Originally from Washington, Pennsylvania, Ivan J. Sargent was drafted into the Army during the Korean War. He served with the well known, 3rd Infantry Division, 15th Infantry Regiment, Easy Company–an outfit dating back to the Civil War and formerly commanded by some of America’s greatest generals, including Dwight Eisenhower, George C. Marshall, Mathew Ridgeway, and Richard Stilwell.
As his unit started to patrol north to the 38th parallel in 1951, Ivan said that he spent a lot of time fighting the Chinese. “It was back and forth,” said the long-time New Brighton (Beaver County) resident. “They’d take a hill and then we’d take it. That’s how that war went as long for as I was there.”
For eight days in June 1953, Ivan took part in the infamous battle over Outpost Harry, a remote northern fortification defended by about 500-700 American and Greek soldiers against an estimated 13,000 to 15,000 Chinese troops. The Americans and Greeks were told to defend the mountain top outpost or die trying.
After the battle was over, UN troops suffered 500 casualties, while the Chinese lost nearly 4,500 men.
The battle gained recognition from a recent documentary titled, Hold at All Cost.
Although we never got to formally interview Ivan Sargent about his experiences in Korea, we did speak with him several times at various veterans’ gatherings, including a 2011 bus trip from Pittsburgh to the Korean and WW II Memorials in Washington, D.C.
On that warm day in May, Ivan talked to us as he leaned against the Korean War Memorial’s black granite reflecting wall. The site was swarmed with hundreds of visitors loudly chatting and congregating for a chance to take the obligatory tourist photo: smile, point, shoot. Repeat over there. Smile, point, shoot. Waves of tourists came and went that way, briskly taking away their photographs but little understanding of the Korean War itself.
On that day, the Korean War Memorial was hardly the solemn place it should have been–unlike the WW II or Vietnam memorials we observed earlier. The vibe was not lost on Ivan. “This place is special to us who fought in Korea,” he said. “But the other memorials seem to have more seriousness and gravity to them. People seem to understand them better.”
Indeed, the Korean War remains “the forgotten war.” After sixty years its history and meaning remain little known and understood. Perhaps it’s because too many soldiers’ stories remain untold . . . and unheard. MIA.
This oral history project exists to give voice to these forgotten stories, to give veterans who were “there” a chance to tell their stories in their own words.
Like so many other ground troops, Ivan’s tour of duty was spent in the thick of things. After nearly sixty years, the horrors of war still bothered him. We could tell, as he pulled up short when recounting many of his stories, his voice slightly cracking and his eyes rimmed with tears.
“We saw a lot of awful things,” he would say, “just awful things.”
But then Ivan surprised us with a tale he really enjoyed: It was like Christmas when his outfit stumbled upon a recently vacated Chinese encampment. There they found a stash of American beer and a trove of useful supplies. A lot of the material was from when the Americans previously held the camp. That’s the way it went, Ivan reminds us, capturing each other’s posts back and forth was common.
But the beer made this story special.
“When the story came out in the newspaper in 1953 [see the actual article to the left], I was really worried that my parents would see it. They were real teetotalers, and I didn’t want them to find out that I was drinking beer in Korea,” he said, both astonished and amused at his younger self. “Can you imagine that?”
And just what did his parents say after reading the news article? “My Dad asked me if I drank the beer, and I didn’t lie,” he said. “It was wet.”
The Final Story
Ivan J. Sargent, 82, of New Brighton, passed away Sunday, August 18, 2013, at his home. He was born October 27, 1930, in Washington, PA. He was a son of the late Ivan Sr. and Ruth (Yoders) Sargent. He was a veteran of the Korean War serving as a Corporal with the U.S. Army and recently joined the Survivors of Outpost Harry Association. He became an art teacher and had taught in Rochester, PA and retired from teaching in Greenville, NY. He then moved back to New Brighton where he became heavily involved with the Beaver County Historical Research & Landmarks Foundation, the Beaver County Genealogy & History Center, the Genealogical Society of Southwestern PA and the Amwell Township Historical Society.
Surviving are his wife, whom he married October 25, 1958, Norma Jean (Coburn) Sargent; one son, Martin J. Sargent, Liverpool, PA; one daughter, Margo Rosenfeld and her fiancé, Bob Rote, Patterson Twp.; three grandchildren, Steven, and his fiancée Jodi, Sean and Jenna Rosenfeld; one sister and brother-in-law, Charlotte and Bill Wood, Chesterland, OH; a step-brother and his wife, Donald and Mary Kay Mahon, Lompoc, CA and many extended family members. In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by his step-mother, Thelma Sargent.
Interment will follow in Grove Cemetery, New Brighton. Members of the Beaver County Special Unit will provide military honors.