Fred Hoge’s eyes began to tear up as he drove through the gates of Crown Hill Cemetery on Monday.
He traveled nearly 1,100 miles from Jacksonville, Fla., to pay his respects to Paul Robert Ford, of Sedalia — the man he believes took the bullet meant for him 61 years ago when he was killed in Korea on Nov. 16, 1952. The two men met while serving in the Korean War and were soon like brothers.
From jazz school to the trenches of Korea
After Hoge graduated from high school in Arizona, he decided to attend Los Angeles City College. At that time it was one of the top jazz colleges in the nation and he played the clarinet and saxophone. He attended it for about five months, but the cost was too much for him to handle on his own.
“I did find out in a hurry if I thought I was competitive with those guys in L.A., I must have been crazy. They are something else,” he said.
He returned to Arizona and received approval to go the school of music in the Navy. However, he failed his physical because his albumin levels were too high. That’s when he went to work at the post office. He did everything from unloading the boxcars to sorting the mail. However, he had a supervisor he didn’t get along with.
“He started getting on my butt about something. It was ridiculous. It was about lunch time, so I just walked upstairs and joined the Army,” he said. “A week later, I was gone.”
He did his basic training in California and was told he was being sent to cook school. This infuriated him.
“That’s not going to happen, not to me,” he said.
He went to see his first sergeant. During basic training, Hoge got very sick with the flu and the sergeant helped nurse him back to health and they became good friends. He got Hoge reassigned to the 25th Infantry Division, nicknamed Tropic Lightning.
He took a troop ship to Camp Drake in Japan in the spring of 1952, and eventually ended up on top of a mountain in South Korea in the middle of the night. He was assigned to a bunker and was told to go to sleep. He took off his boots and climbed into his sleeping bag. A few hours later, he awoke to the sounds of enemy firing upon them.
“I found one boot and couldn’t find the other. I thought ‘Oh geez, it’s all over,’ ” he said. “I never took my boots off again at night. See, that’s how you learn.”
Hoge was in the 14th Infantry Regiment in K Company. His primary duty was rifleman, as well as being assigned to night ambush and recon patrol duty.
Hoge can’t pinpoint when exactly he met Ford, but they immediately gravitated to each other.
“He was an affable, outgoing, unselfish and positive guy who was liked by everyone around him,” Hoge said. “He was known as ‘Red,’ so called by the color of his hair, and it positively was not a misnomer.”
The two men were paired up and went on numerous patrols together.
“I was always the point man on the patrol we went on and he was the man right behind me,” Hoge said.
Ford is a double recipient of the Purple Heart. He received the first Heart when he, Hoge and several other men were assigned to repair, string and fix the barbed wire located in front of their trench positions. Since it was a very foggy morning, the men believed they were safe and hidden from the enemy.
“Very suddenly the fog lifted, and we were caught with our pants down in the middle of nowhere,” Hoge said. “A heavy barrage of enemy mortar rounds rained upon us. We both received minor shrapnel wounds, but all involved were very fortunate.”
Though usually the men were hard at work, every once in a while they’d have lighter moments. One time Ford left the mountain to visit one of his brothers, who was also operating an NCO club in Seoul.
“When Red returned, he was toting numerous bottles of Kentucky’s finest booze, and Red being Red, he shared them with all the guys,” Hoge said. “At that point, he was everyone’s hero. This is the kind of guy Red was.”
One day, a commanding officer came out and told the duo they would have to split up.
“I don’t want you two going on patrols together. We need to be training somebody else for you. We’ve got this patrol going on tonight, but only one of you can go,” the officer said.
“So, true to form, Red slapped me on the back and said, ‘Oh hell, I’ll go. You take the next one.’ As I recall, this was his first time as point man,” Hoge said. “In just a few hours, in the dark of night, he received his second Purple Heart — posthumously.”
When the men went on patrol, they had to go through the outpost. Hoge believes one of two things happened. Either the man in the outpost was jittery and shot him or the officer in K Company didn’t notify the outpost as to when the patrol would be coming through.
“None of it was Red’s fault. Yeah, he got killed by friendly fire. If it would have been me (at point), the situation is the same. Nine out of 10 times, it would have been me,” Hoge said. “I’ve always felt like some sort of half-assed guilt about this because he had my job that night. That was his first time.”
The men of K Company gathered around Ford’s body with a clergyman standing by. He asked if anybody wanted to say a few words.
“I was so damned shocked, I just couldn’t believe this happened. If it would have been past the outpost, it would have been a totally different story,” Hoge said. “I needed to look after him one more time.”
He was speechless and felt completely numb.
“This position was so unique and so different. That’s why it has always stuck me,” Hoge said. “This was my opportunity to do what I’ve been wanting to do. I should have done it a long time ago.”
Paul Robert “Bob” Ford was born Sept. 7, 1931, a son of Edward George and Agnes Ina Crawford Ford. He was one of seven children and the youngest of four brothers. They lived in a house that is now part of Liberty Park.
Most of his siblings, Charles “Bud” Ford, Francis “Bubbles” Ford, Roy “Pete” Ford, Geneva Stout and Dorothy “Tootie” Grandfield, all remained in the area, but have since died. Wilma Johnson is the only surviving sister and now lives in California.
Jo Colvin, of Sedalia, is Ford’s niece and the daughter of Geneva Stout and Orville “Bud” Stout.
“My mom’s mother died when she was 13 from childbirth, so the siblings who were younger and not in the military yet, my mom and dad raised them,” Colvin said.
Their father also died at a young age. Bob attended Smith-Cotton High School for only one year. All of his older brothers were in the service, and he wanted to join too.
“He hounded me and hounded me and hounded me for a good six months. I mean it was every day. Finally, Geneva just gave in and said she’d sign the papers,” said Orville “Bud” Stout. “He was wild, but all of us were. He was the youngest one. He wanted to be a big shot.”
Bob was either 16 or had just turned 17 when he went into the Army. He re-enlisted when he was 20.
“My mom just threw a fit because she didn’t want him to go back,” Colvin said.
Dorothy “Cookie” Heyer, another niece from Sedalia, was young, but she still remembers Bob.
“He sure loved his nieces at the time. I know that. He bought me my first bicycle. I was like 5 years old,” she said.
Stout, Colvin and Heyer, along with other family members, met Hoge at Crown Hill Cemetery on Monday.
They walked to the grave together and observed a moment of silence.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” Hoge said with tears falling down his cheeks. “Thank you all so much for coming. I just can’t believe all the people who came.”
“It means everything. I just about cried because he told me that Bob saved his life,” Heyer said. “He started crying and I thought ‘Oh, this means a lot to him.’ ”
“This is really quite an honor, it really is,” Colvin said.
Hoge left the cemetery feeling like he had accomplished his lifelong dream — paying his respects to the “brother” who meant so much to him.
“Pettis County will and should be proud of Red Ford,” Hoge said. “I hope Red is remembered that way. He deserves that.”