Salute to Service: Korean War Veteran Sergeant Boyd Hiser

Salute to Service is a series where the West Virginia Department of Veterans Assistance shares the untold stories of veterans from the Mountain State. It is never too late to honor the sacrifice that Veterans have made for America, our way of life and our allies.

This story has been adapted from a first-hand account.

Boyd Hiser, from Ansted, West Virginia, received his order to report for his Armed Forces physical examination from the Selective Service System on April 30, 1952. After successfully completing his exam, he was inducted into the U.S. Army and scheduled to attend Officer Candidate School. Unfortunately, his class was canceled and he reported to the Infantry as an enlisted man instead. Hiser served with the 65th Infantry Regiment wielding a Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR for short. The men assigned a BAR were known as BAR-men.

The 65th Regiment had been reorganized shortly before Hiser’s arrival. The unit was composed of American, Puerto Rican and Korean soldiers. Members of the 65th developed a sort of pigeon language consisting of words from each language. For recreation, they enjoyed learning from one another’s culture. Hiser credited the Puerto Ricans with having the best musicians. They would find items to adapt into musical instruments, such as beer cans with rocks and bayonets on helmets. A guy from Kentucky regularly added his guitar music to good effect.

They would also engage in Hen To, a Korean form of wrestling in which the object was to throw one’s opponent to the ground. The one who lost his feet and hit the ground lost. Hiser had wrestled other troops of various nationalities from his own B-Company and was considered a good wrestler. He had a height advantage over many of those he’d wrestle, allowing him to put the challenger off balance.

He had a challenger named Chung from another company who was as tall as Hiser but much heavier. His face was red due to the adrenaline coursing through his body as he anticipated the match. Hiser declined to wrestle him at first. Once Chung’s red face reverted to normal, Hiser decided that the adrenaline had worn off, so he would be easier to beat. When they eventually did wrestle, Chung was able to grab Hiser and was in the process of slinging him to the ground. Using Chung’s weight against him, Hiser put him on the ground instead.

Before leaving on patrol, units would muster for an informal inspection to ensure everyone was ready and had their gear, ammunition and supplies. Dog tags had to be taped to make sure they didn’t make a sound. A Sergeant named Perkins was conducting the inspection and noticed that Hiser’s chamber was open on his BAR. The chamber had to be open when reassembling the weapons after cleaning but was supposed to be shut after. Perkins reached out and pulled the trigger on Hiser’s BAR to close the bolt.

“Everyone makes Mistakes,” Hiser said.

Hiser noticed another BAR-man in line in front of him whose chamber was open. The man was standing with the butt of his BAR on the ground. Not wanting him to get in trouble with Perkins, Hiser reached over and pulled the trigger on the man’s BAR. Unfortunately, the man had inserted a magazine. Weapons were not supposed to be loaded until the patrol departed the base.

The bolt went forward, chambering a round and firing into the air. Everyone hit the ground. The recoil mechanism caused the rifle to jump off the ground. As it fell back to the ground, the impact caused it to fire again. The weapon remained vertical as it repeated this process several times. Eventually, it fell to the ground on its slide, with everyone scrambling to get out of the way of the muzzle. Both he and the other BAR-man got a stern lecture about safety. Hiser believed they did not get into more trouble because of the upcoming patrol.

While on a mission to assault an enemy position, they got word that another unit was pinned down by heavy enemy fire while defending Hill 433 and taking heavy casualties. Their mission changed from assaulting their target to reinforcing the embattled unit.

He and Mullins, an Army medic from another platoon with whom he was friends, came upon a soldier with a “huge chunk missing from his right thigh.” They were exposed to enemy fire, so they were in a hurry to get the man in the stretcher and get out of the open. They forgot to lock the stretcher. As they picked it up, the wounded man shouted, “Hey man, something ain’t right,” as the stretcher folded.

After locking the stretcher, they began carrying the man back to friendly lines. Machine gun fire was hitting all around them. Mullins was shot, and he and the stretcher went down. Hiser found a nearby pile of stones for cover and pulled Mullins and the man on the stretcher behind it for cover. Mullins was limp and showed no signs of life. Hiser called for a medic; his platoon’s medic, Doc. Stewart arrived and after a while working on Mullins, pronounced that he was gone.

By this time, enemy mortar rounds were falling near their position. Hiser did not want to leave Mullins’ body exposed, so he dragged him to a nearby dry creek bed. While crawling out of the creek bed, he found another severely injured soldier. He asked the man if he had been helped. The wounded man replied that medics had attended to him and would return to get him soon. Hiser decided to stay with him until help came.

Eventually, an armored personnel carrier (APC) stopped near their position to collect the wounded and the U.S. forces still fighting there. Hiser retrieved the wounded and brought them to the APC. The crew of the APC kept the door closed except for when a soldier would need to go in or out because the interior of the vehicle was exposed to enemy fire with the door open. One of the crew members commented on how lucky he felt to have been in the APC for the duration of the action.

Once the APC got Hiser and the others back to friendly lines, Hiser went to get some food. The only thing he’d had to eat was c-rations early in the morning before the mission, and it was past 3 p.m. when they returned to base.

When checking his gear, he found that a bullet had nearly severed his rifle strap, and another had hit a magazine that was in a pouch on his side. There were two holes in the pouch, and the innermost magazine had been destroyed, with one hole where it entered the magazine and another where it exited.

Later that evening, the platoon leader approached him, saying he understood that Hiser knew where Mullins’ body was and asked if he could tell those who were going to retrieve it. Hiser replied that if he could have three or four men, he’d retrieve it himself.

Hiser and the men who volunteered to accompany him conducted a broad sweep around the area to ensure the enemy hadn’t set up an ambush for them. Then they retrieved the body.

Several members of Hiser’s unit were killed in this battle, including one of his closest friends, who only had five days before he was scheduled to return to the United States. They never found the man’s body and suspected that he may have taken a direct hit by a mortar round. He was officially listed as Missing In Action.

Hiser was awarded a Bronze Star with Valor for evacuating and tending to the wounded. He saved many lives that day but pushed back on the idea that he was a hero. He said that he had doubts about his action, often voicing speculation that if he had reacted by directing fire at the enemy rather than what he did, more American men may have been saved.

There is no way to know one way or another. We do know from reading Boyd Hiser’s award citation and his description of events, no word fits better than “HERO.” From Hiser’s award paperwork:

Recommendation for Award – Heroism

Block 31 – Describe what the person recommended did.

“On 17 July 1953, at approximately 1230 hours, a reconnaissance group from Company “B” was pinned down by intense enemy machine gun fire in the vicinity of Kumhwa, North Korea. During the heavy concentrations of enemy fire, many casualties were inflicted to the friendly force. With complete disregard for his own personal safety, Sgt. Hiser and a small group of comrades, forming a rescue element, rushed into the perilous area and evacuated the wounded. Faced with possible annihilation from the rain of artillery and machine gun fire, Sgt. Hiser evacuated the wounded to a place of comparative safety where he treated the casualties and protected them from further danger.”

Block 32 – Was the act Voluntary? – Yes
Describe what was outstanding – “Even though the area in which we had to move was under intense fire, Sgt. Hiser quickly went to the aid of his wounded comrades. Under the blanket of fire, Sgt. Hiser comforted and cared for the wounds of the casualties until further assistance arrived. “

Hiser was a well-known figure among the Korean War Veterans Association members and among veterans in the state generally. He would often participate in parades, driving a vintage U.S. Army Jeep that was fully restored to spread awareness regarding the service provided by those who served in what many have come to call “The Forgotten War.”

A grateful country and state will never forget Boyd Hiser and the many other veterans who served in the Korean War.

Don’t miss any of our Salute to Service articles – learn about WWII POW Stanford Lewis here.