Plover Memorial Day Service Celebrates MIA Bill Sharp
The walls of Gold Star Hall in Memorial Union at Iowa State University are engraved with names of alumni who died serving with the U.S. Armed Services. Kathy Svec wondered, “What about Iowa State students who never had the chance to finish their education?”
Three years ago Svec, marketing director at Memorial Union, began researching ISU students who served and died. She learned about Bill Sharp of Plover who has been missing and presumed dead since July 1952. On November 11, 2009 Kathy and others stood in recognition as Bill’s name was added to the wall in Gold Star Hall.
Memorial Day services in Plover this year centered on Bill Sharp as the crowd heard a series of speakers tell the story of Bill’s life and his death on a tiny Korean hill.
From a small town to a tiny hill
William Ward Sharp was born July 16, 1931 to Ward and Hazel Sharp who lived on a farm three miles south and ¼ mile east of Plover. Bill was child number five in a family of six.
In 1949 Bill graduated from Plover High School. After working a year he enrolled at ISU for the winter quarter of 1951 to study agricultural education. Bill intended to learn modern agriculture and then farm with his brother, Charlie. The plan changed when Bill was drafted into the Korean War.
Bill Sharp left Pocahontas with other local draftees in October 1952. He trained in California, went by ship to Japan in April 1953, and from there to Korea in May. Two months later he was missing in action during the Battle of Pork Chop Hill ten days short of his 22nd birthday.
Pork Chop Hill was the nickname for an exposed outpost along the 38th parallel, the dividing line between North and South Korea. Two armies pushed each other back and forth along that imaginary line. In all 3 million soldiers and civilians died; about 54,000 were Americans.
Most of the time Pork Chop Hill was defended by no more than 62 to 190 men—a company. The United Nations won the first battle there in April. Bill Sharp arrived in time for the second battle July 6, 1953. When the Chinese attacked that night Bill’s company almost immediately reported hand-to-hand combat in the trenches. It is assumed Bill died in the first assault.
Why he’s still listed among the missing
Monsoon rains made it difficult to send more troops and to remove casualties. Twenty-one days after Bill Sharp died, the Korean War ended when all parties agreed to put the boundary between North and South Korea back where it had been before the conflict started. Pork Chop Hill is on the North Korean side of the line. One year later, on July 7, 1954, Bill’s status was changed from missing in action to presumed dead.
Those attending the Memorial Day service in Plover this year were asked to visualize a real casualty of war who would have been 79 years old today. Had he lived Bill could have been an Iowa State graduate, a retired farmer, and grandfather. As speakers described his life and sacrifice Bill Sharp became more than a name on a list of honored dead and a star on the wall at Iowa State.