Foxhole Miracle: How a Bible and a Barber Connected Two Korean War Veterans

At home in Hesperia, Homer Williams looks over the dog tags he wore in the Korean War. While serving, he lost his Bible, which recently turned up in Utah thanks to a crafty barber. (James Quigg/Daily Press)

Korea

The copy of the New Testament fit comfortably in the left breast pocket of Homer Williams' Army fatigues. He scribbled his name and hometown of Afton, Texas, inside, tucked it away over his heart and went to war.

The Bible wasn't unique, according to the 89-year-old Hesperia resident. Countless servicemen picked up others just like it while overseas. Williams' wife, Betty, offered a possibility for why.

"The New Testament really speaks to where we live today because we all live after Christ was born," she said. "It really makes the Gospel clear so that before you die, you could give your heart to the Lord if you haven't already done that. It was so critical for people that were facing death."

Homer Williams was not yet 22 in June 1950, but the onset of the Korean War meant a return for his second tour of duty there. He was stationed in Osaka, Japan, at the time with the rest of the 25th Infantry Division. Proximity guaranteed they would be among the first to reach the turbulent region.

"We built bridges and that's why we were never in one place very long," he said. "We had trucks and we had big trailers full of little bridges we had to assemble ... We would have to, of course, dig foxholes and guard the tanks all the time we were there. It was a weird deal."

The boys were low on supplies and ammunition, a dangerous reality that nearly prompted Williams' father to pay President Harry S. Truman a personal visit to express his displeasure after reading one of his son's letters home.

But Williams had his Bible. His name among the pages ensured his ownership. Until it didn't.

"I really don't remember when I lost it," Williams said. "I was in so dag-a-many foxholes because every time we stopped we had to dig a hole ... I might have wondered what happened to my Bible. You know, felt my chest (and said), 'What the crap? No Bible?' But see the problem was in Korea we were moving so fast, day and night, because they were chasing us. We had to make our stands wherever we could."

His tour ended in June 1951. Williams went home to Betty, and the Bible became a distant memory.

Utah

Appointments are forbidden in the Classic Gentleman, a traditional barber shop in Kearns, Utah, that offers a $4 discount to "seasoned citizens" and veterans.

The walk-ins only rule, according to Patrick Sisk, breeds an atmosphere in the establishment situated 13 miles southwest of Salt Lake City that's akin to some forgotten era when patience and conversation were forms of art.

"When you live in a small town, the barber shop is where you find out what's happening," Sisk said. "You don't have to come here just for the haircut. It's a place to visit and talk."

Sisk has worked other jobs in his 50 years, but barbering came naturally. At 16, while cutting his friends' hair in the family kitchen -- to the dismay of his parents -- he noticed his talent and later earned a license. Some 34 years on, Sisk talks fondly of the profession from behind a bushy beard that easily reaches his chest.

"The haircut is the least of what we do," he said. "It's everything else -- the dialogue and building relationships -- that makes it special. It really is. It becomes more than the haircut ... People tell barbers stuff they wouldn't even tell a priest. That's the truth."

Between cuts, shaves and lineups, the Classic Gentleman provided 8,000 services in 2017 alone, according to Sisk, which are fine numbers in a township of nearly 36,000 people.

Among the regulars is Charles "Bud" DeBry, an 84-year-old Korean War veteran who has turned to the shop for maintenance on his military-style flat top for the better part of a decade.

He landed in Korea in October 1954. The Korean Armistice Agreement was signed by then, but DeBry said it didn't make his stay any easier.

"They had a cease-fire, but they were fighting for another year," he said. "The North Koreans took over a lot of houses, and our job was to roust them out of there ... They fought back and it was like fighting the war. Then they banded together, and we had a real hell of a dogfight."

DeBry served in the 24th Infantry Division. His time in Korea lasted 18 months, just long enough to see too much death and open plenty of letters from his wife, Katherine, who stuffed oatmeal cookie crumbs into the envelopes.

"That Korean War was crazy," he said. "You just traded mountains."

Amid that swap, while cleaning out a foxhole one day on a mountain Americans had renamed Dallas, DeBry spotted a tattered little book lying in the dirt next to a discarded Chinese helmet. He squatted down and picked it up to peruse the pages.

It was then that he learned the name Homer Williams.

California

The Bible remains among DeBry's Korean War keepsakes more than six decades later. It helps him remember and, as a result, he often wonders what became of the young Texan. Was he killed in that foxhole? Did he make it home? If so, was he still alive?

The questions lingered and resurfaced when he showed off the Bible outside the Classic Gentleman to Sisk and shop owner Vern Fitzgerel, who said Sisk might be up to the challenge of finding answers.

"I used to work in the recruiting field, so I'm used to doing research to find people," Sisk explained. "People tell me, 'You shouldn't be a barber. You should work as a skip tracer.' There's once in a while when I get stumped, but more often than not I do pretty well. It took me right about 20 minutes to find Homer."

In his search online, Sisk said a 2011 Daily Press article on Williams proved the first clue. He then tracked down a phone number and made the call to a home in Hesperia.

"It is really something," Williams said. "A guy in a barbershop in Salt Lake City called me last Sunday (April 22). He said, 'Are you Homer Williams?' I said yes. He said, 'Where were you born?' I said Texas. He said, 'Man, the hair on my neck just raised up.'"

Sisk explained why before connecting the two vets, who swapped war stories by phone.

Inevitably, Williams asked to see the Bible, but DeBry -- who said he was surprised Sisk found the man -- balked, which amused the barber.

"Well, I can understand his sentiment in not wanting to part with it," Sisk said. "It's a personal heirloom from the war. Even though it's not his, he's had it a long time. That said, I have spoken with 'Bud' regarding that. I kept saying, 'You know, Homer is really excited to see that thing again. What about sending it to him on the stipulation that he sends it back?'"

DeBry finally agreed. Williams assured him he would return it, saying he'd even reimburse the cost of shipping. DeBry plans to mail the Bible on Monday, much to the delight of Sisk, who attributes his find to the Classic Gentleman's ability to connect people.

"It happened because of that interaction," he said. "You know, these guys did more before they were 30 years old than most of us will do in our lifetimes. And at some point they laid in the same dirt together. Not at the same time, but in the same foxhole. At different times they were in the same dirt. That hits me emotionally."

Matthew Cabe can be reached at MCabe@VVDailyPress.com or at 760-951-6254. Follow him on Twitter @DP_MatthewCabe. ___

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