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Old soldiers find a buddy

The two old soldiers walked slowly through the summer-burnt grass, past the flowers and the neatly kept graves, and the tombstones with their memories carved in stone.

Finally, their long search over, they stopped before one simple marker in Section 14 at Lexington's Hillcrest Memorial Park.

Jim Fields and Walden Storie stood in silence for a moment. And then, as though answering some distant call that only they could hear, they raised their right arms to salute the final resting place of Kaye D. Francis, the friend they lost 55 years ago in a Korean War battle for a forgotten place called Outpost Harry.

"It's been a long time," Fields said, his voice cracking.

Storie sighed. "What amazes me is all the times I've driven past this cemetery, never knowing he was here."

Fields and Storie, both 76, served in Korea with Kaye Francis, who was killed in combat on June 12, 1953. After the war, they searched for his grave off and on for years, knowing he was from Kentucky, but having no idea what his hometown was or where he was buried.

Only this month did they learn that Francis had been laid to rest in Lexington. Last week, they visited his grave together for the first time, Fields traveling from his home in Boyd County in Eastern Kentucky, Storie driving down from Ohio.

"I was in the same bunker with him when he died," Storie said, after they placed American flags on Francis' grave.

"Both of us only knew him for a short time," Fields said. "But people get close pretty quick in combat. And I always told myself that I wanted to visit his grave."

After 55 years, information about Pfc. Kaye Don Francis is sketchy. He was 21. According to his obituary in the June 29, 1953, Lexington Herald; he was survived by his wife, Rosemary G. Francis; and by his parents, Ralph and Ethel Francis, all of Crown Crest Farm on Newtown Pike.

Storie and Fields don't know what happened to Francis' wife or whether she is still alive. They'd like to know more. For now, they're simply glad to know where their friend is buried.

In the summer of 1953 Francis, Fields and Storie were young soldiers with the U.S. Army's 1st Battaltion,15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, trying to survive the final, bloody days of the Korean War.

Peace talks were under way. But the fighting raged on as Communist Chinese forces launched repeated attacks, hoping to secure more favorable peace terms by demoralizing the United States and its U.N. allies.

The result was a "Battle of Outposts," involving obscure places such as Pork Chop Hill, which gave its name to a 1959 movie; Heartbreak Ridge, which gave its name to the 1986 Clint Eastwood film; and Outpost Harry.

Harry was a tiny but crucial mountaintop position 60 miles north of Seoul, the South Korean capital. Chinese troops attacked Harry for nine straight nights, June 10 to 18, 1953, battling U.S. and Greek troops who were under orders to hold the mountaintop at all costs.

Early on the morning of June 12, 1953, Chinese soldiers swarmed up the mountain and invaded Outpost Harry. The fighting was hand-to-hand.

Storie took cover in a sandbag bunker with Francis and two other soldiers, Clarence Bloodsworth from Iowa and Julian Moore of Tennessee. All wounded, they fought off attackers until an explosion collapsed the bunker on top of them.

After the fighting ended at daybreak, rescuers dug Storie and Moore out of the rubble. Francis and Bloodsworth didn't survive.

Fields, who was in a mortar outfit firing shells to support Outpost Harry during the fight, learned of Francis' death later that morning.

"They were bringing the bodies down to the aid station, and I walked down there to see if I could find him," Fields recalled. "But I couldn't. Some of the bodies were covered with tarps, and some you couldn't even recognize."

The Korean War ended a few weeks later on July 27, 1953. Both Fields and Storie, who received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for bravery at Outpost Harry, returned home.

Fields lived in West Virginia until about 30 years ago, then moved to Catlettsburg in Boyd County.

"When we moved to Kentucky," he said, "I told my wife, Cora, that I wanted to find Francis' grave."

The search eventually took Fields to the Outpost Harry Survivors Association, a group of veterans from the battle. Through the association, he contacted Storie, learning that Storie and Francis had fought side by side in the same bunker. Storie joined the search for Francis' grave.

"I told Jim that if he ever found it, I wanted to be there," Storie said.

For a while, Fields thought Francis' grave was in the Frankfort area, but he found no trace. A break came only recently when a California researcher provided records showing that Francis was buried in Lexington. Old newspaper files provided his obituary, listing the place of burial.

Storie and Fields, who had visited Lexington over the years, both realized that they had passed Hillcrest Memorial Park many times, unaware that the friend they were seeking was buried there.

Fields still has a black and white photograph of Francis that he snapped on a Korean hilltop 55 years ago.

"I took his picture, and he took mine," Fields recalled. "He was kind of a quiet guy and I guess I was too, and we just kind of paired up together. I really liked him."

After the war, Storie met the family of Clarence Bloods­worth, the other man who died in the collapsed bunker. Storie says he doesn't know what happened to Julian Moore, the wounded man pulled out of the bunker with him.

But at least now he knows the full story of Kaye Francis, the friend who is no longer among the missing.