Gainesville Veteran And Family Remember His Service in Korean War


Clayton Graves smiles after completing basic training. He enlisted in the Army on Sept. 14, 1950.

Remembering the Korean War, Clayton Graves said he mainly recalls the foxholes and extreme cold.

It was beginning to turn into winter in 1951 when Cpl. Graves’ Headquarters Company, the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division, 7th Regiment, 2nd Battalion, was shipped to Suwon, South Korea.

About eight weeks after finishing basic training in South Carolina, he and his men spent six days on a “troop train” traveling the southern route across America, which took them west across the southernmost states and up through California before boarding a ship in Seattle and sailing toward Korea.

Graves was supposed to enter at Pusan, but the U.S. had lost control of the territory by the time he arrived.

He and his fellow soldiers, in an infantry regiment nicknamed the “Cotton Bailers,” were kept at a small camp made on a transportation port for three weeks until his Pioneer and Ammunition Platoon received orders and a place supporting the front line in Suwon.

He spent about a month with no mail before opening an envelope and reading his draft notice, said his son, Shawn Graves. After going so long without hearing from home, he was excited to hear his name called to get a letter, but he said the call to duty while standing on a battlefield was just one example of the slow postal service.

Clayton mostly remembers the foxholes and trenches in which he and his fellow ammunition runners spent most of their time battling against the enemy and their own relentless nerves, but his battlefield experience was anything but uneventful.

One day at his command station, in an ammo supply truck about a quarter-mile and across a river behind the front line of duty in Suwon, American soldiers began bolting from the front line and past their truck.

The retreating soldiers yelled that the Chinese broke the line, and the enemy began directly approaching them from over a hill.

Without the commanding officer’s order, Graves turned the truck in the opposite direction but didn’t move, not wanting to leave on the basis of hearsay even though the rest of their platoon was gone.

When the officer realized a truck was missing from the convoy, he jumped in a Jeep to get Graves and his men out of the crossfire, and in the distance from his vehicle to theirs, the officer fell from a shot to the back of his head.

Although assumed dead, he rose after the bullet hit the metal of the helmet and its liner and deflected to his boot. He made it to Graves’ truck to give the command to retreat.

The Chinese were still gaining; the men were moments from being captured.

They found the rest of the platoon, and the entire company was pushed back for eight days, making it just 40 miles in that time. They made it back to Seoul after the Chinese exhausted their resources.

“It was fight, fight, fight,” said Lisa Graves Paffenroth, Graves’ youngest daughter. “They traveled a few miles a day and dug in [foxholes] at night.”

She said her father explained a sense of relief when they finally made it back to Seoul, but instead of getting their 21 days of rest, they were sent out six days later to fight a Chinese break in their frontline west of the city.

“We just went in there to no-man’s-land,” Clayton said during a conversation with his family. “They were shooting from the hills at us, from up in the hills.”

The Chinese shot at them for five days on a rainy hillside before his reorganized company could take the enemy and move out to find another force to seize.

By command, he and his men drove until they took fire.

After traveling 15 miles back toward Seoul without hearing a shot, their tactic was to find an enemy by driving through combat zones until drawing a fight out of hiding. It was a success.

At mile 20, they reentered to offensive stance.

Graves didn’t expect to see a war zone. When the war reignited, most people they knew thought it was going to be a “short-term skirmish,” Shawn said.

Graves said the war was supposed to be over when he enlisted, but the conflict started again when the Chinese invaded while he was in basic training .

“They pushed our troops back past Seoul and all that,” he said. “Took all the towns, and all the land they took back.”

Graves didn’t even expect to join the Army when he took his sister to sign up for the Women’s Army Corps.

She was denied entry, but he signed his papers after he realized he could make more than the $2-per-day rate of a Georgia cotton-picker in order to buy wedding rings for his beloved Carolyn and support his family.

Paffenroth said Graves’ mother was furious that her youngest son of 12 children had enlisted in the Army.

“She prayed and prayed and prayed,” Paffenroth said.

Graves was in Korea for a year before returning to the United States.

After three years in the Army, Graves retired a Staff Sergeant and hitchhiked from Georgia to Gainesville in 1952 to marry the woman to whom he was engaged for his entire time in the service, now married for 62 years, and hasn’t left since.

He became an electrician and was a member of the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for more than 40 years before retiring.

Father to two daughters and two sons and now grandfather to 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, Graves has given his family a legacy they can tell stories of proudly.

Susan Graves Fay, Graves’ oldest of two daughters, said the stories he told as they grew up had a hand in shaping them.

“One thing that never got out of my mind that he said was that it didn’t matter what language the children spoke, they all cried in the same language,” she said.

She said his stories reinforced that no matter who the enemy is, they are still human, and although he never received any official honors, “no matter what rank, he’s still our hero, and he’s got the medal of honor in our hearts.”

Shawn and Paffenroth both agree that although their father didn’t endure the most fire or run in the biggest missions, every person who fights for America plays an important role.

“You can never give them enough respect,” Shawn said. “But every day we’re improving.”

Graves tells his war stories outside of Parklands Rehabilitation and Nursing Home on Friday morning. He is expected to return home to his wife, Carolyn, whom he met while square dancing when she was 15. They were engaged before he left for Korea and married as soon as he returned, paying for her engagement and wedding rings with his combat pay.

Graves sits on the remains of a chimney in Korea in 1951. On the back of this picture, which he sent home to Carolyn, he wrote, “This is all that was left of a house.”

Soldiers in Korea stand during a Jack Benny performance at the USO show in Korea in July of 1951.

A man stands next to his means of transport in Korea. On the back of this picture, which Graves sent home, he wrote, “This is the way they travel. This is the only way.”

Graves stood in the snow of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, in late 1951 before he was sent overseas.

About Robin Andrews

Robin is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news

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