“I just want to thank all of you and let all you fathers, mothers and wives know that this field is not dedicated to my son alone. It is dedicated for all those who died for this country.” — Harold Cross, Sr. at his son’s playground dedication in 1953.
80 Minutes Before the End
There were 8 yeas and 0 nay votes from the Detroit Common Council at the passing of a resolution proclaiming Harold Cross Jr. Day on August 7th, 1953. There is always a last – the last to be picked for elementary kickball; the last time you see your beloved; the last kiss, the last donut. Unfortunately, iterations of this type of tale are told far and wide with the insertion of similar details and different names. This story is different though; heroic and a heartbreaker.
Here’s a small backstory..
Harold R. Cross, Jr. (1928-1953) lived just north of Michigan Avenue in a middle class Detroit neighborhood with his wife Ilse Reggalman whom he met and married while stationed in Germany. He was an experienced soldier joining the Merchant Marines at 16; then serving with the US Navy. As many men did, Cross did a re-join in 1947 this time with the US Army.
Korea was different; trench warfare at its finest. A war of extremes – seething heat and bitter winters; low supplies and plentiful, yet often inadequate weaponry. Harold Cross made it through Korea serving periods of time at the front leading his unit in battle. He was proud of the five stripes and his new earned rank of Sgt. 1st Class.
The day before his death, Cross wrote a letter to his wife which in part said “We’ve had so many casualties. I don’t think we’ll make it. I am beginning to wonder about the armistice and am tired of hearing rumors about it. Are they ever going to sign it?”
There is no reason to continue my words.
Here is the firsthand account as told to me by PFC. John T. Bluhm who spent the final hours of the Korean War with S1C Cross in a fox hole near Christmas Hill, Korea.
LET THE FIREWORKS BEGIN
Remember that was 60 years ago. I am not a writer so bear with me.
SGT. Cross was our platoon leader when we came to Korea.
We were in the 5th Regimental Combat Team Assigned to the 25th Division.
We knew the cease fire was going to start at 8:00pm. All ammo was to be sent back 3mi [miles] by then.
As you know it’s easier to fire it off then carry it back. That’s what they did, and so did we. You would think a fireworks store exploded. That started about 6 or 7 o’clock PM and never stopped.
Our bunker was dug into the side of the hill with a roof over it. The roof was held up by a 12 in log built up on rocks. The door was very small.
Sometime between 7:00 and 8:00 PM a mortar round hit that log and blue [sic] it apart, caving in the door way. Sgt Cross and I were on one side of the bunker and 3 or 4 other guys were on the other.
Remember it was dark. I came to and found Cross next to me. The next thing I did was not allowed; I lit a candle and bandaged up his shoulder as best as I could (by that time no one was aiming anything). The guys on the outside did a fine thing, they got out of their holes and dug us out.
I owe them my life.
They got Cross on a litter and took him over the hill to the aid station. I would say this was about 7:45pm . At 8:00pm the world went totally quiet.
Some of the guys walked to the bottom of the hill and gave a Korean soldier a smoke.
The end – July 27, 1953.
Cross, a Detroiter, was the last U.S. serviceman to be killed in the Korean War; Bluhm was everything Cross needed, when he needed it most. Cross died shortly before the armistice went into effect. The playground that honors his memory is located at Manor and Esper, not far from his home near Michigan Avenue. It’s tidy and has newer play equipment. The dedication plaque remains.
May the light shine on all those who served in Korea, it was truly hell.
Thanks to John Bluhm who contacted me on Easter Day 2015 and recollected his story. It was somewhat of a miracle that we met. To you, Mr. Bluhm – thanks for your service. It’s truly an honor to know you.