Tom Dillard: Eugene C. Morehart of Mabelvale stands out in Korean War

My longtime friend John Graves, just retired as a professor of history at Henderson State University, recently made me aware of his cousin and Korean War hero, Eugene C. Morehart of Mabelvale.

This is the first time I have written about the many roles Arkansans played in the Korean War, reflecting the national tendency to forget about that fierce conflict until recent years.

Gene Morehart, who lives with a daughter in Mabelvale, is the latest generation of a family which has fought in every American war -- starting with the Revolutionary War.

Eugene Curtis Morehart was born July 31, 1929, the son of Edward and Arthie Redd Morehart of Mabelvale. Not long after graduating from Mabelvale High School, he was drafted by the U.S. Army in response to the North Korean invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950.

Upon finishing basic training, Morehart was sent immediately to Korea, where he was given three days of medical training before being thrown into battle as an Army medic.

While on the final day of a three-day patrol in late June 1951, North Korean forces attacked with heavy automatic fire and mortar strikes. The unit had no time to dig in, so casualties mounted quickly. Morehart's incredible performance that day resulted in his receiving the Army's Bronze Star with Valor.

The Army described how Morehart was "continually exposed to this intense fire as he moved from position to position, treating the wounded." He treated and evacuated 20 wounded soldiers that day.

On another occasion, Morehart was thrown 30 feet down a cliff when a grenade landed near him. In that battle, the young medic was wounded with shrapnel to his hand, whereupon he dressed the wound, gave himself a tetanus shot, and returned to his wounded comrades.

Morehart came by his military heroism naturally. He is descended from a family known for its military service over an incredibly long period. His great-great-great-great-grandfather John Morehart left southern Germany for Pennsylvania in 1758. As a member of the Pennsylvania Rangers militia, John Morehart fought in the Revolution and was rewarded with a 160-acre land grant in Ohio. He, along with his son Christian, fought the British again during the War of 1812.

As John Graves wrote in an email to me, "two of Christian's grandsons, Henry Morehart, a great-grandfather of Gene and myself, and Conrad Morehart, our great-grand-uncle, continued the Morehart tradition of military service during the American Civil War."

They enlisted in the 114th Ohio Volunteers, which eventually brought them to Arkansas, where they fought in the Battle of Arkansas Post.

Gene Morehart and John Graves have another great-grandfather who fought for the Confederacy, John Franklin Harrison, who was part of the Ninth Volunteer Infantry Regiment, known informally as the Arkansas Travelers. His company and many others in the unit were recruited mostly from what is today Grant County.

It was more than ironic that both the rebel Harrison and the staunch Union soldier Henry Morehart fought in the Battle of Champion Hill east of Vicksburg. Reflecting on that battle in which two of his direct ancestors could have exchanged gunfire, John Graves wrote recently in an email: "Fortunately, both of our great-grandfathers must have been bad shots, or Gene and I might not be here today."

History was not quite finished with Henry Morehart. Following the Civil War, he settled in southwestern Pulaski County, homesteading land along Sardis Road. In 1888, he won election to the Arkansas House of Representatives as a part of the statewide agrarian political insurgency.

That election remains the most contentious and violent in Arkansas history and involved immense corruption as Democrats fought desperately to continue their firm lock on power. Morehart's life might have been in more danger during that election campaign than during his years in the Union army.

Gene Morehart was one of many Arkansans who won military honors for heroic service fighting the North Koreans and later the Chinese. Historian Michael Polston has identified eight other Arkansans who received the Congressional Medal of Honor: Lloyd "Scooter" Burke, Arkansas County; Gilbert Collier, Woodruff County; Charles Gilliland, Baxter County; Herbert Lee, who lived only a short time in Arkansas; Herbert Littleton, Polk County; Whittington Moreland, who grew up in Texas but had family in Mount Ida; James Stone, Jefferson County; and Travis Watkins, Columbia County.

Two Medal of Honor winners -- Herbert Littleton and Whittington Moreland -- died when they threw themselves on enemy hand grenades. Littleton spent his childhood in Mena before moving to South Dakota. Though raised in Texas, Whitt Moreland was a descendant of the famed pioneering Whittington family of Hot Springs and Mount Ida. Both soldiers were 21 years of age.

Charles Leon Gilliland, a native of Yellville in Marion County, was 17 years old when he died during a battle on April 25, 1951, which involved hand-to-hand combat. The teenager's refusal to leave his post enabled his comrades to retreat; Gilliland did not survive the onslaught, and his body was never recovered. He had joined the Marines on his 17th birthday, two months before the war began.

Despite being among the most decorated American soldiers of the Korean War, Lloyd "Scooter" Burke survived the war and became the motivating force behind the creation of the national Korean War Memorial in Washington. In addition to receiving the Medal of Honor, Burke received the Bronze Star three times and the Purple Heart on five occasions -- testimony to the numerous and serious wounds he received. His obituary was published in The New York Times when he died in 1999.

More than 6,000 Arkansans fought in Korea, with 461 being killed.

Historians Brian Robertson and Stephanie Bayless of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the Central Arkansas Library System conducted a massive documentation project on the roles Arkansas soldiers and sailors played in fighting in Korea: "Forgotten: The Arkansas Korean War Project." Among its numerous resources are interviews with veterans, including Eugene Morehart. Access the website at http://bc-digital.org/koreanwarproject/index.html.

Tom Dillard is a historian and retired archivist living near Glen Rose in rural Hot Spring County. Email him at [email protected].

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