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"The whole concept of my life began anew, because I knew I was dead." (Video interview, 30:40)

   Charles Bernard Rangel
Collection image
Congressman Charles B. Rangel [detail from video]
War: Korean War, 1950-1953
Branch: Army
Unit: 503rd Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division
Service Location: Korea; Fort Dix, New Jersey; Fort Lewis, Washington
Rank: Staff Sergeant
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Born and raised in Harlem, Charles Rangel followed in his older brother’s footsteps, enlisting in the Army in order to supplement his family’s income. Joining the 503rd Field Artillery Battalion, a racially segregated battalion of the 2nd Infantry Regiment, his unit landed in Korea in August 1950, and began pushing north--encountering dead bodies along the way, a grim foreshadowing of what was to come. During the Battle of Kunu-ri in November 1950, his unit was surrounded by Chinese forces, pinned against a mountain. In his interview, he describes the chaos and horror of that life-changing experience. As he says, "It was beyond your worst nightmare… nothing could be as frightening as that day."

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (7 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (42 min.)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (7 items)
Deciding to enlist in the Army Reserves because of fear of draft; skill of Army recruiter in persuading him to join; wanting to send money back to his family. (02:08) Assigned to the 503rd Field Artillery Battalion; serving with a segregated unit; segregation in the Army did not end in 1948. (02:09) Arrival in Pusan; traveling north by truck; seeing African American casualties; fear. (03:04)
Knowing war was winding down; trying to survive until then; victory being ill-defined. (01:22) Started thinking about going home; confronting bitter cold; Battle of Kunu-ri; being trapped by Chinese forces. (05:35) Becoming a de facto leader; American Air Force begins strafing; c-rations are dropped; finds himself in hospital being congratulated for heroism. (05:24)
From that day on, becoming a new person; reflecting on why his life was spared; resolving to never complain about anything in the future. (02:15)  

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  October 26, 2011
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