Salute to Veterans: Faith sustained Many during time in Korea

MIDDLEBURY — Robert Many credits two things for helping him through his service in the Korean War: his faith and his ability to type.
Many grew up in Salisbury and attended elementary school there. He played baseball at Middlebury High School and claims his fastball was so fast he earned the nickname “Fireball,” which he has kept to this day.
“I could have played for the Red Sox but farming nearly killed me,” he said.
Many, 83, graduated from MHS in 1952 and was drafted shortly after. One of nine children, his brother Ray had already enlisted in the Air Force. Many tried to defer his service by working on a farm in Middlebury, but when that fell through, he agreed to enlist.
“I was probably a little sad then,” he said. “But what could I do? My father was raising nine kids, otherwise they would have (drafted) him into World War II.”
Many left for basic training on Nov. 4. After attending training at Fort Devens in Massachusetts, he completed a combat simulation at Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania. He then came home to Vermont to visit his family, which had by then moved to Whiting. He stayed for two weeks and then he took a train with other troops across the country to Seattle, took a boat to Osaka, Japan, and then deployed into Korea.  
When he arrived, a commander asked the trainload of new arrivals how many of them knew how to type. Ten men raised their hands, but it was Many who was chosen for the position of typist. While in high school, he had taken a six-month typing course and could type extremely well. Now, 10,000 miles from the Champlain Valley, Many’s skill with a typewriter would make all the difference.
“Typing saved my life,” the Middlebury resident said.
When men moved forward during engagements at Porkchop Hill and Old Baldy, two battles at nearby hills where hundreds of U.S. soldiers died, Many was required to stay further back. As a typist in the Seventh Infantry Division (nicknamed “The Fighting Seventh”), Many was responsible for writing many kinds of documents including simple memos and reports on the activities of a day.
Many’s service photo, 1950s
When friends of his were killed in action, it was Many who wrote accounts of their deaths in his reports.
“That was a hard thing to do,” he said.
While serving in the Chorwon Valley, Many was sometimes deployed on a squad operating a 75mm recoilless rifle, a lightweight piece of artillery used widely in the Korean War. The gun was transported in parts that had to be carried by the men firing it. The breech weighed 120 pounds and the barrel weighed 40 pounds. It fired rounds weighing 20 pounds each and the explosive shells could penetrate armor 4 inches thick. It was a fearsome weapon, often deployed against bridges and tanks, he said.
“You had to hit your target on the first shot,” he recalls, “because the North Koreans didn’t like the recoilless rifles.”
At night, the men would take shifts to guard the gun while the others slept.
“I stood with my back against a tree because I didn’t want to get shot in the back,” he recalled. During such postings, Many would stand awake for four hours, listening to the sound of gunfire nearby while giant flares illuminated the surrounding area.
He and his comrades endured torrential rains lasting as long as two weeks. With the earth muddy and the trees splintered, he described the terrain as “like a logging road in Ripton.”
Many’s mother would write letters to him three times per week. While he says he usually wasn’t one for letter writing, he would often reply. He still has many of the letters in their original envelopes.
At the end of his tour, the Army offered to promote him to the rank of corporal if he stayed in the service, but Many declined, saying he wanted to go home.
Many came home to Vermont in August 1954. His father picked him up at the bus stop on Court Street in downtown Middlebury, the same bus stop where the father had dropped him off when Many left two years earlier.
In 1955, he married his first wife, Anita, and they had a daughter. In 1963, he took a job at a plastics factory in Bristol, producing nylon bristles for artificial Christmas trees, a job he held for 18 years before retiring.
 Last year, he received a plaque from U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel thanking him for his service. He displays it at his Middlebury apartment.
“Through your selfless sacrifice the tide of communism on the Korean Peninsula was halted and liberty triumphed over tyranny,” it reads. “The Department of Defense and the people of America and Korea are forever grateful.”
Many said the conflict caused him to grow his religious faith. While he was still in the Chorwon Valley, he attended religious services in camp and slept with a Bible under his pillow, “the book that saved my life,” is how he called it.
“I think the spirit helped me a lot,” he said. “It saved me from about 10 deaths.”
Today, he carries a rosary in the pocket of his jeans and recites the full series of prayers between one and three times every day. He attends services regularly at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Middlebury. When he sat down for a recent interview, he wore a button on his T-shirt that read “Child of Mary.”
He’s also become involved in the America Needs Fatima campaign, an effort by a global Catholic organization to spread veneration of Jesus Christ’s mother, Mary. He participated in the 2013 Public Square Rosary Crusade, a project of the America Needs Fatima foundation that spends a day praying the rosary in public on behalf of traditional Catholic values. 
This Veterans Day, Many said, is a time when Americans should consider through prayer those that have served.
“They should remember people, those that served and were killed and the ones that are still alive, in their prayers,” he said. “The more you say the rosary, the more indulgences you get. That might help you if it’s ugly in purgatory.”
Many has also long enjoyed country and bluegrass music and he continues to play mandolin, fiddle and guitar with friends in Williston, Rochester and Salisbury. 
This year, he recorded his first album with friend Eugene Charlebois in Huntington. The 17-track album features him — Robert “Fireball” Many, as he’s goes by — playing guitar and singing.
“Sometimes when I talk I’m a little bit blurry,” he said. “But when I sing, it’s smooth all the way through.”

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