This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Tears came easier than words 54 years after a pilot plucked James Vickers off a frozen battlefield in North Korea in a single-engine plane so fragile it was dubbed "the kite."
Vickers had traveled to Salt Lake City to meet that pilot for the first time since their life-saving encounter on the Korean War battleground, where thousands of other soldiers and Marines were taken prisoner, froze to death or were killed.
During the war, Lonnie Moseley, now 85 and a Utah resident, had flown a tiny spotter plane to observe artillery and enemy troop movements. But when some 50,000 Chinese troops crossed the North Korean border in a push to annihilate 15,000 allied troops near the Chosin Reservoir, Moseley's wood-and-fabric plane became a makeshift air ambulance.
Vickers, 71, of Barrett, W.Va., had never met the man who risked his life to fly the wounded from the battle area. They met on a recent weekend, two elderly men whose paths had crossed only once before. They embraced. Vickers couldn't find words.
"You try," he said. "But you can't say what you hoped you could."
The Korean War had begun in 1950, and that November the Chinese crossed the border to prop up communist North Koreans who wanted control of the Korean peninsula. At 6,500 feet above the Chosin Basin, Moseley could see trampled trails etched in the snowy passes by Americans and their allies fleeing the Chinese onslaught.
"It was pathetic," said Moseley. "Our guys were way, way outnumbered."
The Chinese attacked within hours of the Army units arriving on the east side of the reservoir, said Chosin historian George Rasula of North Carolina. "It was a big shock. Nobody told [U.S. troops] about the Chinese being around. Some of the soldiers had just gotten off their trucks."
Within days, the Chinese had surrounded the under-strength 1st Marine Division and the ill-equipped 7th Infantry Division. Temperatures plunged to 30 degrees below zero. Battles were fierce as the allied troops fought their way down 60 miles of mountain passes to U.S. ships waiting off the coast.
"We were well-trained," said Vickers. "But we had no equipment, no ammo and no warm winter clothing. Again and again, the Chinese overran us. Many guys in my crew died and many more were taken prisoner."
Vickers, an infantry solider, had only three rounds left in his 52-pound recoilless rifle when he was ordered to destroy a machine-gun nest that had killed several men in his platoon.
"I said if I could locate it, I could take it out," he said. "But they found us before we could spot them."
The enemy spotted Vickers' group first. A round slammed into a concrete wall and ricocheted, sending cement and bullet fragments into Vickers' back.
Down to one bullet, Vickers took out the nest with the final round from his 57-mm weapon. Out of ammunition, he and other GIs were forced to hide in the hills as the Chinese ran through their ranks, killing and taking prisoners.
Vickers took a bullet in his leg but somehow made his way to a group of five or six other Americans. They were freezing, cut off and without ammunition, but they decided not to give up.
The group finally trudged to a Marine tank unit. Vickers has no memory of how he got to a medical tent in Koto-ri where he woke up the next day. With the horrific battle raging, Moseley's spotter plane was placed on ambulance duty. He flew 20 missions, sometimes in the 85-horsepower L-16 that could carry one wounded man behind the pilot's seat or a 150-horsepower Stinson L-5, which could take two passengers crammed behind the pilot or a single patient on a litter.
In a week, Moseley braved the lonely 80-minute round-trip flight to Koto-ri and Haga-ru-ri, always making sure before he landed that the airstrip was "still in our hands."
Vickers remembered being slid into the plane's fuselage and the pilot saying something like, "Hold on, they're mortaring the runway."
Moseley braked the plane as soon as a wounded man was loaded and revved his engine to summon enough power to coax the plane over the hills. He could see enemy faces as he flew north to the Chosin Reservoir before turning south for a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital at Hamhung, where the Americans would make their breakout.
This summer, Byron Sims wrote about Moseley's flights in the The Chosin Few. Sims, a Korean veteran and editor of the Army Chapter newsletter, asked if anyone remembered Moseley.
Within days, Moseley got a call.
Vickers believes fate had a hand in the reunion. A week earlier he mentioned to his son that he would "give the world if I could meet the guy who flew me out."
"I believe I owe you a great big thank you," he told Moseley.
Moseley and Vickers both were awarded a Silver Star for their combat action. While Moseley was decorated in 1951 by the X Corps commander, Vickers waited 50 years for his medal. He had no contact with anyone in his unit for more than 45 years, believing he was the only man in B Company, 31st Infantry, who survived. When a former 7th Army POW located him, the officer began the paperwork for the medal.
Moseley stayed in the military and went on to fight in the Vietnam War in a headquarters artillery unit. His two sons served as pilots.
Vickers became an ironworker. He suffers pain, burning and swelling in his feet from those long-ago frostbite injuries. For years, he did not put in a disability claim, fearing it would hurt his job prospects.
Moseley's only battle injuries came during World War II when his P-47 Thunderbolt was shot down over France. The underground forged identification papers and he lived quietly with a farmer, posing as a deaf-mute laborer.
He retired at Fort Douglas as a lieutenant colonel after 32 years of military service. He flies the American flag in his front yard every day.