It started as a family discussion and has grown into something far greater.
For years, nobody knew what happened to a young Batavia man who disappeared in Korea during the Korean War. Back home, his family was notified that he had died, but that began and ended what they knew of their son and brother’s fate.
Recently, a chance mention of the nearly forgotten man began a search that is hoped to culminate in the creation of a Korean War monument in Clermont County.
“When my dad was 90, we were sitting on the sofa besides the computer, and he had never used the internet,” said Union Township resident Regina Herbolt. “He mentioned that my mother’s brother had been killed in Korea and his remains were never found. He asked if we could find out anything about him, so we entered the name ‘Joseph Rease Errgang.’ There are a lot of sites out there with his name in them.”
According to Herbolt, her uncle Joe was a WWII veteran who disappeared while on patrol in Korea. The family knew nothing about how or why or even where though, until the offhand comment by her father prompted her to look online.
Still, after searching for his name, the family was left wanting, until some messages posted by Herbolt asking for information were found by the most unlikely of sources, fellow marines who served with Errgang when he was killed.
“We went looking,” said Herbolt. “We thought he was killed on Pork Chop Hill, but he wasn’t. He was a marine and was killed on ‘Gray Rock.’ You can’t believe the history of this young man from Batavia who died at age 28. He was Marine Corps Reconnaissance, and survived Iwo Jima. They call Korea the ‘forgotten war,’ and I realized how forgotten it is. He is my mother’s brother, and that generation talks so little about what happened to their loved ones in war. We were sitting with immediate family, and if not for a 90-year-old father who is still living, would have forgotten Joe.”
But, while Herbolt said that her family had almost forgotten the man who died so mysteriously, there were many who still remembered the young man and the circumstances leading up to his death. Gray Rock, the battle that resulted in Errgang’s death, also held a grimmer memory for marines. As it turned out, that battle was not only the most deadly one for marine reconnaissance in history, but it also proved pivotal in the Korean War, essentially wiping out the marine special unit for the remainder of the war.
“After I did that search, I started getting e-mails from marines,” said Herbolt. “Joe had already been written about in a book called ‘The Final Crucible’ by Lee Ballenger. He called me and said that he was there with my uncle. It wasn’t just that Joe was killed on Feb. 27, the marines reconnaissance had their greatest number of casualties on that day. They had three platoons looking for Joe and the other two dead, and they lost three more and had injuries to 25 or 30. They lost six marines in 26 hours. The marine recon has done thousands of missions all over the place in the world, and that’s their largest number of casualties ever in a single incident. It shut down the marine reconnaissance in Korea. There were so many injuries and dead, they were undermanned, so the army took over.”
After getting into contact with some of the survivors, Herbolt was startled to receive invitations to visit the unit during one of their annual reunions. Not knowing of the marine’s reluctance to leave a fallen comrade behind, Herbolt said that the offer puzzled her until she met the men in person.
“I didn’t know why they cared, and why they wrote, and why they wanted us to come to their reunion,” said Herbolt. “My sister and I and my son Robbie went to see them, and they gave us a shadow box of Joe’s medals. When they met us, they shook our hands and apologized and cried. They apologized to us 50 years later for not finding his body and bringing it back. Then I understood why they wanted us to come. We didn’t get it before we left. They even sent us money to come out, and gave Robbie money to put out more flags in the park. They said they will always remember that incident and that he was killed.”
A few years ago, Herbolt’s son Robbie organized his Boy Scout pack to create a small wooden cross flying a U.S. Flag over it in memory of every fallen soldier in the war on terror.
Now, taking that concept a step further, Herbolt said that she felt it was time that local Korean War veteran’s were honored for their sacrifice.
That thought led her to meet Frank Gaylord, an artist who created the U.S. Korean War Monument in Washington D.C. That monument is composed of 19 statues of soldiers representing the entire U.S. armed force in the war.
“One of those 19 statues happens to be a marine gunny sergeant,” said Herbolt. “Joe was a gunny sergeant. I contacted Gaylord, and he still has the rights to those monuments, so he can cast one of those. He said he can cast me an identical one from Washington D.C. for Union Township. This isn’t just for Joe, this is for all Korean War veterans.”
Cast in bronze, the statue, however, will not come cheap. In all, the total cost is estimated at $110,000 for the monument, which will be placed in Veteran’s Park in Union Township.
“The price tag is steep, but it’s a replica of Washington D.C., so those not fortunate enough to travel there can see one right here,” said Herbolt. “I would love for this community to see this, and love even more for our Korean vets to know that somebody, the community, did something for them.”
A bank account has been set up at Fifth Third Bank to collect donations for the monument under the name “Batavia American Legion Korean War Memorial.”
For more information or to help out, call Herbolt at (513) 753-8040.