Jesse J. Wheeler
Company H, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine
1st Marine Division
KIA – September 16, 1951
Jesse was born in Espy Township, Columbia, Pennsylvania on September 3, 1932. By 1935 the family had moved to Hampden Township, Cumberland, Pennsylvania. That is where Jesse was raised, and lived most of his life, with his parents Rinold and Pearl Wheeler and six brothers and sisters. The Wheeler family lived on the Blue Mountain Trail off Lamb’s Gap Road near the base of the mountain. Jesse began his schooling at the original Shaull School on Good Hope Road, where he met many children who became his friends and classmates throughout his short life. Later Jesse continued his education and attended Enola High School.
At Enola High School Jesse was involved in many activities including his Junior Class Play, Student Council, and where he participated in Varsity Football.
On February 8, 1950, in the middle of his junior year of high school, Jesse, and two of his classmates joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. On June 25, 1950 the Korean War began and sometime after that Jesse’s Reserve Unit was activated. Jesse would not return to Enola and did not graduate with his class. This picture of Jesse taken in September 1950 is from family archives.
Jesse served with the 5th Battalion of the 1stth Marine Division. The 1st Marine Division played an instrumental role in the combat fought in the bowl shaped valley in Gangwon Province referred to as “The Punchbowl”. It is located just a few miles south of the present day Korean Demilitarized Zone. From declassified records taken from the Korean War Project we know on June 1, 1950 the 1st Marines began to advance north towards the Punchbowl and the Hwacheon Reservoir. By June the Division had secured the Kansas Line northeast of the Hwacheon Reservoir and the southern line of hills overlooking the Punchbowl. From August 31 to September20, 1951 the 1st Marine Division captured the line of hills north of the Punchbowl in the Battle of the Punchbowl. In the picture to the right Marines from the 1st Division are relaxing above the “Punchbowl.
From the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, Historical Diary for September, 1951 we know that Jesse’s Battalion the 5th Marines were maintaining position along the southern rim of Punchbowl and on September 15 relieved the 7th Marines. On September 15 Jesse’s Company H, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines jumped off in the attack to secure Hill 1052 and very heavy casualties were suffered by the advancing company. It was reported in the unit report that “resistance from a numerically superior and well entrenched enemy on commanding ground was the stiffest the battalion had encountered in many months”. Marine casualties during this brief, but intense period of fighting resulted in the 1st Division losing 24 men killed in action, 127 wounded in action, and one man missing in action on September 16, 1951 and it is here near “Punchbowl” that Jesse was killed.
Jesse was nineteen-years-old when he was killed in action by small arms fire in Korea on September 16, 1951. His service record states he was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation, and the Republic of Korea War Service medal. On the left is a copy of a Purple Heart Medal and on the right is the Republic of Korea War service ribbon.
Jesse was returned home to Hampden Township in January 1952, and he was buried next to his parents at the Stone Church Cemetery (now known as Saint Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery) located on Wertzville Road in Silver Springs Township, Cumberland, Pennsylvania.
One of his high school classmates, a lifelong resident of Hampden Township, shared Jesse’s story with HTVRC and he, and several other classmates, honored Jesse’s memory with the purchase of a memorial brick to be placed in his memory at the Captain Leon Lock Veterans Memorial in Hampden Township.
Thank you for your service – Corporal Jesse J. Wheeler USMC!