Goshen News, Goshen, IN

July 8, 2013

VETERAN PROFILE: 38th Parallel ‘wasn’t a very nice place to be’

By MICHAEL WANBAUGH
THE GOSHEN NEWS

MILLERSBURG — Richard Groff was a farm boy, just like his father and grandfather. But in 1954, at the age of 20, he decided to become a soldier.

“Five of us signed up (for the U.S. Army) together,” Groff said Sunday from his home just east of the Millersburg town limits. “We were all farm boys so we thought if we signed up together we’d be able to stay together. … We knew we were going to get called eventually because the draft was picking up.”

Their ultimate destination, they also knew, was South Korea, where the war had recently ended, but the post-war rebuilding effort was in full force. Groff, because of his background in farming and with farm machinery, was sent to training in Virginia to become a mechanic.

By the time he made it over to South Korea, Groff said, he could take apart any piece of machinery the Army had.

After he was in country for a while, Groff was sent up to the 38th Parallel, the tense border between North and South Korea and near the Demilitarized Zone that served as a buffer between the two enemy countries.

“It wasn’t a very nice place to be,” Groff said. “We had guards walking that wall all the time.”

Groff said he spent about six months up by the 38th Parallel, serving mostly as a supply sergeant. Toward the end of his nearly two years in Korea, Groff, who stood about 6-feet-2, was selected to play on his battalion basketball team. He had played a little ball at Millersburg High School, but grew several inches after he graduated.

“I was still the smallest one on our starting five,” Groff said of his battalion team. “We were pretty good. We played 20 or so games before I left and we hadn’t lost a one of them.”

A couple guys on that team, Groff said, had played college ball at the University of Southern California. He said they tried to talk him in to joining the team when he got back to the states, but he had other plans.

“I was a farm boy,” Groff said. “I wanted to keep farming.”

So, he came back to Indiana, married his sweetheart, Nancy, in October of 1956 and bought into the family farm, raising swine and beef and growing grain on about 500 acres just east of Millersburg for the next several decades.

Health problems, however, forced Groff to retire from farming in 1988. He remained active in the community, serving 16 years on the Fairfield Community Schools’ board of trustees. He is currently the Clinton Township trustee.

Groff is proud of his service and suggested the country might be better off if everybody was required to serve in some capacity for a year.

“I think some of these young people,” he said, “could use the discipline.”

As for South Korea, he says it’s changed considerably since he served there.

“I do believe we left it in better shape than when we got there,” Groff said. “… When the Olympics were (in Seoul in 1988) I couldn’t believe how (the country) looked. It was totally different.

“… I got to know a lot of good people while I was over there,” Groff said, “but I was ready to come home.”