In 1953, David Rackers was on a boat passing under the Golden Gate Bridge heading home from the Korean War when he made a promise to himself –all his memories of the war would be left on the other side of the bridge to make room for the new ones he would make when he returned home. Several decades later, Rackers made good on his promise; the memories of a conflict that earned him a Purple Heart medal and three Bronze Stars have not been easily resurrected.
A 1948 graduate of St. Francis Xavier School in Taos, Missouri, Rackers noted that he and many of his friends were so filled with post-World War II patriotism after finishing school that they chose to enlist in the military.
“I tried to get into the Marines,” said Rackers, “but was flat-footed and they wouldn’t take me.”
He soon began farming part-time while also working for his father’s heating business in Jefferson City, that is until the wartime draft secured for him an opportunity he was previously denied. Receiving a draft notice in August 1951, Rackers was soon on his way to Camp Crowder where he spent the next couple of months performing “good duty” and processing into the Army.
“They kept me there for so long because they said they couldn’t find any boots to fit me,” he said, smiling. “But then I got shipped to Schofield Barracks (Hawaii) for boot camp before shipping out to Korea in (early) 1952.”
With only basic combat training behind him, the inexperienced private was assigned to Company I, 15th Infantry, which was operating in an area along the Yalu River. Rackers quickly received his baptism of fire participating in patrols and maneuvers—one, specifically, which would land him in the hospital. On August 15, 1952, after participating in a river crossing while moving toward a mountain believed to be the site of North Korean forces, Rackers and a group of fellow soldiers came under enemy rifle fire.
“I can’t tell you what was on that mountain,” he said, “because we never made it there.”
Taking a bullet in his left hip, Rackers was evacuated and sent to a hospital in Japan, where he remained for the next few weeks to be treated for his wound. After his release, the soldier was awarded a Purple Heart medal and returned to his unit to be placed “back on the front lines.”
However, he was granted a reprieve from combat when he was pulled from the front lines on Christmas Day (1952) and told to grab his gear because he was being discharged from the military.
“I was in such a hurry to get out of there I just grabbed my stuff and got on a troop train,” Rackers said. “I later found out that I had grabbed the wrong duffle bag,” he grinned.
Boarding a troop ship in Tokyo, Rackers made the 28-day sea voyage home and was soon passing under the Golden Gate Bridge, arriving back on American soil to embark upon the promise of a new life. The combat veteran was discharged from the Army in May 1953. He spent several decades working in the heating and air-conditioning business and, in later years, worked as an instructor with Nichols Career Center and drove a bus for the Blair Oaks school district.
In 1956, he married his fiancée, Ann, and the couple raised six children.
“I didn’t know him back when he was in the Army, but I could always tell that he was proud of his flag,” said Ann, discussing her husband’s service.
Several years ago, Rackers had the opportunity to visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., as part of the Central Missouri Honor Flight—an event, he says, accurately reflects many of his combat experiences.
“That made tears come to my eyes … seeing the memorial,” he said. “It really takes you back; it looks so much like it did back when we were on patrols.”
And despite his efforts from many years ago to leave behind the memories of his combat service, the realization of what he and others accomplished for their country prevails upon his conscience.
“It’s all just really a shaky memory, but I realize that we did something important to help keep our nation strong, and I have never regretted being a part of it all. It was an experience that taught me to take the good with the bad and to keep on going even when the times got tough.”
The 90-year-old veteran passed away June 16, 2020.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.