Editor's note: This is part of a series, "Stories of Honor," that recognizes the service and sacrifice of military personnel from Central Illinois. To make a nomination, go to herald-review.com/storiesofhonor
MACON — From meeting Jack Stringer, strangers wouldn't be able to tell that a bullet went into the back of the Korean War veteran's head below his ear and traveled out through his face.
Stringer, born and raised in Moweaqua, imagined being in the service would be very different. He grew up with soldiers sharing stories making World War II sound "fun." Stringer said he was "madder than hell" when the second World War ended before he was able to enlist.
He was so intrigued by the stories that he left high school at age 18 and enlisted in the Marines, serving from January 1950 to January 1954.
"I'd be going to the pool hall in Moweaqua and listening to these guys that came home from World War II and listen to their war stories," Stringer said. "And it sounded like 'Boy, that would really be fun'— all the places they've been and all of the girls, and well, (war) was more scary than I thought it would be."
About six months after Stringer enlisted, the North Korea Communist army invaded South Korea with 130,000 troops. The United Nations, including the U.S., soon got involved.
Stringer arrived in Korea on Sept. 15, 1950, when the Marines made an amphibious landing in Inchon, Korea."It gave you a feeling of security," he said. "There were so many of us." The landing made it possible for South Korean allies to recapture Seoul later that month.
Another battle Stringer vividly remembers was the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, describing it as "very cold; very, very cold."
It was late November to early December of 1950. Temperatures dropped to negative 36 degrees and some soldiers' toes were falling off from frostbite, he said.
"We never had the clothing that would take care of that kind of bitter coldness," he said.
Stringer said he and the other soldiers in the 1st Marine Division wore boots going just slightly past the ankle, so they put sandbags on their feet and stuffed paper down into them to add warmth. But soldiers, including Stringer, still got frostbite.
When nearly 120,000 Chinese troops came into the Chosin Reservoir, "that changed the game," Stringer said. The troops cut off the main road and railroad that supplied the Chinese troops."That was the object," he said.
It was December 6 or 7 of 1950 when Stringer was shot in the head and flown out of the war zone on a Piper Cub plane. "I don't know if it was before midnight I got hit that last time or after midnight," he said.
Stringer received two Purple Hearts while fighting in the Korean War: one he from the head injury, and another from shrapnel going into his hand and knee. Stringer was also an expert rifleman and on a pistol shooting team. He left the service as a Staff Sergeant.
"As far as my feelings, I know one thing: I didn't want to get into any combat anymore," Stringer said. "It wasn't as fun as I thought it would be."
He said it wasn't pleasant watching fellow soldiers get shot or wounded.
"You see, you could hear the bullets go over your head," Stringer said. "The thing is, you didn't know how high over your head they were."
When he returned, he spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals for plastic surgery and to reduce the size of the scar on his face. Stringer said he was visiting a family member in Shelbyville, he was getting ready to cross the street and a man asked him what happened.
"'I got hit over in Korea,' and (the man) said, 'Well they almost gotcha.' And I said, "Yeah, and they almost missed," Stringer said.
He worked at a factory for a while after the service, but the work wasn't anything he enjoyed. Stringer went to Eastern Illinois University and since 1960 has lived with his wife, Charlotte, in Macon, where he taught junior high math and high school industrial arts.
He learned it is best to stay peaceful and advises people who are thinking about joining the service to "go to school" instead.
"It's far different than I thought it would be. I was watching all these movies from World War II, and it wasn't like that at all," Stringer said. "It was pretty scary."