WE SERVED: Brave shows pride in his Korean War service
Charles Curtis Brave, 88, served in the Army during the Korean War and was in combat with his unit Headquarters Company, Third Battalion, 17th Infantry Division. COURTESY PHOTO
Charles Brave was one of three Cherokee veterans who fought in the Korean War who visited the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., in September 2019 as part of the Cherokee Nation Warrior Flight. Brave, left, Selbert Taylor and George Green stand in front of statues of soldiers at the memorial. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Korean War veterans, Charles Brave, left, George Green and Selbert Taylor meet their tour guide, who shared information about the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., in September 2019. The veterans traveled to the nation’s capital as part of the Cherokee Nation Warrior Flight. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
HULBERT – After 67 years, Charles Curtis Brave still recalls how he felt as a cold, scared teenager on a bald hilltop fighting communist Chinese soldiers as an American infantryman.
Brave, now 88, was born Aug. 14, 1932, in Pawhuska. His father died when he was “real young” and his mom moved with him to Hulbert and settled on a farm.
“My grandma and grandpa raised me,” he said. “And then when I was 19, Uncle Sam grabbed me.”
He was drafted in 1953 and was sent to Fort Sill near Lawton where he received a check-up and shots before being sent to Leonard Wood in Missouri to train to be an engineer to build bridges and buildings and learn how to work with mines and explosives.
He said he received the best soldier award during basic training, and received a letter from President Harry Truman for his accomplishment. He shared what his grandfather had told him about doing a job.
“He said, ‘son, when you get you a job, you do your best. If you go to work for a nickel, give them a dollar’s worth of work.’ I did my best when I was in the service,” he said.
As soon as he finished basic training, he was on his way to Korea to be assigned to Headquarters Company, Third Battalion, 17th Infantry Division.
“We stopped in Japan for a week and then they issued us guns and new clothes. And then I stopped on ‘Old Baldy,’” he said. “I could hear the racket in the distance, and I know’d they (enemy) was getting close. I spent all my time on ‘Old Baldy’ until the Chinese sent a million men to wipe us out. They run us off the hills. They killed 45,600-and-something soldiers, but I was lucky the Lord was with me. I didn’t get hurt.”
He added that he is proud of his service in Korea, but he acknowledges the time he was there was difficult.
“It got 37 below zero there. Eighty percent of the soldiers that left there had frostbit hands and frostbit feet,” he said.
During a period of 10 months in 1952-53, there were five engagements for “Old Baldy” or Hill 266 in west-central Korea. Reports state the fighting was vicious before and after these five engagements among North Korean and Chinese forces and American forces that were aided by a Columbian army battalion.
“Old Baldy” was a prominent hill in the battle area and earned its nickname after artillery and mortar fire destroyed the trees on its crest. Because it was the highest point on a prominent east-west ridge, “Old Baldy” held strategic importance.
“After they had a cease fire I had my first encounter, face-to-face, with three North Korean soldiers,” Brave recalled. “They all had automatic carbines (rifles), and I had my carbine and it was laying on the ground in front of my where I was sitting.”
Brave said he also had a 45-caliber pistol.
“Someone asked me ‘well, what happened?’ And I said, ‘well I’m talking to you ain’t I?’” he said. “The Lord was with me again. I lucked out. The guys who were right in front of me talking to me, they were the unlucky ones. They was the guys that paid the price.”
Brave is half Cherokee and half Osage, and over the years has given thanks to his “Cherokee Indian brothers” who answered the call and served their country in the military.
“I’m proud of them for stepping up in times they were needed to defend the country,” he said.
He was discharged as a private first class in December 1954, and earned the National Defense Medal, the Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal and was later awarded the Korean War Service Medal on the 50th anniversary of the war that ultimately took 54,246 American lives and 628,833 military personal serving under the United Nations flag. He also left with injuries to his feet from the sub-zero weather in which he fought. Today, his feet have poor circulation and are discolored, but Veterans Affairs doctors will not say this was caused by frostbite, he said.
After the war, he worked with heavy equipment and then worked as a commercial union carpenter. His carpentry skills came in handy when he began doing mission work helping build churches in Brazil from 1990 to 2007.
“I really enjoyed doing it because you could look around at the churches we built and they would fill them up the first night. I was proud people was getting to know Jesus,” he said.
In 2019, he had the opportunity to visit the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., as part of the annual Cherokee Nation Warrior Flight. At the memorial, he said he saw a verse that moved him. It read, “they fought together as brothers in arms and they died side by side and now they lay side by side buried.”
“Those guys, they paid the price for the rest of us,” Brave said.