SFC Jack Tolbert (Ret.)

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Co. B 1953, Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart (Deceased 2017)

Article:

SFC Jack P. Tolbert (Ret.) , 94, died on November 1, 2017 in Redding, California. Tolbert was born on April 23, 1923 in Amarillo, TX.  He had been in the Army for 6 years before he was sent as a replacement to the 65th’s Company “B” in early 1953. On June 11, 1953 his outpost near Kumhwa, South Korea, came under heavy shelling. Seeing an enemy soldier approaching, Tolbert alerted his command post of the impending attack when a Chinese soldier hurled a grenade into Tolbert’s bunker. Tolbert, who had one month to go before the end of his tour of duty, hurled himself upon the explosive to protect his fellow soldiers and it blew off both of his legs. He also suffered bayonet wounds and was beaten on the head by the enemy with the butts of their rifles until the attack was repelled. Tolbert spent the next three months in Army hospitals before going home. For this act of heroism, Tolbert was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award in combat. Published in Redding Record Searchlight.

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SFC Jack P. Tolbert (Ret.)

EFFORTS TO UPGRADE 65TH VET TO MEDAL OF HONOR

Jack Tolbert: In November 1952, I arrived in Korea assigned to the 5th Regimental Combat Team- Baker Company on Heartbreak Ridge. In May 1953, I was reassigned to the 65th Regimental Combat Team, 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon. I was Squad leader of this group consisting of mostly Puerto Rican troops. Subsequently, these troops were reassigned to other platoons or sent home after serving bravely. Approximately 30 frontline sergeants and corporals were brought in to each platoon from other frontline divisions (such as the 24th, 25th, 45th, 7th Cavalry and others. Soon after our unit received approximately 200 troops fresh out of basic training in the United States. We pulled maneuvers and gave them basic hand-to-hand combat training. Shortly thereafter, we were sent to Outpost Harry for 11 days and returned back to our staging area. I then was sent to Japan for R &R.

On my return to duty, we were sent to the Missouri Line. On June 10th, we were alerted to a big push by the North Koreans and Chinese to recapture Seoul. Approximately 2 AM June 11th the enemy overran one bunker, and got behind the bunker held by Vincent Langone and myself. 

Vincent Langone: The attack began around 3 o’clock in the morning on June 11th. That night we received heavy artillery and mortar fire. I had not seen or heard anything when Jack shouted to me “Vince, a chink”. It happened so fast I had no time to react. A Chinese soldier threw a grenade into the bunker. Although I was only a couple of feet from the grenade, I was not killed. Sgt. Tolbert, realizing that I could not react in time and because of his big heart apparently jumped on the grenade, saving my life at the risk of his own. 

Jack Tolbert: … I was wearing a flack jacket which saved my life. Immediately I reached for the phone and alerted the company commander. I remember talking to my Platoon sergeant and telling him to get all the troops out of the bunkers. I saw Chinese troops enter our bunker and steal whatever they could from the area. I was so afraid they would use their weapons to make a pincushion of me, that I played dead, and after a while, they left the area. The next thing I remember was seeing GI boots beside me. They belonged to PFC Marion Knutson who found I was still alive…

Marion Knutson: When I reached the bunker I found Sgt. Tolbert lying near the entrance. Jack immediately warned me to leave saying there were too many enemy still around and that it wasn’t safe to be there. I struck a match and was able to see that Jack’s legs were amputated except for a few shreds of flesh. I cut the remaining shreds of flesh. I was able to use my belt as a tourniquet on one leg and something else on the other. Eventually someone appeared with a stretcher and we put Sgt. Tolbert on it. 

Sgt. Tolbert may have saved the day but he lost the use of his legs on that fateful day in June. Although some believe that his heroic actions merited a Medal of Honor, the highest honor awarded to a soldier in battle, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second most important award. 

Tolbert served with the 65th Inf. Regt. after it had been desegregated of Puerto Rican soldiers and integrated with continental soldiers. Interestingly, although a select few who served with the 65th probably should have received Medals of Honor, the regiment has none. There are efforts being made to obtain a Medal of Honor upgrade for Jack Tolbert. Historical researcher, Steve Jones, would like to locate the following people that have information regarding Mr. Tolbert and his receiving the Distinguished Service Cross. All of these men were in the 65th infantry in June of 1953 and could help him greatly: Lt. Col. St. Clair, Capt. Hernandez, Lt. Torres. If anyone has any information, please contact us.