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Herbert Carlisle, Captain, U.S. Army, Korean War

Author: John Vick

2nd Lt. Herb Carlisle [L] and Capt. Casey [R], Medical Company, 17th Infantry Regiment in Korea.

[Photo: Gary Carlisle]

Quoting from Herb Carlisle’s Korea diary, “Friday, October 26, 1951: It was very cold today, even though the sun was shining. Just before lunch, there were two casualties that came in. One died shortly. He had wounds to his arms, leg, chest and head. This made the noon meal a quiet one. We evacuated the other soldier by helicopter. There were four killed and seven wounded in training exercises today. It was very sad to lose so many at one time. There were land mines that the Regiment did not know about. The doctor looked like he had a really bad day.”

“November 22, 1951: We got up this morning and soon began receiving casualties. It has been raining all day and it is snowing on the mountains. The roads are in a mess. All of us were very busy tonight. We are having to go to the aid stations and get casualties in a two-and-a-half-ton truck since the jeep can’t make it through the roads. We tried to get helicopters in for some patients but couldn’t get them. One of the casualties said he was shot in the back of his head and fell and pretended to be dead. The eight North Koreans took his boots and wallet and moved on. When they left, he got up and ran back to his squad…We continued receiving casualties until very late and made our last run at 4 a.m. Each one took about three hours. Our Lt. Guy, MD, has really put in a day.”


How does a young man from Gilbertown, Alabama, find himself half-way around the world, in charge of ambulances bringing in wounded soldiers, trying to save lives during the Korean War?


Herbert Carlisle was born September 28, 1928, in the small community of Sugar Ridge, about three miles from Gilbertown, Choctaw County, Alabama. His parents were John C. and Maud Hendrix Carlisle. Herb was one of nine siblings [one died at childbirth] that grew up in a small, uninsulated, four-room log house, without the essentials of electricity, telephones and indoor plumbing. Herb recalled, “We were dirt poor but didn’t know it because most everyone around us was in the same shape. We didn’t realize we were poor until we were reading books at school that showed a better life out there.”


Herb began first grade at Toxey Consolidated School at Toxey, Alabama, in 1934. He finished the sixth grade there and entered Gilbertown Junior High School, where he attended through the ninth grade. He then entered Southern Choctaw High School where he graduated in May 1947. Herb recalled, “My parents didn’t attend my graduation because they did not have transportation. We lived about 11 miles from the school.”


In December 1947, Herb began work at Brookley Army Air Base in Mobile, Alabama. He was a clerk-typist for the Mobile Air Material Area. Starting out as a GS-2, making $1,954 per year, Herb Carlisle embarked on a career that would see him through the Korean War, continued work in the civil service, serving as Mayor of a small town in Ohio and a lifetime of helping others. Throughout his life, Herb Carlisle’s guide was the Holy Bible and his conviction of faith that began one Sunday in 1949, when he was baptized at the Dauphin Way Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama.


Herb’s military service began when he joined the Alabama National Guard in July 1947. He was assigned to the Medical Company, 200th Infantry Regiment at Fort Whiting Armory in Mobile. Herb became the company clerk, keeping records of the men and their training. The unit’s summer training took place at Fort McClelland at Anniston, Alabama, and Fort Jackson, South Carolina.


While at Fort Jackson in the summer of 1950, Herb’s unit learned that North Korea had invaded South Korea. They also heard rumors that the 31st Infantry Division [which included their regiment] would be called to active duty. That rumor became reality on January 16, 1951. Herb had risen to Sergeant in his unit and was surprised to get a call from the State Adjutant’s Office, asking him to come to Montgomery and be sworn in as a 2nd Lieutenant.


Herb was asked to go to go to Wetumpka, Alabama, pick up a platoon that he was to command,

and return to Fort Jackson where they would join the Medical Company. After training for a couple of months, Herb was assigned to the 198th Tank Battalion where he worked with a 1st Lt. who was a doctor. He trained for several months, assisting the doctor with medical sick call. Herb recalled that time, “We usually saw 30 to 40 patients a day. One day the doctor was sick and I had to see the patients by myself. I looked at their charts and asked if they were better or worse. If they were still sick, I gave them the same medication the doctor had given. My rationale was that one more day of the same medicine wouldn’t hurt them.”


In June 1951, Herb was sent to a six-week Assistant Battalion Surgeon Course at Brook Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He was taught the basics of first aid, including broken bones and wound care. He recalled one event that happened while he was there, “We attended a big parade for General Douglas MacArthur and his beautiful wife. Despite the fact that President Truman had just fired him for not obeying his orders, the general was being honored for his outstanding service to the country. There was a large turnout but we were able to get close enough to get a good look at them.”


2nd Lt. Herb Carlisle beside his 1948 Chevrolet that he purchased in Mobile, Alabama, and drove it to his assignment at Brook Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in San Antonio.

[Photo: Gary Carlisle]

After returning to Fort Jackson, Herb recalled, “I thought about my two brothers who had fought in WW II and I went to the Division Surgeon and asked to be included in the next call for officers in my category. Three weeks later, I had orders to Korea.”

Upon arriving in Korea, Herb was assigned as an ambulance platoon leader with the Medical Company, 17th Infantry Regiment. His job was to see that battle casualties were transported from the Medical Company to the Military Army Surgical Hospital [MASH]. From being around the MASH Unit, Herb said that the TV series got a lot of things right.


Herb Carlisle’s diary provides insight into the progress the Army had made in treating battle casualties since the end of WW II. The helicopter became widely used to evacuate the more seriously injured to MASH units. The treatment of severe injuries came nearer to “The Golden Hour,” that time when a critically injured patient must have life-saving intervention from the point of injury to treatment by a surgical team.


The Korean winter complicated the regular operations of Herb’s medical company. On one occasion, he wrote, “The wind and snow blew so hard that we had to hold the tent ropes to keep it from blowing away…We had six officers to the tent. We had a pot-bellied stove at each end of the tent that used fuel oil. They ran night and day. Still, when we got up in the morning, our boots would be frozen to the dirt floor…The temperature remained near 31 degrees below zero from Christmas 1951 until late January 1952.


“We had warm clothing but the men on the line still had not received cold weather clothing. They were wearing thin leather boots and lighter winter clothing…We began receiving more frostbite cases. Some feet were black from their toes to half their feet…We made sure they got winter clothing and thermal boots.”


In the spring, Herb’s company moved to a new location about eight hours away. Herb recalled, “The roads were dirt and some were treacherous. They looked like they had been cut out of the mountainside by civil engineers…When we arrived at our new camp, we were covered with dust and had no water for a bath…Our Medical Company was located about 50 yards from a 105mm howitzer…When they fired over our quarters, it would nearly roll you out of bed.” Shortly after arriving at the new location, Herb was given the job of Supply Officer for the Medical Company.


From Herb Carlisle’s Korea diary, “Our new location was below a small hill and on the other side was a small clump of trees where we had an outpost. About a half-mile from the outpost was a large hill called 1051. It got its name from its height…One day I had my driver take me to the outpost to pay my men…You felt like a sitting duck, out in the open with the enemy on the hill looking you in the face.


1st Lt. Herb Carlisle outside his barracks in Korea.

[Photo: Gary Carlisle]

“Every afternoon, a P-51 aircraft would strafe Hill 1051…I noticed that it never got a response from the enemy…There was an NBC correspondent who visited our aid station and took movies of a helicopter evacuation. I was assigned to be his host…The next day I took him up to the battle line where the infantry battalion was located. Mortar rounds were flying between us from the enemy…One round flew over our heads as we climbed the hill and we hit the ground. I skinned my knee pretty bad. It bothered me for three months… About 20 yards below us, I saw an engineer get killed when he stepped on a mine.”


Before taking over as the new Supply Officer for the Medical Company, Herb and the officer he was relieving found that approximately 600 blankets were missing. After a trip to the MASH [{Military Army Surgical Unit], it was discovered that most of the missing blankets were there. It turned out that most of the ambulance drivers just dropped off their patients and didn’t wait for replacement blankets.

While in Korea, Herb Carlisle continued to send his tithes to his church, the Dauphin Way Baptist Church in Mobile. Herb recalled, “I usually sent a short note with my tithe, describing how things were going and how many casualties we were having…I didn’t know it until I returned home and my sister told me that the pastor read every note to the congregation. I guess it was to encourage others to tithe.”


Herb’s time in Korea came to an end and he returned home in 1952. After a 30-day leave, he reported to Camp Pickett in Virginia. He was given a choice to remain in the Army for another three months or to get out. He chose to leave the Army and returned to his old job at Brookley Army Air Base.


In 1954, Herb was given the job of organizing the Medical Company for the 200th Infantry Regiment. After he got the company organized, he was designated as Administrative Officer and promoted to the rank of Captain. The headquarters of the company had been moved to Tuscaloosa and Herb kept busy traveling a lot. In July 1954, Herb requested to be placed in the inactive Alabama National Guard. He remained there until September 1959 when he was honorably discharged.


Herb continued his work at the MOAMA at Brookley Field. He was selected to oversee the selection of spare parts for the F-105 aircraft built by Republic Aviation on Long Island, N.Y. Over a nine-month period, Herb traveled between Mobile and Long Island many times. During his many conferences with Republic Aviation officials and the Air Force plant representative, Herb determined that the parts listing for the aircraft were incomplete. It took several heated meetings before Herb was able to receive the updated parts list in December 1956. Herb traveled to New York City on January 4, 1957, to participate in the conference to select the spare parts for the support of the F-105 aircraft. The entire process lasted until the end of February.


While in New York City, Herb attended the Calvary Baptist Church on Sundays. There he met Jeanette Searcy who was also from Alabama. She had traveled from her home in Andalusia, Alabama, to New York City to help her aunt run a delicatessen. In March 1957, Jeanette moved back to Andalusia. After Herb returned to Mobile, he spent weekends with Jeanette in Andalusia. They were married September 14, 1957, at the First Baptist Church in Andalusia, by the Rev. John Jeffers.


Herb and Jeanette lived in Mobile while he continued his work with MOAMA. Their daughter, Nancy, was born in March 1959, and their son, Gary, was born in March 1960. Herb spent time at Redstone Arsenal at Huntsville, Alabama, working on the Thor missile system. When he returned to Mobile, he was assigned as supervisor for the Equipment Section for the Thor missile. He was responsible for getting the equipment required to keep the Thor missile operational.


Herb and the family moved to Virginia briefly, where he worked for the Defense Supply Agency. That office was closed in 1964 and Herb was assigned to the Air Force Logistics Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. They moved to Fairborn, Ohio, where Herb and Jeanette became active in the First Baptist Church.


In the late 1960s, Herb became interested in local politics. He ran for a City Council seat and was elected in 1971. While a member of the City Council, Herb became concerned about the lack of doctors and medical facilities in Fairborn, a city with a population of 33,000. He was influential in getting a new $6.7 million Ambulatory Care Center built on the campus of Wright State University.


Herb Carlisle ran for mayor of Fairborn in 1977 and won. He was sworn in on December 7, 1977. As Mayor, Herb was involved in the 75th Anniversary of Powered Flight in 1978. He was able to meet Lt. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle several times. He was also able to meet with Isabel Wright Miller and Horace Wright, the niece and nephew of the Wright brothers. With his job at Wright-Patterson AFB and as Mayor of nearby Fairborn, Herb enjoyed the once-in-a-lifetime experience.


Herb retired on September 30, 1983, and he and Jeanette moved to Andalusia, Alabama, where they became active in the First Baptist Church. Jeanette’s mother moved into their home after her father died. That was one of the reasons for moving back to Andalusia. Herb enrolled in real estate school and earned his realtor’s license. He worked for Bob Rawls Realty for several years before going back to real estate school and earning his broker’s license.


In 1984, Herb joined with Dorothy Cook and bought Village Square Realty. Besides dealing in real estate, Herb began buying houses, renovating them and then renting them. After several years, Herb sold his part of the business to Dorothy Cook.


Herb lost Jeanette on September 22, 1992. Herb remembered, “Gary and I were at the hospital when Jeanette died. It seemed ironic that we came back to Andalusia to look after her mother, and Jeanette died before Mrs. Searcy.”


Herb’s pastor at the First Baptist Church, the Rev. John Foster, persuaded him to come to work at the church as Minister to Senior Adults in December 1994. Herb put his heart and soul into his work with his new ministry. He regularly visited church seniors at home and in the hospital. He also organized a Bible study at the nursing home.

In 1993, through the suggestions of friends, Herb met Sue Seales, who was also widowed. They were married on April 9, 1997. Since that time, they have traveled extensively as long as their health would permit. They remain happily married and reside in Andalusia.


Herb and Sue Carlisle standing outside their home in Andalusia.

[Photo: Herb Carlisle]

At the age of 94, Herb reflected on the things he was blessed to witness in his life, “I have seen the automobile go from a T-Model Ford to a driverless car; I have seen air travel go from a DC-3 to a widebody jet that can carry 600 passengers; I have seen farming go from a one-horse farm to large acreage with air-conditioned tractors and all sorts of harvesting equipment; I have seen the ice box cooled by ice become the refrigerator that dispenses ice; I have seen ladies’ fashions go from long, knee-length dresses to mini-skirts to short-shorts; I have seen the Berlin Wall and saw it fall; I saw the first man on the moon…I have seen many other changes and I feel blessed to have lived so long.”


The author thanks Herb and Sue Carlisle for sharing Herb’s story. Herb is a remarkably kind and caring man who has served others as we are instructed in Mathew 25: verse 40.


Information for Herb’s stories were taken from his book, “From Poverty to Lower Middle Class,” which he published in 2020.

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