Harry Renton, 84, of Herndon, descends from a long line of Scottish coal miners.
His grandfather and his father both mined coal in Scotland, starting even before they were teenagers.
But Harry, who was born an American, became a miner of another sort; mining information for the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
Renton served as part of the Army’s 66th Engineer Topographical Company, which was stationed in Stuttgart, Germany during a good portion of the three-year conflict, which stretched from June 1950 to July 1953.
The company, originally numbering about 130 members, now has about 40 survivors nationwide and a number of them met in Herndon last weekend for the 60th anniversary reunion of the conflict’s end.
“It’s a funny story how we wound up in Germany,” said Renton. “We were stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland when we got three-day passes in order to go home and tell our families we would be going to Korea. But they needed engineers so badly that they sent another group from Texas instead of us because they were closer. When we returned from telling our families that we were going to Korea, we were actually sent to Germany.”
According to The History Channel’s website, the Korean War was the first “hot” war of the Cold War as well as the first “limited war” in which the U.S. aim was not the complete and total defeat of the enemy, but rather the “limited” goal of protecting South Korea from communist control. For the U.S. government, such an approach was the only rational option in order to avoid a third world war and to keep from stretching finite American resources too thinly around the globe.
“In Germany, we spied on the Russian troop movements and mapped everything they did,” said Renton.
“The Air Force took reconnaissance photos and we made maps,” Renton said. “Anytime the Russians moved their troops, we made a map showing exactly what they were doing and where they were going.”
The group was also assigned as combat troops, to be a barrier should Russia move to Europe, according to Renton, who said his unit was very tightly-knit and did everything together.
“Our unit stayed together the entire time and we promised to stay in touch,” he said. As of last weekend, we’ve now done that for 60 years.”
Over the years, the group’s number has dwindled from 130 to approximately 40.
“We lose an average of about four members a year now,” Renton said. “We all range in age between 84 to 89.” This year’s reunion at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Herndon brought together a group of nine Veterans; 40 total people, including wives and other family members. The weekend was kicked off with a happy hour at Houlihan’s restaurant, followed by socializing in the hotel’s hospitality room where the veterans were treated to a PowerPoint presentation of photos from their time together in Germany and their prior reunions over the last 60 years.
“Even though we were in Germany, we did our part for the war effort,” Renton said. “Although we stayed there through the whole thing, there was never any guarantee of that. Any of us could have been transferred at any time to Korea, and we all knew it.”
Renton and the other surviving veterans who attended the reunion Saturday went that afternoon to the Korean War Memorial in Washington, DC and then later that evening, a memorial service was held back in Herndon to honor those who had passed on. “Particularly those who passed on to the ‘Company Everlasting’ over the last year. I’ll never forget my time in Germany or any of these guys,” he said nostalgically. “I hope to see them all again next year, but you never know.”