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Ashe County Veterans History Project: Alonzo Clayton Phipps
Front cover of "This is the Ship I Sailed On," a booklet about the ship that carried Mr. Phipps to Korea in 1953.
Back cover, note that Mr. Phipps has added the route that he sailed.
Alonzo C. Phipps standing on a railroad car while stationed in Korea, circa 1954
Korean village, circa 1954
Alonzo Clayton Phipps's Story
Alonzo Clayton “Bunt” Phipps was born in September 1934 in the Crumpler community of Ashe County. He was drafted into the United States Army on July 7, 1952. He was a PFC (Private First Class). Phipps was part of the 765th Transportation Railway Shop Battalion during the Korean War.
Phipps’s basic training was in Fort Jackson, NC. From there he was transferred to Fort Eustace, Virginia, for railroad training school and then to Fort Lewis in Washington State to be shipped to Pusan, Korea, where he stayed for 13 months.
Phipps was shipped to Korea on the USS General William Weigel (AP-119). The ship sailed from the Pacific coast to Korea carrying troops for duty in the Korean War. She continued to rotate American troops until she was placed in Reduced Operational Status in 1955. The USS William Weigel was 622 feet 7 inches long, and her speed was 21 knots.
While on the ship, Phipps discovered that if he volunteered for duties, they would usually be easier than the duties that were assigned. He volunteered for KP duty for 17 days in a row, peeling potatoes.
After arriving in Pusan, Korea, Phipps’s duties included working as a diesel mechanic on the railroad engines that ran through Korea. The railroad system was the United States’ only way of transporting troops and supplies to areas in Korea, since Korean roads were less than standard.
For recreation while off duty, Phipps and the other unit soldiers chose to stay in the diesel shop area, which consisted of ten acres. The soldiers had a store and other amenities so they ate at the mess hall, read, and entertained themselves. He didn’t try any of the Korean foods. Phipps said the sanitation of the neighboring village was subpar and the smell alone would deter any soldier from going out of the diesel shop.
Phipps had left behind a new bride when he traveled to Korea. He had married Rose Mary Eldreth on April, 24, 1953, 7 days before being shipped. Rose Mary wrote him a letter every day he was in Korea, and although he couldn’t answer every one of them, he tried.
The fighting ended on July 23, 1953, when the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed. The agreement created the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to separate North and South Korea and allowed the return of prisoners. Part of the duties of the railway was transporting the dead bodies back to each one’s country. Phipps said the bodies were loaded onto the cars, stacked like cordwood.
Naturally, the best thing about his service experience was going home. Phipps left from San Francisco, California, to Fort Jackson, on July 7, 1955, three years to the day after he joined the army. From Fort Jackson, he caught a bus to Wilkesboro. Neither Phipps’s family nor his bride knew when exactly he would arrive home, so no one was there to greet him. While in West Jefferson, his father-in-law happened to see him, picked him up, and took him home.
After the war, Phipps took advantage of the GI Bill and went back to school. He had quit school in the sixth grade to go to work. When he was 15, he worked in corn fields in Maryland and in a mushroom factory in Pennsylvania. By 16 he was driving a logging truck. After the war, Phipps went back to high school and was first placed in the 11th grade in Lansing High School. Then Phipps transferred to Healing Springs High School where he completed the 9th and 10th grades. Healing Springs became an elementary school a year later, and Phipps completed his 12th grade at the newly constructed Ashe Central High School and was in the first graduating class from that school. He did this while farming to support himself and his wife.
In the spring of 1956, Phipps’s uncle and namesake, Alonzo F. Phipps gave him timber to build a house. The house was completed and he and Rose Mary moved in July 5, 1956.
Phipps worked at Hanes Manufacturing for 2 years, then moved to Greensboro. While there he worked for American Oil Company. He and Rose Mary moved back to their home on Smithey Road in Crumpler and he ran a bulldozer for a while. He also worked for Thomasville Chair Company. He eventually built a garage and opened a mechanic shop, which he ran from 1970 until 2000 when he retired. In 2001 he opened up a salvage store and ran it until it burned down in 2017.
He and Rose Mary have two daughters: Kristy, born in 1961, and Lisa, born in 1963. His beloved Rose Mary passed away on November 4, 2018.
Phipps developed a few long friendships from his time in the service; however, he feels a strong bond with anyone who served in the military. It doesn’t matter which branch of the military a fellow served in, the bond is there and it is the same.
Among the medals and citations he received were the Good Conduct Medal, the Korean Defense medal, and a Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation.