“He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live and grow ... and through it he lives in a way that humbles the undertaking of most men.” — President Harry Truman.
By VIN MANNIX
Beverly Woodacre remembers hearing the train whistle in the distance as her family waited at the station in Rutland, Vt.
It was September 1950, the leaves beginning to change.
“When I was a kid I loved to hear the train whistle,” the thrice-widowed 80-year-old said. “A train whistle can be enjoyable.”
It was mournful that fall day.
The train was bringing home her brother’s coffin.
Army PFC Robert McCullough had died a hero in the Korean War.
He was killed 60 years ago today.
When his remains were returned to Vermont, Beverly, clutching her newborn son, couldn’t bear to watch.
“My sister and I hugged and cried, knowing he was on that train,” she said. “It was too painful.”
Though the hurt has abated with time, Beverly’s memories of her brother remain strong.
There’s his Bronze Star, awarded posthumously.
Old newsaper clippings of his valor.
Black-and-white snapshots of him in the Hawaiian surf.
“He was so handsome, the girls wanted to date him,” Beverly said. “We used to call him the movie star of the family.”
They were two of seven children.
He was third oldest, she the youngest.
Yet they were the closest.
After their mother died at 48, a tight family became tighter.
“Dad said to him, ‘Now you watch over Bevvie until I get home and he did,” she said. “He was my protector. I idolized him.”
Robert walked her home from school.
When they went swimming in a nearby pond, he swam alongside her.
He’d take her fishing, too.
“He loved that,” Beverly said. “I’d be with him getting his tackle box ready, maybe carry a bucket. When we’d go down a hill, he’d take my hand. He’d give me a fishing pole, too, but he had to hook my worms.
‘He was a great guy, always to be trusted — and at the end he gave his life.”
Korea was not Robert McCullough’s first war.
At 18, he was a B-17 tailgunner with the Eighth Air Force during World War II. He flew 35 missions over perilous targets in the heart of Hitler’s Germany — Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg, Leipzig and Munich to name a few.
Robert received a Distinguished Flying Cross.
When he returned after war’s end, however, the family sensed a change.
“He got a job, but it seemed he couldn’t really settle down. I think it was his nerves after all those missions. We tried to talk him out of it, but he eventually went back into the service,” Beverly said. “He didn’t want to fly. Being a boy who liked to fish and be on the ground, he chose the infantry.
“Then the Korean War broke out.”
It was June 25, 1950, when 107,000 North Korean troops invaded South Korea.
Two months later at a place called Sobuk-son, Robert McCullough and soldiers of Company D of the 5th Infantry were under attack.
The commendation from the 25th Infantry Division that accompanied the Bronze Star tells how he bravely met his fate:
“His company was subjected to repeated fanatical attacks ... he manned his machine gun in an exposed and hazardous position and delivered effective fire on the attacking horde ... inspiring comrades in repulsing the attacks.”
Official notification of Robert’s death reached the family in Vermont several days later, but they waited to tell Beverly.
She was at a hospital in Glens Falls, N.Y., where she had given birth to her son Sept. 6.
Knowing how close she was to him, they struggled over how to tell her.
“My stepmother called to tell the doctor,” Beverly said. “When the doctor came in he said he had bad news. I thought my baby died. He said, no. He put his arm around me and said, ‘Your folks ... just got word your brother was killed.’
“I think I went into shock. I was waiting for him to come home. He couldn’t wait to see my baby.”
She named him Dennis Robert.
A great-grandmother now, Beverly smiled as she pointed to pictures of her offspring on Florida’s east coast and elsewhere around the U.S.
Yet on this solemn anniversary, she can’t help thinking what might have been for her big brother.
“The last Christmas he was home on leave, the neighbors were struggling. They had three or four children,” Beverly said. “Before Bob went back on leave, he gave the mother money to buy gifts for the family. That’s the type of guy he was.
“A person who gives their life to save the lives of others.”
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.