Thayer put his career on hold to serve in Korea
BEVERLY — Despite having a college degree in hand and a goal in mind to work for the West Virginia Division of Forestry, John Thayer was drafted into the United States Army at the age of 24, and was soon serving in Korea.
Thayer, who currently resides in Beverly, was raised in a small town in Nicholas County, where he graduated from Richwood High School. Following graduation, he attended Potomac State College before transferring to West Virginia University, where he received a degree in forest management in January of 1961.
After receiving his college diploma, Thayer had high hopes to begin his career path with the state’s forestry division.
“So in June of that year, it was conservation commission and they were changing over to natural resources and they were adding a number of new foresters and they asked if I wanted the job at Braxton and Clay counties,” he explained, adding he was aware he was subject to draft.
Thayer further explained, “So a good friend of mine was on the draft board, and I also knew the person in charge of the draft, and they said, ‘No problem. Take that job.”
However, Thayer’s plans were short-lived.
In the middle of August of 1961, Thayer was on a bus from Summersville to Beckley to the United State Army’s processing quarters.
“So from there I went to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. I was appointed acting platoon sergeant,” he said, adding he received the High Proficiency Award.
Following basic training, Thayer was assigned to Fort Gordon, Georgia, where he had to enroll in a 15-week Morse Code course.
“We had typing (also), and in order to pass the course we had to type something like 25-30 words per minute,” he said. “And with Morse Code, we had to send 12-15 words per minute and receive 10-12 words per minute.”
After he had completed his required 15-week course, Thayer along with four others were assigned as instructors.
“But after the second 15 weeks, three of them received orders for Vietnam. The other two of us had orders for Korea,” he said. Thayer was given a 30-day leave before heading to Korea, where he worked three weeks in the state forest division.
After his 30-day leave, Thayer got on a plane in Charleston and flew to Oakland, California, where he boarded the USS General JC Breckinridge heading for South Korea.
During his time in Seoul, South Korea, in 1962, Thayer was a radio operator, in which he operated voice only, which meant “No more Morse Code.”
Following his time in Seoul, Thayer went to Sokcho, a town about 150 miles from Seoul on the Sea of Japan.
“When we got there, there were only two Americans in the entire town of maybe 50,000 people — the officer in charge and the radio operator,” he said.
Thayer explained his primary job in Sokcho was as a radio operator, in which he had to make two contacts per day with Seoul at different times.
“In between radio contacts, I could do anything I wanted, wear civilian clothes. There wasn’t anything dress code,” he said.
Before Thayer left South Korea, he had several job offers for forestry.
“But I couldn’t accept because I was in the Army,” he said.
However, whenever Thayer was discharged from the Army in 1963, he went to Charleston to inquire about job opportunities.
“He said there’s five openings — the job I had before was open and he said the job in Randolph and Pocahontas counties is open and I told him that is the job that I would like,” he said.
Thayer came to Elkins in mid-August of 1963 to pursue his career as a service forester. He was a service forester in the area for 25 years, until he had the opportunity to retire early in 1988.
“So I’ve been in Randolph County for 55 years,” he said.