Honoring A Hero Brother

I met Al Scroggin at a city recreation center, after his vigorous workout. He said that he had been exercising at that facility for the past twenty years. In fact he said, “I have been working out three days a week  for the past sixty-five years.” I told him, “No wonder you’re as strong and as fit as you are!” At ninety-four years old, Al is energetic and in excellent shape.

I found out that Al, at sixteen, had joined the U.S. Navy during World War II and I asked him if I could write his story. From his immediate response, I was aware that Al greatly respects his brother and insisted that I write about Jack, instead of himself. He said, “I don’t have much of a story. I never did anything unusual. But my brother Jack was awarded the Silver Star. He was the hero.” It is very important to my friend, Al, that we honor his brother in this story.

Jack, Al and their sister, Virginia, were raised in the small Northeast Texas town of Commerce. The Depression years were difficult, but they had a strong-willed mother that would not give up on her dream for her children. She was not an educated woman, but a determined single parent, and hard working woman who left Winfield, Texas to take her kids to Commerce where there was a university in order to give them a chance at higher education. They all three honored their mom’s dream, did very well in school, and graduated from college. Virginia had her doctorate and was a dean at a university.

Jack always had a bent toward military life. At sixteen years old he joined the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) and worked on some projects in Oklahoma. Later he joined the 36th Division of the Texas National Guard. As World War II began, the Texas Guard was federalized, and Jack’s unit was assigned to the west coast to guard bridges and infrastructure. His first medal was the American Defense Medal for this duty.

After the Pearl Harbor attack, Jack joined the Army Air Corp, 8th Air Force, based in England. He held the rank of Sergeant and became a tail gunner on the B-24 Liberator. During that war, the tail gunner’s chances of survival were not good. The average was five missions before they died in combat.

However, Staff Sergeant Jack Scroggin flew thirty-five missions as a tail gunner without a scratch. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal, as well as the Victory Medal, the Army of Occupation Medal (Japan), and the European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal for his service in World War II.

After the war, Jack returned to Commerce, Texas and enrolled in East Texas State College (now Texas A&M Commerce), and earned his Bachelor and Master degrees. He then applied for, and was accepted into, the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Upon graduating as a 2nd Lieutenant, he was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division, with the 27th “Wolfhound” Regiment in Japan. They began intense training on Mount Suribachi, before deployment to Korea, where they would be engaged in one of the earliest and deadliest North Korean attacks of the Korean War at the Battle of Pusan Perimeter.

From August to September 1950, the North Korean army of 98,000 men pushed the United Nations forces, with 140,000 troops, south to the port of Pusan. The UN forces were on the brink of defeat and being pushed into the sea. The Wolfhound regiment played a vital role in the counterattack that would push the North Korean forces back and defeat them.

On August 2, 1950 Jack’s infantry company was leading an attack along a road, behind enemy lines, near Chingdong-ni, Korea. The attack was halted by enemy machine guns, small arms and anti-tank fire. The company was pinned down until Lieutenant Scroggin led a squad to a higher position, where he established an observation post. From there he successfully directed his company’s mortar fire into the enemy positions.

Lieutenant Jack Scroggin was awarded the Silver Star for his bravery in this situation. His AWARD OF THE SILVER STAR (Posthumous) letter states, “As Lieutenant Scroggin directed the barrage, which effectively trapped the enemy force, he was mortally wounded by a sniper. By his courageous leadership, Lieutenant Scroggin was largely responsible for the complete route of the enemy with 200 casualties inflicted and successful completion of the company’s mission. His initiative and great military skill reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Army.” Jack was also awarded the Purple Heart.

During the Korean War, Al Scroggin served in the Merchant Marine. On one of his many voyages, his ship docked at Pusan Harbor. He was able to take a short leave of duty and hitch a ride on a convoy that took him to the graves of the Americans buried at Chingdong-ni.

Here he was able to spend some time at Jack’s graveside. Later, Jack’s body was moved back to the United States and rests now in a small cemetery in Fairlee, Texas (Sonora Cemetery). Jack was married before his deployment to Europe to Karleta Roundtree, and It turns out that Al married Karleta’s sister, Edna.  Jack and Karleta’s son, Steve still lives in Commerce, Texas.

It is a great blessing to know the Scroggin family. Al and his three daughters have helped me with the information about Jack’s career.

We should all be proud to know about this American hero, who made the supreme sacrifice for his country and the freedom she stands for. Thank you, Lieutenant Jack Scroggin.