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James Alfred Bindewald
Blandinsville, IL -
"Although I do not recall seeing an American cry while I was in Korea, I am sure that all of us cried when we lost someone from our unit. I know that I did. I waited until I was by myself, then I cried about someone being hurt or killed. I prayed many times, asking God for the war to end."
- James Bindewald
My name is James Alfred Bindewald, named after my grandfather Alfred Duckworth. I was born February 5, 1932 in Ft. Madison, Iowa, a son of Charles Raymond and Pearl Duckworth Bindewald. My father worked for the Shaffer Pen Company in Ft. Madison, grinding the gold pen points for their fountain pens. My mother was a mother and housewife.
I had two older brothers, Robert Orsen and Eugene Raymond Bindewald. My oldest brother Robert passed away on January 6, 2013. I also have two younger brothers, Thomas Loren and Charles Frederick, and a sister, Carol Elaine, who is younger than me. We grew up in Ft. Madison in a neighborhood that was a very nice place. The neighbors were friendly and nice and there were a lot of kids to play with. We grew up in the Great Depression, but I would not say that we were poor. We got along fairly well and did not have that much trouble during the Depression years.
I was close to my parents and my siblings. You know how siblings are--we did have our times and there were times when our father had talks with us. I went to Richardson public grade school and a public high school, both of which were in Ft. Madison. I liked school and my teachers and I wanted to learn everything that I could. The teachers were very helpful and they did not let anyone goof off or play around. I was not in any school sports, extracurricular activities, or Boy Scouts. I did not participate in any ROTC or National Guard.
I was fairly well behaved (although sometimes a troublemaker). I had no trouble with the law. In the part of Ft. Madison where we lived, we did not have paved streets, which made it nice to play baseball. There were fields which we played in across the street from our houses. We even played inside a couple of caves. You know how boys are. There was a skating rink not too far from our house. I did a lot of skating. We were hunters (or we thought we were). We went rabbit or squirrel hunting and when we had cleaned them our mother fried them for a meal. Even after I was married my wife went with us sometimes, but she did not care for squirrel hunting because we had to sit under trees where we saw the nest and wait for them to come out. She did not care for that because we had to be so quiet. She also did not like the shooting of anything.
The family was eating my brother Robert's birthday dinner when the news came on the radio telling about the attack on Pearl Harbor. My father was concerned about going into the military since he passed his physical. My brothers and I were too young to be called up to serve or enlist, but we were worried about our country being bombed. I don't recall any activities we did to support the war effort other than pray a lot. Our family was not what you would call religious, but we did pray. We went to church and Sunday School. After we went to bed our father would come up and tell us, "Good night and go to sleep." Sometimes he had to come up a couple of times. Then our mother came up to hear our prayers and kiss each one of us goodnight.
I bought defense bond stamps during the war years. Those were stamps that we could buy at our school. When we had so many of them we got what was called a savings bond. They were a bit like the bonds that some now get as a gift. My father was Air Defense Warden for Ft. Madison. We had what they called "black-outs", when the sirens would go off every so often. That is when the Air Defense Warden had all the men that were in a group go from house to house to make sure everyone had their lights out and the windows covered in case we were under attack. It was not a paying job. It was men that were not in the service. I did not go any time with my father when he checked the surrounding neighborhoods.
I do not recall any friends or acquaintances being killed in the war. My cousin, Malcolm Bindewald Jr., served in the U.S. Navy during the war. He made it home okay. We never heard anything about what he experienced. He did not live close to us when he got back.
I quit school in the eleventh grade. When my father got really sick and had to go to a nursing home, my mother went to school so she could get a job to help the family. There were two kids in school and the youngest had to be with a sitter. My two older brothers were in the service. Eugene was in the Air Force. He was stationed in California, but I do not remember if he was ever overseas or not. Robert was in the Army and was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina before he was shipped to Germany. I felt it was my place to do something to help my mother. I helped her with money whenever I had a job. I worked one summer unloading trucks and placing things in storage. I also stocked shelves in Pete Hughes' grocery store. I worked one summer as shipping clerk for Philly Brush Company of Ft. Madison, filling and preparing the orders for shipping. That is when I joined the Army. I knew I would keep on learning in the Army and I would also be making some money (not much, but some that would help at home). My parents were okay with this. To me it was a very grown-up thing for me to do for the parents I loved and who had taken care of me for 17 years.
I joined the U.S. Army on April 20, 1949. The recruiter did not promise me anything to join. I was out of work and there were not any jobs at the time that would pay much of anything. Jobs were scarce because it was family men that had the jobs, which was as it should have been because they had families to take care of. I wanted to join the Navy, but they were not taking anyone at that time, so I decided to go into the Army.
I had never been away from home before for any length of time when I left Ft. Madison by train for basic training at Ft. Riley, Kansas. No one that I knew traveled with me. None of my friends wanted to join at that time. I do not remember too much about the trip. I must have been thinking about what I had gotten myself into, but then I made some friends. I can only remember one anymore. His name was Roy Rogers. I remember that when he went home with me on a three-day leave the kids in the neighborhood could not get over him being "Roy Rogers". We had to make them believe that he was not the cowboy-actor Roy Rogers.
The basic training camp was a well-arranged, neat looking camp located on a very level piece of land called Ft. Riley, Kansas. It was between two cities. One was Manhattan and the other was Junction City. Right out of the gate to the camp was a small town named Organ. Some of the troops lived there with their families.
When we arrived at the camp we were welcomed by our platoon sergeant, who explained which building was our living quarters, which was the mess hall, company headquarters, supply room, etc. After that we were taken inside and assigned our bed. We were then taken to the building where we were issued a duffle bag and our uniforms. Our platoon was the 3rd platoon, I believe. Black recruits at Ft. Riley were in their own separate unit because desegregation of the Army had not yet taken place at that time. The individuals in my unit were from Kansas, Iowa, and Missouri. I do not recall any of the guys in my platoon. I did not become buddies to anyone. I guess it was probably because we thought we would never see each other again after we left basic training.
Our barracks was a one-floor building. It was all wooden inside and out, including walls and floors. One room inside at the right of the entrance was the latrine with shower room, toilets, urinals, and wash basins. The drinking fountains were outside the shower room.
I don't remember their names, but our instructors were World War II veterans during our eight weeks of basic training. It was peacetime when I joined the Army, so we did not have any intense combat training while in basic training. We had classroom instruction on first aid, Army rules and regulations, rifle specifications, and how to field strip and clean our weapons. Field-stripping was when we took a weapon to the extent authorized for routine cleaning, lubrication and minor repairs. Our non-classroom training consisted of physical training, marching, parading, manual of arms (different positions of holding and carrying the rifle), and firing the rifle in different positions and different distances from the target. We were required to take a qualifying test with our rifles, firing from different positions such as standing, kneeling, lying down, and at different distances from the targets. We also had obstacle course training--crawling on our stomachs under barbed wire, etcetera on our hands and knees, and climbing up, over, and down things. We had to climb up a wall (using a rope) and let ourselves down the other side with the rope.
Our barracks sergeant turned the lights on at 5 a.m. and yelled, "Rise and get ready." Breakfast was from 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., lunch was 12:00 until 1:00 p.m., and supper was 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. We were fed well. Our meals were in containers in a serving line. We held our tray in front of each food that we wanted a serving of and the server put some of it on our tray. We took what we wanted and then sat down at a table and enjoyed it. We were allowed to chit chat with the soldiers close to us if we did not get too loud. We had to eat our meals as quickly as possible and get out of the mess hall and back to training.
Personal hygiene was 5:00 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. and after breakfast until 7:00 a.m. It was also after supper until 10:00 p.m. lights out. If our instructors heard anyone talking or doing anything that could disturb others after lights out, he woke us and told us to shut up, settle down, and go to sleep. It kind of made some of us think about home when our fathers came back to our room for a second or third time. Training began at 7:00 a.m. until lunch time and then 1:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. on weekdays. Saturday from 7:00 a.m. until 12:00 noon was personal and barracks inspection. After noon on Saturday some of us were assigned to clean the Commander's and First Sergeant's offices or the supply room. If we did not get put on one of those jobs we could read, write letters, play games, exercise, or just rest up.
Our instructors were very strict about everyone following the rules and regulations and following orders, but the only time and way our instructors used physical discipline was if we were not doing something that we were supposed to do. If we were acting up while in formation they had us do push-ups and told us how many they wanted. I was never disciplined because I knew that what I was doing was what I wanted and I had a reason for doing it. With my Army pay I was helping my mother do her house cleaning, laundry, buy groceries, and pay some of the bills. I saw others disciplined if they were in formation and made a move other than instructed or if they moved when they were supposed to be at attention or parade rest. They had to do push-ups. Some were disciplined for not keeping the area around their bunks clean. They were assigned to extra duty cleaning other areas such as the latrines. Our instructors never disciplined all for one. That was not the Army way of doing things. Discipline was always individual. I don't remember any troublemakers in the platoon and don't remember anyone who didn't make it out of basic training.
I do not recall church being offered, but there were chapels on the base and we could go there if we wanted to attend. There were Chaplains there and if we needed to talk to one we could.
I was never sorry that I joined the Army because my instructors taught me a lot, particularly how to respect others and the things I had. I was also able to meet, talk with, and play games with the others in my platoon. I enjoyed meeting most of the people I met and enjoyed doing physical training. (I still do sit-ups.) Probably the hardest thing about basic for me was being away from my mother and father and brothers and sisters.
When basic training was completed, there was a parade where we were reviewed, congratulated, and wished well for our future in the Army. This was done by various commanders of Fort Riley. I felt fairly well about being prepared by having learned how to protect myself and others. Also, I knew how to use the rifle, clean it, etc. I knew how to use first aid on my fellow soldiers, myself, and anyone who would need aid. I was more mature and physically fit, and I knew how to take care of myself. I finally felt like I was a man.
After the ceremony I went home for seven days. I spent most of my time visiting with my family and friends. At that time I still had no "special one" in my life. After my leave I went back to Fort Riley to attend leadership training for two weeks. I don't know how, who chose me, or why I was chosen for leadership training. I had not put in for it.
I traveled by train back to Fort Riley. I hated to leave my family again, but the Army was my job now and I had chosen it. I do not recall anything eventful happening on the train trip back to Fort Riley. I probably did some sleeping and a lot of thinking.
Transfer to 3ID
Leadership training was different than the normal "advanced training" in that they wanted to teach us too much in the short time we would be there. When I reported in to the 1st Sergeant at leadership training, I told him that I had not chosen to attend leadership training and that I did not feel that I would be ready to be a leader until I had served in the Army long enough to be ready to lead others. He told me that he would request that I be transferred. About three days later I received orders transferring me to the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Georgia. During the time I was waiting for my transfer orders I served on KP ("kitchen patrol") in the training school kitchen.
After being transferred to the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, I was interviewed by the division personnel officer. He told me that he thought I would make a good medic. I said that would be okay with me. He assigned me to the 3rd Infantry Division Headquarters Company Medical Detachment. I don't know why that officer thought that I would make a good medic unless my personnel record indicated that I had done well in First Aid training in basic training. I did not have any medical training in civilian life.
My Detachment Sergeant assigned me to the dispensary where I worked in Immunization administering shots. My hours were 8 to 5 weekdays and 8 to noon on Saturdays. I worked in a small medical dispensary consisting of the medical records room, a pharmacy, doctor's office, treatment room, and immunization room. There was one doctor, no nurses, and about seven aidmen. We gave whatever the doctor prescribed--penicillin and tetanus shots, or drew blood for blood testing (which was sent to the hospital for testing). The doctor showed us the proper way to give shots and draw blood.
In the middle of July 1950 my Detachment Sergeant sent me to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, to attend medical training so I could be properly trained as a medical aidman. I was learning medical terminology, the names of the organs and their functions, the names of the bones, and how to apply splints to the various fractures. I was also supposed to learn how to treat various combat injuries, but we didn't get to that part before I had to go back to Fort Benning. I was not actually trained to perform the duties of an aidman in combat because I was only at Fort Sam Houston two weeks when I was ordered back to my unit at Fort Benning to prepare for shipment with my unit to Japan. The Korean War had started. I would soon be in combat, and I only had my first aid training in basic training to use. Still, my training served me well in Korea. It taught me how to protect myself and others and how to take care of the sick and wounded.
Medical Detachment in Sasebo
I did not know anything about Korea when the war broke out. I don't recall thinking about how the war would turn out or how long it would last. I did not want to go to war, but I knew that it was my duty as a soldier, so I accepted it. I was busy traveling from Fort Sam Houston to Fort Benning, Georgia, and do not recall hearing any news about what was happening in Korea. Shortly after I got back to Fort Benning we were busy packing, and then we traveled by train from Fort Benning to Oakland, California, where we boarded the ship to go to Japan. I did not get to go on leave before shipping out. I had no way to receive any mail since I was traveling so much, so I had no way of knowing what my family or friends thought about me going off to war. I do not recall even being able to talk to them by telephone before we got on the ship. I did not have a wife or girlfriend and I did not have a car or anything to stowaway.
Trip to Japan
We left for Japan in August of 1950. The ship that took us to Japan was a troop transport, but I do not recall the name of it, how many men it could hold, or if it was only Army personnel. I don't know if or what cargo it was transporting. I had never been on a large ship before, but I must have gotten my sea legs right away because I didn't get sick. There were several that got seasick and there were others with colds, etc. I don't recall hitting any rough weather. If we had, I would have remembered it. There was no entertainment on the ship that I recall. I worked in sick bay and I was also responsible for seeing that all got fed. I don't recall how many days it took our ship to get to Japan. I was busy working, sleeping, and eating. Nothing eventful happened on the ship and there were no mishaps during the trip.
I knew at that time that I was going to eventually go to Korea from Japan. All of our Division except for one infantry (rifle) company and part of our Division's Headquarters Company was sent to Korea. They went straight to Wonsan, North Korea, and the rest of us (one rifle company and our Division Headquarters' Medical Detachment) were sent to a U.S. Army camp near Sasebo, Japan. We were to go to Korea as soon the infantry company finished training the Korean soldiers.
Duty in Sasebo
When our ship landed in Japan, Army trucks hauled us from the ship to the Army camp near Sasebo. I did not get much of a first glimpse of Japan because I was sitting in the back of a deuce and a half Army truck and could not see out. From what I saw of it, Japan looked like a nice country.
I don't think the U.S. Army camp near Sasebo had a name. All of the Army personnel that were there before we arrived had gone on to Korea. Most of their wives and children had gone back to the United States. There were some of the wives that thought that their husbands wouldn't be in Korea long, so they had remained at the camp.
The mission of the infantry company was to give Korean soldiers that were sent there combat training and then return them back to Korea. The Division Headquarters Medical Detachment operated the camp's medical dispensary, where I worked as a doctor's assistant. I felt that I would be able to assist the doctor as well as anyone else, and that the doctor would teach me whatever I needed to learn to help him. A doctor's assistant's job was to take the patients into the doctor and get the doctor whatever he needed to check and treat the patient. We also helped him in the treatment room when he removed cysts or sutured. Our hours were 8 to 5 weekdays and 8 to noon on Saturdays. Saturday afternoons and Sunday was free time. I wrote a letter or maybe read something and slept. I did not have much contact with the Koreans. We had an interpreter for the dispensary and other places to help us to communicate with the Koreans. I never left camp while I was stationed near Sasebo.
I do not recall receiving any news about what was happening in Korea. We knew that we would be going to Korea as soon as we finished training the Korean soldiers. We were at the Army camp nearly two months. We were sure that we would be sent to North Korea to join the rest of our unit that went there when we got to Japan. I wanted to join the members of my unit that were already there. Although I hadn't been there yet, I felt that South Korea was a country worth fighting for. Our military had served as occupation troops since the end of World War II and it was their duty to help protect South Korea when it was invaded by the North Koreans.
Arrival at Wonsan
We left Japan on November 12, 1950, and were transported to North Korea by an LST. We landed at the shore near Wonsan, North Korea on the morning of November 13, 1950. An LST was a flat-bottomed ship that hauled troops and their vehicles. It pulled up to the shore as close as it could, the front of the boat opened, a ramp dropped down on the beach, we loaded into our vehicles, and then the troops and their vehicles went out of the front, drove down the ramp, and onto the beach. I rode in our ambulance.
Our ambulance was like a box truck about the size of a large pickup truck. It had no lifesaving gadgets. It could hold two litters on each side. It looked just like the ones used on the television show M*A*S*H. I do not know how long the Army had this model. They had it when I entered the Army in April 1949. It could transport five injured. The ambulance driver and assistant were both medical aidmen who were equipped with a bag which contained wound dressing material, tape, slings, and morphine syrettes. There was material to use for splints in the back of the ambulance.
Korea looked like the country does in the USA. There were hills and trees with a few small houses close to the road. I never saw any wildlife (animals) there. The countryside was like a hillside in parts of this country. Some had several trees and grass on them. We did not pass close enough to Wonsan to get a look at it. We saw a few older females around the few houses that we saw, but I do not know how they were living daily.
We were set up northwest of Wonsan, but at that time the war was several miles north of there, so I couldn't tell that we were in a war zone. The fighting was very intense in areas further northwest of us, but there were no enemy troops or sounds of war near our headquarters, and our infantry battalions were between us and the enemy. We always had soldiers on guard duty around our perimeter. The outside of the perimeter was where there were no tents or vehicles.
As I said, we never actually went to Wonsan. We went past it to the northwest a few miles to where the rest of the 3rd Infantry Division Headquarters had set up their tents. Those of us from our Medical Detachment joined up with the ones that were there inside their tent. The aid station was where the sick or wounded were brought to when they needed more treatment than to have a dressing applied and morphine injections, or sick enough to need a doctor to examine them. We did not keep patients at the aid station. If they needed surgery or to be kept for observation, they were taken to the nearest Field Hospital by ambulance. Otherwise, they were sent back to their unit.
There were no buildings in the Division Headquarters compound. There were just tents. I do not have any idea how many there were. Their functions were sleeping tents, office tents for various Division Headquarters functions, a mess tent, and our aid station tent. There was an area where they parked most of the jeeps and trucks, which also served as a place to repair vehicles. I have no idea how big the compound was.
Our aid station and quarters were inside a large Army tent that was probably 25 feet by 50 feet. There was only one doctor (whose name I don't remember) and about seven enlisted men in our entire aid station, and we all shared quarters at one half or less of one end of the aid station's only tent. We slept on whatever unused litters there were or on the ground. Our duffle bag contained our extra clothing, our shaving kits, and our wool blanket-like sleeping bag. The other end of the tent was used for treating patients. It contained footlockers with dressings, various medications, minor surgical instruments, stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, and extra blankets in large canvas bags. We had a small stove in the aid station part of the tent. We burned wood in it.
While at 3rd Infantry Division Headquarters Medical Detachment, my duties remained the same during this time period. From November 13, 1950 to December 3, 1950, I helped take care of the sick and injured whose injuries were not from the war. They were the kinds of sicknesses and injuries that were seen stateside in doctors' offices. I do not recall any out-of-the-ordinary incidents.
Medical personnel in our outfit--or supposedly in any outfit, were supposed to be unarmed. I don't know for sure if any medics were armed or not, but I know that members of my unit were not armed. We wore a white arm band with a Red Cross on it to show that we were a medic. I was also not armed when I later served with the Recon Company. There were no nurses at the aid station. Whoever of the enlisted men who was not taking care of a patient drove the ambulance. Our aid station did not receive very many wounded because they were usually treated by their aidman, then evacuated to a forward aid station. Then if further treatment was needed, they were sent to the nearest Field Hospital.
We did not have anything to measure the temperature, so I don't know what the actual temperature was when I got to Korea, but it was cold. There was not any snow or much wind when we arrived there. I was dressed to handle it at this time. I wore long john underwear and a fatigue uniform. When I went outside I wore a field jacket and a wool-lined hat with ear flaps and gloves. At the time, some of us had not been issued a parka or a winter sleeping bag. Later on during my time in Korea, we experienced light rains only--and not very often. It never caused me or the rest of the platoon any serious problems.
Our Medical Detachment furnished a medical aidman for each of the three platoons in the recon company which went on missions past our front lines when our troops there had lost contact with the enemy forces. The recon mission was to seek out the enemy and report their location to Division Headquarters.
Rotating the Recon Platoon aidman was done whenever our Detachment Sergeant thought he should be given a break and brought back to the aid station. I was needed in the 3rd Platoon, 3rd Recon Company, 3rd Infantry Division, to replace one of their platoon's medical aidmen who was being brought back to the medical detachment because he had been with the recon platoon since arriving in North Korea with them in September 1950. This exchange took place on December 3, 1950. One of the 3rd Platoon of the Recon brought their platoon medic and his equipment by jeep to our aid station. They unloaded him and his equipment and loaded me and my equipment (my duffle bag) and my medical supplies (which were dressings, Morphine, syrettes, aspirins, etc. to treat minor illnesses). He gave me his parka and his winter sleeping bag that he had received from a Marine unit, then they drove me back to where their platoon was camped. The platoon was camped northwest of the aid station, but I am not sure how many miles it was. It was not located near any towns or villages.
When I joined the Recon Platoon I realized that I would be at a greater risk. However, I felt pretty well protected. The 3rd Platoon of the 3rd Recon Company had two tanks armed with a cannon and a machine gun mounted on the turret. One of our platoon tank commanders had served in World War II. Each of the four-man tank crew carried pistols. We had two jeeps, each carrying two men armed with rifles and an 81mm mortar. We had an armored personnel carrier with a two-man crew who were armed with rifles. They carried an eight-man rifle squad. The platoon leader and his driver had rifles in their jeep and the platoon leader also carried a pistol. I was the only platoon aidman. At the time I joined it I think there were a little over 20 men in the 3rd Platoon. They were resting up and waiting for their next mission assignment. We were ready to go in minutes after being given a mission.
Baptism of Fire
Shortly after daylight the morning after I joined the Recon Platoon, the Platoon Sergeant went around waking everyone up and telling them to get loaded because we were moving out. He told me to ride in the Platoon Leader's jeep. When we came upon a road block, the Platoon Leader got out and told those manning it that we had to get through because we were going on a mission. After we passed through it I asked him what that road block was for. He said, "That is our infantry's front line." I asked him where we were going and he told me that the enemy had broken off contact with the Infantry and our mission was to locate them.
Led by our two tanks, our Platoon went past the front line. Three or four miles past the front line, our tanks were approaching a hill that had a lot of trees on it when they started receiving a lot of machine gun and rifle shots. The Platoon Leader radioed them and told them to turn back. He then radioed the Division Artillery Headquarters and reported what was happening, giving them the coordinates. Very shortly, artillery rounds came in all over the hill. We turned around and went back to our base camp. None of our men were wounded.
South of the Chosin
Our Recon Platoon, which was in an infantry battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division, was sent with a task force to help with the withdrawal of the Marines from up by the Chosin Reservoir. Members of this task force were a little bit south of the Chosin Reservoir. I do not recall how many days they had been up there. We stayed at the Marines' base camp, which was several miles south of the Chosin Reservoir, and never went north of the Marines. I did not actually get very close to the Reservoir.
The camp consisted of several tents, trucks, and a lot of supplies stored there. We were not quartered there. When we were in the area we camped across the road and had "C-rations" to eat. We were on the move most of the time escorting the wounded and the Army and Marine troops withdrawing from the Chosin to their forward base camp and from that camp further south to the other base camp.
When the Marines reached their base camp, our job was to escort them further south to their Headquarters compound. They looked like they were physically and mentally worn out. They rode in 2 1/2-ton trucks and they had their dead on the trucks also. I did not treat any of the Chosin Marines. They had already been treated and were being cared for by their own medical aidmen. My job was to stay with my Recon Platoon in case they needed help. Fortunately, they did not get wounded or need care at that time. I saw some enemy a few times when our 3rd Recon brought some prisoners in because I had to treat them for minor wounds. They were young and dressed fairly good. I do not have any idea what kind of fighters they were. Other than these prisoners I did not see any enemy, so I don't know if they were nearby or if they had been stopped.
On one of the trips to escort Marines to their Headquarters compound, we received some rifle fire from some snipers on the mountains alongside of the road. A couple of our men received minor wounds from the gunshots. I only had to apply pressure dressings to stop the bleeding and protect the wound. When we reached the Marine Headquarters camp we left them at the Marine aid station to be taken care of. We picked them up when we got done with our mission. The doctor said they were fit for duty, so we took them back.
It was very cold. The temperature was well below zero. While at the aid station I had slept in a tent with a small stove. After joining the Recon Platoon, we slept outside on the ground. If we were in range of the artillery or mortar fire from the enemy we could not light fires at night. There was probably four to six inches of snow where we camped across the road from the Marines forward base camp.
We left our camp site across the road from the first base camp south of the Chosin Reservoir when we were escorting the last group from base camp on to the next base camp to the south. At this time the Marines were preparing to move their base camp to the south. We returned to the 3rd Recon Company Headquarters Base Camp several miles south of the Marines' base camp.
On December 23, 1950, the 3rd Recon Company moved on south to Hungnam, North Korea. We arrived there the afternoon of December 24th and loaded onto an LST at the beach. We pulled out and headed south. For the evening meal on December 25 they served us a very nice Christmas Day meal. The food was prepared and served in the dining room of the LST. It was a hot meal of turkey and all the other items fixed for a Christmas meal. We walked through the serving line where they served whatever we wanted on the tray that we carried. We had tables with benches that we sat at to eat. After everyone had gone through the serving line, the cooks announced, "Seconds." If we wanted more to eat, we just had to go through the serving line again. Other than the dinner, which was good, we did not have any celebration of Christmas by our unit as a whole or by individuals.
We arrived at Pusan, South Korea the afternoon of December 26th, unloaded, and moved inland from Pusan a short distance and set up our camp. We stayed there a short time--I do not recall how many days. We had not seen anything or heard anything about the enemy since we were on the task force to help get the Marines and Army troops that had moved away from the Chosin Reservoir. We went on patrols almost daily coming up through South Korea. If I recall, we made no contact with the enemy. It was still wintertime, but I do not know how cold it was. It was nowhere near as cold as North Korea was. I didn't wear gloves when I treated the injured. The cold neither helped nor hindered my efforts to take care of the wounded.
We went on a mission with the 2nd Platoon of the 3rd Recon Company on January 18, 1950 to look for the enemy. I do not recall if we were still in South Korea, but we were heading for the Kumjangjang-ni area. The 2nd Platoon was approaching a large mountain where the road went to the right around the base of a mountain. We were several yards or so behind them. As they were going around the mountain, they started receiving heavy machine gun fire. As soon as that started, mortar rounds started dropping behind us and were moving toward us. We stopped, got out of our vehicles, and ran for cover. Our vehicles were what was drawing the mortar fire. We took cover by laying on the ground because there was nothing else to provide cover.
I was very frightened by what was going on, but I realized that I had to move around and take care of the wounded. I did not have time to think or worry about anything other than to take care of the wounded and the dead. I probably had a sense of frustration and helplessness because the job was so overwhelming. I felt that I did not have enough skills to treat all of the wounds. As I mentioned earlier, I did not get much training in treating the wounded because I was called back to Fort Benning after just two weeks of training at the Fort Sam Houston Medical School. I remember that during the ambush I kept hoping and praying it would come to an end.
One of the South Korean soldiers serving with our platoon got hit by a mortar round. I ran to him, laid down beside him, and applied pressure dressing to his wounds. I then went on to helping others. This was the first time I had cared for the wounded under heavy fire. I don't recall for sure, but I don't think the attack lasted more than two hours. I think our Platoon Leader called in artillery fire on the mountain. "Calling in artillery fire" means that whenever we received heavy fire or knew where a lot of enemy were located, our leader could radio the artillery unit and give them the coordinates of the enemy so that they could send artillery shells. The artillery was a newer version of the old cannons, except they had more powerful explosion and threw out a lot of shrapnel.
When the mortar and machine gun stopped, we loaded the wounded on vehicles and started back to the forward aid station, which wasn't too far away. We made two or three more round trips evacuating wounded. On our last trip after we unloaded the wounded, we went back south to our camp site. I do not know how many men in the 2nd Platoon were injured. The only thing we heard was that the 2nd Platoon Sergeant and the platoon aidman (I do not recall their names) were among those killed. The remainder of the 2nd Platoon treated the wounded and evacuated everyone, including the dead and wounded. When everything was over I just hoped and prayed that we would never go through anything like that again.
I received a Silver Star for my work with the wounded during the ambush at Kumyangjang-ni. I did not hear or know anything about being recommended for the Silver Star or receiving it until I returned to my Medical Detachment at 3rd Infantry Division Headquarters Company--which was on April 26, 1951. When I arrived back at the Medical Detachment, the Detachment Sergeant took me into our tent where the doctor and other men welcomed me back to the unit and the doctor read the citation and pinned the medal on my shirt. Everyone shook my hand and congratulated me. I was very surprised and felt proud. I heard later that others in the 2nd and 3rd Platoon of the 3rd Recon Company had received awards, but I never heard who they were or what they had been awarded.
I feel that anyone who puts their life in danger to protect their fellow soldier or to save them when they were wounded while there was still heavy firing is a war hero. To get them an award for this, someone has to recommend them for a medal, along with names of witnesses.
We continued our Recon missions, but we never received any more heavy enemy fire. The missions were not every day, but whenever our front line troops lost contact with the enemy we were sent out past the front line to locate the enemy troops. We camped a couple of miles or so below the front line.
One time some of our Recon Platoon were sitting alongside of the base of a mountain. The rest of our platoon was involved with a task to attack the enemy near the top of the mountain. A jeep drove past us with General MacArthur in it. We got to salute him as he drove past us. That is the closest I ever came to meeting a high ranking official in Korea.
During the winter we were only able to bathe whenever we camped near a house that was empty or if the occupants allowed us to come into the house. If we camped near an occupied house for a day or longer that had a stream of water close by, the Korean lady living there sometimes washed our dirty clothes. During the warm weather we washed up next to our vehicles when we were stopped long enough to do so. We shaved using the mirror mounted on the jeeps.
We ate C-rations which were in small cans that could be warmed up over a small fire. We sometimes ate them cold. C-rations were a canned meal in a box with a main dish in a can about the size of a small can of soup, plus a small can of fruit and crackers. C-ration boxes also contained folded pieces of toilet paper.
I think the main meal was meat and beans and spaghetti. I do not remember any of the other kinds. We stopped along the road if we were not involved with the enemy, built a small fire, heated our food, and ate. I think beef and beans was my favorite. There were a few times whenever we were back close to the Recon Company Headquarters camp when we ate mess hall food from our tray outside of the tent. We sat on the ground with our tray in our lap and ate. I do not remember ever having any tables to sit at. If I recall, the tent was only big enough for the stoves and serving line to get through. I do not remember ever getting any special treats. The best meals I ate while in Korea were the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals I mentioned earlier.
I never had any of the native food. There was Korean food in the village, but we didn't go into the village houses unless I went in them when I was taken in to care for a wounded or sick Korean. From the smell of the food when I was in the house, I did not think that I would care for it. It smelled awfully strong and spicy.
I missed my mother's hamburgers that she made with hamburger and onion. She put a can of chicken with rice or a can of chicken with gumbo soup mix in it, let it get hot, put enough flour to make it hold together, and then served it on buns with potato salad and anything we wanted on our burgers. My wife Betty makes them once in awhile. I have to say hers are as good as my mother's were.
Praying for End of War
I never met anyone I knew from stateside and none of my relatives served in Korea. I avoided getting to be good friends with anyone because I felt that it would be harder on a person to lose a good friend. It was hard enough losing a member of the unit or a soldier that I had given or was giving emergency medical treatment to.
Although I do not recall seeing an American cry while I was in Korea, I am sure that all of us cried when we lost someone from our unit. I know that I did. I waited until I was by myself, then I cried about someone being hurt or killed. I prayed many times, asking God for the war to end. Seeing and hearing about all of those men getting killed or wounded was the hardest thing about being in Korea for me personally. Thank God they had the peace talks that eventually ended the war.
I do not recall ever not having to worry about getting into a conflict with the enemy. I also do not recall anything that was humorous, although I feel there must have been something. I do not recall anyone in the company who made us laugh, but, again, there must have been something or someone once in awhile. I did not drink, smoke or gamble. I have no idea where the smokers got their cigarettes. Our leisure time was spent cleaning ourselves and our weapons, writing letters, and resting up.
Mail from Home
Whenever we got back close enough to the 3rd Platoon Headquarters of the 3rd Recon Company's base camp, they brought our mail to us. I received mail from my mother and Betty Adams, who was away at school. Betty became my wife four months after I returned to the United States. I never asked anyone back home to send anything particular to me. My mother sent a package to me for Christmas 1950, but I never did receive it. That was probably because of our withdrawing from North Korea at that time. I did not receive any packages other than a 5x7 graduation picture enclosed in hard plastic from Betty. Even though she and I were originally from the same hometown and even went to the same grade school, we had never met each other. She was in high school at Mooseheart, Illinois. When I went home on leave the later part of 1949, a girl I knew in Ft. Madison, Iowa gave me Betty's address and told me to write to her. We wrote to each other quite often. The letters and the picture that Betty sent to me always arrived in good condition.
Two photographs were taken of me while I was in Korea, and I sent both of them to Betty while she was still at Mooseheart. The photos were taken by one of our tank commanders who had a camera. He took a photo of me standing by a stack of weeds that looked like a small haystack. It was taken January 1951 somewhere in South Korea. I had some snow on my clothing and looked like I was very cold. (See picture to the right)
In the other picture of me, I was standing by our box-shaped ambulance in the early part of the summer of 1951 after I had returned to the 3rd Infantry Division Headquarters Medical Detachment in South Korea when I was waiting on orders to be shipped back to the United States (See this picture at the top of this page).
Church and Entertainment
I never saw or heard anything of a church being offered in our area. We just prayed on our own. The Division Headquarters had chaplains assigned to it, but I do not recall ever seeing one there or hearing of one coming to the 3rd Recon. I had a small Bible that I carried in my shirt pocket. My mother gave it to me when I was home on leave one time.
There were USO shows in Korea, but I did not get to see any. There was R&R, but neither I nor anyone in our outfit went on R&R. There were no holiday celebrations other than the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. My birthday was just another day--we were probably on patrol on February 5, 1951, when I turned 19 years old. I never had any contact with the Red Cross or the Salvation Army, and never heard of anyone else having made contact with them.
I had some contact with the natives. The ones that I saw seemed to live fairly well under the circumstances. We saw some children, most of whom were doing okay under their circumstances. I saw a few that had minor wounds that had been treated. There also were a few (I do not remember how many) South Korean soldiers that were attached to our platoon after we got into South Korea. The one that rode in the same jeep that I did was pretty well-educated. I do not remember how much schooling he had, but he spoke and understood English real well. Whenever we stopped near a village and were going to be there for awhile, he went up to their houses and talk to them. Whenever he was told that someone in their village had been injured, he called me and took me to their house.
We were camping near this one village overnight when the Korean soldier came and got me and took me to a house where the woman invited us in. She took us into one of the rooms where a young woman was lying on the floor covered with a blanket. The Korean soldier told me that she had gotten shot in the back when some bullets came into their village. The mother uncovered her daughter's naked body. It really shocked me. Her body from the waist down was terribly bruised with a greenish color to the bruises. I had never seen it before, but I knew it was gangrene from the waist down. There was no way that I could help her or try to get her somewhere for help. I gave her a shot of morphine for her pain. The next morning just before our platoon left from near the village, the Korean soldier went to check on her. He came and told me that she had died during the night and her family wanted to thank me for making her pain go away.
I left the 3rd Recon Platoon on April 26, 1951. The 3rd Division Headquarters Medical Detachment sent a jeep to the 3rd Recon Platoon Base Camp with my replacement. They took me and my baggage back to the Medical Detachment. I thought they were just rotating us--I did not know that I would be rotated home. When I arrived at my Medical Detachment Aid Station tent, they all gathered in the tent by me to welcome me back. At this time the Doctor read my Silver Star citation to me and awarded the medal to me. He told me that the Division was going to be rotating men back to the States and that I would be the first one in the Medical Detachment to go. I was glad to be going home, but I was sad that everyone else had to stay. I do not know how long they had to stay before they got to go home.
I stayed at the Medical Detachment until July 26, 1951, doing the same duties as I did before going to the 3rd Recon Platoon. On July 26 the 3rd Infantry Division Headquarters took me and some other members of the 3rd Infantry Division by truck to an Air Force base at Seoul, Korea. There we loaded onto a troop transport plane which flew us to an Army camp near Osaka, Japan. I do not recall how many of us there were or what any of their names were.
The trip on the troop transport plane was the first time that I had been on a plane. I do not remember much about the trip other than it didn't take long. (I do not recall the actual time it took.) We just sat in the back of the plane and talked about where we would be going on leave when we got to the States. We did not discuss anything about Korea other than we were happy to get away from it.
At the Army camp near Osaka I received a physical examination and whatever inoculations that I was behind on, and then I left Korea the last part of July 1951 on a ship whose name I do not recall. I held the rank of Sergeant E-5. There was a mixture of Army, Marines, and Air Force personnel on the ship, but no one that I had met before or in Korea was onboard. I do not recall the names of those that I met on the ship.
The mood on the ship, including mine, was that we were very happy to be on our way back to the United States. I had no duties assigned to me during the entire trip. I did not get seasick--we had good weather for the whole trip. We made a straight shot back to the States with no stopovers. We were on the ship from Japan to the United States for 14 days on this return trip. They played music most of the time over the ship's communication system and some of us played cards. I did not play any poker or gambling games.
Back in the USA
Seeing mainland USA was an emotional time for me. I was so happy I almost cried. It was such a wonderful and beautiful sight when our ship passed under the Golden Gate Bridge. We disembarked at San Francisco, California. There were a lot of people waiting at the dock. I assume that some of them were family members of those on the ship. The Red Cross was there serving coffee and treats to us as we came off the ship. There was no type of processing off the ship that I recall. After I got off the ship I had a cup of coffee and some cookies and shook hands with a few of those that were welcoming us home.
There was no liberty after landing. We got on buses that took us to a military base. (I do not recall what base it was.) They paid us whatever pay we had coming, and gave me my 30-day leave papers and orders to the Army Replacement Center nearest to where I was going on leave. I got on a Santa Fe train that was going from San Francisco to Chicago, Illinois. When we stopped for fuel etc. at Ft. Madison, Iowa (my hometown) on August 26, 1951, I got off the train and walked to my mother's house, which was only three or four miles. (It wasn't daylight yet so there were no buses running.) When I got home and knocked on the door, my mother came downstairs. She was happy I was home and she hugged and kissed me. I think I saw a few tears.
I had a 30-day leave. I visited with family and friends and called Lois Huett, who lived in Ft. Madison. She is the one who gave me Betty's name and mailing address when I entered the Army. She told me that Betty had graduated from Mooseheart. She told me where she lived and told me Betty was at her house that afternoon and I could come down whenever I wanted and meet Betty. After lunch I went to Lois'. Betty came down and we finally met for the first time. From then on we were together every day while I was on leave. Betty was living with her aunt about five miles outside of Ft. Madison. I think love had already come into the picture, but we really fell in love during my leave.
Around the end of September 1951 I had to report into the Army Processing Center near Chicago, Illinois. They interviewed me and looked at my Service Record. Finally I received my reassignment orders to Fort Sam Houston, Texas. I left there (the Army Processing Center) around the 10th of October 1951, driving home. That evening I asked my mother if she would go uptown with me. I told her I wanted to get an engagement ring for Betty. On the 13th of October, which was Betty's birthday, I gave her a ring and asked her if she would marry me. She said yes. We did not set a date. I asked her to get things ready and let me know when I needed to be home. I left, driving myself to Fort Sam Houston.
Betty called me around the first part of December 1951 and said that she had everything arranged. We could be married on December 21, 1951 if I could be home then. We were married on the 21st and when the minister pronounced us married he said to us, "When I tie a knot it is to stay tied." And it has been all these years. Here we are, going on 62 years of marriage.
I finished my time in the Army at Fort Sam Houston at the Medical Training School. I was a Barracks Sergeant. I lived in a room in the barracks and my duties were making sure that the men kept the barracks and themselves clean and that they got to their classes. Although some guys go a little (or a lot) wild after returning from war, I did not. I did not drink more than a couple of beers a day. I did not smoke and I did not go out with women. I was engaged to Betty and loved her very much. I did not re-enlist or even think about it at that time. I wanted to get out of the Army as soon as possible. I had no desire to make a career out of the Army. I was discharged on June 20, 1952.
My first job after discharge was working for the Santa Fe Railroad, greasing the rods on the steam engines. When the railroad laid me off, I went to work at DuPont's paint factory packing gallon cans of paint into boxes. After getting laid off from DuPont the first part of January 1955, I could not find a job so I decided to go back in the Army. Betty felt the same as I did. I was without a job and could not find a job anywhere. We had our son to care for and Betty was pregnant with our first daughter. We needed some income so I re-enlisted in the Army on January 19, 1955. Betty did not mind military life except when I had to serve overseas without my family. My family was with me at all of my duty assignment locations except for Korea and Vietnam.
Back to Korea
From January 1955 until April 1955 I had to go through basic training again, then I was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, from April 1955 to September 1955. I do not recall what unit I was in while there. I went back to Korea from October 1955 until November 1956, where I served in the Medical Company of the 21st Infantry Battalion, 24th Infantry Division. I was a Corporal E-4. I served as NCO in charge of cleanup details in the company area. I was promoted to SP5 E-5 in July 1956. I was okay with my reassignment to Korea. All of the Koreans that I met were very friendly. They had done a lot of rebuilding since the Korean War. By this time Seoul was a very large and beautiful city. The Koreans that I talked with were very appreciative of the American presence. They felt that it would prevent North Korea from coming south of the 38th Parallel.
Duty in Germany
When I came home from Korea I was sent to Fort riley, Kansas from December 1956 to January 1959. I was in Headquarters Company 2nd Bg., 2nd Infantry Division. I was an SP-5 E-5 and served as a Doctor's Assistant. In late January we got orders for Germany. I was assigned to Gabligan Kaserne, Germany from January 1959 until August 1962. I was still an SP5 E-5 and served as a Doctor's Assistant. I was promoted to SP-6 E-6 in April 1960 while I was still in Headquarters Company 2nd Bg., 2nd Infantry Division. Our whole division was shipped to Germany as a group, including our families, on a troop ship.
We came home from Germany to Fort Carson, Colorado, where I served from September 1962 until July 1966 in Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division. I served as a Doctor's Assistant and as the Medical Platoon Sergeant from march 1965 until July 1966. I was promoted to SFC E-7 in July 1965.
Third Tour of Duty - Korea
I was transferred back to South Korea, where I served from July 1966 until July 1967. I was assigned to the US Military Hospital in Seoul from July 1966 until September 1966. I was assigned as the Senior Medical Assistant on the night shift at the check-in counter. After I was there about two months I wanted a better job. I saw a notice of an opening in the 44th Artillery Brigade and went right over to personnel and requested a transfer. They made out my transfer orders and I left the next day. I went to a pretty big hill called Reno Hill, not too far west of Seoul to a missile base on top of the hill. I was assigned as NCO in charge of the aid station. I had two medical assistants but no doctor. If we got any patients that needed to be seen by a doctor we had to take them to a military base about ten miles from our hill. I served there from September 1966 until March 1967. Once again I came back to Fort Carson, Colorado and served there from April 1967 until July 1968. I served as Medical Platoon Sergeant in HHc., 2nd Battalion (m), 10th Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division until I was sent to Vietnam.
In Vietnam I served in the 571st Medical Detachment (Helicopter Ambulance), Dust Off, Phu Bai, Vietnam as Detachment Sergeant from August 1968 until August 1969. On weekends (Saturday and Sunday), I flew on first-up missions to pick up wounded. I rode in back alongside, l was sitting behind the sliding door opening, armed with an M-1 rifle. My job was to help load and unload wounded and return fire to anyone firing at the helicopter, the wounded or medics. Our helicopter had no attached weapons and the crew was only armed with pistols. During the flight to the hospital or hospital ship I helped if needed to care for the wounded. We had two medics as part of the crew.
I received the Bronze Star for outstanding meritorious service for this tour of duty and I was promoted to MSGT E-8 in May 1969. I left the 571st Medical Detachment in August 1969, arriving back in the United States in September 1969.
Back to Vietnam
I served at Fitzsimons General Hospital, Denver, Colorado, from November 1969 until May 1971. They converted me as First Sergeant of Medical Holding, which was responsible for all administrative actions of the patients.
I received orders to return to Vietnam, where I served a second tour from July 1971 until December 1971. I served as the First Sergeant of Headquarters and Support Company, 326th Medical Company. We operated a medical dispensary for the troops in the surrounding area. We also had a mess hall and a motor pool.
Fort Carson Again
I served at Fort Carson, Colorado from January 1972 until August 1975. I was 1st Sergeant of company B, 5th Medical Battalion for about three months when a Captain who had served as a helicopter pilot in our Dust Off unit in Vietnam was assigned as Commanding Officer of Headquarters and Company A, 5th Medical Battalion. Shortly after he arrived he called me to his office and told me he wanted me as 1st Sergeant of his company. I said okay and was reassigned to that company until I retired in August 1975.
I retired on August 1, 1975 as a 1st Sergeant with 24 years of service credit. In my retirement I do the yard work, minor repair work on the house if need be, repainting the inside, and running errands for my wife. In my spare time I watch television, do crossword puzzles, and my daily exercises.
I took my GED test in 1960 and got my high school diploma. I attended Carl Sandburg College in Carthage, Illinois, graduating in August of 1982 with an Associate Degree in General Studies. I never had any personal discussions with the other students about the Korean War. I just hoped and prayed that mankind would stop hating and going to war with others.
Betty and I had four children: James Bruce who was born on June 19, 1952 and passed away on June 20, 1952, and Robert Bruce, Deborah Ann and Lisa Marie. The only thing that I ever told them or anyone else about Korea was that after having lived outside and sleeping on the ground, which was covered with snow during the winter, I still get cold whenever the temperature drops below 50. I showed my children the two tapes that show archival footage of some of the battles fought in Korea. I pointed out to them places that showed where I had been. On the tape showing the road leading up to the Chosin Reservoir, it showed the road curving around the bottom of a mountain where the Marine Base Camp was. I told my children that that was where the Marines had camped and that our Recon Platoon camped across the road from the Marines. I also told them that the temperatures had been way below zero and that is why I can't stand getting cold.
The two tapes that I have are entitled, "Korea: The Forgotten War" and "Korean War at the 38th Parallel". I do not know how or why the Korean War got the nickname, "The Forgotten War". It was a war in which the casualty rate for the United Nations forces ran into tens of thousands. This was an actual war in which our American servicemen helped to fight the enemy forces.
U.S. Involvement in Korea
I think the United States should have sent troops to Korea when the war broke out. We had occupation troops there ever since the end of World War II. After the North Koreans came across the 38th Parallel attacking South Korea, our occupation troops were obligated to help protect South Korea and they needed more troops sent there to help them. The U.S. military helped the South Korean troops push the North Korean troops back north of the 38th Parallel where the North and South, with the United Nations representatives, held peace talks and stopped the war. If South Korea has a strong military force and since the North and South agreed to end the war at the peace talks, maybe we should withdraw our troops now.
I received a real nice 8"x12" letter near the end of the year 2000
from the President of the Republic of Korea, Kim Dae-Jung.
Evidently he sent a bunch of them to our Department of Defense and
they distributed them to all the Korean veterans. He thanked
us for our noble sacrifice and said he prayed for our health and
Korea in a Nutshell
As mentioned earlier, when we docked at San Francisco coming back from Korea, there was no one to greet us except for a few family members and the Red Cross serving coffee. In the last couple of years when I go shopping wearing my "Retired U.S. Army" hat, I have had men and women stop me and thank me for my service.
After I returned from Korea I did not talk about Korea and I did my best not to think about being there during the war. I have not, nor will I, search for buddies from the war. I do not recall any names, and I also feel that they, like me, want to forget the war. I have no disabilities associated with the Korean War. I thank God, Lord Jesus, and my Guardian Angel every night for protecting me while I was there. I would not want anyone to go through that.
Silver Star Citation