BERKELEY -- Berkeley resident Nolan Coleman was a U.S. Army machine-gunner in the 24th Infantry when the regiment was attacked by enemy forces on Sept, 6, 1950 in Haman, South Korea.

Coleman received a gunshot wound to the hand in the intense battle that ensued but continued to man his gun, firing at the onrushing enemy until the attackers were pushed back.

The next day, he was flown to a hospital in Japan, where he spent four months in recovery. For his courage, Coleman was awarded both the Purple Heart and the Silver Star.

Now, Coleman, 83, who is retired and lives at his home in South Berkeley, doesn't like to talk much about his service in the Army.

"That was my hardest time," says Coleman. "I just try to forget about all that stuff."

On Monday, Berkeley will join the nation in honoring the members, past and present, of its armed forces. But for some veterans, including Coleman, the memories of war can be difficult to revisit.

"He never brought it up," says his sister Bertha Irons. "All I knew was that he had the Purple Heart and Silver Star, and we were so proud of him for that."

Coleman moved to Berkeley from New Orleans to live with his aunt in 1946, after his mother passed away. For a short time, he attended Berkeley High, before dropping out to enlist in the Army at age 18.

"Things were kind of rough and tough, so I thought I would help my aunt out," remembers Coleman. "I thought the Army was the best bet for me."


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The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, and Coleman, who was stationed in Japan at the time, arrived on July 10. They got off the boat fighting, he says.

Once, after covering a retreat with his 30-caliber, water-cooled machine gun, he pulled back to discover that his regiment had disappeared.

Mounting a hill, he found a group of North Koreans on the other side.

"They said, 'Soldier, are you lost?' he recalls. "And I said, 'Yeah, I'm lost.' 'They're over that hill,' they told me."

The next day, his regiment moved to attack, and he was forced to fire on the same men who had helped him locate his lost companions.

After returning from Japan, Coleman was stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington state for a short time, before being discharged in 1952. He returned to Berkeley, where he finished school on the G.I. Bill and eventually landed a job at the Naval Supply Center in Oakland, where he worked for 32 years.

Overall, things have turned out all right, Coleman says. The Army was good for him, though some aspects of the war continue to haunt him.

"I admire the way he feels, how he goes about it without (his feelings) destroying him," says Bertha. Speaking of the treatment of African-Americans in those times, she added, "We were subjected to humiliation on a daily basis, but we were always told you had to control your mind."

President Truman officially desegregated the U.S. military in 1948, but the 24th Infantry Regiment had remained predominantly African-American.

During the war, the North Korean military dropped pamphlets that reminded the soldiers of the discrimination faced by African-Americans in their own country.

"They would say, 'Why are you over here -- why are you fighting, when you don't have any rights? You can't even ride the bus,'" recalls Coleman.

Sixty years later, the memory still brings tears to his eyes.

"That really hurt."