A moving ceremony was held Wednesday morning at The Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. For the unveiling of the new Wall of Remembrance. Often referred to as the “Forgotten War,” the names of the more than 36,000 Americans who died and 7,100 Koreans who died while augmenting the Army during the Korean War are listed on the beautiful granite wall.
Construction of the Wall of Remembrance began in March of 2021 and will serve as a new centerpiece of the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Among the names of those honored on the Wall of Remembrance are four men from Limestone County who gave their lives in service to their country.
Lieutenant Commander Emory Ronald Coffman
Coffman was born September 21, 1912, in Elkmont, to John Townsend and Emily Pearl Coffman. He enlisted in the United States Navy. He earned the rank of Lieutenant Commander and was attached to Fighter Squadron 24 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Philippine SEA CV-47.
On April 20, 1951, Coffman was killed in action while on a combat mission over North Korea. His aircraft experienced anti-aircraft fire and, unable to eject from his aircraft, Coffman crashed into the sea and was listed as missing.
Coffman was awarded the Legion of Merit, Air Medal, and Purple Heart. Coffman is also memorialized at the Courts of the Missing in Honolulu, Hawaii.
PFC Leo H. “Bill” Leo Gray
Gray was born June 20, 1933, in Limestone County, to Donald and Tera Ann Gray. He enlisted in the United States Army. He earned the rank of Private First Class. His occupation was Chief Medical Aidman attached to Company B, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.
Gray was killed in action in North Korea on April 25, 1953, and was awarded the Purple Heart. He is buried in Athens City Cemetery.
Willie D. Griffis
Griffis was born October 4, 1931, in Limestone County, to Terry Tom and Dessie Griffis. He enlisted in the United States Army. He earned the rank of Private E-2 with the occupation of Light Weapons Assault Crewman attached to the 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.
Griffis was killed in action in North Korea on December 24, 1952 and was awarded the Purple Heart. He is buried at Smithfield Cemetery in Elkmont.
Billy Morgan Phillips
Phillips was born May 24, 1931, in Athens, to Mr. and Mrs. Walter T. Phillips. He enlisted in the United States Army. He earned the rank of Corporal with the occupation of Field Artillery Cannoneer attached to Battery C, 37th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division.
Phillips was listed as captured, died, non-battle following the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. Also known as the Chosin Reservoir Campaign, the Battle of Chosin reservoir is considered to be a decisive battle of the Korean War. The Chinese Army surprised the UN Forces on November 27, and a 17-day battle ensued in the freezing weather and rugged terrain.
During the battle, approximately 120,000 Chinese troops otnumbered and surrounded the 30,000 UN troops. When the battle concluded, 17,000 UN forces and more than 50,000 Chinese forces were listed as killed, wounded, missing in action, or died of wounds.
Phillips was taken as a prisoner of war and declared dead on November 30, 1950. He was awarded the Prisoner of War Medal and Purple Heart. Phillips is also memorialized at the Athens City Cemetery with an inscription that reads:
“In grateful memory of Corp. Billy M. Phillips who died in the service of his country in a Korean prison camp of malnutrition. He stands in the unbroken lines of patriots who dare to die that freedom might grow and increase its blessing. Billy went to sleep thinking that he would be rescued, but when he awoke, he was with Jesus.”