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Grant Richard Alexander
Swartz Creek, Michigan -
"I did something honest and I did it for 12 months. Korea itself didn’t make any difference. It wouldn’t have mattered if I was in South America--it was the Marine Corps that I was there with that mattered. That was what I was trying to protect; the image or the history of the Marine Corps or whatever. In the process, I tried to perform in a manner where I would be proud of it. I was very, very proud of being a Marine."
- Grant Alexander
My name is Grant Richard Alexander of Swartz Creek, Michigan. I was born on December 28, 1930, on a farm about six or eight miles from where my wife and I live now. My father was Harry Andrew Alexander and my mother was Gladys Pauline May Alexander. I was one of four children. We were farmers, but my father was also a machinist--a skilled tradesman in the Buick Motor Division, which was about ten miles from where we lived. The city of Flint was the home of Buick, Chevrolet, and AC sparkplugs, so it was all General Motors around there at that time. My mother had been a schoolteacher, but in her day, when a female teacher married she had to quit teaching.
I was the youngest of the four children. The oldest was my brother, who is 93 years old now with a mind as sharp as anything. Because he is almost blind, he lives in an assisted living facility and he is doing very well. The next sibling was my sister. She is now deceased. The third one was a baby that died at two weeks old. I guess I was the replacement that came along much later.
I attended the Begole school. It was a two-room country school in the Swartz Creek area that was bulldozed down many years ago. From there I went to Dye High School. It was actually in the country, too. I didn't graduate from high school. In those days it was not uncommon to quit school before graduating, so I quit before I finished eleventh grade in 1948.
World War II was going on when I was in grade school. My older brother was called up for the draft and he went down to take his physical, but he didn't pass and was declared 4F. He had a physical problem even when we were farming. I was in Boy Scouts at the time, and we collected papers and metal and whatever. The little country school really didn’t do anything in particular along that line, but I do remember that the school used to close every once in a while for two days so they could issue ration stamps to locals. They used the little school and people would come in and get their red stamps or meat stamps or gas ration stamps--that sort of thing. We got a couple of days off when they did that. No veteran came to our school to talk about the war. Later on when I came home from Korea I went to a grade school and gave a talk.
I quit school because I did not like school. The only thing I was interested in was making some money. I figured that was going to be my ticket. Of course, that’s the reason why a lot of people go to school, to get a higher education so they can make more money. But higher education was not a big thing at that time so I quit school and got a job.
I went to work in a factory and worked there a little over a year. I drove a fork lift in the Chevrolet Motor Division. On the 10th of June 1950, I bought my first new automobile. Then, on the 25th of June, the Korean War broke out. I didn't know anything about Korea. I didn't remember it from school. Nothing. Like everybody else, I probably got out the map to try to find it. Until then I had never even thought about going into the military, but I was 19 years old and I knew that I would be drafted within a year, so I enlisted in the Marine Corps. I never wanted to be in the Army. As a young teen during World War II, I saw how the men were treated after the war. When somebody mentioned that somebody was a Marine it was like, “Oh!" compared to the Army or Navy. I just always had a great respect for the Marine thing. I’m not talking about just walking around in dress blues, although I remember that. I'm talking about what being a Marine was about. Combat. Testing one's self.
I enlisted in the regular Marine Corps on September 19, 1950. My enlistment period was September 1950 until 1953. They made no promises to me when I enlisted. At that time it was just four years and ten months after World War II and the thinking was still kind of the World War II thing. I mean, nobody expected another war to come along, but there was no problem with me joining when it did. My mother was okay with it. My father had been in World War I, but he was only in for two weeks. When the war ended they just let him go. He didn’t even get a uniform. So there was no thought about me not going into the military. I quit my job to do it.
I had a girlfriend from high school at that time. We went together all during the period when I was in the Marine Corps and a short time after. Then I met my wife Lee Ann, who is still my wife present day. The girl I was dating in 1950 lived in Ypsilanti, Michigan just outside of Ann Arbor. She was going to be a teacher, so she went to Michigan State. As teenagers often do, we broke things off once in a while.
When I went down to join the Marine Corps, the recruiter's office was just outside of our local courthouse. The recruiter was a gunny sergeant named Blackington. He said to me, "Is that your new car out there?" When I told him that it was, he said, "Why don't you go home and enjoy it for a while and then come back. This war ain't gonna take as long as they think." That was in July of 1950. So I went home and enjoyed my car for a while. In September I figured, "It's time." I turned my car over to my father and mother because it was in my father's name anyway since I was too young to own a car legally. Maybe the recruiter had his quota full back in July, I don't know. He could have had me right then, but he let me enjoy my car a little longer.
When I enlisted, naturally I had a physical and eye exam and that sort of thing. In those days, if you wore glasses you couldn’t even get in--not in the Marine Corps, anyway. It seemed like about half the interview was with a psychiatrist. They had us before we were actually sworn in. One of the things I remember is that he handed me two pieces of paper. He said, “Draw a picture of a man. Draw a picture of a woman.” Well, I'm no artist, but I did my best. I'm not a psychiatrist either, so I have no idea what the purpose of that was. I did know the difference though, and that seemed to satisfy them.
I took a train to Parris Island. I had never been out of Michigan before, so going to South Carolina was a big adventure for me. I was not apprehensive about it at all. Being a farm boy, we had never heard of the word vacation. Farmers didn't have vacation. We had to milk cows every day twice a day and whatever. I did go to Boy Scout camp. I was raised in a very staunch, religious, Methodist home, so I belonged to the religious groups in the Methodist church and I went to church camp in the summer also. It was a way to get away from the hay baler for a while, you know. Those were the only times I was ever away from home. But when I went to boot camp, I didn’t have any problem with being homesick or anything like that.
I believe there were five guys from our area that joined the Marine Corps the same time that I did. One of them lived 20 miles away. I didn't know him before, but we went through boot camp together in Platoon 158, advanced training together, and then we went to Korea together. His name was Tom Betz. He was from Owosso.
We took the train to DC, switched trains, and then we went on down to South Carolina and switched trains again. The train we hit down there was an old open train that actually had a coal-fed engine with smoke coming out of it. It had wooden seats and it was awful. It really was. That took us just outside Parris Island and that’s when we started. We got off the train before they picked us up on buses to take us to Parris Island. They stood everybody at attention. We were in civvies, naturally, and we didn’t even know how to stand at attention, but we figured out real quick "don’t move". We were standing out there in the sun and two or three guys just passed out in the heat--“Plop!” They didn’t even do anything with them. We were in and that’s all there was to it.
Boot camp itself, particularly in those days, was really rough. On the first day they took all of what they referred to as our “civilian rags”, put them in a duffle bag-type thing, and we sent them home. Everything was gone. We had nothing. No clothing. No shaving lotion. Nothing along that line. I had just bought a Sunbeam electric shaver. They were quite new at that time. I had to send that home. Instead, they gave us a one-blade Gem razor and that’s what everyone used. They whacked our hair off. It wasn't a butch cut. We were a skin head. I mean really. It was gone. Everything.
Then they ran us in the shower and they started clothing us. When they were issuing us all of our clothing, they had a runway about three foot wide and about two foot high. After our shower, we walked down there in our stocking feet. As we were going down the runway they were giving us things. There were two Marines sitting on each side of this runway, measuring our feet for shoes. The Marine Corps was very, very particular about having our shoes perfectly fit us individually. They knew that some people are just a little different left to right and that one foot might be a little longer and the other one might be a little shorter. They also knew that we were going to walk. I was quite impressed about that. The two of them measured at the same time and they communicated back and forth. Our shoes weren't "custom made", but they had every size in the world right there. After that we got the rest of our issue: rifle, all of our 782 gear (canteen, cartridge belt and that stuff).
Then we started our training. Recruits were called "boots". For the guy that didn’t like school, half of boot camp was classroom. I mean, it wasn’t all physical stuff, although there was quite a lot of that. I was in very good physical condition. I used to lift weights every day on the farm. I was never large, but being a farm boy and having always worked, I was fairly strong so I had no problem with the physical aspect of boot camp. But there was a lot of classroom stuff. There really was. There was a lot more schooling than I imagined there would be.
Our days were regimented. The best I remember, we got up about 6 a.m. The drill instructors (DIs) came in and just hollered. I don’t think they blew a whistle. I think they just hollered. We always kind of slept with one eye open anyway, so everybody jumped up when they hollered. The only thing we had on was our skivvies. We jumped up and stood in front of our racks. They were two beds high. Then the DI started calling off by numbers. He knew by the numbers if someone wasn't there. If he started out yesterday with 76 and now when he was counting off he ended up with 75 numbers, he knew something had happened.
There was no question that we were required to keep ourselves personally clean. Since mornings started quick, we showered in the evenings and shaved in the mornings. It's kind of hard to explain, but in the morning when we had to go to the bathroom to do our number two, there were roughly 75 guys and we had only ten minutes for all of us to do this. There were about eight toilet stools and it was such a hurry-up thing that when we were on the stool there were other guys handing us toilet paper. There was just no time for anything. After a head call we lined up and went in to breakfast. After that they never let us have a head call--the head was closed for the day. That was a problem. We discovered that the only way to avoid having an accident during the day was to not drink anything like coffee or water in the morning. We didn’t want to load ourselves up with liquids because we just couldn't. There were a couple accidents where guys were out and they just had to go. This was part of the regimentation that they taught us.
In addition to personal cleanliness, we were required to keep our barracks clean all the time. It got to the point that when we had a so-called field day, we had to move everything to clean. We moved all the racks to scrub the floors. They were all wooden decks, and they had been scrubbed so long that they were practically white. We threw buckets of water on the deck and then threw something along the scouring line like Ajax or whatever. We had a whole row of guys with a sponge or I can't remember what. We just went down the deck like a herd, all moving at the same time. Meanwhile, other people were dusting the windows, polishing the windows, and that sort of thing. The least likeable job was when we had to go into the head and clean it. The way we cleaned the urinals was with a rag and sandstone. They called it a holy stone, which was a kind of soapy thing. We had to just get in there and scrub. This was not a very pleasant thing, but oh! When we finished, it was immaculate.
I remember after I came home from Korea and I was down at Camp LeJeune, we still used to have to keep the barracks straight, although not quite to the point that we had to keep it clean when we were in boot camp. But we had to keep it squared. We had a gunny sergeant who used to come in and check the barracks before he gave us weekend liberty on Friday afternoon. He had a voice that was so deep you wouldn’t believe it. He always gave us liberty because we were always pretty well squared away, but we didn't want to mess up or we wouldn't have any time off. He would come in and walk about without saying a word. Then he would come back, get ready to leave, turn around, and say, “This place looks like a whore’s nest. Liberty call.” That was it. Every time.
Junk Yard Dog
One day we had been out practicing, learning how to march. We were standing in formation when our drill instructor, Harry Ervai, came up to me. Sergeant Ervai was from Texas. He smoked a cigar and he was meaner than a junk yard dog. He was our senior DI. Our two junior DIs were Sergeant White and Corporal LaRue. They were human beings, but Ervai was a little different. Both White and Ervai were World War II retreads. That day Sergeant Ervai came along inspecting us. He walked up to me and stood so close to me that I could feel the heat from his cigar in my face. And then he hit me with his open hand and knocked me back. I was in the front rank of three ranks. He hit me so hard that when I fell, I knocked the two guys down behind me. As soon as I got up, I went back and stood where I had been and straightened myself up. Sergeant Ervai was still there. He just did a right face and walked off. Looking back, I don't think he had anything against any one individual. Apparently he just hit me to see what I would do--to see if I would break up or what. It was just his way to see if I could handle whatever they were going to dish out. And not everybody could.
When we marched to the chow hall, we marched in formation. When we got there, the DIs stopped us and we were at ease. We could chow among ourselves if we didn’t make it too loud. Maybe six or eight platoons would be in the area going into chow or whatever meal it was. While we ate, the drill instructors usually went over on the grass someplace and had a cigarette. There would be four or five of them over there talking about whatever they talked about. But Sergeant Ervai would be by himself. He wasn’t even with them. Maybe the guy was a head case for all we knew.
We had been at Parris Island for a few weeks when they had a situation. A couple of boots got into a fight in another barracks. The bunks or racks had a bar across them to separate them, and during the fight one of the guys got hit, and fell back on the bar. It snapped his neck and he died. They had the funeral there at Parris Island. Our platoon was going to a class that day when the funeral procession and casket came down the street. I’ll never forget that funeral procession because they had that slow march: “Da-doom, da-doom, da-doom.” Oh, it was morbid as anything. We were on the sidewalk. All of the DI’s stopped their platoons and had them stand at attention when it passed. Sergeant Ervai, however, just kept us going right down the sidewalk to that school. He didn’t even stop.
The guys did not want to get in trouble and we knew what trouble was, so we avoided it. They took us to the PX one time and they took us to a movie another time. That was all the leisure we ever had in boot camp outside of a Thanksgiving Day dinner when they took us to a football game. We had been at boot camp for a month or six weeks and we had to get shaving cream and things like that, so they gave us some money, took us to the PX, and allowed us to buy what we needed. I remember Ervai told us, “You may buy two bars of candy.” Not two candy bars. Two bars of candy. Sergeant White took us to the movie. The movie was shown on an outdoor screen and we sat on wooden benches with no backs or anything to watch it. They had pints of ice cream, all vanilla, in paper cartons with little wooden spoons. Sergeant White marched us up there to watch the movie and he said, “You will buy one pint of ice cream and you will enjoy yourself and you will have a good time.” That was our evening out.
Sergeant Ervai never yelled at us. Never. He had a kind of soft-spoken, death-like voice, but he didn't have to yell at us. We always listened to hear what he had to say. We were intimidated by him. We were scared to death of him. Years later, through the Baker Company's newsletter, The Guideon, I made contact with a guy named Ron Clark that was in my platoon and who now lives in Coronado, California by San Diego. We went over to Korea on the same ship. He went to Charlie Company and I went to Baker, but we saw each other quite a bit over there. He told me that he had seen Sergeant Ervai in Korea in 1951. He recognized Ervai sitting there. He said he had green eyes; I thought they were black. Ron recognized him, helmet and all. By that time Ron was a corporal. In the Marine Corps, anything above a PFC is prized. Ron said that he stopped to talk to Sergeant Ervai and to tell him that he had been in Platoon 158 at Parris Island. "All he did was grunt ‘Un. Un.’" Ron told me. "He wouldn’t talk to me." Ron went on his way and said to himself, "It's been nice talking to you, Sir." That's how deep it was with Sergeant Ervai.
Did I gain respect for my DI’s, even Sergeant Ervai? Well, I suppose I respected them as far as being troopers who were already there before we got there. In my case, I respected Marines before I joined the Marine Corps. When we were in boot camp, we didn't really see the DIs as persons really. The DIs were just the law, and that was that. Maybe Sergeant Ervai kept us alive. Who knows?
"Snap, Snap, Snap--Whap"
I remember when they took us for swimming tests. There was an Olympic-sized pool at Parris Island, and it was quite long. Guys who couldn't swim had to go to swimming class to learn how. I could swim, so I had no problem with that. During the test, I jumped in and I did a good job. I swam the length of the pool. After we left the pool that night we headed back to the barracks. We were walking along there with no cadence. With 75 sets of heels hitting the deck at the same time, we had created our own cadence. I was in the center rank and I was just walking along. I was so happy about passing the swimming test that I started keeping cadence with my fingers, snapping them like this: “Snap, snap, snap.” Suddenly, "Wham!" I got hit in the back of the head. I don’t even know where the DI came from. He just reached in from the outside rank and whapped me on the back of the head. Well, I didn’t snap my fingers anymore. I never got in trouble again. I wanted to do my best until I got out because I knew that when I got out of boot camp things would be different--which they definitely were.
As I mentioned earlier, none of us wanted to get in trouble. We might have started out with 100 or so recruits when we were sworn in, but by the time we graduated from boot camp there were maybe half that many. All the way through boot camp recruits kept getting weeded out. Maybe some of it could have been from the schooling. I only remember one weeding that was caused by physical stuff.
One day we were marching in boot camp and there were three columns. When we were marching like that, one DI stood in one column and one in another one. They stood sideways and walked between the columns. If our rifle was cantered either to the left or to the right instead of being perfectly straight on our shoulder, they corrected it by hitting it with their hand. Depending on which side our rifle was on, the operating handle would go right in our cheek when they hit it like that. The guys learned not to have their rifle tilted one way or the other; it needed to be just right--perfectly straight. Apparently this one guy got all worked up. Very tense. That boot was so worked up he just knew the DI was going to hit his rifle. Although the DI didn't even touch him, the boot turned around and hit the DI over the head with his rifle. The M-1 had a front sight with a blade that we sighted with and two wings. Those wings were to protect the blade from getting bent. It went right into the DI’s head. It just hit him real good. They took the boot off and the DI went off to the sick bay. We never saw the recruit again. He was gone. About an hour later, the DI came back with a bandage on his head. He was back on duty, but we never saw the boot again.
We spent ten days--a week and a half, snapping in our rifles. "Snapping in" meant taking a rifle, cocking it, and firing it when there were no bullets in it. We aimed at a little black dot that was on a white post. The dot was only about 20 feet away from us, but it was set up to look like we were firing 200 yards on a rifle range. We had rifle instructors, and they were totally different than our drill instructors. They didn’t whack us in the head or anything like that. They wanted us to learn how to fire the rifle right. They had a little scope with what I guess you could call a prism on it. When we were snapping in, they walked along and set the scope over our sight. We were looking through it and so it didn’t bother us, but they could look from the top and get a sight picture. When we actually snapped in and we weren't pointed at that dot at that time, they could see it. They could tell us how to correct it because the sight picture was something they could get just before the bullet went off. The rifle range instructors were very, very good.
The Marine Corps is very tight on marksmanship. Their theory is not to shoot up the whole world. One shot in the right place gets the job done. There was quite a lot of conversation about that in World War I when they put the 5th and 6th Marines in France. Everybody had been fighting at Bella Woods for a long time. The Germans were all set up in there with their machine guns and nobody could get near them. Then they put the Marines in that sector. The name “Devil Dogs” came from the Germans and it was for the Marines. The Marines laid back there and one shot took one machine gunner out. The Germans put another machine gunner up and one shot and another machine gunner was gone. Well, they did that to the point where the Germans couldn’t hardly get anybody up there on the gun. The Germans just couldn’t handle that. Bella Woods was finally taken by the allies. That is what the Marines do.
The weapon we fired on the rifle range during boot camp was the M1. We had to fire 200 to be a marksman, 210 to be a sharpshooter, and 220 to be expert. We were firing at the same range as the Army did (200, 300, and 500 yards) with the same weapon. The Army got the same medal we did for shooting, but with 10 points less. They had the 190, 200, and 210. We had to have 10 points more than they did to get the same shooting medal. I qualified marksman with 204. I had been a hunting farm boy, so I really didn't do as good as I had expected. I didn't do as good as I could have. Whether this can be considered an excuse or not, my rifle had a problem that day. When we went to the rifle range we were there a week. We were there five days and we fired 50 rounds of live ammo each day. I had been there about two days. Part of the first day they had us zero in our rifles. These were not the rifles that we took overseas with us to Korea. They were just ones they gave us to fire on the rifle range. When we laid on the ground or sat or stood or whatever with our rifles, we had an instructor for each man. He stood right there with us when we fired our weapon. When I discovered there was a problem with my rifle, I took it to my instructor. He then took it to the armory to get it repaired. They couldn't fix it so they brought me back a different rifle. All the sighting that I had done on the first rifle to get the sight to straighten out was gone. They only gave me ten rounds to straighten the sight on the new rifle. The other men had 50 rounds.
The rifle instructor sat in front of us and we were kind of off to the side when we were actually firing. My instructor stuck his head around, looked at me, and said, “Do you always shoot with both eyes open?” Apparently that was quite rare. I said, “Yes Sir.” He was just a PFC, but he had been in a long time. I told him, “I was a farm boy and we used to hunt a lot. We were basically shooting with a shotgun. My dad taught me to keep both eyes open when I was shooting because I could follow my prey that way.” I had a little peripheral vision, I suppose, and so I did that. I said to the instructor, “Do you want me to close the eye?” He said, “Not if it doesn’t bother you. That’s fine.” As I said, shooting with both eyes open was rare, but it was handy.
We were required to experience going through a gas chamber. First they had a sample of about six war gases. We had to take a small sniff of each one to get ourselves acquainted with them. I remember some of them smelled like violets and they were sweet-smelling. They were not offensive odors at all. That was where they suckered them in apparently. Then they put gas masks on us and we went into a Quonset hut. We started just walking around. There was tear gas in a pot kind of bubbling up and filling the room with white smoke. Meanwhile, they were talking to us about the gas. Of course, we didn’t talk. We just listened. The instructor in there had a mask on also, and we were in the room until it was full of tear gas. He then said, “Take your masks off and start singing.” I think we sang "Dixie" and the "Marine Corps Hymn." Then we were allowed to go back outside. They said, “Don’t rub your eyes. Pry them open with your fingers and face the wind.” They told us that tear gas was the mildest of all war gases. Oh boy! If that was the mildest, I didn’t want anything heavier than that.
Not a Tropical Island
Parris Island was an island that had one bridge on it. It was just a swamp. It wasn’t really very pretty. The island itself was just a swampy area and, in fact, the area around the island was also very, very swampy. Gnats were all over, particularly in the sand area of the island, which seemed to create the gnats. Those gnats bothered us during training. If we were standing at attention and they landed on us, we couldn’t do anything about it. If we did slap one, we knew that we were going to pay real big for it. The gnats walked into our ears and they walked into our noses and they walked around our eyes. I guess this was part of the training. We just had to learn how to ignore them.
I’ll give you an example of why this was important. About four or five years ago a pilot was shot down in one of the local brushfire wars. I remember he was from Oregon. He hid out for about a week eating grass and bugs and whatever. The enemy was all around him, but they never found him. Then a Marine helicopter came in and got him. I can’t remember his name now, but I recall that he mentioned about laying there with the critters crawling around him, but he had to ignore them. On Parris Island, we learned that if we were in combat and we tried to correct the problem, we were going to get captured.
Sleeping with a Rifle
Sometimes we saw the DIs discipline somebody in a way that was kind of funny. I remember they had this one poor devil out on the parade field after dark. I don’t know what he had done. He might have dropped his rifle or something. He was in somebody else’s platoon, but we could hear him out there because he was hollering what they told him to holler as he ran around the parade field. We couldn’t see him, but he was running around saying, “This is my rifle, this is my gun. This is for fighting, this is for fun.” We didn't know who he was, but we could visualize what was happening out there.
If a guy dropped his rifle, he had to sleep with it. They didn’t just make him take his rifle and put it in the rack. The DI made him field strip it so that the barrel and the stock and the bolt and everything were all separate. Then he had to put the sheet on top of the parts and sleep on all the metal parts scattered around. That’s the way they had to do it. It wasn’t just lying beside them and going to sleep.
We were allowed to receive mail. Our mail was very good, but the thing we didn’t want was boxes or anything along that line. We didn’t want anybody to even send us a stick of chewing gum in a letter. We told our families, "Don’t do it." I had an uncle that was a circulation manager at the Flint Journal at the time. Apparently he thought that it would be great to send me the newspaper. I got a few issues of them for about a week. Unfortunately, the newspaper arrived in the mail rolled up, and that caused a problem. The way we got our mail was the DI stood up on a table and we stood in front of our racks. If we had mail, the DI hollered our name and we came running down there by him and snatched a letter out of his hand. Other times he just threw it at us and we picked it up and ran back around to the front of our racks. Well, those darned newspapers were big old heavy things and he threw them at me. I never read one. Never even opened one. Man! I got rid of them as soon as I could. I wrote home to tell my uncle, "Stop that newspaper!"
I remember the first time the DI threw a letter at me and I didn’t catch it. That meant I had to run back around and pick it up the next time off the floor. It was a letter from my mother. I thought, "What a nasty deal this is to throw my mother’s letter on the floor." If I may jump ahead of my story, six months later I was in Korea. We never had enough toilet paper there so we kept all of our letters and used them to start fires and use them for toilet paper. We crumbled the letters up after reading them three or four times so they were a little softer on the rear. The guys used to make jokes about having scented toilet paper because the girls put a few drops of perfume in their letters before they sent them. Anyway, this is the point I'm trying to make. In boot camp I was choked up about the DI throwing my mother's letters on the floor. In Korea, I was using my mother’s letters as toilet paper.
After we finished our training at Parris Island there was a graduation ceremony. During the training we had learned how to wear our uniforms. I graduated in the fall and so we went from summer uniform to the greens. We were not allowed to wear the Marine Corps collar emblems on our uniforms until the day we graduated. The same holds true today in the Marine Corps. Four or five years ago, my buddy Ron Clark and I went to a Baker Company reunion in San Diego. We attended a boot camp graduation ceremony at San Diego. The General got up in front of the troops and guests and he said, “All the time these recruits have been in boot camp they have never been called Marines.” Upon graduation, they were.
All through boot camp they periodically just picked somebody out--called us up by name, and said, "I don't like you. You're never going to be a Marine. I don't want you in my Marine Corps. You're not going to make it." That made us want it more and they knew it. Then on graduation day, they got up in front of about 900 of us and said, "Good morning, Marines." When I left boot camp I was different than when I had first arrived at Parris Island. I was proud. I was confident.
After graduation I went home on a ten-day leave. I wore my uniform and people noticed that I was a Marine. It wasn't like the anti-military sentiment prevalent during the Vietnam era. We were still kind of connected to the World War II thinking. Our weapons, uniforms and everything were the same as those of World War II Marines, and people treated us as they would a World War II veteran, even though we were going off to fight a different war. My parents were proud of me--very much so, particularly my dad.
Last Days Stateside
After my leave I was sent to Camp LeJeune for advanced infantry training around the first part of December. A few weeks earlier, everybody had thought the war in Korea was virtually over. Then the Chinese came into the war at the Chosin Reservoir and that opened up a whole new ballgame. We had hand-to-hand combat training, bayonet drill practicing bayonets with the scabbard on, and other non-classroom training in the field.
When we got orders for Korea, we knew that we wouldn't have time to write home and tell our parents, so we asked to call home. Tom's mother was divorced, which was a little unusual in those days. She and my mother and father drove to North Carolina from Michigan and stayed near Camp LeJeune for about three days. We couldn't get off the base because they had us sealed up, so our folks got a motel someplace off base, got passes to enter the base, and we spent our evenings together. My father had been a deputy or a cop in Genesee County, Michigan, but he was now in reserve and he had turned his uniform and holster in. I didn’t expect this, but he gave me his.38 revolver. (I'll talk more about that later in this memoir.) The Marine Corps issued weapons to us and then took us out to the firing course one day and gave us 50 rounds to zero them in and make sure that the weapon that we were going to take to Korea was functioning properly and sighted in.
Right after Christmas and New Year's--just about January 1, 1951, they started taking us into rooms, issuing cold weather gear to us, and showing us all the films on cold weather training that they had. Some were Navy films and some were Air Force. Everything. The Air Force films showed Air Force guys in cold weather, wrapping up their feet with parachutes and things like that. They even showed us a World War I film about snipers. I think it was titled, "All Quiet on the Western Front." As I recall, the movie was about how a sniper guy did dumb things like reach out for a butterfly and such.
After we were issued all of our winter gear, they made up a train in North Carolina and we headed off for San Francisco on January 6, 1951. The trip took five days to go across country. It was a fun trip. It really was. We were in Pullman cars. We weren't sitting on old wooden benches all crowded in there. There was one guy to each seat. At night the seats were made up into two racks--one up and one down. There was also a dining car. It was actually a club car, but there was no booze in it.
This was the first time that I had seen the United States geographically. I could look out the window of the Pullman and sightsee. I remember that it seemed like it took us a day and a half or two days just to go through Texas. When there was a ten or fifteen-minute stop for whatever reason--maybe mail, some of the guys got off the train, ran into town, and bought whiskey and other stuff. I didn't. I had never tasted whiskey and I had really only had a few beers. We did a lot of reading on the train. There was nothing else to do since our equipment and everything was shut down.
When we got to California it was about 2 o'clock in the morning. We got off the train in San Francisco, got on buses, and they took us down to a dock where there was a two-stacker ship waiting for us. Named the USS Darby, it was a World War II destroyer escort that had been re-commissioned after the start of the Korean War. When we got off the buses there was a Red Cross trailer and two ladies there. They gave us two plain doughnuts and cup of coffee as we boarded the ship. Since it was still very early in the morning, we went straight to our assigned racks and went to bed. By this time it was 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. We didn't have a wake-up call. I just took a little nap. The next thing I knew I could feel the ship rocking. I thought we were tied to the dock, but when I walked up to the top, the ship was moving and the Golden Gate Bridge was behind us. We were on our way to Korea.
Trip to Korea
There were 800 troops on the Darby. Four hundred were Marines heading for Korea. The rest included 300 Air Force Air Police, 300 Army guys, five Army nurses and two female Red Cross workers going to Japan. I knew only three or four guys on the ship that I had gone to boot camp with at Parris Island. One was Ron Clark, whose address of 707 First Street, Coronado, California I still remember. The other was Tom Betz. The last time I saw him was the year after we returned home. He was going to Wisconsin to be a Uni-vac mechanic. Uni-vac was the first computer at that time. I know that 15 years later Tom was working for the U.S. government in Canada, but I haven't been able to find him. Another guy I knew was named Curry. He was from the Chicago area. He had been in the Navy and then enlisted in the Marine Corps. He was a heavy machine gunner, so we didn't see him often after we got to Korea.
There were quite a few retreads from World War II on the ship. They were old salts who had joined the reserves after the Second World War had ended just to make a few extra dollars, and then they got called back in. One of the reservists was Bob cook. He wanted to play ball on the USMC Reserve ball team but they told him that he couldn't unless he joined. So he joined and as a result was called up for Korea. Those of us who were new to combat got a lot of information from the old salts. Compared to those experts, we were just boots. They talked about weapons and jungle fighting and that sort of thing.
I had never been on a big ship before and I didn't handle it well. I was so seasick! After we left San Francisco, almost immediately we hit rough water. I didn't know it at the time, but we had caught the tail-end of a typhoon. We were not allowed on deck for two or three days. Everybody was sick. In fact, we had to carry our helmets with us (without the liner) so we could throw up in them. Guys were sick in the bathroom. Everywhere. One time I walked to the doorway of the mess hall and when I smelled that food, I just let fly and threw up. Another time I went to the scuttlebutt (water fountain) for a drink of water and someone had thrown up in it. We couldn't keep anything down unless it was something dry like peanuts or crackers or whatever. I thought I had been sent to purgatory when I was assigned mess hall duty. Before that I couldn't even stand the smell of food. But mess duty was the best thing that happened to me on the ship. We were able to eat food and settle our stomachs. By the time I got to Korea I was eating like a king and I was in good shape. I didn't have to serve food to anybody. I just carried pots and pans around. There were tables with ridges in the mess hall, and benches to sit on. There were no chairs. The ridges were to keep the food trays from sliding off the tables when the ship was listing.
The ship was very crowded. There were so many guys that some had to sleep in the brig since there were no prisoners in it. The rest of us slept on stretched canvas racks five layers high in the bulkhead. The racks were so close we could hardly turn over when someone was sleeping above and below us. I was in the second one from the bottom on the aft of the ship. During the rough weather the ship's screw would come out of the water so high that the ship shook.
For 15 days we never saw another ship. There wasn't much to do, although they made a big deal when we crossed the International Date Line. I was fascinated by the albatrosses that followed the ship the whole way to Japan. There were five or six of them. They never flapped their wings. They just rode on the air currents. They were great big and they reminded me of large Canadian geese. I asked one of the sailors why they were following us. I thought that it was maybe because they were looking for guidance or something. But he told me that they were following the ship because the ship's propellers churned up fish out of the water and the albatross then ate them. Those birds followed us from almost Day One to the end of our trip. My buddy Tom Betz nicknamed me "Alby" because I used to watch them so much. Some of the guys even called me "Albatross."
We had no further training on the ship, and since there wasn't anything else to do, I did a little sewing. Dad had given me his .38, but I had no holster for it so I found a guy who had a shoulder holster with a rip out of the sling and I bought it from him for $12.00. In Korea the pistol came in handy when we were on night watch. When getting out of a foxhole it was easy to make unwanted noise if our rifles scraped the dirt around the edge of the hole as we were getting out. The pistol didn't make any noise and it was easier to carry on watch than our rifles.
Anyway, I went down to the ship's store and purchased a strip of canvas, some heavy cord, and some large curved needles. I had never seen curved needles before. I sat there on the fantail of the ship all the time and fixed the strap. I also sewed 12 loops on the strap so that I would always be able to carry 12 bullets for it. Dad's pistol was a .38 special, which had more power than a regular .38. The bullet velocity was about 1150 feet per second. I was concerned that I might lose the .38 in Korea, so I took a piece of paper and the ballpoint pen that my mother had sent to me, and I wrote down some identification in case the pistol got lost and somebody found it. The ballpoint pen had green ink. I wrote my name, home address in Michigan, and a note saying that if somebody found the pistol they were to return it to my dad at that address. At the time we hand a crank phone system in Swartz Creek. I'll never forget the phone number: 111-11. Three longs and two shorts. I folded the paper, took off the back plate, put the paper inside there, and put it back together. I still have the pistol, and that piece of paper is still inside of it.
Occasionally we saw the ship's Captain, although we had no contact with him. I remember that they tied a canvas screen up on the bridge and he used to hit golf balls into it. The five nurses (all 2nd Lieutenants) and two Red Cross workers stayed in another part of the ship away from the troops. They had an area on the ship which was up by the Captain’s quarters. Two of them were older ladies. (Everybody was older than us at 19 years old.) That area of the ship was off limits. I remember that they showed movies on the ship twice a day. One time somebody asked what the movie was that night and a guy said, “Ten Tits in a Row.” So we went down there and the five nurses were all lined up there singing during intermission while they rewound the movie for the second show. It was very nice of them to do that for us. It wasn’t their job. There was a record player on the back of the ship that played big 78 records. The nurses were good about taking turns dancing with the men. Other than that, there was no mixing of the sexes. We never saw them during the day. They didn't eat in the same place that we did.
The ship did not go straight to Korea. It stopped in Japan, but just for a matter of hours. We pulled in at night, those who were going to be stationed in Japan got off, we left our seabags with all of our dress uniforms in a warehouse, then we went on to Korea with nothing but our combat gear and another seabag full of heavy clothing. When I came back to Japan a year later, that warehouse had been flooded and our stuff was all gone, so they issued us new uniforms. Because we were so fresh out of boot camp when we left our seabags in Japan on the way over, we didn't have any connection with the lost stuff anyway. It was all new.
I think it took about 24 hours to go from Japan to Korea. We arrived there on January 26, 1951 and anchored off of Pohang harbor. It seems to me that they got us up something like around 4 o'clock in the morning. They took us to breakfast and then told us to get our stuff all saddled up, put on our cold weather gear, and get ready to go. They said that as soon as we got our cold weather gear on, we were to step out of the ship onto the deck. If we had stayed inside with all that equipment we had on, we would have just absolutely melted in there. Once out on deck, we noticed that it wasn’t real terribly bad weather. It was windy and it was rough, but that’s the ocean. However, we saw that from the shoreline to the top of the hills was white. Everything was snow. And then we knew why we had all that stuff on.
When we stepped out on the deck, they handed us live ammunition and hand grenades and we knew what was about to happen. They told us to bend the pins over on the hand grenades so they wouldn't come out accidentally. That was a good idea. They came in a cardboard canister with tar on it, so they were waterproof. They told us to wrap the tape that came out of it completely around the grenade so the spoon wouldn’t accidentally come out. It was a safety feature.
Getting off the ship wearing and carrying all of our gear was an experience. At least we didn't have to go down cargo nets. Instead, there was a ladder with a rope guide swinging off the side of the ship that we used to hang on to as we disembarked. We had a seabag with us, as well as our pack, our rifle, and all of our other gear, so it wasn't easy walking. When one man hit the bottom of the stairway there was another one in the center and another way at the top. I think it was about 30 foot long. If anyone had fallen off there with all that equipment, he would have been an anchor. Gone. So we held onto the rope and moved very slowly. We had cumbersome winter boots on called shoe pacs, and we moved very slowly dragging the seabag behind us.
Once at the bottom of the ladder there were DUKWS waiting to take us to shore. They weren't landing craft. They were amphibious craft that had wheels on them that could run up on the land and off again. They weren’t a real seaworthy thing, but that was what took us from the ship onto the shore. They didn't go very fast, and it seemed like it was about an hour run. The DUKWS were positioned down below the ladder and they were rising and falling maybe eight or ten feet with the motion of the water. When it came up, we were supposed to JUMP. We were told not to try to stand up once we jumped into it. We were to just fall down. There was plywood on the bottom of the craft to break our fall and two guys standing on it to grab us on each side and help us stand up after we fell into the DUKW. When we stood up, we stood with our backs to the wind.
After the DUKW was loaded, they took us to shore and went back to get more troops. They put us on trucks and they took us in from Pohang harbor in a matter of miles to an area near the little town of Yongchon a short distance west of Pohang. We were bivouacked in the area, staying in shelter halves that night. A shelter half was one half of a two-man tent. Each man carried half of a shelter and then two of us buttoned our halves together and we had a so-called pup tent. The next morning they took us out and assigned us to our outfits.
My first impression of Korea was that it was cold and snowy. Where we were there was no town or anything. There were not even many buildings around there. Other than the issuance of ammunition, we couldn't really tell we were in a war zone. I mean, we knew everybody around there had a rifle and all that business, but there was no noise or anything along that line.
I was assigned to Baker Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, First Marine Division. They just pointed to some of us and said, "You're in the 1st Platoon, 1st Squad, 1st Fire Team." At the time I joined the outfit, B-1-5 had just came back from the Chosin Reservoir. They were in reserve while trying to fill the ranks of all the people they had lost during the Chosin campaign. I was a rifleman, but I was assigned as Assistant BARman to Edward T. Costigan. Like all of the other replacements, I brought my rifle with me from the States. The BAR was issued in Korea. Being an Assistant BARman meant that if anything happened to Ed, I would take over the BAR. I carried extra ammo and helped him clean the BAR and the magazines that held the ammunition. My function was to assist him with that BAR, which was our main infantry weapon. I was dug in with Ed for the first four months that I was in Korea. Ed later got scurvy, which is dry skin. It apparently came from diet--or lack of it.
Cold Weather Gear
When we got to Korea it was very, very cold and we dressed for it. From the inside out on the footwear, we had our regular cushion-soled socks--about two pair of heavy woolen socks inside of our shoe pacs. Shoe pacs had a rubber bottom like a moccasin and a leather top. They had a felt liner in them to absorb moisture. We were issued two felt liners and what we did every night was to take the ones out of our shoe pac, put them inside of our clothing on our rib cage, and let our body dry them out 24 hours. Then the next night we switched them.
On the basic part of the lower body, we had our boxer-type skivvies. They didn’t stay with us long because when we were climbing the mountains our legs were going up and down all the time. Our skivvies crawled up on us and they were very uncomfortable, so it didn’t take too long before the guys stopped, dropped all their clothing, took their bayonet, cut their skivvies off, and threw them away.
We had two sets of long johns and they were separate at the top and bottom. We wore both sets of long johns on the bottom and a pair of winter dress green woolen trousers over those. We had a windproof (but not water proof) trouser. On the top part we wore a skivvy shirt, the two top parts of the long johns, a sweater with a fairly high collar on it, an alpaca vest, and then a dungaree jacket and a field jacket. When we got off the ship we were wearing big heavy parkas, but we turned those in because they were really too clumsy to wear while walking and climbing up mountains. They discovered that at the Chosin. They were warm and everything, but they were more trouble. So we had layered clothing to keep us warm instead.
We had two kinds of hats. One had Mongolian-type flaps. I didn’t have that. I had a regular hat with a visor on it and fold-down flaps on the inside. It was much nicer because the guys that had the Mongolian type found out that there was really no place inside their helmet to wear it. Mine fit over my head and under my helmet real easy, and I still had protection for my ears if I wanted to fold the flaps of my hat down. Our gloves were a wool-lined leather glove with a pull-up strap. They were very good gloves.
I grew up in Michigan and it was cold in Michigan, so when I got to Korea I didn't notice much difference in the cold. The reason I didn’t notice any difference was because Michigan cold was not a dry cold and neither was the cold in Korea. It was the cutting type. Some of the guys--the guys from Arizona and Southern California or whatever, must really have had an adjustment. They had never experienced anything like it. I, at least, knew how to handle cold weather.
When I got to Korea I really wasn't frightened. I mean, everybody was apprehensive over combat. We knew that something bad happens in it. But we kidded ourselves. In the back of our minds we honestly hoped that it would happen to somebody else other than ourselves. This was a natural instinct apparently. I was in the 4th Replacement Draft and we heard things from seasoned veterans. I was in Korea early enough to serve with the island hoppers from World War II--the ones that landed on the various islands throughout the Pacific. It was good to be with those guys. We learned things by watching them and seeing how they acted. On the islands they hadn't done the cold weather thing, but they were great teachers. I saw some of those guys perform in combat who absolutely had no fear at all. One of them was Sgt. George Barr. He was so cool I couldn’t believe it. There was one particular firefight that we were in when he stood up to direct us. I thought, “My god, Sarge. Get down. You’re going to get hit.” Well, that night he did, but he lived and years later attended our Baker Company reunions.
In a combat situation, sitting at night when we couldn’t really see very well in the dark, we heard noises. We didn’t know what the noises were, so our imaginations ran wild. The only way to explain this to someone who has never experienced combat is to give an example. Many years after I left Korea, there was a lady telephone operator in the business where I worked whose son was a Marine in Vietnam. He sometimes used initials and abbreviations in his letters, so she came to me from time to time and said, "What does this mean?" There were a few things that I couldn’t answer because of the Vietnam era, but one time she called me over and said, “We got a letter and my son said that 'Everybody's getting twitchy.' What does he mean?" Her son had been over there in Vietnam for quite a while and I knew what he meant. I said to her, "Well, let me explain it this way. When you’re sitting in a foxhole and you hear a noise, you keep turning around trying to find out where this noise is coming from. You just know somebody’s crawling up on you. Your imagination runs crazy. Then you discover the noise you’re hearing as you’re turning your head is just your own neck rubbing into your own collar. That’s twitchy. You hear that noise, you can’t figure out what it is, and then you discover that it’s as simple as that.” She then understood.
Pohang Guerrilla Hunt
I had been in Korea for about two weeks when we touched combat a little on a patrol around the Pohang/Yongchon area. We were so low on troops when I first got there that I had a staff sergeant for a platoon leader. We went out on patrol and, although I wasn't physically there to see it happen, 1Lt. John Richard Hancock was killed that day on February 7, 1951. We were under fire too that day, but I never even fired a round there. There was nothing to shoot at. That was a common thing at that point because there were snipers among the guerrillas. It was not a big unit we were against, so I never even saw anybody that day.
The North Koreans had came down into South Korea in July of 1950 and some of them were still in the south when MacArthur landed the Marines at Inchon and cut the country in half. The Marines cut the supply line, so the North Koreans that were in South Korea were trapped. They were North Korean regulars who became guerrillas. They were a lot more fierce and dedicated than the Chinese by far. First of all, Korea was their home. They were trapped down south and did so much damage that they put the Marines in to straighten them out and get rid of the guerrillas before they sent us to the so-called “line” up north. This hunt became known as the Pohang Guerrilla Hunt. It lasted about three weeks.
After that first patrol and the death of Lieutenant Hancock (our company commander), we got organized. They put us on trucks and we started off. We didn't know where we were going. Nobody ever told us anything. We just drove down the road for three or four hours until we got shot at, then we all jumped off the truck and started to work. That was the start of the guerrilla hunt, although at that time we didn't know it.
Caught in the Loop
Our patrol started out that day with a lead Jeep, and Lt. Frank McDonald, our platoon leader, was in it. We were traveling through a little village when the guerrillas began firing at us. They shot the Jeep all apart. I was in the lead truck behind the Jeep. Because I was in first fire team, first squad, first platoon, I had been one of the first ones to board the truck. The trucks didn't have covers because we were in a combat area. I was sitting with my back against the cab of the truck and the guy right beside me (Ed Costigan) was the BARman.
The tailgate on a 6x had two metal loops about four inches high and about ten inches across. When the tailgate was down, we used them by putting our foot in them to get into the bed of the truck. It was too high to jump up there. When the tailgate was up, those metal loops stood straight up on top of the tailgate. As I said, when we neared the village, we started taking fire. Everybody ran to the end of the truck and jumped off to take cover behind the truck. Costigan and I were the last two off the truck. We were both running to get off the truck, but he was ahead of me. I could hear the rattling of the bullets hitting the truck when suddenly he stopped. I thought, “What in the world are you stopping for?” Then I saw what had happened. He was running crouched over and had the bipods off his BAR when he ran the barrel of the BAR right through that loop. He had to stop and pull it out before he and I could jump over the tailgate. It seemed like it took him two hours, although I know it was just a matter of seconds.
By this time everybody was returning fire. I couldn’t because I was behind the wheels of the 6x and I couldn’t see a thing. They motioned to us to go up to the front of the truck, so we did. Then one by one we jumped up and ran across the road. I don’t remember if the Jeep was burning or not, but it had been all shot up. At our Baker reunions they kid Lieutenant McDonald now about not paying for that Jeep. When we ran across the road, we were totally exposed. It seemed like my legs were barely moving out in front of me and I was in slow motion. I couldn't get across fast enough. When we got across, we ducked behind a stone wall. There was a Korean Army truck parked in the road and there was some discussion about the fact that they had to move it. A couple of Koreans went down to move it, but when they got in it they found out that it had been booby trapped and it blew up. One of the Koreans was killed.
We started working our way down the wall and they told us to fix bayonets. We did that a lot, although, fortunately, we never had to use them. The Marines' use of the bayonet was kind of a psychological thing, and I’ll try to touch on that subject later when I'm talking about the Chinese. Anyway, we went down the stone wall in this little village. They told us that when we got to the last houses we were to check inside of them. There was a piece of the wall about a couple of feet high that had been blown out. There were little courtyards all around where the Korean people kept their animals so they wouldn’t get away. When I jumped over that little opening in the wall and landed in that courtyard, something vaulted to my right violently. Something just jumped. I turned around and had the trigger halfway back on my M-1 when I realized that the movement was an 80-pound calf. It was just a little cow tied in the corner. Since I was the first one through the wall opening, apparently I startled it. I came within a whisker of killing that poor calf.
We then went to check the house. I had never been in a Korean house before. From what I remembered of the European houses in World War II, there were walls and our troops would throw grenades in the room and then walk in. But in this Korean house, there were no rooms. There were just slats of wood with paper on them for dividers. I thought, “Man! A grenade in here would get anybody." But there was nobody in there. They had ran out the back of the place and off into the hills, so we went up there and started to chase them. That was really the start of the guerrilla hunt. I don’t think we even had anybody hit that day. The guerrillas couldn’t have been very good shots because they started that thing and they were higher than us. They may have been a little nervous. We had a couple of tanks with us. I saw neither enemy air nor tank power all the time I was in Korea.
Just before that, in the late afternoon, we were trying to go up the hills to get the guerrillas. We were going through rice paddies—up one and then up another one as we climbed the mountain. During my training I was taught that when I moved I should look to see where I was going to go the next time. Now in Korea, I looked and saw where two rice paddy walls had come together making a corner. I knew that was where I was going to go. I got down and when it was my turn to move again, I jumped up. When I looked at where I was going next, I saw that there was a guy there so I dropped back down. Somebody hollered, “Go, go, go!” I realized then that I wasn’t supposed to do that, so I jumped up and took off. I went right by that guy and found another place to get cover. That very first night after we ran through the village and started up the hill, we were setting up and laying out our sleeping bags on the side of the hill when a sergeant came up to me. I was used to sergeants from boot camp--we couldn’t do nothing right. But this sergeant came up to me and said, “Today when you stood up, if somebody had seen you drop down, all they would have had to do was zero in on that spot. When you stood up again, you would have been gone.” He said, “That’s why I had you move--RIGHT NOW!” I understood what he was talking about. Until then I didn’t know sergeants had a heart. I'll never forget how kind he was to me.
That same night they allowed us to build small fires to heat rations. Those were famous words that were always kind of a joke: “Build small, smokeless fires.” How do you build a fire without smoke? We found out that if we built them small enough, we wouldn’t have too much smoke. If we did, artillery would be called in on us. So there we were on a ridgeline. The guys had a little fire built and four or five of them were heating rations. They knew that I was a new replacement, so they told me to come on over and heat a can of rations. I had never even heated rations on an open fire before. They told me to be sure and open the can so it wouldn’t explode on me. They showed me how to put it in the fire and heat it up. A plastic spoon always came in the rations, but when I left the ship in Pohang harbor, I had taken a good, heavy, metal spoon about half the size of a table spoon with me. It said "USN" on it. Taking it with me to Korea was one of the best things I ever did. I had that thing the entire time I was over there. Those other poor devils had to eat their rations with plastic spoons.
After I heated up my can of rations, I backed away from the fire to let somebody else in and I sat down about 20 feet away. As I lifted my spoon to eat, I looked down the side of that ridge and about five or six feet away from me was a dead enemy soldier. He was laying head down and feet up. I had never seen a dead Korean before, but there he was. I just looked at him and thought, "This is it. This is what we do." I went ahead and ate my rations, but I’ll never forget that.
During the Pohang guerrilla hunt, we didn't dig in too much at night. Instead, we made a big dig, didn't take our equipment apart, and then we slipped off the reverse side of the ridge and went to another hill. A couple or three hours later, the North Koreans would mortar the area where they thought we were.
As I said, the guerrilla hunt lasted about three weeks. Then they put us on trucks and we went up north where they had established a so-called front line. I didn't know the number of the hills at the time, and I still don't. (The hill numbers were designated by their height.) I didn't know the names of the battles we were in at the time, either. Later I learned that I was in the Pohang Guerrilla Hunt, Operation Killer and Ripper, and the defense of the Kansas Line. A plaque I got at a Baker reunion in Reno a couple of years ago listed these operations. Once we got on line, we just started pushing the enemy back and taking area. We were still fighting North Koreans, but now we were fighting mostly Chinese. We kept pushing them back and pushing them back all the time.
The hunt took place in February, and it was still cold in Korea. We were never out of the cold. Oh, maybe we had the occasional fire where we could warm our fingers and things like that, but there were no warming tents. We also didn't pitch shelter halves on line. We camouflaged everything we could because we didn't want any attention. We were just cold all the time. The best piece of equipment we had was our mummy sleeping bag. It was a down bag with a blanket liner and a windproof cover on it. We could get in that thing when we were totally wet from rain, zip it up, and stay in it all night. When we came out in the morning, we were all dry. Our body heat dried us right out. That beautiful mummy sleeping bag that we got in at night was probably the only thing that saved most of us from the cold.
We didn't see a whole lot of atrocities, but there were some. Most of the stuff that we saw in the atrocity line was down south when we first hit. For instance, we found four black men that had been hung. I never could figure that out. Then before we moved up to the northern part of South Korea we came across some small trailers. They were maybe five foot square or so. They were the type of small trailers that the Army pulled at the back of a Jeep. This wasn't at Pohang. It was further north a little more, I think. When we looked inside of them there was a body in each one of those trailers. They were spread-eagled and had obviously been tied in there with ropes or communication wire. It looked like the North Koreans had poured gasoline in there and touched them off. We didn't see anything along that line with the Chinese. My wife's cousin was a prisoner of war in Korea. He said that the Chinese did some brainwashing and some other bad things after they had taken some prisoners, but they didn't seem to have that hate for us that the North Koreans did. The North Koreans rarely ever surrendered.
About five months after we got to Korea, President Truman fired General MacArthur. Although we had the Chinese on the run, they stopped the war right then because they were trying to get reorganized with the new commander who was now over all of the UN troops. They told us to build bunkers, even though we didn't know how long we would be at that location. They brought up some sandbags and we dug a hole and put the dirt in the bags. There were some trees around and South Korean workers cut them down to put a roof over the bunkers. We built a firing port in the front and a little door in the back that led to a pit. After that we sat around there for about a week waiting for them to get organized and decide what they were going to do for the rest of the war.
Some of the guys got into poker games. We had money. We got paid maybe every three months. A pay clerk or the paymaster--an officer, would come up to the line with a guard and get into a foxhole. Then we would go up one by one to get our pay and tell them what we wanted to do with it. I could always handle money pretty good. Some of the guys kept all of their pay and gamble everything away, but that just wasn’t my way. I always told them to send mine home. In the first eleven months I was overseas, I think I spent $5.00 in actual money or script. About the only thing I had to spend money on was rice candy. It looked like a white cigar. The South Korean mothers made it out of cooked rice. It was sweet and something a little different.
The guys who played poker always used ammunition for poker chips. How they did it, I don't know. I'm not a poker player. I never wanted to lose. Anyway, one night I was going from one position to another in the bunker area. I didn’t have my rifle because I was just going down in one of the bunker to do something. Suddenly a .76 round went overhead and splashed on the hillside. A .76 was a big cannon. Then another one came over. Well, when that first one went through I was going by a bunker and I dove right into that hole so I wouldn’t have to stay outside. I didn't know there were five or six guys in there playing poker on a piece of C-ration cardboard at the time. I landed right in the middle of their poker game. When I landed in that thing I was not very popular because their cards and their rounds for chips all went flying. They could have killed me. They probably lost track of everything they were doing.
I remember in that same area they set up a lot of booby traps because they intended to cover enough ground since we were going to be there for a while. Down in the front we had the bouncing betties and we had flares and grenades and booby traps. One morning I had the last watch and it was quiet. Nothing was going on. As I was sitting there, I looked up and saw a deer come walking up the valley. I knew that the deer was going to come up by us. I also knew that the deer was going to trip something because there were trip wires all over down there. I got down in the hole so I could just barely see. That deer walked right through all of those trip wires. I don’t know if it was an accident or if he or she really knew they were there. It just walked right through all that stuff and right up over the top of the hill between two bunkers and never even knew we were there. I could never figure out how that deer did that.
A guy in our outfit named Charlie Volk had been to demolition school. Charlie usually chose me to help him set up booby traps at night. I'm not sure why he chose me. Either he trusted me or he thought I was expendable. If it was because I was expendable, that probably wasn't a good idea because we were too darned close to each other.
To guard our perimeter, we set up very basic grenade booby traps at night and then picked them up in the morning. It was very basic because we had to pick them up in the morning. To make a grenade booby trap, we took an empty light ration can--one that used to have crackers or other "dries" in it, slid a grenade into it, and then wrapped a piece of communication wire around the neck of the grenade. We ran the wire a few feet, and tied it around a tree. There was maybe eight foot of wire spread out on the ground, not up in the air. We placed it where the enemy might come along. After we got it in the can and got the wire hooked up, we pulled a pin on a grenade (I used to carry a couple of extra pins in case I ever lost one), and then braced it with the "spoon." If somebody came along and tripped the wires, the grenades would come out of the can, the spoon would fly, and whoever tripped the wire had about four seconds to get where they were going before the grenade went off.
One night we turned to walk back up the hill and Charlie suddenly disappeared. I turned around and looked and he had dived downhill like he was diving into a swimming pool. The wire was tied and a grenade was crawling out of the can. That was very close to being a real problem because we were going up the hill and munitions always went up when they exploded. We could have both ended up with a whole bunch of holes in us. We never did that again. At reunions he always good-naturedly blames me and I blame him that it happened.
It was a little hard to tell the age of Orientals, so I have no idea how old the enemy was that we were fighting. They all looked much younger than they really were, sometimes by ten years. We would look at one and think that maybe he was 18, then find out through our interpreter that he was actually 28. They never attacked in the day; they always attacked at night. They weren't very visible as you can well understand, but we used to see them dashing from here to there. The only time I saw a live one up close was when I shot one who was about 20 to 25 feet from me (more on that later). That was quite personal.
The enemy fought differently than American Marines. First of all, they practically had no tactics. What they had was a whole bunch of Chinamen. That’s all they had. I heard once that they had one officer to 200 men. The officer’s basic job was to shoot the ones who tried to run back. Their "tactic" was just to come in waves. The waves in the back didn’t have a weapon so they picked a weapon up that somebody dropped when he was hit. Some of the time our biggest problem was having enough ammunition to kill them all. We had to be cautious with our ammo because there was always somebody there to make a target out of and we could only carry so much of that stuff. Ammunition was heavy, you know. As far as being good soldiers? No. The Chinese were very poor soldiers. Very poor.
There were some cases where the Chinese used bugles when attacking, but that seemed to be in the very early part. After that they didn't make that bugle run and all that. They came slipping up there quietly, got as close as they could, and then they started throwing grenades. I guess they found out that making noise was a bad idea. They never hit us during the day. We hit them. We did all of our stuff during the day, then at night we would dig in and they would come back and try do bad things to us. Sometimes they came back several times during the night. They waited until they thought everybody was sacked out. Well, that wasn’t for the Marines. There was somebody on watch all the time. Two guys were in the hole, but one was awake. While we laid in a hole, if one of us heard something and we thought it was close enough, we woke up our partner. We didn't talk. We didn't make any noise. We just reached over with our hand and put it on his leg or arm or his shoulder and his eyes would snap open, "SNAP!" just like that. He wouldn’t move. He wouldn’t say, “What do you say!” None of that dumb stuff. He was just awake. He knew that the other guy had awaken him because something possibly could happen real close and real quick.
There was one time--and it just happened once, that Chinese talked to us. This wasn't over a loudspeaker. They were down below us maybe 50 or 100 yards when they spoke to us. I remember we were sitting there and all at once we heard this Chinaman with a thick accent say, “Marines. Tonight you die.” Then he waited a little while (and probably moved from where he had been) and said, “What time is it, Marine?”
Our outfit was great for when we were taking a hill. The action began when we started walking up the hill and somebody began shooting at us. Everybody shot back, then everything went absolutely quiet for a few seconds. During that period of time, our people—the sergeants and lieutenants or whatever we had, would holler out, “Fix bayonets!” We could hear the metallic clank of those bayonets on rifles all over the place. It was a psychological thing for both sides. So was the sight of our camouflage helmet covers. Marines were the only ones that wore them in the Korean War. First of all, we knew without question that we were going up and we were going to take that hill. The Chinese knew it, too. We heard them hollering at each other, "Blick! Blick!" There were about three times that I remember that happened. We asked the interpreter what they were saying and he told us they were saying “Marines! Marines!” They knew that we were going to take the hill, so they took off.
The psychological effect of fixing the bayonets and them recognizing who we were with our camouflage helmet covers saved us a whole lot of problems. When the Chosin Reservoir battle broke loose, the Chinese put something like seven fresh whole divisions against the 1st Marine Corps Division, intending to wipe out the whole Division. But the Marines fought 40 miles to get out of there and the Chinese never could defeat us. The Chinese suffered fantastic casualties, even though the weather was so bad that the Marines didn't have air power for a lot of the time. After that the Marine Corps was known by the Chinese as the "yellow legs" because we wore our leggings. They were told, “Back off if you get a chance.” And they did. So actually, the reputation of the Marines saved us a lot of aggravation.
We often came across a unit of American soldiers while we were on the move. One time we were marching down a road and some Army guys came through on trucks. There were about three truckloads of them and they started singing the Marine Corps Hymn to us. The Marine Corps didn't have a very good supply system in Korea (the Army was supposed to take care of us along those lines while we were there), so we often scrounged off the Army guys, asking them for extra ammo and grenades. They were more than anxious to give them to us. There was not a lot of conversation because we didn't have any respect for them, frankly. They had an awful lot of respect for us, though, because the Marine Corps had performed well. When we walked down a path and met Army guys, they always got off the path and let us go through. There was not a feeling like during World War II where there were conversations among Army/Marine like, “Hey, anybody here from Michigan?” followed by a response like, “Yeh, I am!”
Basically what the Marines did in Korea was act as line pluggers. When the enemy broke through the South Koreans or the American Army or something, they would run our butts down there to take the hill back and straighten the line back out again. This caused a lot of bad feelings against the Army because every time we took a hill, somebody got hurt. I wasn't in it, but I heard about one situation where the Marines had to take a hill back three times for the Army. About the third time, those soldiers were almost as afraid of the Marines as they were of the gooks, so they held it that night.
One day an Army outfit was moving off an area as we were going into it. They got a ten-minute break and we got a ten-minute break, so we sat down across from each other on the path. I looked over at a guy that was sitting about five to six feet across from me and I said, “Is your name Blaase?” When he said it was, I asked him which one he was and he said his name was Bob. I asked him if he had a brother named Don and asked him if he lived on the Dye Road in Swartz Creek, Michigan. The answer was yes to both questions. Then he said, "Who the hell are you?” I told him who I was and said, “I live on the Bristol Road on a farm about a mile from your house.” I see him occasionally today and we talk about that short conversation. That’s the only person I ever ran across in Korea that I knew from the States.
A soldier came into our area one time and one of the guys hollered at me, “Hey Alby. You want to buy some .38 ammo?” He had a box of .38 revolver ammo that was my size, so I bought that from him for five bucks. I think it costs about two and a half in the store today. We weren't supposed to have a .38 in Korea, but they allowed us to have them if we kept them out of sight. I could easily do that since I kept mine in a shoulder holster inside my jacket. Because the .38 was not issued by the Marine Corps, neither was the ammunition, so I was glad to buy it from him.
Seeing dead American Army soldiers was a common thing. I won’t say daily, but pretty often we came across their bodies. At that time the US Army did not have a very good record, particularly up at the Chosin Reservoir where they left the Marines. They were rather embarrassed about it. When we passed them there was some cat calling by the Marines like, “Where’s your trap shoots, Doggie?” and things like that.
The Army did dumb things. For instance, they would dig a very shallow foxhole maybe only eight or ten inches deep for four guys. Then we would find four dead soldiers in there. Sometimes we found a whole platoon of dead American soldiers. We found them all over the place. The thing that bothered us was we would see them laying there dead with their high school class rings on. These were Americans, you know. And now they were gone. Some of them are halfway down a hill over there someplace. There are over 8,000 missing in action in Korea. A lot of their bones are down in there still.
2nd ID Massacred
B-1-5 passed through Massacre Valley in May of 1951 about two days after elements of the 2nd Army Division were attacked and massacred by Chinese. The 2nd Division guys had the Indianhead—a red and white Indianhead patch, on their shoulder. Colonel Clark, who was a Lieutenant with that group at the time, later wrote a book called, Living in Shadow. I bought it for my wife's cousin, Dallas Mossman, who was taken prisoner of war. He was with the 2nd Division in this valley around the time of the massacre. I read Colonel Clark's book. It is a fantastic account of how the men were captured and what they went through there.
Dallas Mossman lives about 20 miles from us now. We see him at family functions. His memoir is also on the Korean War Educator. He was taken prisoner on May 17, 1951, just before the May Massacre that took place the next day. He was with B Company, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. He was a prisoner in North Korea for over 800 days. Dallas told me, “We knew that the Marines were about 500 yards away from us on our flank.” They seemed to always know where we were.
Dallas told us what happened to the 2nd Division in the days before and during the massacre. He said that the officers didn't set their perimeters up. I'm not saying they didn't care. I think they just didn't know. Apparently they were too inexperienced. They didn’t say, “You guys dig in here and you’re responsible for this hill or this ridge.” They just kind of let them go up there, go off into groups, and set up where they wanted to. Some were down in the rice paddies. Dallas was sitting in a hole with three other guys and all at once the enemy was all over the place. They were captured right there. There were some that were on a ridgeline up there. We walked through them two days later. It was hot weather and the dead were everywhere. We walked through what we figured were about a thousand dead Army soldiers. I've since heard that the actual count was around 1,096. I think we only found something like seven men still alive. One that was found was an Army officer who had been shot in the leg. They were hiding all over.
There was nothing we could do for the dead. Graves Registration moved in and took care of that problem, and we continued on into the war going after the enemy. Seeing the dead left behind by the Army reinforced our contempt for them. That was not the Marine way. I cannot remember how many were up there on the ridgeline, but they didn’t appear to be dug in. They were just kind of flaked out on the ridgeline. I don’t know, but they couldn’t have had watches out--or at least they didn't have very good ones. As we were going on this ridgeline, I saw this one soldier laying there. Army guys didn’t have dungaree jackets like ours. They had more of a shirt that they wore. That particular soldier was laying on his back and his body had swelled up so much that the buttons had popped on his shirt.
The massacre took place at night. Afterward the North Koreans or Chinese took a lot of things from the American soldiers, including some of the weapons. Since it was dark, the enemy also left a lot of weapons that they couldn't see. As we were going through there I saw one guy laying there dead. His stuff was laying all over on the ground. He was kind of leaning up against a rice wall or something. He hadn’t fallen over. Near him there was a picture. I picked it up and it was a picture of a little child maybe three years old. The child was wearing a straw hat of some kind. I turned the picture over and on the back it said, “How do you like my new hat, Daddy?” Chokes you up, you know?
On June 11, 1951, we were taking a hill when my BARman, Ed Costigan, got hit during the day. That night Sergeant Barr was also hit. I don’t know the hill number or anything, but I do know that we had quite a lot of casualties that day. I remember there was a machine gunner named Glenn Donaldson. He came from Hudson, Michigan, which is about 70 miles from my hometown of Swartz Creek. I don't know where his partner was, but he was in his hole when he took the blasts from two grenades. One went off on each side of him. He said, "I'm burning. I'm burning." But it was the way he said it so perfectly that I still remember: "I'm burrnnning. I'm burrrnning." He was evacuated and he didn't die, but our reunion group has never been able to find him.
As we were taking the hill, I was in the very front and the grenades were coming down like crazy when I saw two black puffs--one high and one low. They were probably not more than 15 feet away from us. We kept moving up and moving up and pretty soon when we were within 20 to 25 feet of the hole, we saw an arm come out of the hole and we realized that there was a guy inside throwing grenades at us. By now we were so close that when he threw them, they went right over our heads and went off in back of us. We were inside grenade range. We weren't even bothered by them because we were too close to them and the Chinaman in the foxhole didn’t know it.
There were Marines on the right and Marines on the left. Suddenly we saw somebody get up on the right and walk up over the hill. At first we thought it was one of our guys on the other side, and apparently they thought he were one of us on this side, so the Chinaman walked right up over the hill and nobody shot at him. It was a little brushy and we didn’t want to shoot one of our own people, so all of us just let him go by.
The guy in the foxhole had flat-type shale rock stacked up around the rim of the hole. There were eight rounds in my M-1 so I started shooting the rocks on the left, the center, and the right, and then I came back. I was blowing those rocks off, taking his hiding place away from him. By the time I shot those eight rounds, I had most of the rocks blown off. I threw another clip in my weapon, raised up to start shooting rocks again, and then he stood up and stepped right out of the hole. I shot him twice in the left rib cage--probably right through his heart. He stiffened up like a board and he was down. Gone. He wouldn't do any more grenade throwing.
About this time the guys on the right and on the left came up over the hill and the fighting stopped right there. The Chinese had ran off. I walked up and looked inside the hole. Down in the bottom of it was a empty wooden case. He had used up a whole case of grenades. He had no weapon. He was in front of that hole and his job was to throw those grenades. I don’t know where in the hell he thought he was going to go after he threw them all. Maybe he thought he was going to go back to get more, I don't know. If he had just stood up and raised up his arms, I wouldn’t have shot him. As it was, I had no time to debate the thing.
I had absolutely no remorse over it. I was not in Korea for the United Nations. I was not there because it was the American thing to do. I also had no political thoughts about the war. For one thing, I was just a kid. The entire time that I was there, the only thing that I wanted to do was not embarrass myself to my Marine Corps group. Maybe my thinking was too small, I don't know. My only thought was just to do what the Marine Corps wanted me to do. I had no thought about the other stuff. I didn't ever look around and wonder if Korea was a country worth fighting for. I didn't even think, "Well, we've got to stop the communists from taking over the world." We knew that basically we were running the communists off that were coming down to do bad things to the people in South Korea (which they were), but other than that I wasn't that deep at that point. I was just trying to conduct myself in a way that I would not be sorry about later.
Rations and Rice
I remember that we used to occasionally get what was called a "1,000 to 1 ration". It was a box of candy and tobaccos and things that we didn’t get in our regular rations. One thing that we used to get in them that very few people used was a plug of Brown's Mule Chewing Tobacco. As far as I know, George Barr was the only one who loved it and chewed it like crazy. Years later when I went to the first Baker reunion, I went all over every place in Michigan until I finally found a plug of that stuff. I gave it to Sergeant Takeyama, who had been another platoon sergeant. He then gave it to Sergeant Barr.
We got a box of regular C-rations a day. Sometimes, though, we didn't have a full ration. Sometimes we had maybe only half or three-quarters. If the South Korean workers carried them up far enough, we had to share a box with them. Three guys ate out of a box that included six cans of rations--three "heavies" and three "lights". There were six kinds of heavies: corned beef hash, meat and beans, meat and noodles, sausage patties and gravy, franks and beans, and ham and limas. Sometimes we got unlucky and had the same thing maybe two or three days in a row. We had the same darned menu all year long. We rarely ever got a hot meal unless we got hit and went to the hospital. As I recall, there was only one time during the summer of 1951 that they ever set up a chow line for us. Other than that, it was always rations. The other three cans, the ones called the lights, had things in them like candy, coffee, powdered cream, sugar and maybe a little jam or fruit.
Occasionally we ate the native food. We would try anything to get away from our C-rations. One time I tried fish heads that had been dried in the sun. They didn't look like a fish head. They were like a potato chip with no salt. They were just wrinkled up protein, that's all. The Koreans rarely ate any meat, even though there were little black bears, deer, rabbits, and pheasants in Korea. Pheasants come from China, so there were a lot of them around. We never had an opportunity to have anything like that. We could not have fixed it anyway since we rarely could make a fire. I used to like thin rice. When the South Korean soldiers got their rations, they came up in a big old canister. Their rations were a ball of rice for each Korean soldier. The balls of rice looked like big snowballs all packed in there. Sometimes we traded a can of our rations for a ball of their rice just to have something different. Different for them. Different for us. In the summertime we had to shoo the flies off of the rice, but the least thing that we worried about was a stomach ache. We had a stomach ache, churned up stomach, or diarrhea most of the time we were in Korea anyway. The Koreans would not take any of our rations if they had beans in them. They knew what beans did. They said to us, “Boom! Boom! Boom!” and they wouldn’t have anything to do with them.
There were no villages to speak of, so the Koreans lived along the hills. When I had the opportunity, I went to a South Korean house and bought rice from them. We had some of their own money, although sometimes we were back in the hills so far that they didn’t even want it. They wanted a hatchet or something else that they could use. Money meant nothing to them. They had no place to spend it. I don't remember the exact Korean words for them, but they had cooked rice and uncooked rice--"suk" or "pak". We would go to the Koreans and buy a canteen of cooked rice, then add some powdered cream and sugar out of our rations to it to make a little rice pudding. Just steamed rice didn't have much taste. Again, we did that to have something a little different.
There were also about three or four times that we actually ate in a house with Koreans. Another guy and I went to buy some cooked rice at a Korean house once and they invited us in to eat with them. We didn't initiate the invitation, they did. We never went in to a Korean house alone. We were always with somebody else and I always told my partner that I had that .38 revolver under my jacket. When we went inside, we unloaded our rifles and took them in with us, but my revolver was always with me and it was loaded because we didn't trust anybody totally in a situation like that. Nobody else knew it was there except me and my partner.
We didn't have an interpreter with us when we went on our buying trips. We just used sign language and pigeon English. They didn't know any English and we didn't know any Korean, although I knew enough to ask for water. I was eating there and I asked the lady of the house if I could have some mul, which is the Korean word for water. Our legs were folded up and we were sitting on the floor eating. I just wanted a cool drink, but she got me a bowl of warm water instead. I didn’t say anything naturally. They had little dishes of everything. They didn’t have a big dish of anything--just little dishes of little peanuts, soy beans chopped up, little hot peppers, and, of course, a bowl of rice. That was the main thing. The Koreans had crocks buried maybe two or three feet in the ground around their houses. Maybe that kept the stuff from freezing in the winter, I don’t know, but they had everything buried and covered up.
I remember that one time a very proud Korean family showed us a Marine guide book that some Marine had already given to them. One whole paper wall in the room we were in was pasted with pages from a child's elementary arithmetic book. I looked over and saw a very elementary math problem. It was something like "3 apples and 4 apples equals 7 apples"--that sort of thing. I couldn't read the words, but the sign for add and subtract were the same as ours and they had a picture of an apple tree so I knew what it was. I took my pencil out and worked the problem on the wall. The Korean people were pretty simple. They said, "Ahhh! Ooohh!" Maybe they thought I could read Korean, I don't know. I sent one page home as a souvenir and I still have it.
Not Exactly Fresh
When we got water out of a stream to fill our canteens, we never filled them at a rice paddy line. We always waited until we were going up a hill and we got above the rice paddy line to fill them. The Koreans used human fertilizer in the rice paddies, which is the reason we went above the rice paddy line to fill our canteens.
One day we were going up a hill and we knew that we were going to be up there for a few days. Since it was warm weather, we stopped at a creek and filled our canteens (two each) with water. We started up the hill and a few yards farther up discovered that there were maybe a dozen dead enemy soldiers in the creek. When I looked in there, I could also see the hind quarter of a dead horse. There were little horses all over the place in Korea at that time and there were some dead ones in the creek. I don't remember who he was at the time, but when I told our Lieutenant he said (which he was supposed to do), “Everybody dump their water.” We replied, "Okay." One young guy that had just joined our group started to dump his water but Charlie Volk said to him, “Don’t do that!” The guy replied, “They told us to.” Charlie told him, “You don’t know when you’re going to get any more water.”
We all had halazone tablets to purify the water (I was familiar with them from Boy Scouts), so we put a bunch of halazone tablets in the creek water in our canteens. We were up there three days before we could come down to get any more water, so I think probably every man drank some of it. We thought a little bit about it, of course. I had so many halazone tablets in mine it was bitter. I tried to pour it down my throat without tasting it, but that didn’t work. I also waited a day and a half before I drank my water. Nobody got sick, so maybe the dead soldiers in the creek hadn’t been dead in there that long. Water was one of our biggest problems, unless we could find a stream at night when we set up. In the earlier part of the war South Korean workers brought rations up to us, but they never brought water.
I should also point out that water was not readily available for bathing either. We got to Korea in January and we didn’t have a shower until sometime in the spring. It was a matter of months, but I don’t know how many.
On the subject of water, in the earlier days of my time in Korea, we set up at night with two men to a foxhole. One guy dug the hole and maybe the other would choose to go over and get rations or water. We had to go down to the bottom of the hill someplace where the rations were and bring up a case of them. The guy that was sent for water would be one of the squad. A squad was supposed to be thirteen men, but it seemed like there was always somebody missing and maybe there were only ten or eleven guys in a squad that day. In order to carry all the water, he would cut a limb off a tree or cut a small tree down, get a canteen from every man in the squad, and then go on down until he found water. The guy would then fill those canteens with water and bring them back. All of this took place in the darkness because we didn’t do that until we were set up at night.
I don’t now remember who it was that went down to get water this one particular night, but he was bent down filling canteens when something caught his eye. He looked up and there were four Chinese soldiers standing there with their weapons on their shoulders. All of them were holding up a surrender pamphlet. The Marine came back with the water and four prisoners. He could have been dead easily, but they wanted to surrender. They were looking for somebody to surrender to. We were forever seeing somebody walking with one of them. I’ve heard stories about them even surrendering maybe a couple hundred at a time. They were just a bunch of Chinese coolies who had been thrown into the war. They didn’t know anything about fighting a war. As I said before, a lot of them didn’t even have weapons. They just waited until someone else got killed and then they took their weapons.
Packages from Home
Although we moved around a lot, mail service was excellent. My parents, a few of my neighbors, the Eastern Star Mothers, and various ladies groups in churches sent me packages from home. They sent cookies and brownies and things along that line and I shared them with the other guys. The cookies survived the trip pretty well. It didn't matter if they were broken up or not, they still tasted the same. We always sent a letter back to thank them and they would post it in the local newspaper. I requested a few things to be sent to me. For instance, during the wintertime I asked my folks to send me some bullion cubes. They used to come in a little metal container about an inch in diameter and about four inches long. There were maybe eight beef or chicken bullion cubes in the container. It was a nice treat once in a while to take a bullion cube and put it in a can of hot water. It was fantastic. In the summertime I asked my family to send me some Kool-aid. In those days it came in small packages that cost maybe one or two cents. There was just enough per package to make about one glass of Kool-aid. There was no sugar in it; it was just Kool-aid. I shared some with the other guys and kept some for myself. It was a nice little treat.
I wrote home and asked my parents to send other things, too. I requested a little flashlight once. We couldn't shine a light in a combat area, but this one was very small. It had one little battery in it and I wrapped it in plastic and hung it from the cable of my dog tags. When we got mail it always seemed to get there at night. I just got in my sleeping bag and read the letters using that little flashlight. My partner in the hole always knew that and threw a field jacket or something over it when the flashlight was on. I let him use it, too, although we couldn't read very long because the batteries wouldn't last. My parents sent me batteries in the boxes they sent to me.
During that time there were very few guys that had wristwatches. Some of the guys had pocket watches, but back in 1950/51, wristwatches were not worn as jewelry like everybody does now. In Korea I didn't really have a way to tell time. When we had 50 percent watch (two hours on and two hours off), we took communication wire, which was everywhere, and spread it between the holes. When we wanted to communicate with the guys in other holes, we just give a tug or two. It was our way of saying, "I got the message" or "By the way, it’s been two hours." That’s how we kept track of the time since a lot of guys didn’t have watches. I wrote home and asked my parents to send me a watch with a luminous dial so I could read it at night. My brother had married into a family that had a bunch of jewelers in it, so they bought me a good, 17-jewel wristwatch with a luminous dial. When I got the thing, I put it on. That very first night somebody in the next hole hollered, “Alby! Hide that damn watch!” I didn’t realize it, but that luminous dial was showing like a flashlight. That's when I started wearing my watch inboard. When I saw our Lieutenant, Pat McGann, at the first Baker reunion, he was still wearing his watch inboard. I still have that same watch my family sent to me. I’ve had many bands since then, but I still wear the original watch, even though I won some good wristwatches during my sales career. I sold them. That 17-jewel watch I got when I was in Korea is "still what Grant wears". It still works great, too.
All of us shared our packages of little snacks from home. I remember one day a guy got a whole shoe box of pepperoni. It came in sticks probably ten inches long and he said to me, "Take one." I said I would take half of one, but he said to go ahead and take a whole one. At the time I had never even heard of pepperoni. I had never heard of pizza either. The pepperoni tasted delicious.
I don't remember anyone getting a Dear John letter or news that somebody had died back at home. Later I heard guys say that they got a Dear John letter from a girlfriend. I think in most cases the folks back home kept from telling us bad news. My dog that I had when I went into the Corps disappeared while I was in Korea. He was six years old. They never saw him again, but I didn't know it until I got home. My sister got into a squabble with her husband and sued him for a divorce that didn't go through all the way, but I didn’t know that until I got home either. Things like that they kept from us, which was understandable. I pretty much told my family what was happening in Korea. In one of my first letters I mentioned Lieutenant Hancock getting killed. I didn't tell them the gory stuff though.
Late summer of 1951, my boondockers were wearing out and sole was flapping so I used a utility knife as a leather punch and I punched four holes straight through the top of the boondockers and through the soles. I then hooked them together with com-wire. Another member of the fire team, Frank Fargo, had the same trouble, so we were given permission to hitchhike to the south to an Army outfit about 20-25 miles away. When we got down the road we caught a lone six-by that was returning empty. He was more than happy to have us ride with him because he was all alone.
The road was winding, but he dropped us off at the road to the Army outfit and we went to a sentry booth where an Army guy with an MP on his helmet liner met us. He was very much taken by surprise by the looks of us. We looked pretty bad. We were dirty and our clothes were torn but he saluted us. I told him, "You don't have to salute us. We are both PFCs." He directed us to supply.
We walked in there and a Master Sergeant was in charge of supply. We told him what we were there for--we wanted some field shoes. I showed him my boondockers that were laced on with com-wire. He immediately sat us down to try to get a fix for us. When we pulled our boondockers off, he saw the condition of our socks and he gave us each three pairs of socks. (When we got back, we each gave one other guy a pair and we kept two pair each.) The Master Sergeant fitted us with the Army field shoes with the clasp and two buckles on them. We thanked him and hitchhiked our way back. Thank God for that Master Sergeant!
A Bit of Fun
Even in Korea we found things that made us laugh. There was one guy that used to recite things. He had one poem I can’t even mention because the words were all bad. But it was funny. He sang it. I remember that he used to recite the poem Gunga Din. I don’t know how long that thing is, but he used to go on and on about Gunga Din. There was a popular song called “Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up that Old Gang of Mine.” Another one of the guys changed the words. I still remember some of it: “Hear those mortars whistle. Hear that shrapnel whine. Those mortar shells are breaking up that old gang of mine.” Maybe somebody would do something and they would say, “Hey! Two quarts of Rock of Ages" and everyone would start singing Rock of Ages to give a guy a send off or something. Who knows why. Things just happened like that. There wasn’t a whole lot for entertainment since everything was pretty serious most of the time. We had to make our own entertainment.
I saw just two shows during the whole year of 1951 that I was there. I had been there for six months when a show came up with some country western theme. I don’t know who they were, although I have a picture of the entertainers. Another time Jack Benny brought a USO show and they pulled us back to see it. We couldn't have been more than two or three miles back from the line. We were in an area that kind of looked like a punchbowl. Jack Benny's troupe was down on the bottom and we were sitting around on a hill up above them. The only thing we had to sit on was our helmet; we just turned it upside down and sat on it. We were watching the show when the 105 artillery over the hill on the back side of us got a firing mission. When we heard those cannons go off we knew it was outgoing, not something coming in. There were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of us sitting there just watching the show when those things went off. Since we knew it was outgoing, we didn’t even move. Nothing. But Jack Benny’s group on the stage--both females and males, bailed right out of there and into foxholes that were dug around the stage. They knew what those foxholes were for.
Another thing that made us laugh was seeing the guys riding around on small horses. The Chinese transported their supplies on them, and through the battles they would lose them and we would find the horses wandering around. We turned them in to battalion and the mail clerk used these horses to haul our mail and packages up to the line to us instead of having the South Korean workers (we called them "chiggie-bears") carry that stuff. It was kind of funny to see Marines riding around on those small horses.
I have already mentioned that we had Korean interpreters. We had one to each platoon. Sometimes we talked to them and we found out a lot about their life in Korea. I can remember this one time we spent quite a lot of time around the Inje River. I was talking to our interpreter and I showed him the ballpoint pen that my mother had sent to me. One of the big things advertised about them when the pens first came out was that they could write under water. I told the interpreter, “This writes under water.” He laughed about it and said, “Awww.” He knew that when you put a fountain pen in water, all you' would get is an ink slick. So we got a pan, put some water in it, and had him put a piece of paper down on the bottom of it. I then handed him my pen and said to him, “Write something on it.” He didn’t want to stick his hand in the water with that pen because he knew that ink was just going to run all over, but he went ahead and stuck his hand down in there and wrote on that paper underwater. He could not believe that that ballpoint pen would do that.
The Korean interpreters always wanted to look at our pictures. Well, actually, what they wanted to look at was pictures of our girlfriends. They were absolutely fascinated with American girls. I had several pictures, like we all did, including a picture of my car. As I said at the beginning of this memoir, I had purchased a new car in 1950 just before I went into the Marine Corps. When I showed him a picture of it, I told him that it was my car. I told him that I was making money at General Motors and I bought the car with it. He asked me how much I paid for it and I told him it was $1,962. Well, it didn’t take him too long to figure out how much $1,962 was in Korean money and he laughed at me. He told me in so many words, “That’s your father’s car. It can’t be yours.” I was only 19 years old and he didn't think that I could have anything like that. He did not believe me. I tried to convince him but I couldn't. He "knew" that I was lying and told me that it was impossible for me to have bought that.
Contact with Civilians
I never experienced being around Korean prostitutes. In fact, since we were up in the mountains all the time and the civilians always stayed away from whatever group of troops was up, there was a long period when I don’t think I saw a female for about five months. The first two South Korean women we saw had been murdered. We found them lying in a house dead. Somebody had done them in.
We didn’t see too many civilians. One time we were going someplace and there was a Korean man and his wife They were standing by the path we were going over and as we passed them we noticed that the woman had a bad wound on her left side. Our Lieutenant told the corpsman to step up and see what he could do for her. The corpsman stepped out to try to help her and then we left.
Another time we were going through the mountain area and we came across a Korean man and his wife standing by the path. They handed each one of us that came by a treat that was precious to them. They were apparently happy that we were there running the bad guys off. The treat was a dried apricot on a leaf. They had put an apricot on the leaf and then put it in the sun to dry and shrink it. It was tough and chewy. They could have saved them for themselves, but instead they give us each one. Unbeknownst to them, we had candy in our pockets, but we took their treat very graciously. Then somebody passed the word that if we had an extra ration to put it on a pile about 30 or 40 yards away from the Koreans in front of their little house. We left a pile of rations that could probably have filled a bushel basket, and they didn't know about it until we were gone. I don’t know if they knew what the stuff was, but they probably figured out what tasted good and what didn’t.
I was wounded three times in Korea. The dates were May 30 (Memorial Day), June 15, and September 19--all in 1951. On May 29 we went up a hill and the Army outfit who we were relieving came down. We were allowed to break Marine tradition and use the foxholes they had just vacated for our night's stay on the hill. We were told that we were going to get hit by about 1,000 gooks the next day and that if we wanted to write a letter home to our families, they would deliver it for us. I wrote a letter to my girlfriend because I didn't want to worry my parents. When I came home from Korea, she said that she didn't even remember receiving it. Maybe she didn't, I don't know.
The next day we came down off the hill and went down to a river where there were about a dozen DUKWS waiting for us. We got on them and they took us about two or three miles to a small beach. We expected to come under fire as we moved inland, and we did. When the gooks started firing we were near a creek. I decided to jump into it so the banks could provide some defilade. My hand suddenly came off my rifle just before I jumped. When I got in the water, my hand was bloody. I realized that I had been hit with a round in my hand. The hand wound wasn't real bad, but it was definitely a wound. That's how I got the white spot that now shows on my hand. Lucky for us the information about how many gooks were going to hit us was inaccurate. There were not nearly 1,000, and we were glad about that.
The second wound came from a mortar blast on June 15 at Checkpoint 15. That day we were supposedly back far enough that they couldn't see us. I had dug my half of the foxhole and was standing on the ridgeline when I was wounded by a mortar blast. There was a tree behind me that took most of the shrapnel, but I got some in my shoulders and under my arm and things like that. The concussion of the mortar blast blew me almost 40 feet over the side of the hill and over the head of a guy who was digging a foxhole. I got scratches on my back and shoulders and it really racked my bones. The after effects still bother me today. I remember that the corpsman came over, put my arm in a sling, and put an evacuation tag on me to send me down the hill. I had to tell him that he had the sling upside down because the knot on the sling was under my arm instead of over my shoulder. He told me later that I was his first casualty and he was a little rattled.
Charlie Packard was hit in the elbow with a piece of shrapnel that day as well. He and I started down the hill to the aid station and on the way down we ran into the Company Commander. He told us that the bottom of the hill was too far away to reach that night and we were to stay overnight in the Korean house located close by. There was Charlie, two corpsmen, four Marines to stand guard, one wounded Chinaman, and me. The gook moaned and groaned all night and then suddenly let out a big moan, flipped over on his stretcher and died. The corpsmen picked up the stretcher, walked a few feet away from the house, and dumped his nude body into a foxhole. That was what war was like.
I went to the field hospital to be checked out. Before I left the company, I turned my .38 pistol over to Tom Betz for safe-keeping. While I was at the hospital, the platoon was jumped and Tom wound up in the hospital with his second injury, too. When I asked him where my piece was, he said that Rumbaugh had it. When I came back on the line several days later, I got it back from him. After that my injuries from the mortar blast continued to bother me. My stomach got all knocked out of whack and I threw up. The concussion had also actually cracked the bones in my shoulder. The injury never left me, not even today.
On September 19 we were taking a hill and there was a lot of grenade action going on. I had my pack on my back and the pack strap over my shoulder. A piece of shrapnel hit the pack strap and I got some shrapnel in my shoulder. The corpsman popped the piece of shrapnel out with his scissors. I never turned this injury in. At a company reunion years later, I heard that when Sergeant Takeyama was injured, he never turned anything in on his injury either.
By this time I had been in Korea almost a year. When we started in that second winter, my knees swelled up and that caused me problems because we were on that cold ground for so long. It hurt so bad when I went back on line. I heard that if we were hit twice we could request not to go back on line, but I wouldn't do that. This was the third time I had been wounded, but I still went back on line. My shoulder and arm bothered me so much from my second injury that sometimes the guys even had to help me put my pack on since I couldn't do it myself. I really shouldn't have been up there, I suppose.
In December they sent me down to a corpsman. I pulled up my trouser legs and showed him both of my puffed-up knees. He said, “Go down to the field hospital.” When I checked in down there, the doctor came and looked at them. I was only down there maybe a day or two when they called me to come to the tent where office people took care of the paperwork. I figured that I was going back up to the line, but the guy said, “You want to go to Masan or Pusan?” I said, “What are you talking about?” That's when he told me that I was off the line. When the doctor looked at my knees, he knew that I had a problem and that I wouldn't do any good up there. I asked the clerk which was the farthest south and he said Masan. I said, "I’ll take that." I had no regrets leaving Korea. I had been there since January and I had had enough.
When we left Battalion headquarters, we were taken to the airstrip at Inje and put on a C-47 to Pusan. At Pusan we got in 6x trucks for the trip to Masan. We stayed in Masan for two or three weeks. When it was time to go to Japan, we took a C-47 to Kobe, Japan.
At this point I need to back my story up a little bit and tell about the war souvenirs I brought home from Korea. Back when we went through Massacre Valley, I had picked up a .45 pistol and a pistol belt. I didn't really want them because I had my own .38, so I gave them to somebody else. I don't even remember who I gave them to now, but lots of guys wanted a pistol if they could get one. We were not issued pistols by the Marine Corps. We had a rifle. At this same time I picked up a brand new burp gun, something which I had never seen before. It had a side-mounted magazine and a wire stock. It was a brand new one. I thought, “Man! I’d like to take that home as a souvenir.” I carried that thing along with all my other stuff for several days before I found out that we couldn't take automatic weapons back to the States. We could take bolt action-type weapons--that was legal, but nothing automatic.
I was down in the road when I came across a Jeep driver. He was not from Baker Company; he was from Battalion. I remember that he was from Texas and his name was either Holt or Colt. I have no idea which one it was, but I associated the name with the Colt pistol because he was a Texan. I said to him, “Hey, you want this burp gun?” He said, “Oh man!” We found weapons all the time up there in the hills, but the guys in the rear didn’t have a chance of getting anything like that. I was tired of carrying that damned thing but he really went for it and said that, "Yeh," he wanted it. He said, “If there is anything I can do for you, let me know.” He was so tickled about that burp gun. So I told him there was something he could do for me. I wanted to take a bolt-action Russian rifle home but I couldn't carry one with me all the time. I asked him, "Do you have anyplace you can put one?" He said that he did, so I went to gather one up. Like I said, they were all over the place in the hills. We used to throw the bolt down one side of the enemy rifles, then take them by the barrel, break the stocks off on a tree, and throw them away so they couldn't be used by anybody.
They made two models of Russian rifles. One had a bayonet on it and one did not. It was the same rifle, but one had a sleeve that could be pulled down so a bayonet could be flipped up. It was permanently fixed to the weapon. That model also had a cleaning rod that was screwed in under the bayonet. The other model was just a rifle. I picked up a bayonet model and carried it a couple of days while we were on our way down a hill to get down to a road. Who knows where we were going. Suddenly I came up with the other model of the Russian rifle, so now I had two of them. I had originally only intended to take one. I went down to Battalion and the Jeep driver happened to be around so I handed him the two rifles and asked him to carry them for me. He said that he had a place he could put them. I told him, “Well, I may never see you again, but if I have the opportunity I’ll look you up and pick up the rifles.”
Mother of Pearl
When they told me at the hospital that I was going to go home, we were down at the hospital at the battalion area. I was supposed to fly out in a C-47 the next day or something, so I looked this guy up and he still had my rifles. I got them from him, put them in some green plastic-looking stuff, took a piece of rope, and made a sling out of it. Nobody paid any attention--we had our regular M-1's with us anyway. I got on the plane and flew down to Masan, Korea. We landed near Pusan and then we were taken by truck to Masan.
We were down there for several days. Knowing that I was on my way home, I wanted to take some souvenirs with me. A lot of guys were having jewelry cases made up for their girlfriends and wives (most of them were girlfriends because very few of them were married) with black shellac and Mother of Pearl on them. I heard about a rifle being done that way so I went to a place in Masan that did it. The guy there didn’t speak any English but he had a granddaughter or niece or something around there and she did. I asked him if he could do this and they asked me what I wanted on it. I decided he should put black shellac and dragons on one of the Russian rifles. I also told him that I wanted the word “Korea" on one side of it all laid out in Mother of Pearl, as well as two Marine Corps emblems. I wanted left and right Marine Corps emblems on there, just like the collar emblems on our uniform. The anchor of the emblems needed to be pointed inboard. Well, the Koreans couldn't understand what I wanted. Since I had just come off the line and didn't have any so-called dress stuff, I went out and bought a set of emblems. I showed his niece or granddaughter, and then they understood.
He took a chunk of Mother of Pearl probably the size of a quarter or half dollar, and he carved two Marine Corps emblems--Eagle, Globe and Anchor, with the anchors pointing inboard. I had him put a set on both ends of the word "Korea". Then I said to myself, “Well, you know, someday down the road somebody’s going to say, ‘I wonder what Grant paid for that rifle?’” So on the other side of that rifle I had him lay in Mother of Pearl letters maybe three-quarters inch high, “G.R. Alexander.” I didn’t have room for my whole name.
After I left Korea and got to Japan, I went to a carpenter shop in Kobe and had a Japanese carpenter build a box for me. I put the two wooden stocks of the Russian rifles in the box, addressed it, and sent it to Swartz Creek, Michigan. My parents couldn’t believe it when they got that damned box and there were stocks of two rifles in there. I took the barrels, trigger guards and bolts, wrapped them back in the plastic, put them in a property shed until I was ready to go, and then carried them with me on the plane. We were flown from Japan to Hawaii on a hospital plane that didn't have any seats in it. The patients laid on stretchers located on the sides of the plane. The planes were big, long, old four-engine propeller things. There were two hops along the way to the States. The first was a stop at Midway, then there was about an eleven-hour hop to Hawaii.
There were two Marine Corps officers traveling with us. They had been in Japan, not Korea. One was a 1st Lieutenant and I think the other was a Major. The officers sat on two seats that were bolted in the center of the airplane while we sat on the floor and lay on the stretchers. We had all just come from Korea and the officers knew this so they really treated us great. They gave just a little bit extra treatment for us. I had the mechanisms for the two Russian rifles with me, wrapped in the plastic and tied with a rope sling. The 1st Lieutenant said to me, “You know, Private. You should have a letter or something saying that it’s okay for you to bring those home.” And then he said, “I’ll write one for you.” Well, that 1st Lieutenant took out a piece of water and he lied his ass off. He sat there and wrote out a document that said he was my company commander and that it was okay for me to bring those rifles home. When we got into Hawaii we had to go through customs with our stuff. When a customs guy saw those two rifles, I handed him the 1st Lieutenant's letter. He read it and said, “Okay. Go on through.” That was it. I was in.
I was placed in a casual company in Kobe for two months. There were hundreds of Marines in this Army hospital facility because the Navy hospital was all full of Marine casualties. We lived in a barracks that was kind of like a Quonset hut. We went to the hospital daily for our treatments. By that time my knees had gone down so I didn't have that problem anymore, but my arm and shoulder were still bothering me. They put me in a whirlpool, but it didn't do any good. Those of us who could walk could go into town when we weren't having our treatments. Japan was quite interesting. When it was finally time to return to the States, we were taken to the Itami airstrip near Kobe, and then placed on a C-47 twin-engine plane bound for Tokyo. At the Tokyo airport we were transferred to the hospital plane that I mentioned earlier in this memoir.
We were at Barber’s Point Naval Air Station in Hawaii for five days waiting for transportation to get to the United States. They finally transported us by civilian airliner to the USA. If a civilian airliner had empty seats, they would call our name by rotation and we were on. They flew us to Treasure Island off the coast of San Francisco and we stayed there for five days to get organized before they let us go home for 30 days. Now picture this. I got on a commercial airliner in San Francisco, went to Chicago, changed planes, and went on home. I got on those planes with two rifles hanging on my shoulder. Try that today--getting on a commercial airliner with two guns.
After my 30-day leave I was sent to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. I made Corporal while I was there. I also came down with malaria. People don't realize that Korea was so cold up north, and they also don't realize that down south around Masan it got so hot they even raised small cotton balls there. The three climate factors for malaria are temperature, precipitation and humidity, and Korea had all three. Our Navy corpsmen used to give us great big chloroquine tables that we called horse pills. They were very bitter but we had to chew them to try to hold malaria down. When I came down with malaria at Camp LeJeune, I was in the base hospital for three weeks because of it. When I got out of the hospital my outfit had gone to Vega, Puerto Rico for three months. I thought I would probably be sent down to join them, but they said they weren't going to send me down there. They said Puerto Rico was no place to be when you've just had malaria.
I put in for a transfer and was sent to the naval ammunition depot at McAllister, Oklahoma. I made Sergeant just as I got there. They made and shipped ammunition for Navy 20mm and 16-inch guns at McAllister. The ammunition was not stored in the plant. It was kept in igloo-type bunkers that were half buried in the ground in case the ammo blew. Some 3,000 civilians came into the plant every day to work, and it was the job of the 125 Marines posted there to guard the gate, drive pickup trucks in and out for traffic control, etc. It was a great duty station.
I had one year to go in my enlistment when I got there. After I had been there six months, I got orders to go to Quantico Marine Corps school thirty miles south of Washington, DC. I didn’t know what I was going there for. They took us into a big building. There were about sixty of us, all buck sergeants. They said, “You Sergeants are here to help us train future Marine Corps officers.” They were in PLC or Platoon Leaders Class, which was an ROTC-type thing. They were not commissioned officers yet. They said, “We will teach them how to read a map. What we want you to teach them is what combat is like.” So we did. We were actually drill instructors, and it turned out to be a very gratifying six months. The men we trained were all out of college by this time and they had also been through boot camp. They were ready to go into the Marine Corps to serve their enlistment period. When we were done with them, they would be commissioned officers. They got their bar, although not all made it. Out of the 45 would-be officers who started in my platoon, only 35 made it. Years later when I was in sales, a guy who washed out of PLC (not one from my platoon) was a customer of mine. He was told at the time that he was "not Marine Corps officer material." He went on to become an FBI agent.
One of the things we taught the recruits was water discipline. The platoon we were assigned was trained by three buck sergeants and I was the senior of the three of us. We took them on a fourteen and a half mile hike every week or two in a swampy area. It was very hot and it was summertime in Virginia. When we took this hike the heat bothered the PLC recruits. I was a good walker, so I had no problem with this. I told them about conserving their water, explaining to them, “Even if you’re digging a foxhole and it’s twenty below zero, you get hot and sweaty. When you get done and you want a drink, don’t drink. Wait a couple of hours. A couple of sips will satisfy you and then you’ve still got water. If you drink it to satisfy your thirst, your water will be all gone and you may not get any for three days.”
We were out of Quantico about 15 miles west in a place called Getchee. It was named after some General, I guess. There was a compound of Quonset huts and a training area there. On the very first fourteen-and-a-half miler, we came back to the barracks. Before I released the platoon I said to them, “Do you remember what I was telling you about conserving water? Does anybody have any water left?” Someone said, “I’ve got some. I’ve got a little.” Most of the other canteens were empty. I took my canteen out (they knew that we hadn’t been near any water), took the cap off, held it out at arm’s length, and poured it. I showed them that I had not touched a drop of water during the whole hike, not that I hadn’t want it. I released them and they were gone. We made that trip a couple of weeks later. I brought them back and released them so they could go on to do whatever they were going to do. When I started to turn around and walk away, I heard someone say, “Sergeant?” I stopped and turned around and I heard that familiar clanking of that aluminum chain on that canteen. Nearly all of them were holding their canteens, and most of them had water. It made me feel that I had taught them something that might save their lives at some point it time.
On the day that the members of my platoon got their commission, I returned to my quarters after the ceremony. Three of the brand-new Lieutenants left the parade field and came back to their quarters by way of the obstacle course. When they knocked on my door and I opened it, they said they had come to find me via the obstacle course because they didn't want to have to salute any ranking officers along the way. They said they wanted their first salute as Lieutenants to be to me. I grabbed my cover, put it on my head, and they saluted me. It was a tribute to me that I still have not forgotten.
I was discharged in September of 1953 with no plans to rejoin. When I came home I decided not to go with my high school girlfriend anymore. I had taken military leave from my old job when I joined the Marine Corps, so I went back to work at Chevrolet with four years seniority. I did not intend to stay in the factory at all, so I remained there only five weeks. I had only been out of the Marine Corps for four months when my father died, so I was living with my mother. Nobody knew that he had a heart problem; he just had one heart attack and died.
When I had worked at the factory three years prior, they didn't have any females working there. By this time, however, there were some ladies in the factory working in the seat cushions section. There were two ladies that I talked to and one of them (you know how mothers are) asked me, "Do you want to see a picture of my kids?" She had a son that was 17 years old and daughter that was 21. Well, the son didn’t do anything for me, but the daughter did! I said, “Is she attached to anybody?” She wasn't, so I asked her mom if I could call her for a date. We started going together, but neither of us was in a hurry to get married. I was 29 and she was 27 before we got married, so I was pretty well established by then. Lee Ann Williams and I were married September 12, 1959 and we're still married today.
I went into sales for 30 years. After leaving the factory I went to work as a car salesman at the Victor George Plymouth and Dodge dealership in Flint, thanks to the urging of my neighbor, Olaf Bjaland, who was also in sales. I worked there for five years. Then I went to work as a salesman in the family-owned Applegate Chevrolet dealership. I stayed there for 25 years. The last ten years there I was in sales management. I had had no particular formal education, but I was good as a salesman--I guess because I am a smooth talker! Sales was a commissioned job. The more cars I sold, the more money I made. I built up quite a personal clientele of customers. I sold 30 some personal cars to FBI agents who passed the word among themselves that I was honest. I became their friend and when I was invited to a couple of their farewell beer blasts for retiring agents, you better believe I was the only car salesman there. They called me about car evaluations and knew that I would give them straight out answers. I even had one repeat customer who came from Alaska to buy cars from me. My customers could absolutely depend on my honesty.
A girl I went to high school with came in to the dealership with her husband one day. She told me flat out that I was different than I had been during our school days. While it's true that going to Korea changed me, it wasn't the combat so much as it was the Marine Corps itself that had actually changed me. She said, “There are two things that amaze me about you, Grant. One is you joined the Marine Corps. The other is you became a retail salesman.” I said to her, “Why does that surprise you?” She told me, “Because you were so quiet in school.” She said that she just couldn’t figure that out.
Becoming a salesman was never a thought for me--it was just something that happened. Since she had been a schoolteacher, I'm sure my mother was disappointed that I didn't finish school, but I learned from her early on how to handle money. As mentioned, my father died about four months after I returned home from Korea. My mother knew that I was always looking for a way to make a buck, so she told me to take my dad's insurance money and buy a house to rent out. I did and I continued to do that, thanks to my mother’s prompting. For 25 years, in addition to sales I bought, sold and rented houses and apartments. I did quite well, and at age 53 I retired without a pension. My mother lived to be 88 years old, and I made sure that she was well cared for as best as I could.
My wife and I have no children. We like to travel, so we move around quite a bit. We've been to Hawaii several times and we've got a condominium in Florida that we have owned for 32 years. We’ve been to Australia twice and England three times. In fact, we arrived in England on the day that Princess Diana was killed in an automobile accident. We went to Kensington Palace, the place where they buried her, to see all the flowers. On television all anyone watching it saw was the beautiful flowers. In reality, they were fresh cut flowers and the honey bees flying around them were terrible. We figured that people would be standing five and six deep to watch her funeral procession, so we watched it on television in our apartment. We must have heard the song "Candle in the Wind" over a hundred times. They played it all the time. But it was interesting to see the interviews with all the people who had met her, including those who had hired her as a babysitter during her college years.
I think probably the hardest thing about Korea for me was the fear of something happening to me in combat like being blinded or getting killed by fire--burning to death. The possibility of being taken prisoner was always in our mind, too, but it wasn’t up front. I mean, there were too many other things that could happen to us by the time we got taken prisoner. We could get shot in the stomach, for instance. Guys rarely survived that. We heard that the loops of the intestine are bunched side by side in the stomach, so there could be 22 holes by the time a bullet went through all those loops. I don't know if that is true or not, but I do know that when a bullet went through someone, they sometimes didn't live too long.
One of the managers of our condominium in Florida was in Army infantry. He and his wife were from Iowa, but they managed the place for ten years. They’re back here retired again, but he and I used to talk quite a bit about combat. His wife had never been to an Army reunion, but my wife came to most of my Baker Company reunions. The condo manager's wife was never interested. First of all, they held them in the same little town in Texas because he was hooked up with a National Guard outfit or something. She said, “I can’t understand how you guys can remember so vividly things that happened so long ago.” I told her that it's just like how we men can't understand how four or five women can stand around and relate every minute of the birth of their first child. It may have taken a day, but they can tell you everything that happened. I said, "We can't understand that any more than you can understand what we're doing. Stop and think about it."
I had a recurring nightmare about Korea. I could never quite figure it out. Probably a psychologist could take it and run with it, but I had this one nightmare for years and years and years. In the nightmare I was firing an automatic weapon and it wouldn't shoot straight. The thing wouldn't hit anything. Since I've got with the Baker reunion group, they have disappeared. I think that's because we have talked about our combat experience. Normally we can't talk to strangers about it. I’ve talk to other guys that have had things on their mind and then after they’ve got acquainted with the troops they were with and talked to them, it has eased it.
I still have trouble with my physical injuries. I never applied for service-connected disability, though. I can function without it and I don’t really need it. The health problem I experience is like an arthritis thing that isn't arthritis. Sometimes my arm aches so badly that I have to hold it in different positions, like putting it in back of me, before the ache goes away. I had been out of the Marine Corps for 14 years and I was in a rather stressful sales manager position when the little finger of my left hand went numb. Then the next two fingers next to it went numb. I was 35 years old at the time and thought that it could be a heart attack due to the stress of my job. I went to our local doctor and he gave me an EKG. He said, "There's nothing wrong with your heart." He had been an enlisted man in Army infantry during World War II. He came out and used the GI Bill to become a doctor. He asked me if anything had ever happened to my arm. I told him, "Yeh. I took a heavy mortar blast in Korea and got shrapnel in my shoulder. A piece of shrapnel raked under my arm and they put a couple of stitches in it." He took hold of my arm, felt it, and said, "It's still in there." Here it was 14 years later. He took it out then and there. It was a piece of shrapnel about the size of half a bean that was causing me all the trouble and pain. He offered to give it to me as a souvenir but I didn't want it. What would I do with it? Wear it around my neck?
In talking with him at the reunions, I found out that Sergeant Takeyama is still carrying shrapnel in his body, too. He's still got pieces coming out of him. We were on the side of a hill one day when Takeyama came walking down. I was sitting on the ground with a guy named Jones, who was our fire team leader. We were watching for gooks so they wouldn’t flank us when Takeyama came walking down the path looking like he was bleeding from every pore. He had grenade stuff in front of him. There was an article about him and Pat McGann in the July issue of Reader’s Digest 1990. Takeyama is basically my age. During the Second World War he was in the Japanese internment camp for three and a half years. When he came out, he joined the Marine Corps. He is very well respected. He’s another one who was very cool in combat. Very cool.
There is a museum just for Michigan military in Frankenmuth, Michigan about 30 miles north of the city of Flint, which is the area where I grew up. It is the "Michigan's Own Inc. Military and Space Museum." The museum, located at 1250 Weiss Street in Frankenmuth, is closed in January and February, but its staff invites veterans to display their war memorabilia in the museum's display cases. Practically everybody in there has been in combat of some kind. In the display cases they put a 300-word explanation of who the veteran is, what he or she did, where they come from and that sort of thing, along with whatever souvenirs and uniforms that are donated. The exhibits are rotated about every five months, the artifacts are put in storage, and then maybe a year or two later they go back on display.
I had my Russian rifles hidden around the house. Since my wife and I travel a fair amount, I was worried about some kid finding them and throwing them in a creek. They wouldn’t mean anything to them. So I donated those rifles and other things to the military museum in Frankenmuth. I donated the rifles, along with various items I got from Chinese soldiers: two long-stemmed opium pipes, a Chinese belt buckle with a cast bronze star on it, collar emblems, etc. I also donated all of my uniforms.
Remember my wife's cousin who was taken prisoner in Massacre Valley? Well, our artifacts were side by side in a showcase in the museum. Poor Dallas. Being a prisoner, the only thing he had in his showcase was one old uniform and some letters that he had sent home to his mother from North Korea when he was a prisoner. Because of our family connection and because he didn’t have very much in his showcase, the curator of the museum took my extra rifle (the one that was not inlaid with Mother of Pearl) and put it in Dallas’ case.
I have not talked to many civilians about my time in Korea. Oh, I've told little pieces of this and that, but I haven't discussed it at length like I have in this memoir. If I go someplace wearing my civilian jacket with the Purple Heart emblem on my lapel, once in a while people ask me about it. I was wounded three times but I only have one medal and one gold star. (The Army and Air Force have Oak Leaf Clusters for second awards.) As I said in this memoir, one wound was never recorded. Old Top recorded it in diary, but it was never reported to Marine Corps Headquarters.
My Purple Heart is probably one of my most treasured possessions. It's listed as a medal that one gets for bravery, but there's nothing brave about getting hit. Getting hit is one thing you try not to do when you're in combat. Still, the Purple Heart is the oldest military medal in the United States. Everybody who receives it treasures it, whatever the situation that caused them to earn it.
I think the Korean War is called the Forgotten War because it was only less than five years after the Second World War when war broke out in Korea. The whole country had had so much war they just didn’t even want to talk about it anymore. They didn’t have anything against it and Korean War veterans weren’t treated badly or anything like that, but nobody wanted to talk about war. We had already had enough of that.
More people are learning about it now because they finally came up with a Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C. They’re pushing a little harder on it, but the Korean War still does not get the press that the Vietnam War does. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the Korean War lasted three years and two months. The organized fighting on our side in Vietnam was like seven years. Yet there were the same amount of dead, wounded and missing in the Korean War in three years as there were in Vietnam in seven. The fighting in Korea was so much more severe. Fierce. Our fighting was with grenades and mortars, and the enemy was shooting at us with small arms weapons. It appears to me that a large percentage of the casualties in Vietnam was from booby traps. We didn’t have too much of that. We had some, naturally, but in Vietnam they didn’t seem to have the severe ground action that we had. First of all, there was no end of the enemy with the Chinese. They had so many of them. They talk so much about the MIAs in Vietnam--that right now there are somewhere around 1,800. But there are something like 8,215 Americans still missing in the Korean War. Not many people even realize that.
I have never got back to Korea for a revisit, although some of the guys in our reunion group have gone back. I talked to one that went back two or three years ago. He said the disappointing thing was they took them over to the west side of Korea to Seoul and he didn't know anything about it. It was just a big new town. We were all on the east side when we were there, so he was quite disappointed that they didn’t get to go to the area that we knew. Now, if they took us up along the 38th to that little town of Inje and the Inje River that runs through there, or the Hwachon Reservoir and the Punchbowl, that would be different. But that stuff's in North Korea. They gave it away in the truce talks. That’s what we want to see.
I think it has become very obvious that something good came out of the Korean War. South Koreans certainly advanced from it. They’ve pretty well got their country put together. I can’t understand for the life of me why we still have troops over there.
The Real Heroes
There is a gunny sergeant named Ernie Pappenheimer who lives 15 miles away from me. He went into the Marine Corps around 1946 after the Second World War. When Korea came along he was already a gunny sergeant. I see him quite a bit because his stuff is also in the Frankenmuth Military Museum. A lot of the Baker Company guys know him because he used to be in Baker Company, even though he was in a different company during the Korean War. Ernie was shot up there at the Chosin Reservoir. When he was shot he couldn’t move around. His feet got frostbite and he lost all ten toes. Now Ernie’s a guy that’s about six foot two and weighs 225 pounds. I went over to his house to visit him one morning. He was walking around the house in his stocking feet when he invited me in for a cup of coffee. There was this big man, but his feet were about two-thirds the length that a foot should be because all of his toes are gone. Talk about a guy that’s really carrying the scars from the war. Compared to him, I feel so lucky. I really do. He’s got these stumps he walks on. He has special-built shoes to help him because without the toes he can’t walk very good. It's guys like Ernie that the people don't know about.
Baker Company had a reunion in Atlantic City four or five years ago when they had the dedication of the Korean War Memorial. One of the retired Master Sergeants of our group read the names of all the Marines in Baker Company who were killed in the Korean War. The names were in alphabetical order. As they were being read off, my wife leaned over to me and she said, “He’s only in the C’s!” The letter C. When he was done, he had read 135 names just out of Baker Company. Somebody getting killed was a constant thing. We didn’t always see it. We didn’t even know some of them that well. I want people to remember the Korean War because so many people put so much on the line for it.
Once a Marine
Being in the Marine Corps carried me all the rest of my life and it still does. I did very well. It carried me to the point where I would not let anybody even hint that I was dishonest or that I was not telling the truth or anything. I would not then and I still don’t. I won’t stand for it. This is the pride that I got out of that damn three-year job in the Marine Corps.
When I was working, a co-worker's mother died and I made a funeral call. He introduced me to "old Uncle Nick." I noticed that Uncle Nick had a Navy pin on his suit coat. I said, "I see you were in the Navy." He snapped back saying, "No. I was a Marine!" I asked him why he didn't have a Marine Corps pin and he replied, "I can't find one." It turned out that he was in France in World War One. I didn't say anything to him at that time, but I knew I had some Marine pins at home so I sent one to him by way of his nephew. It was a metal pin that was gold in color and trimmed in red. I got it from the recruiter. I got a big thank you back. About four years after that, I got a card from the previous co-worker saying that his Uncle Nick had died. When they got the paperwork out for his will, there was a special note attached to it that said when he was buried his survivors were to leave that Marine Corps pin on his suit. And that is Semper Fi.
I remember that during World War II there were three guys in our neighborhood that had been in the Army. We didn't really know what people did in the war, particularly because we couldn't read ribbons. Now you can read ribbons and tell what they did. When they came home we tried to ask them what they did during the war. I remember people would say, “He doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t want to talk about it.” As a teen I heard various stories and I talked to them myself to try to find out a little bit about what the war was like. They were rather non-committal about what was going on. Then I went off and did the war thing myself in Korea, and I did a fair amount of it. When I came back, I felt qualified to ask direct questions to the World War II veterans. Come to find out, those three individuals who had been in the Army during World War II and wouldn't talk about their experiences had all been rear echelon. None of them had seen combat. That's why they wouldn't talk about it.
I'm not embarrassed to talk about Korea. Not me. I did something honest and I did it for 12 months. Korea itself didn’t make any difference. It wouldn’t have mattered if I was in South America--it was the Marine Corps that I was there with that mattered. That was what I was trying to protect: the image and the history of the Marine Corps. In the process, I tried to perform in a manner where I would be proud of it. I was and am very, very proud of being a Marine.
Poem About Korea
I acquired this poem about 1952 while in the Marine Corps:
(Click a picture for a larger view)