As the old idiom goes, “An Army marches on its stomach.” This oft repeated saying’s roots go as far back as Frederick the Great and Napoleon. It basically means that an Army needs a regular supply of food in order to keep fighting. In the fall of 1951Korean War veteran Cleveland “Buzz” McMillan was “close to the front lines and had to feed 120 – 130 men three meals per day.” Not an easy task with “incoming and outgoing artillery shells.” Buzz recalled that “the first Sergeant was killed by a shell fragment from Allied artillery.” Even the task of feeding the troops was under extreme duress at times.
Buzz was born in Rockwood Texas and graduated high school in Melvin, Texas in 1949. He joked that his favorite subjects in school were “recess and math.” The Korean War broke out in June 1950 and Buzz would be drafted in October of that year. He would do his basic training in Ft. Lewis, Washington and his Infantry training and worked some in the motor pool. There was a need for 2 volunteers for the kitchen and Buzz put in to be a cook and eventually wound up being a mess sergeant for Co. G, 38th Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. The 2nd Infantry’s history can be traced back to the Civil War and arrived in Pusan, Korea in July 1950 and were the first unit shipped directly from the U.S.
Once arriving in Korea, Buzz initially carried a BAR (Browning automatic rifle) for a short-time but was soon “serving on the front line as a mess cook” as noted earlier. Later, his unit was transferred to a prison camp at Koje-do, an island off the southern coast of Korea. The prison was built into eight compounds and was designed to hold 700 – 1,200 men apiece but was soon jammed up to five times their capacity. Not surprisingly, outbreaks of dissension were frequent and control of prisoners became more and more difficult. In May, 1952 and after numerous riots, the camp commandant was lured to one of the compounds on the pretense to ease camp tensions was set upon and captured. The 38th Infantry had to sit and watch as the General was put on a mock trial on criminal charges. He was finally released after negotiations. Both General Dodd and his replacement, General Colson were reduced in rank to Colonel. The 39th Regiment along with the 187th Airborne was able to retake the compound in June 1952. Buzz recalls talking to some of the prisoners and “one was only 14 and one was 15 – these were just kids.”
Buzz would stay on Koje-do for “three to four months and made coffee for the guys on guard duty during the night at the prison camp and they really appreciated it” as well as helping to feed the American troops. He returned to the front lines for a short time. The unit was assigned South Korean troops and he noted that they “loved sweets and would drink only sugar water a lot as their meal.” Buzz would leave Korea in August of 1952 and was discharged from the Army in September 1953.
He worked in Ft. Worth for a while at the New Mexico (now Navajo) Refinery in Artesia, New Mexico. Here he would meet this future wife, Virginia Thorpe who was divorced and had a 6-1/2 year old daughter. They would marry in July of 1954 and have 2 daughters and a son of their own. He noted that “one of the daughters had asthma and went to school underground for a time.” The family moved to Big Spring, Texas in 1965 and Buzz worked for a welding supply store. Later, he sold figurines in the West Texas area for an Alabama company called All God’s Children.
Buzz “found out about the Texas South Plains Honor Flight at the Lubbock VA Clinic a couple of years ago and finally applied and went on the 2017 flight. He would have gone on an earlier flight, but was caring for his wife who had dementia. He was honored to help lay a wreath at the Korean War Memorial and was especially moved by the “mail call” on the flight to Washington. He said he “waited until he got to his room that night to read the mail, some from his daughter and grandson thanking him for his service” because he “saw other guys crying when they read their mail on the plane to Washington and was afraid he would to the same thing.” Asked what he would like to be remembered for, Buzz said his “love of God, family, a free country and that we should always remember those who went before us.”
Respectfully submitted by
Larry A. Williams
Veterans Liaison Co-chair
Texas South Plains Honor Flight