Delivered to America’s political leadership April 19, 1951, the Korean War hero offered in paraphrase, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”
Actually, the comment came as the final signoff by the aging U.S. commander who extolled American virtues while urging the nation never to surrender its fight against communism. According to records, his closing quote actually read, “And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.”
The inspiring thought came to us following our Memorial Day edition in which we featured the story of Garden Plaza resident James Oscar Cash on the front page. Like MacArthur, Cash fought in the Korean War. In fact, Pfc. Cash fought for MacArthur during the bloody Asian conflict whose eventual 1950 to 1953 stalemate led to the continuation of the nation’s split between north and south.
Although our familiarity with MacArthur is based solely on historic accounts, military reputation and the personal memories of those remaining locals who survived combat in Korea, we believe it is safe to assume Cash is similar in mannerism to his former commanding officer.
Cash, who today is celebrating his 81st birthday, is a man whose heart embraced his nation. Surely we hope America continues to reciprocate with an unyielding allegiance to the men and women whose courage under fire has protected the key ideal of that which makes our country great — freedom.
Born June 14, 1931, to James Oscar Cash and Willie Tennie Mowery who resided at 2809 Oak St., Cash was the sixth child born. He deceived the Army in order to enlist. He was only 16, but told the military he was a year or two older.
A combat medic assigned to the 24th Infantry Division in Korea, Cash had much to tell Managing Editor David Davis in the candid interview. Much of it was oddly amusing because it told much of the old soldier’s personality. We appreciated his candor.
Asked if he joined the Army because he wanted to fight, he told us, “Yeah, I couldn’t fight with [my sisters] any more. They got too big.”
He couldn’t remember how long he served in Korea. That was a long time ago. “... Eight months, 12 months or something like that, I think,” Cash told us.
As a medic, he did a “little bit” of fighting, but was never wounded. But he was, in fact, captured. Twice.
“How’d that happen?” he was asked.
“They caught me and I escaped, and they caught me again,” came his response. It is easy to appreciate this man’s forward style.
His first escape failed, but his second attempt was successful. He and a couple of Army buddies just started walking from the unsecured compound. It was cold and snowing. “We just started walking down the road,” Cash recalled. “Nobody stopped us so we just went on about our business.”
He criticized a young West Point lieutenant’s surrender that led to his first capture and he also took the occasion to call his North Korean enemies “knuckleheads” who hated Americans.
Cash survived Korea and returned to fight a tour in the Vietnam War years later before hanging up his helmet and combat boots for good as a sergeant first class.
“I just retired and forgot about it,” he said, but later reflected, “I didn’t forget about it. I just retired. You don’t ever really forget about it.”
Old soldiers like James Oscar Cash might eventually fade away. And one day they will die.
But they will carry the heartfelt appreciation of the American people to their grave.
Until that sad day, we wish this fine old soldier a happy birthday.
We wish him many more.