had left of Korea when we arrived was a 35 mile perimeter around Pusan.
We started our push north in September and joined the Marines and the 7th Division in Seoul; then on to the North Korea capitol of Pyongyang (although officially assigned to the 24th Division, the 6th Tank Bn. supported many other units in the Korean War).
I was wounded for the first time north of Pyongyang at Anjou, North Korea. The first elements of the Chinese attacked us that day with 120MM mortars. It was Oct. 26, 1950, 21 days after my 18th birthday. I was evacuated to Tokyo General Hospital.
Along with five of my friends, I volunteered to return to Korea; we wanted to stay with our outfit because we had been together since basic.
It was a whole new war when we rejoined Dog Company in the first week of January 1951. The UN forces were retreating to a defense line they could hold. We fought hard to hold our positions. The 6th Tank was used all over place, being attached to anybody that needed armor support.
We were in support of the 24th Division and the 6th Republic of Korea Forces at Kapyong, Korea, when the Chinese started their spring offensive on the 25th of April, 1951.
The Chinese and North Korean forces broke through our defenses and cut off elements of the units supporting the 24th Division and South Korean troops.
The 6th Tank Battalion stayed as rear guard to allow the UN troops to withdraw to another defendable line.
Dog Company, 6th Tank, got word of a group of wounded Airborne Rangers who were surrounded in a draw. We took five tanks from the second platoon and went in to get them. We found 65 rangers, loaded them on our tanks, and brought them out. From there, they were loaded in trucks and escorted to the rear.
The second Platoon was asked to stay as rear guard, as other elements were still straggling through.
The 5th Regimental Combat Team had the 555 Triple Nickel Artillery Battalion, which was also cut off. They had a truck loaded with 155mm artillery shells blocking the road.
Our tank retriever, which had been towing one of our disabled tanks back for repair, tried to push the truck off the road so the rest of the column could get through.
Unfortunately, the truck exploded, and blocked the escape of all other vehicles. During the night the Chinese were able to move in close enough to knock out all of our tanks, half tracks and trucks, including my tank.
I was again wounded and knocked out. When I came to, things were much quieter, and all I saw were dead bodies – ours and theirs.
I moved out and headed south later that night, but I had to seek refuge in a cave when faced with a barrage from our own artillery. I tried to leave when daylight came, but there were enemy troops all around. I went back and burrowed deeper into the cave.
As the day went on, I heard noises outside. Three South Korean soldiers entered. They suggested we wait till night and try to move south. I fell asleep, and when I awoke the South Koreans were gone.
I tried to move out, but the valley was swarming with Chinese; I returned to the cave. Four days passed, and I needed water and food. Trying to slip through the Chinese lines, I went up a hill and spotted a stream on the other side. I got a drink, but when I started to move, the Chinese were all over me. This was the 29th day of April 1951.
I spent the next 855 days as a prisoner of the Chinese and North Korean Communists. I went from 157 pounds to 87 pounds in a matter of 2 months.
I was moved on several occasions to different camps, because the Chinese claimed I had a reactionary attitude.
One of my dearest friends in captivity was William Deer With Horns, of the 19th Regiment, 24th Division. He, two other POWs, and I escaped in July of 1951, but we were recaptured shortly thereafter. Deer, as we called him, died the following night from his beating.
After the peace talks began in July of 1951, the treatment and conditions improved somewhat; I weighed 105 pounds upon my release on 28 August 1953. I arrived home on the 19th day of September, 1953, for a furlough with my family. I was discharged on the 24th day of October, 1953.
Charlotte and I were married on October 1st, 1954. We have two children, Thomas J. Lyke and Charlene K Floyd.
I have been blessed to have had the privilege to serve my fellow EX-POWs and veterans in several organizations and have received many Military Medals and Ribbons.
2801 FM 2004 Rd, Apt 301
Texas City, TX 77591
Second Platoon, Dog Company, 6th Medium Tank Battalion, 24th Infantry Division, Pusan, S.K., August 1950. 1. Roger Jelkins, 2. Bernard Williams, 3. Wayne Gee, 4. George Lee, 5. Lareno Jimenez (POW), 6. Samuel Mosthere, 7. Michael Martin (POW), 8. Robert Dotson, 9. John Trautman (KIA), 10. Hayward Hodges, 11. Joseph Roy, 12. Albert Myers, 13. Ray Maxwell, 14. Carlton Slider (POW), 15. Louis Lehman, 16. Thomas Lyke (POW), 17. Donald Harrell, 18. Harry Griffin, 19. Bobby DeGraw (POW), 20. Robert Alexander, 21. Milton Jenkens, 22. Steve Wallace, 23. Frank Hand, 24. Plt. Ldr. 1st Lt. Kenneth Sharp, 25. Pok, and 26. Plt. Sgt. Joseph Kirkland.
Cpl. Tom Lyke, Chipyong-ni, N.K., Feb. 16, 1951.
L to R: Kirkland, Lyke, DeGraw, Hodges and Lehman.
D-10, “Dagwood,” my tank, which was hit on the night of April 25, 1951. Photo taken on April 29, by other elements of Dog Company, which retook the area. April 29 was also the day I was taken prisoner some six miles from this spot.
Tom Lyke on August 29, 1953, the day after his release by the Communists. Red Cross Photo.
Tom Lyke, right, receiving the Honorary Airborne Ranger award; from left: Bill Rhatigan, Lou Lucasick, and Tom Lyke.
Lyke, Tom, 2008, The Taro Leaf, Vol 62(2) Spring, pp. 20-22.