Fallen Heroes: Private First Class John W. Rector

C-119s drop the 187th RCT over Korea, 1952. (Source: wikipedia.com)

It was the nature of the conflict in Korea that the front lines shifted dramatically, often making it difficult to recover the the bodies of fallen heroes. This Newcomerstown fallen hero, and paratrooper, did not return home for almost five years following his death.

The Rector family appeared in Ohio with the arrival of Washington Rector (1809-1893) and his wife Mary Elizabeth Adams (1819-1915). Washington and Mary were originally from Fauquier County, Virginia and moved to Muskingum County, Ohio with their five children in 1849. Eight more children would follow and the family eventually settled in Licking County, Ohio. One of the children who was born in Virginia before the move to Ohio was a son, John B. Rector (1844-1925).

Like all of the Rector children, John grew up working on his father’s farm in Licking County until his marriage to Mary Ann Walcott (1857-1909) in 1877. After their marriage the couple acquired their own farm in Perry Township, Licking County where they started their own family. John and Mary had seven children between 1878 and 1898, consisting of five sons and two daughters. Their fourth child, a son, was named Charles Clyde Rector (1882-1943). As a teenager, Charles went to work on a relative’s farm in Pickaway County, Ohio but returned to his father’s farm by 1910.

John W. Rector's yearbook photo from his senior year at Newcomerstown High School, 1946. (Source: ancestry.com)
John W. Rector’s yearbook photo from his senior year at Newcomerstown High School, 1946. (Source: ancestry.com)

Charles was nearly 34 years old before he married Martha Myrtle Addy (1894-1948) in 1917 in Tuscarawas County. Charles had found work with the railroad in Newcomerstown and the couple initially settled into a small home on River Street. The couple eventually acquired a farm about a mile south of town where they raised their family of eight children, six daughters and two sons. Their youngest son was named John Wallace Rector (1928-1950).

Charles Rector died unexpectedly in 1943 from a case of meningitis, leaving Martha to raise the remaining children still in the home. John’s elder brother was serving in the Army in Florida when Charles died. John continued to attend school in Newcomerstown and graduated from Newcomerstown High School in 1946. Shortly after graduating he found work with Heller Brothers in Newcomerstown and his mother went to live with one of John’s elder sisters in Arizona. John decided in the fall of 1949 to enlist in the United States Army.

Private Rector, following basic training, was sent to airborne training and by February of 1950 he was assigned to an airborne artillery unit stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. As the war in Korea escalated he was subsequently assigned to serve as a paratrooper in Company I, 187th Regimental Combat Team (RCT), an airborne regiment who during the Korean War boasted “Band of Brothers” alum Ronald Spiers as a commander. The 187th RCT was sent to Korea in September 1950, just a week after General McArthur’s surprise landing at Inchon.

Troops of the 187th Regimental Combat Team board a C-119 "Flying Boxcar" for their drop behind enemy lines north of Pyonyang, Korea, 20 October 1950. (Source: militaryimages.net)
Troops of the 187th Regimental Combat Team board a C-119 “Flying Boxcar” for their drop behind enemy lines north of Pyonyang, Korea, 20 October 1950. (Source: militaryimages.net)

General McArthur did not wait long to put his airborne troops to work and, in late October 1950, they were tasked with dropping behind enemy lines to cut-off retreating North Korean troops. The 187th was dropped near the towns of Sukchŏn and Sunchŏn, Korea on the morning of October 20, 1950. The regiment was able to secure the landing zones, but the North Korean troops had already managed to escape farther to the north and the attempt to intercept them had failed.

The following morning, at around 9:00 am, two company’s of the 187th were ordered to move south along the railroad and road to Pyongyang. Private Rector’s company was assigned to make a reconnaissance in force to clear the railroad. Company I met little opposition until it arrived at the Korean town of Opa-Ri where it was attacked around 1:00pm by North Korean battalion reinforced with artillery. After a battle that lasted for 21 hours, two of the company’s platoons were over-run by the enemy. Ninety-men of the company were missing when it finally regrouped after the battle. Among the men initially recorded as missing was Private First Class John Rector.

Given the shifting front-lines of the Korean conflict, it took some time to determine what had become of the missing Private Rector. It would take another three years before his body was finally recovered and sent home to a grieving family for burial. Private First Class John Wallace Rector, though a native of Newcomerstown, is buried in Hanover Cemetery, Licking County, Ohio.

PFC John W Wallace's headstone in Hanover Cemetery, Licking County, Ohio. (Source: findagrave.com)
PFC John W Wallace’s headstone in Hanover Cemetery, Licking County, Ohio. (Source: findagrave.com)

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© Noel B. Poirier, 2022.


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