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James William Bolt
Laurens, South Carolina-
"Afterwards, I walked down to a pool of water, removed my boots, and walked in with all my clothing on. I scrubbed the grime, sweat and blood away, but the thing I could not wash away was the memory of the time period 7 July to 20 July 1950. The memory of those days will be with me until I have breathed my last breath."
- James William Bolt
My name is James William Bolt. I was born on Mill Street in Laurens, South Carolina, on December 3, 1928, to Jesse Clarence and Kartherine Lula Weathers Bolt. My roots run deep in this red Carolina soil. Abraham Bolt fought in the battles at Blackstock Plantation under General Sumter, with Colonel Brannon's regiment under General Daniel Morgan at Cowpens, and later in the Virginia militia until the end of the war. My grandfather married a lass from Virginia, returned to South Carolina, and filed for and received a land grant of four hundred twelve acres on the Rabun Creek in 1790. I had three ancestors who served in the Civil War (northern aggression) on the Confederate side: James Bolt, Company C, 3rd Battalion, South Carolina Infantry from December 2 1861 to February 1863; John (Shanghai) Bolt, Company 3, 3rd Battalion, South Carolina Infantry; (who became a recruiter after he lost his left index finger near Richmond), 1 April 1862 to 11 February 1864; and Eli Bolt, A Company, 6th South Carolina Cavalry from January 1, 1863 until he was killed at Burguss Mill on October 27, 1864. One of his buddies told the family that he saw him get hit and got of his horse to help him but an officer made the buddy remount and leave him. The last time he saw Eli, he was sitting on the ground holding his horse with his weapon at the ready. When they returned, Eli was dead, his horse was gone, and he was stripped of his boots. They buried him on the side of the road.
My dad worked in the cotton mills after the crash on Wall Street. We moved to the country where we made ends meet by raising beans, corn, and cotton. Mother worked in the drawing room at the mills until the crash, then she became a full-time housewife, canning food for the winter, working long hours on those row crops, and having children--eight in all, four boys and four girls. Dad used to say they were trying for a ball team, but they never made it with either boys or girls.
During my teen years there was not much to do, so we did a lot of hunting. We all had a dog and we were proud of them. I hunted with Tom Milam, the Nelson boy, Bob and Ralph Sketter, and James Mayfield. James died in North Korea in November 1950 in the 2nd infantry Division. He could call the dogs by their names. They ran a hot trail on those chilly nights as we watched the frost form in the river bottoms. We got to know the county around Laurens and knew where the best places to hunt (day or nighttime) were. We learned to take care of ourselves by carrying a spare pair of socks if we were on the move. We removed the outer garment and avoided getting wet from sweat by replacing our socks when we stopped. If we stayed out overnight, we learned to put up a lean-to with a small fire in front of it. We had one blanket to stay warm and we used each other to add to that warmth.
In the eighth grade I quit school and went to work in the mill with my dad. I was big for my age, the war was on, and all the young men were away at war, so help was hard to get. I worked there for five years until 1946 when all those young men returned to reclaim their jobs after the war. Suddenly I was out of work with no job training except mill work. I worked for a year in a store stocking shelves, but I saw no light at the end of that dark tunnel. My Uncle Jack W. Bolt had served as an officer in Europe during World War II. He talked to me about the Army and what I could expect. I joined the National Guard and went to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for two weeks of summer training. During this time I knew that this was the life for me. I had found the niche where I would fit in. There was light at the end of that black tunnel now. I made my plans to join the Army.
Now all I had to do was get my dad to sign for me to join. I was only 16, but would be 17 in December. As I stocked those shelves, I felt trapped, with no way to reach my goal. My mother saw that I was unhappy and told me to hang on until Spring of 1948. She said that she would then talk to my dad about me joining up. In March my dad gave in and allowed me to join the Air Force, along with my cousin Frank A. McNinch. We rode the bus to Fort Jackson for the test that we had to take.
On entering the base, we were met by the NCO that was to be with us until we were sent to our unit for training. First we went to the mess hall. The meals were served family style. There was tableware and the food was placed on the table. If we wanted something, we just raised our hand until the waiter brought what we wanted. This was a dream come true. I thought that this was the good life. But like all dreams, they do not last. I failed one of the entrance tests.
The test that I failed was the mathematics test. This forced me to rethink the branch of service that I could join. Frank went into the Air Force. I joined the Army in April 1948 and remained at Fort Jackson for my basic training. That morning was the same great breakfast family style. We then went down and were sworn into the Army, with the welcome given by the base commander. At noon we returned to the mess hall for our family style lunch. The old NCO told us to fall out, go wash up, and go to lunch. We washed up and then strolled out of the barracks to a new wake-up call. A new set of NCOs greeted us. The first words out of that sergeant's mouth told the tale. "Where do you think you're at?" he said. "You are in the Army. This is my home and we do everything at double-time. Drop down and give me five push ups. Fall back inside. Grab your bags. Fall back in. Put your bag on the ground in front of you." He moved us out to eat. Gone were the family style meals. As we came through the door, they handed us a metal tray. We went down the mess line with the cook mixing food in those trays. If the gravy got mixed with our pie, we had a choice to either eat it or leave it.
I had never traveled out of state and had never been away from home except on those overnight hunting trips, but I was never homesick during my basic training. Some of the things my dad had taught me helped me get through basic training. He said, "Keep your mouth shut and do not talk back. Never make the same mistake twice. And above all, never lie about what you did or did not do. It will be better in the long run. Just tell the truth, take your lumps, and get on with your life." Before I joined the Army, my life had spanned about a three-county area. Now I had moved out into the world to face whatever fate had in store for me.
Fort Jackson opened on June 2, 1917, and was named in honor of Major General Andrew Jackson, a native son of the Palmetto State and the seventh president of the United States. The city of Columbia grew up around Fort Jackson and in 1968 was incorporated into the city of Columbia. The 31st (Dixie) Division trained there during the Korean War. Camp Jackson grew from a sandy soil, pine and scrub oak forest to a thriving Army training center. becoming the largest and the most active of its kind in the world. The old wooden barracks that were temporary in the 1950s were replaced with steel and concrete barracks starting in 1964. Today it looks like a college campus. Not so when I took basic training in 1948.
As I mentioned, the afternoon after we were sworn in we had a rude awakening at lunchtime. After lunch we picked up our bags and ran to pick up our Army clothing at a long line of supply rooms. In each we drew something different. At one we got boots and socks. We pulled off our slippers and put on the socks and boots to be sure they fitted, and then we on to the next station, and then the next, until we had all of the clothing that we would need to get through basic training. With our barracks bag crammed full, we ran to the barber shop for a scalping. Then on to our barracks with those long rows of bunks.
On the bunk were three blankets, two sheets, a pillow case, one pillow, and a lumpy mattress. I was going to have to sleep on those lumps for 16 weeks (but fate took a hand--I'll explain why later). Next we were shown how to make up the bed, how to hang up our clothing, and what order they were to hang. We were told that the company commander was going to inspect this barracks right after supper and that if we failed the inspection, we would live to regret it. These are the only kind words that came from our instructor's mouth for the next two weeks. We failed and spent the rest of the night cleaning. The barracks sergeant inspected until lights out. As I went to sleep, my thoughts were on what tomorrow would bring. There were a few sobs heard that night as taps made those sorrowful sounds.
At 0600 hours the barracks sergeant came through the barracks blowing his whistle. Right behind him came the other NCO. If we were not out of bed we were dumped out of bed. We shaved, dressed, made our beds, and fell out at 0630 to the mess hall. Then it was back to the barracks to get ready to move to the training area by 0745. Class was held until 1145 hours. Then we went back to the mess hall, falling out at 1245 for afternoon classes. We went back to the barracks at 1645 hours. Someone inspected our area after that. If we failed, we had to walk the post in front of the barracks for a hour that night.
On the second week we had the one-mile run. I finished second. That night I got sick, went to the hospital, and had my appendix removed. I stayed in the hospital for three weeks. When I was released, I returned to another unit and helped to set it up for the next class, which I then joined as an acting corporal. I did not have to put up with a lot of the stuff that the others did in my first unit.
We were the first unit to take eight weeks of basic training. The third squad was the best because we worked as a team. We helped each other, there was no talking back, and we were up and shaved when the light went on. We were ready to move out. The barracks sergeant just smiled and got on the other squads. The morning that we finished basic training, the whole unit was up. We slept on the floor with one blanket. When the barracks sergeant opened the barracks door, we all screamed, "Barracks ready for inspection." The foot lockers were open. Everything was lined up. He walked down the right-hand side, turned, and came up the left-hand side. Then he turned, faced the troops, put his hands on his hips, and roared, "You are the best I have ever trained. Good luck."
We had two weeks off to wait on orders. During that time we worked around the camp. One of the men was picked to help tear down some buildings that were used to train troops for World War II. They removed the building that night. One of the men began screaming. When they turned on the light, this man had huge blisters on both arms. The building had been used as a mustard gas chamber. He had worked without his shirt and had been exposed to dust that had remained toxic and caused those blisters. We never knew what happened to him.
All of us in this company were volunteers, so we obviously wanted to be in the Army. Push-ups and pull-ups were all the punishment we got if we did something wrong. We learned that if we towed the line, it was easier on us. In late July, I got my orders to report to Fort Dix for advanced training. This was to be the second eight weeks of training that would give me my military occupation specialty (MOS) or the job that I would do in the Army. When I arrived at Ft. Dix, there were no units that were starting to train so they put me on temporary duty at the West End Plaza Officers Club. This was where the young unmarried officers were billeted and had their meals when not on duty with the company at mealtime and on the weekends when off duty. We had a head count of three hundred for breakfast and five hundred on the weekend. It was my job to set up the counter with juices. The food was served buffet style. I did a good job, so I remained there from late September 1948 until sometime in June 1949. Working at the club, I made $75 a month over my regular Army pay of $75 a month. Then a story about the number of men doing jobs that had nothing to do with the Army became headlines news and I received orders to ship out to the Far East. I sure hated to give up that $75.00.
I rode the train from Fort Dix to Seattle by way of the Great Northern Route. I did not take a leave. I wanted to see things and places that I had read or heard someone talk about. I arrived at Fort Lewis where we had to wait for the ship, the General Rose, to be outfitted for the trip. While we waited, we were put on temporary duty (TDY) for 30 days to tear down buildings in Spokane to be shipped overseas for dependent housing. I left Seattle on August 20, 1949.
Voyage to Japan
The ship I made the trip to Japan on was originally named the Admiral Hugh Rodman. It was one of ten ships built on the west coast by the Navy. When it was turned over to the Army to be used to move Army troops overseas, it was renamed the General Maurice Rose. It looked like an ocean liner with its squat smokestack and the the four king posts in place of a mast. She was one of the ships that moved the 9th Infantry Division from Fort Lewis through the port at Seattle to Vietnam in 1966.
There were both civilian dependents and military dependents with children, as well as some 1,800 troops aboard the Rose. In the hold of the ship were the old ammunition buildings that we had torn down in Spokane that were to be used for dependent housing in Japan. Along with the building material there was household goods and lots of food stuffs that were going to the commissary to feed the dependents in Japan. As for me, I had never seen an ocean or been on a boat or a ship, but I had no trouble with seasickness or in getting my sea legs. Because I had no problems, I was assigned a post on the upper deck to keep the troops and the dependents apart. There were eight troops assigned to the detail--one sergeant, one corporal and six privates that manned the door 24 hours a day. We lived in a small room and no one bothered us. My shift was from 2400 to 0200 and 1200 to 1400 hours. I learned a lot from 1200 to 1400 hours. (Smiling) The weather was very good during the 15 days that it took us to reach Japan. The only training onboard ship was most of the troops did physical training sometime in the morning. We had no duties but to man the door on the upper deck.
When we crossed the International Date Line, there was a ceremony that was put on by the troop commander. They had two big sandboxes that were fill with sand. One was off to the side covered with a tarp. The other was placed where it could be seen. There was a small path that wound through it and on each side was broken glass. The Troop Commander played King Neptune and some of the young officer's wives that were on the way to Japan to meet their husbands played his court. They all had costumes that made them look like mermaids. King Neptune had a crown, a beard, and a staff. Those that were going through the ceremony were marched by the sandbox to see the box, the glass, and the path through it. The width of the path was three feet. We were moved in to a stairwell and told to wait. One of the NCO's manned the door. Once we were all in the stairwell and couldn't see what they were doing, they moved the other sandbox into the center of the deck and slid the one with the glass out of the way. Now there was a box with sand in it, a three-foot path through it, and on each side were now egg shells (at the time we didn't know that they were egg shells). When we marched by King Neptune, he told us that when we marched down to his domain we would get a kiss from one of the ladies in his court. To start the ceremony, they blindfolded us, marched us to the sandbox, spun us around, stopped us, and told us to walk into Neptune's domain and get a kiss. The walk began. You should have seen us as we tried to walk that path. If we touched a piece of egg shell, we thought it was glass. There was some fancy footwork on that walk to reach Neptune's domain to claim our kiss. When we reached the mermaid, they held up a sardine to be kissed. Then the blindfold was removed and King Neptune touched us on the head and we were welcomed to the Far East. We received a certificate that welcomed us to the mysterious Far East. (I lost mine when I went to Korea.)
As I said, the weather was calm. There were no storms other than just one day and one night of some large swells that bounced us around. I got to know a young civilian lady quite well. She was on the way to Japan to work as a secretary in the Headquarters unit there.
The Good Life
We arrived in Yokohama, Japan, on 5 September 1949.After we disembarked, we boarded a train for the south. When we reached the port city of Osaka, the men who were going to the 24th Division on the island of Kyushu were put on one train, while the men who were going to the 63rd changed trains. We were put on another train with two boxcars of 105mm Howitzer ammunition and sent to the Mori training area. We would eventually go to Camp Hakata, but not just yet because the unit was in the training area near the little village of Mori. The training area was a old Japanese Army base that was destroyed in World War II. It was a base for firing artillery missions used by the artillery unit on Kyushu. Like all bases in Japan, it was a base that had been used by the Japanese in World War II, but the difference was that at Mori all that was left of the base was old horse stables that we used as a camp site on our second trip to the training area in March 1950.
On our arrival at the little village, we were put on a side track to guard the boxcars until someone came and picked up the ammunition. Service battery arrived and took charge of the ammunition. A Jeep and a two and half ton truck arrived and a little sergeant with a big voice shouted, "B Battery over here." I met five people who would play a big part in the rest of my life. The man that taught me the thing that I have carried with me throughout my life--Sergeant Julius E Barefoot, and J. R. Duran, James H. Thomas, Royal V. Tiner, and Olen Yates had all come down to use the hot baths to clean off the grime and the dust that was ankle deep when dry and like glue when it was wet. I had coal soot from the train on me. Thomas walked up to me, looked me up and down, turned to the others, and remarked, "This is one dirty trooper. Let's take him and clean him up." That was how I came to love those hot baths in Japan.
After a hot bath, a cold beer, and a bowl of hot noodles, it was off to the base camp where I bedded down for the night. The next day I reported to the battery commander Captain Anthony Stahelski and his executive officer Lt. Willis H. Knipe. There was Sergeant Barefoot, Sergeant Herbert W. Wilkes, and other NCOs that I do not remember. I was assigned as the number two man on the number three Howitzer. My job was to load the shell into the Howitzer tube, and then remove the spent shell casings and reload after the shell had fired. If they were firing a time fuse, I had to check to be sure the time was correct before I loaded the shell. I spent four weeks in the field learning how to be part of an artillery unit. This was hard because we were so short-handed. Most crews had five men in the crew, but the TOE called for 14 men in a crew.
Because of the shortage of funds for spare parts, we did the best we could with what we had to do it with. We held things in place with wire and tape (we used a lot of it). Just to do a day's training took half the night to be sure we could move out in the morning. We had to take parts off the mess truck or use the ammunition truck as the prime mover for the Howitzer. We also had to learn the new fire direction system that was being put in place. In the old fire direction system, the Howitzers were laid on a azimuth and we put out two aiming posts at a reading of 2800 on the Howitzer sight. Under the old system, the command was left from base deflection 25. The gunner subtracted to a reading of 2775. The next command was right 10. That reading was 2785. The formula was left subtract, right add. The gunner did this in his head under the old system. Under the new system, they just sent the gunner the number--there was no right or left.
We had no cold weather training in Japan. I had already gotten mine on my hunting excursions back home at night and in the day time. During the day time in South Carolina when I was on the move, I learned to shed my outer garments to keep my under garments dry. I waited a while, then I replaced my outer garments after I had cooled down. At night I found a spot out of the wind and built some kind of shelter.
After four weeks at Mori, we returned to Camp Hakata. Camp Hakata was on a barrier-like strip of land between the Bay of Fukuoka and the Sea of Japan. It was an old seaplane base near the city of Fukuoka. To the east of the base was Fukuoka Bay. To the west was the Sea of Japan. On the Sea Of Japan side was a beach where I spent a lot of my off duty time. This base was the home base for the 24th Infantry Division Artillery. The units there were the 13th, 52nd, and 63rd. All were 105mm Howitzer with four units in the Battalion Headquarters A, B Service Battery. The 11th was a 155mm Howitzer Battalion with the same number of batteries in it. There was also a medical unit attached to Headquarters Battery, Division Artillery.
Sergeant Barefoot taught me valuable lessons about being an NCO while I was in Japan. He explained that the mission came first, then the men second. He said that an NCO must act as a buffer between his men and the trivial that comes down the chain of command. "Know what is important to the mission," he said. "Leave the trivial to be taken care of at a later date." He said it was important to train each of the men to do each other's jobs so that if we lost some of them, the mission could still be carried out. He cautioned me to be sure the needs of the men were met with what we had on hand--beg, borrow (and sometimes "appropriate") to get the mission accomplished. I carried what he taught me throughout my Army career.
We lived the good life in Japan. We had no kitchen police because the Japanese worked in the mess hall. Besides the first trip to Mori, we only had one other trip to the training area (not like later in my Army career when we spent more time in the training area and less time on garrison duty). The good life was the spit and polish for garrison duty. After all, we were on occupation duty and had to look sharp. I spent all of my off duty on the beach. Unfortunately, all of it came to a end on Sunday, June 25, 1950. We were on the beach that day when the runner for the CQ drove up and told us that everyone was to return to the battery area and report back to our unit.
The battery commander told us that a war had started in Korea and that those people that were coming out would be billeted in our area until they were moved to Osaka to be returned to the USA. He picked Yates, Thomas Duran, Tiner, and me to be escorts for those persons that moved into our area. Those that came out of Korea were the non-essential personnel. I was not impressed with most of the civilian workers. They were paper pushers who just wanted to know where their next assignment was. They knew less than we did. One girl who came out of Korea said, "I came out of Korea with one dress slip, two bottles of scotch, and two pair of panties." She had one of the panties twirling around her finger. We had to take her to the medical center to sober her up.
We set up tables where the paperwork was done. Two large trucks drove up with Red Cross packages. We passed them out after the paperwork was done. After that we moved them to the mess hall for a steak dinner, then on to their assigned billets. On the 29th of June, a train pushed cars into camp. They were loaded and moved to Osaka. This mission started on the afternoon of 29 June 1950 and lasted until after sundown on 30 June 1950. When we returned, we found that we were on alert to move to Korea.
We went on red alert on the morning of 30 June 1950, When those who had been on escort duty returned after dark, the battery was all lit up with people rushing from place to place. The supply sergeant told us to turn in all Class A uniforms and draw a metal box for the clothing that we would be taking to Korea. They told us to place all of our personal pictures and memento in our foot locker and they would be sent home. I never saw that footlocker again. I lost everything that I put in it. We were told to write home and tell our families that we would be out of touch with them for a week or two. We were ordered to take the letters to the orderly room unsealed so they can be checked (wartime censorship), then they were sealed and mailed. I wrote very little because when I did, it made me homesick.
Over the next four days I had no time to think about going to war. It was rush to do this, rush to do that. From the 30th of June, after work was done and we had some free time, we did our best to make the replacements feel like they were part of the unit. However, those few days were not enough. It takes time to train with each other, get to know all about everyone's family, and learn what they like and they dislike. It also takes time to learn what their strong points are and to work to improve their weak ones. This is what it takes to be a strong combat unit and what will carry everyone through those long days and night of combat. In what little time we had left in Japan we went to the beach and fired a few rounds to be sure the small arms worked. But that was all the further training we had before leaving Japan. We were told the "police action" in Korea would take four weeks, then we would be back in Japan. However, in four weeks the dying had just started. It would go on for three years.
The 52nd Field Artillery Battalion left for Korea before my unit did. They took most of the ammunition supply with them. We had to wait for a re-supply to come in on the ammunition train from Osaka that arrived on the afternoon on the second of July. We loaded twenty-five boxes ammo with two rounds per box. All the 105mm Howitzer ammo went on the four other ammunition trucks. We drew sixty rounds of carbine ammunition to fill two fifteen-round magazines and one thirty-round magazine. This was a factor that was never talked about when the battalion was later overrun on the 14th of July on the Kum River. Sixty rounds did not last long in a fire fight.
What I knew about Korea at the time we mobilized was what I was told by a Korean tailor who worked in the battalion area repairing clothing and sewing on patches and stripes. He told me that Japan had ruled his country for forty years. He was not very complimentary about the Japanese. I knew nothing else about Korea except that it was called "The Land of the Morning Calm. When we got there, there was nothing calm in that country.
Suddenly in Combat
On the Fourth of July 1950, we were as ready to go to Korea as we could be. The officers and NCOs who had their families with them were given the night off to go home for the last time before heading to Korea. They were told to be in the battery area by 0700 hour on the morning of the 5th of July 1950 with the equipment lined up on the parade ground just the way it was to be loaded on the LST. We bedded down for the night but there was not much sleep because everyone was on edge. I thought about a lot of things and especially wondered how I would react to the thing that lay ahead. The five of us--Duran, Thomas, Tinner, Bolt and Yates--had a bottle of wine that we split among ourselves. Each one of us made a toast and we drank to it (mine was "Keep your powder dry for the bad that is coming down the road."). Another was, "Back to the beach in a month." They were just some silly sayings that we five beach bums thought up.
On the morning of the 5th, each section drew a week's ration and waited for the LST. At 1230 hours, battalion gave the word and we moved to the beach. At 1400 hours, two LSTs rammed their bows onto the beach, opened their outer doors, and lowered their ramp. As we drove into the ship, the smell of fish was overwhelming. We tied the equipment down to the deck with chains. By 1800 the battalion was secure and we were ready to sail. Both decks were full of equipment. They raised the ramp, closed the outer doors, and started the engine to back off the beach, only to find that we were stuck until the next high tide came in that night to get off the beach. It was an overnight trip from Camp Hakata to Pusan, Korea. I was sick all that night. All I thought about was, "How soon will I get off this stinking ship?"
We arrived in Pusan, Korea, on the morning of 6 July 1950 about 0800 hours. By 0900 hours we had removed the tie-down chains and started to drive the equipment off the LST. The only sign that a war was going on was the number of Korean police that were on guard in the port area. To the left was a ferry dock with hundreds of people being loaded. I was told by one of the guards who spoke English that they were being sent to Koje-Do, which was an island that held prisoners. By 1030 hours they had pulled a long line of flat cars into the port area and we began to drive our equipment onto them. When we stopped, there was a crew of Koreans there to tie everything down. The loading went like clockwork and by 1400 hours we were loaded and ready to move. While they pulled some old-fashioned day coaches in and hooked them to the flat cars, Captain Stahelski, the battery commander, briefed us on the plan. He said we were going by train to a village called Chonui, then unload and drive north to the city of Chonan to support the 34th Regiment south of Osan near a village called Songhwan-ni. He reminded us that this was the real thing and that things changed very fast in combat. He told us that we would be stopping and when we did stop, he wanted two men on each flat car to protect the equipment because there were lots of guerrillas behind the battle lines. James Thomas and I were picked to guard the Number 6 Howitzer section, which was our section. We chose to ride in the truck seat so that we would not have to run to and fro when we stopped.
That night as we rushed to whatever fate had in store for us, James and I made a pact that if something happened to one of us, the other--if he made it out--would get in touch with the other's family and tell them what happened. We both agreed that nothing was going to happen to us and that in four weeks we would be back in Japan. However, in four weeks the dying was just beginning. As we moved north, all along the way and at every stop people with tiny American and Korean flags waved them and shouted welcome. The thing that to this day has stayed with me is a mother with a baby on her lower back and two little ones running to keep up with her. Everything that she had in the world was in a pot on top of her head. I wondered, "Where will she go? How will she live? Will the little ones see another sunrise? Is this the dark ages for Korea?" I hope that fate was kind to her. This happened on the night of July 6th. The next day we were suddenly in combat, going into action in a dry riverbed at 1800 hours.
We were short of everything except courage, and that did not last long when we couldn't match the enemy's moves by counter moves. The North Koreans had T34 tanks. We had 2.3 rockets that bounced off their tanks. We set up our lines on each side of the road and stopped the enemy's line of advance, but they outflanked our unit due to our shortage of men. We had to fall back or get cut off and have to fight our way out of their trap. Our field radio batteries lasted about two hours, then they had to be replaced. They were made in 1942-1945. Without communications, the commander could not move his unit to the places that they were needed. One can be brave, but not suicidal.
We went into action around 1800 hour and fired a mission. An l-9 spotter plane flew over and dropped a streamer with a message tied to it. The battery commander gave the March Order command, which meant the battery was to move to another location. We moved to a ridge line off to our left. To the right were low rolling hills that pointed to the north. There was a valley running east to west. Beyond the valley was another hill that ran from horizon to horizon with rolling hills pointed to the south. A small road wound its way across the valley and across the hill to the north. We went into position on the ridge line in full view of the ridge line to the north. A small wall in the village was to the rear of the firing position. Behind it was the perfect place for a firing battery with cover from tank fire. They moved us from the Number Six Howitzer to Number One because we had a ring-mounted .50 caliber machine gun. The gun would cover the right flank and the outpost if they had to withdraw under fire.
We began to dig in for the night and register the battery. This give the forward observer a reference point to fire on other targets in his area. The First Sergeant, Hollis A. Nunnery, came by and told the chief of the section, Quentin A. Dunn (died 9-12-98) that he wanted me to go and help set up the outpost on the right flank of the battery. When we got the march order, I was to go out and bring the outpost in. They were to ride to the next position with us. The outpost had a .30 caliber machine gun with a three-man crew. All were new men that had come from other units from the 30th of June to the 4th of July. I returned to the section and dug my foxhole to the right side of the Howitzer, then filled two ammunition boxes and placed them in front of my foxhole full of dirt to act as a shield if I had to fire my carbine from the foxhole. Lt. Willis H. Knipe came by and told me to go to Number Three Howitzer section to show the men how he wanted everyone to open ammunition. We had a quiet night. I slept with one blanket on the ground and the other draped over me. They told us by telephone to save what little water we had because no water source had been found. They said that service would bring up water in the afternoon of the 8th of July.
At dawn we got our first firing mission. The 34th was under attack at Chonan. We fired and stopped the first attack by the 4th Division of the North Korean army. This was one of the two divisions that were North Korean, but it was made up of soldiers from the Chinese Army who had been sent to North Korea to become part of the North Korean Army. They began to stretch out our front lines by moving to outflank the 34th. Then the T34 tank broke through our lines and raced in to Chonan to force the 34th to retreat. We laid down a smoke screen of white phosphorus for the 34th to pull out of Chonan.
About this time we began to get counter battery fire and six small recon tanks came up the road. We cheered as they went by. Now we had tanks and we would show those tanks that had hit the 21st Infantry and the 52 artillery so hard the day before. The 34th began to fall back to the ridge line we were on and we got march orders. I ran out to the outpost but there was no one there. The only thing there was the emplacement. I looked over the hillside and found the machine in a ravine. I grabbed it and returned to the road that was under fire from tanks on the far ridge line. As I approached the road, a shell hit the road. I took cover. A Jeep raced by me and stopped just short of where the shell had hit. It was a litter Jeep. As I got to the spot where the Jeep was, I saw that First Sergeant Nunnery was hit in the leg. As I stood looking, he told me to tell the battery commander what had happened. The three men from the other outpost and I ran up the hill to the battery area. There was no battery. They had left us. As I stood there, a major from the 34th walked up and said, "Are you from the 63rd?" I said, "Yes Sir." He said, "See that truck that is unloading ammunition? Go help unload it and get on it when it leaves. Your unit is down the road about a mile."
When we arrived, the others reported to their section. I went to the command post to report on Sergeant Nunnery. Lieutenant Knipe was beside himself. The first words out of his mouth were, "Where were you at? Your gunner reported you AWOL. Sergeant Dunn is with the battery commander. They are looking for a place to set up a firing position. You take this 2.3 rocket launcher, go back up the road to where the apple orchard begin, and set up a firing position. I will send someone up there to act as your loader. You may go to jail for being AWOL. Not a word out of you. Get a move on." I double-timed away with that 2.3 rocket launcher and four rounds of ammunition. Those three men must have dumped the machine gun and returned to the battery because there was no report of three men missing on the 8th of July. I decided, "Why worry about them?" I had troubles of my own with no loader and the thought of going to jail.
I reached the fence, climbed over, picked a spot to set up the launcher, and wondered where my loader was. I opened the pouch, removed the rocket making sure the safety was on, loaded the rocket, and waited. About 1400, Sergeant Herbert W Wilkes Jr., supply sergeant, drove up with a five-gallon can of water and a box of C-rations. He told me that someone would come for me when we moved out of the apple orchard. I asked about a loader for the launcher. "Everyone is digging in. Handle this by yourself," was his reply. I had had no water from 1000 hours until then. I filled my canteen and dug a hole in the bank. It was damp in a short time. I had a cool canteen of water to drink, took a drink, and placed it back in the hole to stay cool. Later in the day I heard tanks coming down the road and got ready. Then I saw them. They were those little tanks that had gone up the road that morning. They had lost four of them. They stopped and asked if I had water. I gave them some and they left.
Darkness came, but still no one came for me. I knew I was in trouble so I decided that I would stay until someone came for me. Nothing came down the road. Everything was moving north--trucks full of men. There was a break in the trucks moving, so I left the cover of the fence and stepped onto the road. A Jeep came down the road and stopped. A voice that I knew asked, "What outfit are you from?" I told him the 63rd. It was Major Charles T. Barter, our S3 officer. With a harshness in his voice, he asked me what I was doing there. I told him that I was on an outpost to stop tanks that came down the road. He shouted for me to get in the Jeep. He thought that I had left my battery. I told him, "I will get in just as soon as I get my launcher." I climbed the fence, removed the rocket, placed it in the carrying bag, climbed back over the fence, and got into the Jeep. As we drove down the road, the harshness left his voice and a tiredness seemed to come to the surface. I asked why all those trucks were moving north. He said that it was the 19th Infantry moving up because the 34th took a beating that day. He said, "I lost a good friend. The commander of the 34th, Colonel Robert Martin, was cut in two by an 85mm shell in the battle at Chonan." After a 30-minute ride, we stopped. We had found B Battery. We got out of the Jeep and he said, "Come with me." We went to the command post and walked in. The Major told the battery commander, "Here is one of your men," and in a loud voice told everyone in the tent, "We need more like him." He turned to me and said, "Get some rest. You did a good job today," and walked out of the command post. That was the last time I saw him other than for just a few minutes on the 13th of July when he checked the fire direction center. Major Barter was captured on the 15th of July and died in a prison camp in North Korea. My first day in combat had taught me that the thing that we needed was command and control. We remained on the side of the road until the morning of July 9th.
On the morning of 9 July 1950, we moved southwest to a position below the city of Kongju. The plan was to use the Kum River as a barrier to hold the North Korean army north of the river. The 63rd Field Artillery went into a firing position along a secondary road. Our position was on a Korean map 1:50,000, Map Sheet 6623. 111 Headquarters Battery was near the village of Taebong-Ni cr 303-139. A Battery was near Samgyo-ri cr 306-323. B Battery was near the village of Chum-ri cr 309-327. The word was out, "No more retreating. Dig everything deep." And over the next three days we did just that. We went into the ground like moles. We dug the Howitzers real deep (so deep that we could not get them out of the pits to use them to beat back the 16th Regiment when we were overran on the 14th of July), dug a high angle pit and covered our ammunition with dirt, and filled ammunition boxes. From the 10th of July to the 12th of July we worked hard to prepare the position. It was dig and dig as that hot sun beat down on us. We filled our water cans time after time on the evening of the 12th of July until the water trailer was empty. All the water we had was in our canteens. We were told to use it sparingly. Tired, dirty, and without a bath for the last seven days, we smelled so bad that we began to gall due to the lack of proper hygiene and the irritation this caused. Sleep was hard to come by. About this time we began to learn how to prevent this by just scrubbing our body with a towel or a wash rag. If we had the water, we used a little bit of it to clean up. As 2400 hour approached on the 12th of July, we began to see the sign of heavy rain to the northeast of Kongju.
Overnight on the 13th, we got a shower. To the northeast of Kongju, they had heavy thunderstorm with lots of rain. We thought this would raise the water level in the Kum River and help hold the North Koreans north of the river at Kongju. When dawn came, the first thing that I noticed was that there were no farmers in the fields. The mist hung over the rice paddies with the snowy egrets flying in and out of the mist as they looked for a quick meal. This was the Land of the Morning Calm. Our XO Lt Knipe and Sergeant Barefoot inspected the firing battery and told us to take it easy and take care of our personal needs. They said there was hot coffee in the mess hall. We washed out our clothing and hung it in empty ammunition boxes to dry.
At 1000 hours, a re-supply convoy arrived from service battery with C-rations, a water trailer, gas truck, and 105 Howitzer ammunition, which we stored in a Korean house in the battery area so we could move it quickly to the Howitzer when it was needed (bad move on our part). Re-supply brought no carbine ammunition, so all we had were sixty rounds. This proved to be a factor on the 14th when we were attacked. By 1200 hours we had unloaded everything and the convoy return to service battery.
We were told that we had a new battalion commander named Major William E. Dressler and that he would be inspecting the battery that afternoon and to be ready to make the changes that he wanted made. I saw him that afternoon and talked to his driver, Edward I. McCall. Within 24 hours, they were both dead. (Two years later their bodies were found together in a common two-man foxhole.) The bridge was blown at Kongju and we had to sit behind the Kum River, using the river as a water barrier. We were near the village of Samgyo-ri. At sunset the river was running at full bank with a swift current that made it impossible to wade across. The night was clear. I set up my sleeping area and lay down on it just to relax.
At 2200 hours I went on Howitzer guard until 2400 hours. At 2330 hours, one of the outpost guards went berserk, screaming, fighting, and throwing things at everyone. Olin Yates, along with some other guy, went out and tied this man to a stretcher, came by the Howitzer pit, put him on a Jeep, and sent him to the rear. We never saw him again. He went berserk because of the stress of being short of supplies and because of being on constant alert all day long day after day. There was talk about being overrun and talk about how those who had been captured were tortured. Stress was even worse on an outpost where there were only three men out front--a machine gunner, an assistant machine gunner to feed the belt, and one rifleman. While they were at the outpost getting the man who had gone berserk, one of the outpost guards reported movement to the west of his outpost. He called Headquarters Battery and learned that there was a report from a 24th reconnaissance team that a small enemy unit had crossed the river by small boat just after sunset and had broken up into one or two men units to scout the area. This brought us to a full alert for the rest of the night.
The 14th of July dawned clear with a cool breeze blowing from the west. After an all-night alert, we felt like one does when he has jet lag. Sergeant Barefoot stopped by each section and told us that he was going to Taejon to get the new 3.5 rocket launcher. He said that Sergeant Wilks would be the acting chief of Firing Battery and that we had to send one of the Howitzers to Service Battery. We were now a five Howitzer battery because we had no recoil oil to repair the Howitzer's recoil system.
I went to the mess truck for a cup of coffee. I did not feel up to those C rations that morning. The clothes were dry so I folded them and placed them in the metal box. I carried the box to the truck park that was up the road about 200 yards toward Kongju. As I returned, off to the left I could see a Korean on the hillside. He was just standing there gazing over the area. I reported this to the battery command post and was told that it was a farmer checking his rice crop. His clothing was too clean to be a farmer and all the people were told to leave the area. I returned to the Howitzer area and had another cup of coffee. Some of the Headquarters wire section crew stopped by and had a cup with me. They told me that they had someone cutting their lines and putting straight pins in the wire to short them out.
At 1000 hours I went on Howitzer guard until 1200. Sometime after 1130, a sergeant stopped by and asked me where the command post was. I pointed to the Korean house that was the command post. (Later I found out that he was from L Company, 34th Infantry, which pulled out of their position to the left side of Kongju.) He told someone that a large unit of enemy soldiers had crossed the river by barges and were loose in our area. At 1200 one of the new men replaced me.
I went to the mess truck, and picked up a can of franks and beans along with a can of fruit cocktail and a can of crackers. I returned to the Howitzer pit and got an empty shell casing to use as a table. James Thomas came by and interrupted my meal to ask me to trade my thirty rounds for his two fifteen-round magazines. He said that he was on his way to Headquarters Battery to re-establish communication that had been lost at 1300 hours. Going with him was a lieutenant who had just arrived in the battery the night before. (I never did learn his name.) Joe Duran was driving and Thomas was riding shotgun. As they passed on their way out, Joe shouted, "Forty Yards, I'll try to pick up some extra rations." Forty Yards was a nickname given to me at Mori, Japan. I was a talker and was told that my mouth was forty yards in front of my brain. The name stuck.
That was the last time I saw Thomas. I saw Joe 54 years later at Myrtle Beach just a year before he died on October 1, 2005. He said the lieutenant and James Thomas were killed in a road block before they reached Headquarters Battery. Joe was shot in the face at the same road block. Some guys from A Battery were falling back and Joe joined them as they fought their way back.
Unaware that those three guys were heading into a roadblock, I went ahead and finished my lunch. That was around 1315-1330 hours. I set my empty bean can on the trail of the Howitzer and opened my can of fruit cocktail. The bean can slid off of the trail. I set the can of fruit cocktail on the empty shell casing and reached down to pick up the bean can. That's when sniper fire broke out. I heard the report of a shot and suddenly my face was full of something sticky. Someone shouted, "Sniper." The cry was taken up by others in the battery. I thought that I had been hit, but when I wiped my face I found that it was just fruit cocktail all over me. The fire lasted a short time. There was a unit from the South Korean army off to our right. The command post began to shout, "Don't shoot. South Korean." At that time we had orders not to fire until we were fired upon first. The 16th Regiment of the 4th North Korean Infantry Division attacked the 63rd, walking into and taking two of our four outposts without firing a shot.
Major Dressler and Captain Anthony Stahelski, our battery commander, had talked the situation over and said they couldn't keep the Kum River if the North Koreans overran us. Captain Stahelski came over to us at the Howitzer pit. He was with Boyd Tucker, a man with the bluest eye that I have ever seen. The captain told us to go to the mess truck, pick up the .30 caliber machine gun, move up the ridge line behind the battery, and set up the gun. H said that he would send an NCO to man it if we had to retreat from the area. We ran to the truck, grabbed the gun, and raced up the ridge line. I dropped a box of ammo and stooped to pick it up. Tucker grunted. I looked up at him. He turned sideways, his knees buckled, and he slumped to the ground. I screamed for the medic, grabbed the gun, moved to a spot behind the battery, and began to set it up. Tucker died on the spot. He had been hit at the base of his head behind his right ear.
An NCO raced up the hill and told me to return to the Howitzer pit and cover the left side of the battery until I was relieved or until I got another order. I ran down the hill and reached the pit. Some of the sections were firing into the rice paddies. I asked what they were shooting at. They told me that about thirty North Koreans were in the paddies. Sergeant Dunn ran into the pit and took the five men in there over to the left flank of the battery to keep the North Koreans from encircling and getting behind us. The North Koreans were not able to overtake the outpost on our left and the one by the mess hall, but some of B Battery were hit by the sniper fire.
Sniper fire then ceased. We loaded our wounded into trucks and sent them to Headquarters Battery. Sergeant Dunn, chief of the section, came to the pit, told me to remain, and said that if we had to retreat to pull the firing lock and go to the hill behind the Howitzer pit. He left me three hand grenades (two HE and one smoke). Mortar began falling on the battery and fires began to break out in the pits. Incoming set fire to one pile of ammunition and it was burning. The order came to pull the firing lock and fall back. By this time I was out of small arms ammunition from firing at the rice paddies. I pulled the pin on the two HE grenades and tossed them into the paddies, then dropped the smoke grenade into the ammunition pit. I pulled the firing lock and raced out of the pit with the smoke covering my retreat. With an empty carbine, I raced out and over the hill to where the rest of the battery was assembled. We formed up and moved out of the area. As we left, smoke was boiling out of the battery area.
We lost 11 officers and 125 enlisted men killed in action, missing in action, or taken prisoners of war that day. We also lost most of our equipment. Twenty-three bodies were recovered from the area. Two years later, the last two--the battalion commander and his driver, were found together in a two-man foxhole. When the villagers returned on the 15th, they buried our dead. They also helped with the recovery of the bodies when the recovery team came through the area that fall.
We moved away from the battle area. As we climbed the low hill out of the valley, looking back we could see smoke in the area that had been the firing battery area. We reached the village of Obong-ni, then turned south toward the village of Hataebong. At the village of Wondong, we spent the night behind a road block of the 21st Infantry. By this time Captain Stahelski was the ranking officer of the Battalion. He was the best officer that I ever served under. No matter how long his day was, he set aside time to talk to the battery and at night he was always visiting the Howitzer section to ask how we were doing. He would ask, "Are you getting your mail? Do you have drinking water and food?" He told us what he knew was going on at the front lines. The main thing that made him a good officer was that he seemed to genuinely care about us.
That night he set up a check point for the 63rd and put two men with blackout flashlights to check those who came through the check point. They were to record their name and what unit they were with, and point out the area that they were to move to for the night. A Jeep came down the road and brought us what little ammunition they could spare. I received 30 rounds of ammunition for my carbine and took the first shift from 1900 hours to 2100 hours on the check point. When they came to the check point, we recorded their name and checked to see if they had wounds that had to be tended. After that we sent them to the assembly area.
Battery B had come through the battle in good shape. Most had their battle gear except their helmets. (I had mine but someone stole it that night.) As the night came on, those from the other battery began to arrive. Some were in bad shape. I saw some without shirts, pants or boots, some with no weapons, and some that just passed out when they reached us. Their systems just shut down due to the strain that they were under. (I experienced the same thing at Taejon on the night of 19 July.) We moved them to a tent that was set up for the wounded. After a short time they came out of it and went to the assembly area.
At 2130 I went to the assembly area to get some rest. I had no sleep all night long. Someone would come up to me and ask had I seen so and so. At dawn trucks rolled up. They carried four 105mm Howitzers with everything that we needed to get back into the war. This was assembled the night after the news of the disaster on the Kum River reached Taejon. As we drove away, I looked back at those poor souls huddled together and wondered how history would judge us. I also wondered how they would judge themselves on what they did or did not do. Even today some of them still have not come to grips and have nightmares. Their families try to find out what they did in the "Forgotten War". Today they still judge themselves too harshly and try to block all of it out of their life. In the movie "Saving Private Ryan", the main character (Ryan) was the only remaining son in his family and he had jumped into France on D-Day with the 82nd Airborne. Word came down the line to find Ryan and get him out of the combat area before he was killed. A unit was sent to find him and along the way a lot of its members were killed. When they found Ryan, his unit was holding a bridge and Ryan refused to leave until they were relieved at the bridge. Most of the remaining members of the unit that came to find him were killed holding the bridge, and Ryan was sent home. Years later, Ryan returned with his family to the cemetery where those who had died to get him out were buried. He found the marker of the lieutenant in charge and Ryan asked his wife if he was a good man. After all those years he had not forgiven himself for others dying to save him. He wanted to know if the life he had lived made up for all those men who died to get him out alive. Korean War veterans should ask themselves that same question--and then forgive themselves.
7 July-20 July 1950
After the disaster at the Kum River on the 14th, the North Koreans crossed the Kum in force on the 15th and 16th. Once they crossed it, we knew that it would be at least three days before they made another major push to the south. They had to re-arm and send their scouts to locate where we were setting up for the next battle. We retreated south toward Taejon and fired missions when we had contact with our forward observer. Due to poor communication, those missions only came from those forward observers on the roads with Jeep-mounted radios. The field radios were of little use due to the outdated battery that we had to use. Most were at least six years old (some were even older) and lasted at the most two hours or less. This left a unit in the hills without artillery support and was a factor in their morale and their willingness to stay and fight when the odds were on the North Korean side.
On the 17th of July, we went to a firing position northwest of the city of Taejon above the Yudung River at the Taejon air strip. We were to the left side of the air strip. One road branched off the main road and went along the side of the air strip to rejoin the main road at the end of the air strip. Our firing position was between the two roads. On the 17th and 18th, cargo planes flew in and out of the strip with supplies. They had broken into the drain pipes that were at least six to seven feet tall and were using them to store supplies.
After we settled in, we were told that we had to save all of our ammunition for the coming battle. There was little to do except to build up around the Howitzer. Service battery brought in huge rice bags. We filled them with dirt, built a pit for the Howitzer out of the rice bags, and dug our foxholes. The battery commander inspected the battery area and then told us to get some rest. I asked Sergeant Dunn if I could run a recon over the area. He gave me the okay. I got into the pipes where the supplies were stored and found just what we needed--small arms ammunition, rations, and a few cases of tidbits that went into a black hole someplace, never to be seen again (smiles). Over the next two days we ate good. It was a break from all those C-rations.
On the morning of the 19th, no planes flew into the air strip. Instead, they started to fly into Taegu. One of the Air Force men told us that as they moved out of the area on their way to Taegu. About mid-morning, a North Korean YAK9 aircraft bombed and machine gunned the air strip with little effect on it. It brought us to full alert. An Air Force F80 Shooting Star made a run on the YAK9 and overran the Korean plane due to the difference in speed, and the YAK9 shot the F80 down. The battle began with the North Koreans shelling the air strip. It was a rolling barrage. As they came to the left of the strip, the shell landed on the battery. This lasted about two hours. A spotter plane found the guns that were firing on the strip. We returned fire and the shelling stopped.
That afternoon we expended all of our artillery shells except our HEAT rounds for direct fire at tanks. I went to the water trailer to fill up my water can. As I passed the fire direction center, I could hear the FO pleading for more fire on their targets, but we had nothing to give them. As I returned with my can of water, the battery commander was to the rear of the fire direction center, looking north with tears running down his face. With a voice that shook, he told me to tell the others we had made them pay for the Kum River. There was no re-supply from service battery, but as the sun set, we received march orders to move back into Taejon.
With our remaining ammunition we set up as an anti-tank unit, placing the Howitzer in a compound to fire directly into the street in northeast Taejon. The Taejon River was to the north of us. I wondered what tomorrow would bring. Would I be alive this time tomorrow night? Thomas, Duran, and Tiner were all gone. Yates was never around. All my friends that I had counted on were no longer here to help. If I got hit, could I count on the others to help? Or would they leave me to the mercy of the North Koreans?
I placed two rounds of HEAT on a small tarp, turned, and started to the rear of the Howitzer. With the build-up of all the tension, I suddenly passed out, and fell flat on my face. I woke up some time later with a bloody nose. (I did not find out until 1952 that I had broken my nose in the fall.) After I woke up I went outside. The section had opened the last bottle of booze that I had found at the air strip, and we passed it around. We had seen this happen before, so it was no big deal. When the pressure got too great, everything in the body shut down and someone would pass out. In a short time, with a little rest, he got back on his feet and carried on. It was like a safety valve. It let us wind down without going crazy from the job. Olien Yates came by to check on me and told me that Lieutenant Knipe and Sergeant Barefoot would be leaving before dawn to find a place for us to move to and to try and find us some ammunition for the Howitzer. He was going to be their driver. To the northwest, we could see tracers toward the air strip, but it was quiet in our area. Around 0400, Yates and the others left on reconnaissance. After finding a place for us, they headed back to Taejon, but they were not allowed to return into the city because it had been turned into a one-way road. Yates and the others had to meet us further down the road beyond a tunnel.
The battery commander gave the order for us to move out of Taejon and head south, but when we tried to start our truck, the engine was locked up. We hooked the Howitzer onto the maintenance truck and left the trailer. As we pulled out of the gate, the battery commander told each driver where to make the turn to get out of Taejon. There was a road that converged and we were supposed to turn left and go south. We failed to turn left because we couldn't see the road for the dust. When the dust settled, we realized that instead of going left, we had turned right. We stopped, jumped off, unhooked the Howitzer, and began to turn the truck and the Howitzer around. Suddenly we began to take small arms fire. We don't know if the North Koreans firing on us were regular troops or guerrilla troops, but they had been hiding on the rooftops waiting for us. We took cover and returned the fire.
A Jeep raced down the road from the west with two MPs in it. The North Koreans stopped firing at us and put all their fire power on the Jeep. The Jeep crashed into a telephone pole, knocking it down and killing the two MPs. We took advantage of the situation and turned the truck around but our driver drove off leaving the crew. We were all out on the ground waiting for the Howitzer to be connected back up after he turned the truck around. As we started to race after the truck, someone shouted, "Pull the firing lock." The Howitzer couldn't be fired without the lock, so pulling it disabled the artillery piece so the enemy couldn't use it. I pulled the lock and joined the others racing after the truck. As I ran, I looked back. The area around the Howitzer had become a kill box. They were firing everything they had at it. I could see metal chips coming off where the bullets were ricocheting off of it. The tires were shot out and a rocket hit the recoil system. The driver of the truck slowed down to make the turn to the left. I reached it, grasped the back rest, and hauled myself onto it. A lot of us were pretty unhappy with the driver because he had driven off without us.
Taejon was a large town about a mile and a half or two miles across. If we took fire on the rest of the way out of the city, we returned it. As we made the turn to leave the city, most of the fire that we were receiving there came from the railroad that ran parallel to the road. A little further down the road, we reached a railroad/road tunnel. One of our unit had a roadblock set up on top of it. Just down the road from there we pulled off the road. There were a number of young officers and the talk was about forming a task force to return to Taejon to look for General Dean. Older heads told the young officers that the road was for one way out of Taejon only. That put a stop to the task force to look for General Dean. We didn't know it at the time, but General Dean was lost that day. He was with a rocket launcher team that was trying to knock out some of the enemy tanks that were in Taejon. The Communists completely cut the town off. When it got to be everybody for themselves, General Dean ended up on foot. He evaded capture for about four days before he was captured by the North Koreans outside of Taejon.
We went into a schoolyard to wait for orders. After we arrived at the schoolyard, other units dribbled out of Taejon all day long. The 13th was cut off, as was all of the infantry in there. The reason why we had pulled out of the city when we did was because we had no ammo left. We were just in the way in Taejon, so our company commander decided we should move out. The schoolyard where everybody regrouped was just below the tunnel with the roadblock in a little village on the right hand side of the road.
A medical unit moved into the schoolyard and set up. With our Howitzer left behind in Taejon, we had nothing to do at the moment so we helped with the wounded. I helped carry those that could not walk to a place to wait to be treated. I saw one man on a stretcher that I had seen the day before at the air strip. He was shot in both legs. He told me that a North Korean tank column had raced down the road into Taejon by the air strip and into the same compound that we had left a short time before they arrived. That's how we learned about General Dean and the rocket launcher team. Up to and including Taejon on the 20th, we were in support of the 34th Infantry Regiment. After we fought our way out of Taejon, we were still the 63rd, but we were just a single battery.
We pulled out of the battle lines on the morning of 21 July and then about midday we got orders to move to the city of Taegu for a rest and to be rearmed. We had very little equipment left--just our small arms and a few rounds of carbine ammunition, plus three Howitzers with prime movers. We left the Howitzers and the prime mover, loaded onto trucks that had brought supplies to the battle area, and moved out. As we moved toward Taegu, I took a look at the outfit. We were called the "vagabonds" and we looked like a bunch of vagabonds that day. We were dirty with blood-stained uniforms, smelled of seven days of battle grime, had red eyes, and we had not shaved our faces for seven days. We were a mess. As we moved toward Taegu, we met a 1st Cavalry unit moving into the area. They remarked to us, "You boys can go back to Japan. The men have arrived." They wore boots with a shine on them and uniforms with creases still in them. They were also clean-shaven. I had to wonder if their next few days would be like ours had just been--days when the wounded screamed for help to stop the pain and when we held a buddy as his life ended, his sparkling eyes becoming lifeless, and his bladder and bowels letting go. Would they see their commander's eyes full of tears over the men he had lost? I wondered if they would think back through time to when they saw the vagabonds of the 24th Infantry Division, 630th FAB just coming out of the battle area and see themselves looking the same way we looked that day.
I thought we would never reach Taegu. We reached the city by mid-morning and drove to an area southeast of the city where there were squad tents set up. The thing that caught my eye was a large pool of water at the bottom of the hill. It was about half the size of a football field. The water came directly out of the mountains, so I knew that we could use it to swim in and wash our uniform. When we drove up, there were a number of trucks in the area lined up in a row. We were told to dismount and file by the trucks. At the first truck we were given a metal box that we put the rest of the items in that we received as we moved down the line of trucks. First was a shirt, pair of pants, tee shirt, shorts, and socks. We held up the shirt and pants to see if they would fit and some had to swap with others to get a fit. At least they were clean. Next we got a rubber air mattress that we could fill with air, as well as two blankets. The last truck held the same kind of Red Cross packages that we had handed out in Japan to the people arriving from Korea right after the war broke out. Now, twenty-six days later, we were in the same shape that they had been. Last, we were told to go to the tents, find a spot, leave our metal box, and fall out. The battery commander would fill us in on what was going to happen over the next few days. He told us that we would be in Taegu for some time and to get cleaned up and get some rest. They then passed out C-rations.
From the 22nd of July to the 20th of August, we remained the 63rd (just a single battery) and reinforced the battle lines. When the North Koreans broke through, we went to where the breakthrough had happened and added more fire power to the battle line from Masan in the southwest to the unit on the east coast. While we were re-arming, we received South Korean soldiers to bring our unit up to the proper number of men. Most of them spoke English. They did a better job with the English language than we did when we tried to speak the Korean language. The South Koreans were not well-treated by some American soldiers who tried to use them as their servants. They were given a lot of dirty jobs to do and lost a lot of respect for the Americans. One of the Koreans, Che Chon, was assigned to work with me to learn to be a Number Two man on the Howitzer. I went out of the way to see that he was required to do no more than the others in the section did and we became very good friends. We talked a lot about Korea and the people, and I got a lot of insight on the Koreans, how they looked at life and death, and their history as a great nation when the Europeans still lived in grass huts. Some of the Americans called them "gooks." The Korean word for a non-Korean is "gook", so who was the gook? (Even today we have not learned our lesson--many refer to those in the Middle East as "rag heads." We have not learned to respect others in their own land. That says a lot about us as a nation.
Battle Along the Naktong
On the 20th of August we became C Battery, 52nd Field Artillery. We were in direct support of the third battalion of the 21st infantry Regiment. The third was part of the 34th Infantry Regiment. After the Inchon invasion, we broke out of the beachhead and moved north. Along the way we saw a lot of North Korean equipment that was left when they rushed north to escape the trap that was snapping shut on them. We also saw hundreds of them marching to the rear and I wondered how they felt as they marched to the POW camps. The thing that I remember most is the little kids that stood by the side of the road with their little hands upheld for something to eat and their mothers with that blank look on their faces. I gave them the extra food that I had. The remark that I heard was that I was "the gook lover." I replied, "Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me." I can still see that smile on Che Chon's face.
We entered the city of Taejon on the night of the 6th of September after dark and went into a firing position. All that night the "sweet smell of death" wafted through the night air. At dawn on the 7th of September we could see a church off to our right. Following the contours of the hillside were row after row of small mounds of dirt in long lines where the Koreans were buried in temporary mass graves. Some Koreans came up the hill and started to uncover the heads. We had no fire mission so we asked if we could help remove the bodies. We worked for about three hours. Che Chon found some of his family looking for some of their kin. (None were found while we helped.) Then we found a number of American soldiers' bodies and Graves Registration arrived and told us to leave the area. They allowed the Koreans to remain and help remove the bodies.
The church was used as a court to try the people and under the church was where they were held while awaiting their fate. The thing that remains in my mind's eye is the memory of the body of a mother holding her baby. Apparently she had been trying to shield it when she was shot in the back of the head. The baby's little head was bashed in. Sometimes there is something in the wind and I get a flashback of that sweet smell of death from so long ago in that far off place called Korea. The report on the massacre was that there were 5,000 to 7,000 Koreans and 60 American soldiers in that mass grave. I never saw one act that could be called an atrocity committed by American troops, but I saw atrocities against American troops and the South Korean civilians. I saw a few times when troops kicked a few prisoners, but an officer or an NCO put a stop to this treatment at once.
The word was out that we would be back to Japan by Christmas. All we had to do was push on to the Yalu River, secure the border area, then the South Koreans would take over and we would be on our way back to Japan for Christmas. We attacked through a British unit at sundown. As we passed, we were told that we would pass a British tank and after that there would be nothing on our flanks but North Koreans. Little did we know that to our right flank just in front of the 2nd and the 25th divisions were 300,000 Chinese that would push us back below the 38th parallel and that "home by Christmas" was a pipe dream. Two and a half years would pass with two Christmases and all that dying in between them.
We pushed north and stopped just short of Sinuiju on the 24th of November. On the 26th of November, we started our retreat. We were very lucky that the action took place to our east. There was hard fighting in our sector as we broke contact with them. The road blocks that were set up to our east never happened in the western sector that we were in. As we began our retreat, all units loaded gas-filled drums onto our trucks. We drove down the road and at a certain point we dropped off those drums of gas. Soon there were piles of drums all along the way back to Pyongyang. There we did the same thing until we reached the 38th parallel.
One night we stopped to fill up with gas. This was about 0200 hour in the morning. As it got light, to our surprise there was a young Chinese soldier riding on our Howitzer trails with his rifle slung over his back. His feet were badly frostbitten. He spoke Korean and through Che Chon we learned that his unit was to the east of us. They had passed within a few hundred yards of us as we gassed up. They were on foot, trying to get in front of us so they could set up roadblocks that we would have to run through. The feet of this young Chinaman were frozen so badly that his officers sent him to the right flank to us. They told him that if he went to the Americans, they would take care of him. He was wearing only a thin cotton uniform and he had on rubber shoes. His feet were swollen and black looking. We gave him some clothing and put him in an ambulance. I have often wondered what happened to him.
We got our first snow on our retreat. The wind swept about a foot of snow into all the sheltered areas we went through, and was it cold. That afternoon it was 55 degrees. That night it was ten above. The next morning it was zero with a twenty to thirty mile an hour wind that seemed to just cut through us. I have felt cold weather, but this was unbearable. It was the coldest weather I had ever felt. (Later some infantry unit had men who froze to death on the line in the forward areas.) The cold was one of the hardest things that I had to put up with while in Korea, particularly the sub-zero weather that winter in 1950.
We moved southeast of Seoul and it fell to the Chinese on the 4th of January. On the 20th of January it was bad weather. We received ammunition and it was our time to unload it, which we did. The next night they told Che Chon that it was his time to unload again. I blew my top and grabbed the gunner that was giving the order. They had to pull me off him. The chief of section referred me to the battery commander. The two of us asked to be sent to the outpost to man the machine guns. I remained with the outpost until I left Korea on August 20, 1951.
Manning the Outpost
I was assigned to a .30 caliber machine gun when I left the Howitzer section for the outpost section. This was the machine gun that had the job of being placed on the best approach to the battery area at night. During daylight hours we patrolled around the battery area. The sergeant that was in charge went to the forward observer section. The new battery commander called me in and told me that he was promoting me to corporal and I was to take over the outpost section. I was to work with the Howitzer section and lay out fields of fire for each section and draw an overlay showing the fields of fire, making sure that each section made one. Then it was to be turned in to me. These would then be drawn into an overlay to show the whole battery defense system. This was then turned in to the battery commander to be placed on a map that he carried with him so that when he toured the battery he could question the men in the unit where the fields of fire were.
The new battery commander's name was Harvey D. Piper from Augusta, Georgia (who is still alive in 2006). He was a top notch officer for getting things done. He told me that he wanted me to get to know the lay of the land around the battery and to be able to respond to an attack on the battery by using the outpost to respond to the attack. I was to find out how many people remained in the village, if we were near one. They were supposed to leave the area, but some of the old refused to leave so someone remained with them to look out for them and the village livestock. I was to check the village, count the number of those that remained, and report the number each day after I made my rounds of the area.
With Che Chon as my interpreter, I got to know a lot of the villagers in our sector. They would come to us when someone that they did not know came into the area. This cut off the scouts from the north gathering data about our unit. We detained a large number of them over the next few months. They had a lot of ways to identify themselves. One was to sew the top button on their jacket with a certain color of thread or tie a small piece of rag to the A-frame that they carried on their back. The people helped us a lot with keeping scouts out of our area.
On 25 January we counter-attacked along the line and pushed the Chinese and the North Koreans back until the 12th of February, when they counter-attacked. That lasted to the 14th of February with a loss of a lot of Chinese to the massive amount of artillery fire that brought the counter-attack to a halt. We paused at this time because we had expended a lot of ammunition. It was in short supply, so we did not fire on small patrols--only on large targets. The pause allowed us to bring up the equipment that we would need to cross the Han River on the way to retake Seoul. Also, the infantry unit needed replacements for the men killed in action, taken prisoner, and missing in action from their units to bring them up to full strength for the attack that was to take place on the 6th of March 1951. The supplies had to be brought from bases all over the Far East to Korea and from stateside, so it took some time to assemble this equipment and get it to the places that it was to be used. This was the reason for the pause that lasted from 14 February to 6 March. The war did not stop. The infantry still sent out patrols. We fired on some targets if they were large units on the move. The area that the battles were fought in had to be cleared of stragglers and small by-pass units had to be eliminated before we could attack across the Han River.
On 5 March 1951, we moved to a firing position behind a hill that gave us cover from prying eyes on Hill 1157. I took two .30 caliber machine guns to the forward area and set up cover for the advance party. Then they moved one Howitzer at a time into the area by loading it on a five-ton truck with a cover over the Howitzer to fool the troops on Hill 1157. We took only the Howitzers and the ammunition section for the attack on the hill. The rest remained in the old area. They came up on the afternoon of the 6th of March. On the 8th of March, one of the forward observers that was with the unit told how they climbed the hill and found a hot meal waiting for them at the top. As we moved north on the Han River while setting up the outpost, the outpost scout found an area that was set up as a clearing area for the wounded Chinese troops. It was very surprising how much work went into setting it up.
About this time I came down with a bad case of pork worms from eating the Korean pork. Those things kept me over a slit trench most of the time. As they say, "He got the trots from one slit trench to another." The cure was to give me two red pills to kill the worms, wait two hours, then take two more. That got rid of them.
On the 18th of March, Seoul was recaptured. We pushed north from the 1st of April to retake Line Kansas. As we moved north, we began to see lots of Chinese prisoners. They were in bad shape. They asked for food but we were told by the guards that we could not give them any until they were interrogated by the S-2 section. I slipped them some candy bars and their faces lit up with smiles. They seemed very grateful to get the candy. On the 11th of April, Truman fired General MacArthur. Matthew B. Ridgeway took the reins from the old guards and brought back the fighting spirit of the unit in Korea.
Over the next four months in the artillery, it seemed like we were on a training mission. The war for us was winding down. We got Korean KP and began to get three hot meals a day. One time we lost all our KP when they turned out to be girls. They did KP during the days and other kinds of work at night. This is what I was told--I had no first-hand knowledge about this incident (smiling).
Daily Life in Korea
I only saw Korean women during my time in Korea. Most were quite old--too old to make the long trip south, so they stayed in the village with a son or a relative to look after them. As for holidays or my birthday, they were just another day. We got all the trimmings, but without our family or friends, it was just another day of the war.
I saw none of the USO shows. I remained with my Korean buddy on the outpost and let the others see the shows. I did not go on R&R for the lack of funds. All my pay was going to a bank in my hometown. I did smoke, but I did not drink or gamble. To me, it was a waste of funds.
My uncle, Captain Jack A. Bolt, was in Korea, too. He was with Command C Battery, 99th Field Artillery. His unit was caught on the Usan roadblock in November and lost a lot of men and equipment. I never met him while I was in Korea because we were never in the same sector of the battlefield. The World War II veterans helped us to stay the course when things got rough. We looked to them to point us in the right direction and keep us on an even keel as we learned to fight a war.
As for prejudice, it was there. But I never personally saw it outright other than the Americans who tried to use the Koreans for their personal use (wash their clothing and do the jobs that they were sent to do). The country as I saw it had little to offer. The thing that kept me going was those little kids in their little rubber shoes and their hands held up for some help as they moved to the rear to God knows what kind of life. If I could do something to help that country be a better place, then all the dying that I had seen take place would be worth it.
I got the Bronze Star for the battle at the Kum River on 14 July 1950. The citation reads as follows:
My awards remind me that a lot of young men with old World War II equipment and little training did their best while those at home made very little sacrifice and did not want to hear about the war because that might get in the way of the things that they wanted to do with their lives. We cut and ran in Korea and Vietnam. Hold on one more day--the Americans will give up and go home. (The same thing is happening today in Iraq. The American people do not want to make sacrifices to bring this war to a successful end. Down the road, our children will pay the price.) To me, the heroes in Korea are those that gave all they had to give (their life). The rest of us fought for the guy next to us on those hills and to stop the North Koreans from taking over South Korea.
My strongest memories of Korea are of 14 July 1950 on that disaster on the Kum River. That day when we were overran was when I was in the most personal danger in Korea. We were taking machine gun fire from our own weapons. They had been taken from us when the battalion was overran. Mortar was also falling just outside the battery area because they were zeroing in on our position and had not gotten the range to the battery area yet. Rifle fire was hitting the metal shields of the Howitzer. I was alone and afraid, closed my eyes and told God, "Not my will, but thy will be done." A calm came over me and I was no longer afraid of death. This is still true today. When it was over, I cried for all those that had given their all and I cried for me. I asked why I was spared and others died. The answer was to tell their loved ones what had happened to them. This is what I have done over the years.
On the morning of the !7th of August, I came to the mess truck, got breakfast, and was told that I had orders to go back to the States. I was to leave that afternoon for the rear at Inchon to board a ship bound for Japan, then on to the States. Most of those that had come to Korea in July had left for the States starting in May 1951. There was no long goodbye from me. I only had to visit the outpost. I shed a few tears with the Korean that I had served with. The rest of the battery was made up of new men in the unit.
I caught the truck to battalion, then another to Inchon. We arrived, got off the truck, walked into a long tent, dropped all of our clothing, walked down the line, and were sprayed with DDT. From there we went into a shower, and when we came out we got one uniform with boots and socks. Then it was on to a barge where we were taken out to a ship. I went through another line, filled out paperwork, had a meal, and they assigned us a bunk. As we sailed out of the harbor, I stood on the rear of the ship. As the coast line faded, I wept for all of those that had given all that they had to give and for those that will never be found. May they rest in peace.
When we sailed out of Inchon on August 20, I wondered what was in store for me. The ship "Sergeant Rodriguez" carried 1,400 troops from all units that were in Korea. Each had the points to rotate out of the combat area. (We got points for so much time in the Far East and so many points for the days we were in Korea.) I do not recall the number of points I had. Everyone was happy to be out of Korea and they talked about getting back to the States, getting out of the Army, and starting a family. Others like me were at a loss as to what they would do with their lives. I was a corporal and knew that I had to get into a school to further my career if I was to stay in the Army.
The ship was short of water and there was none at the port of Inchon, so we had to put in at the port of Sasebo to top off the water tanks for the crossing from Japan to Seattle and Fort Lewis where we would be processed. When we got to Japan, Sasebo did not have the water to top off our tanks. They gave us what they had and we were told that we would put into Kodiak, Alaska, to fill our tanks with water. This would add about eight hours to our travel time.
The first evening meal on the ship from Korea to Japan was a mess. There was no kind of organization of the men on the ship at this time. The First Sergeant's name was Bonebreak. He was on the way back to the US Military Academy at West Point as the First Sergeant of the Combat Arms Artillery section of the 1802 Special Regiment at West Point. (After his retirement he was the chief of police at Highland Falls outside of West Point for years.) He came up to me and told me to find eight men to serve on the line to dish out the food for the night meal. They would eat first 30 minutes early and would not have to stand in line to eat. With this incentive it was easy to get the men to do this job. While the meal was being served, Sergeant Bonebreak asked me if I would like to take charge of the night KP. We would have a section that would not have to stand inspection. We would go to work at 1900 hour to 0500 hour and then we would be free the rest of the day.
We went to work at 1900 hour. By working hard most of the night, we were done by 2400 hour. We had a machine that removed the peeling from the potatoes. We broke fresh eggs and helped the cooks bring the food from the storage area to the galley for the three meals that were to be served the next day. We got all the milk and fresh fruit that we could eat. Most of the time we had steak and eggs for breakfast. We ate whatever we wanted to eat. The Senior NCO played poker in the crew mess. I saw that they had a good breakfast when the poker game broke up. The game started about 2200 hour and broke up at around 0400 hour. There was a baker who worked at night making doughnuts, pies, and fresh bread for the next day's meals. I saw that some of these goodies made their way to the crew mess while the poker games were going on. The last thing we did at 0500 hour was to dump the night's garbage over the rear of the ship away from the wind, otherwise it would blow back onto the ship and would then have to be hosed off the ship with sea water.
The sea was as smooth as glass on the whole 15-day trip from Sasebo to Kodiak to Seattle. I saw a lot of beautiful sunrises. The nine of us just lay on deck, got a lot of sun, and talked about what had happened to us in Korea and of the buddies that gave all that they had to give. This helped us to put most of the bad times behind us and to look forward to the thing that we wanted to do with our lives. We docked at Pier 91 in Seattle. There was an Army band there with a few hundred people. Some of them had loved ones on board. They waved and held up signs with their names on them. We then boarded a bus to Fort Lewis where we filed into a mess hall for a steak dinner, then went on to a area where we drew a Class A uniform with everything that went with it. We were paid and there were travel agents from buses, trains, and planes to help us get on our way home. They made the arrangements and got us to the place that we were to leave from on our way home.
I went to West Virginia for a week and tried to find James Thomas' parents. All of our records had been lost at the Kum River. I didn't know his home county and I couldn't run down his hometown. Thus began a quest of 54 years to find and fulfill the promise I had made to him on the night of 6 July 1950. As I said earlier in this memoir, our promise to each other was that if something should happen to either one of us in Korea, the survivor would find and tell the other one's family what had happened to their son and brother in Korea.
After a 30-day leave, I reported back to Fort Jackson where I drew new clothing and awaited orders. On the 24th of October, I got orders assigning me to the Combat Arms Detachment US Military Academy at West Point. I arrived 30 October and was sent to the NCO school for six weeks. On the 20th of December, I went for orientation at the artillery detachment and a tour of the academy and the places where we would work. I met the officer, those that I would be working with, and the man who would become my mentor, Sergeant Bonebreak.
There were three units in the Combat Arms Detachment at West Point--infantry, artillery, and armor. We gave the cadets an overview of the three units and how they worked with each other. In the summer, we took the cadets into the field and let them put into practice what they had learned in the classroom. We also acted as firing squads for the returning dead from Korea whose families lived in the surrounding area near West Point.
Each unit had a given number of slots for officers. When those slot were filled, no more promotions to a higher rank were given until a slot emptied. With all the sergeant slots filled and no openings, there was no way to get to a higher rank at West Point. My time at West Point had re-enforced in my mind that I wanted to make a career of the Army. I re-enlisted for four years and took the advice of Sergeant Bonebreak, who said that the best place to make rank was in Japan.
There was a regulation that said to be sent back to Korea so soon after having just left there, one had to sign a waiver. This was not necessary if a soldier wanted to be sent to Japan. I requested duty in Japan and was assigned to the 24th infantry Division with A Battery, 13th Field Artillery Battalion in the Sendi area of Japan. We spent most of our time training at Mt. Fuji. About that time a lot of Chinese and North Korean prisoners of war were released. Because so many of them did not want to return to China and North Korea, we were alerted and returned to Korea. We were not sent back into combat. We were given the mission of guarding the Sang Dong tungsten mines, where they were moving the ore from the mine to the rail head. There, the trains that hauled supplies to the front and were on their way back to Pusan empty would stop and pick up full rail cars that they had dropped off empty on their way to the front, along with the guards that were sent to Pusan with the tungsten. I got to know the Americans from the Utah Mining Company who ran the operations and I had quite a few wild parties with them. They had the best of everything. They had a truck that came two times a week with goodies such as steaks, whole hams, all kinds of booze, and a few other things that came for the weekend and left on Monday morning (smiles). This tour was great, but it did not last very long.
On the 15th of December 1953, I got orders to return to Japan to the First Cavalry Division on Hokkaido near the city of Chitose with the 82nd Field Artillery Battalion, C Battery. It was a 155mm Howitzer (towed) Battalion made up of six Howitzers in each battery. When I arrived on the 8th of January 1954, snow had fallen 16 to 24 inches deep and in some places four to eight feet deep. We had to have snow guard at night to keep the snow from crushing the hut we lived in. They had just started winter training. This is where I learned to ski. It was my passion until a few year ago, when my knees went bad and I had to stay off the slopes. We had eight weeks of this training, including the movement of the Howitzers in the snow by putting them on a type of sled under each wheel. Our track could then move it over deep snow very easily.
The Division moved to the island of Honshu and the 82nd to Camp Youngens west of Sendi. The move was made to give the Japanese Self Defense Force the responsibility of the defense of the island of Hokkaido. Also, there was a better artillery firing range on Honshu for us to use to train. I made Sergeant First Class and was given the chance to do the job of chief of firing battery and run the firing battery while the new chief was on the way from the States. I held the job for two months until the new chief arrived. During those two months I designed the battalion Howitzer sheds that made it easy to inspect them. By just looking in the shed one could see if all of the equipment that was used in each section was present and if there was missing equipment. I got a letter of commendation from the battalion commander for the work. Most of it was done after duty hours. After a year at Camp Youngens, we turned in our 155mm Howitzer and became a 105mm Howitzer battalion because we moved to Camp Nara, Japan, near the city of Nara. There were two large cities in the area--Osaka and Kobe, so to fire our Howitzers we had to go to the Fuji firing range. Nara was called the birthplace of Japanese civilization. All the temples were there. There was lots to do there, including visiting the parks and the great gardens.
I was at Nara when they filmed "The Tea House Of the August Moon." We got a lot of free drinks that MGM paid for because they thought that we were part of the film crew at the hotel. They made most of the Japanese films in the Nara area. One time we were loading sand in trucks in a river bed to be used in our Howitzer park when down the riverbed came a bunch of men on horseback, shouting and waving swords. I thought that we were under attack from the past. Then I noticed that along each bank was a camera mounted on trucks and they were filming the charge of the horsemen. They had to stop the filming until they got us out of the scene.
On 15 December 1956, I was assigned to Headquarters Company, Headquarters Battery, 3rd Field Artillery Training Regiment at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, as an artillery instructor. I arrived at Fort Chaffee just before Christmas and was given a briefing on what our mission was at the post and a tour of the post and all of the sites that would be used in the troop's second eight weeks of training. This would give them their MOS. Those that trained there became field artillery men while they served in the Army or went on to another school. For other types of training, the single instructors or those without families had a barracks where each person had a small room to himself. My room was Number 10 on the ground floor. It had a bed (not a cot), a desk, a small typewriter, and lots of manuals of all types, along with the outlines of lesson plans and reams of paper to prepare lesson plans.
Everyone was getting ready to go on leave for the holidays when I arrived, but I had just come off leave so I stayed on the post for the holidays. I was to make a lesson plan and set up the class to be presented to the staff NCO of the school on the 28th of December. They would then correct the lesson plan to comply with the school regulations and I would then have to rewrite the lesson plan and be ready to present it to the staff officer sometime in January 1957. I drew on the things that I had used at West Point and both presentations went off without very much input from the NCO or the staff officer. They presented me with a baton. The baton was painted bright red at one end. The tip was a shell casing from a .50 caliber machinegun. At the other end was the slug from the .50 caliber machinegun. A brass plate was attached to the baton with my name engraved on it. All instructors carried them to show who the instructors were in the unit.
The training park had A, B, and C Batteries in it, with 12 Howitzers in each battery for training purposes. The troops had their own officers and NCOs. They were marched to the school and then we taught them the subject. After that they went to the Howitzer park to put into practice what they had learned in the classroom. They were broken down into crews to operate the Howitzers and they were rotated to do all jobs in the section. They had one hour in the classroom, then two hours on the Howitzer line to do the thing that they were taught in the classroom. In their sixth week they went to the firing range to do live firing of the Howitzer. There were units at all stages of training--some in their first week through those in their last week.
We had a great staff that kept everything running smoothly for us. About this time the Army closed down all the coast artillery units and some of them were sent to Fort Chaffee for retraining in the field artillery. I was given the job of retraining these NCOs. After two weeks they were shipped to other artillery units throughout the Army. Because of the size of the fort, they decided to try and place turkeys on the ranges and let them go wild. They placed a flock of birds on the range for two weeks. The flock returned to the main part of the fort, walking down the side of the road, feeding as they walked along. They finally let the hen turkey nest on the range, along with a few jakes, in a pen area of an acre of ground. After the eggs hatched, the young birds were released and a wild flock became part of the area. When I left there were some twenty birds in the flock.
Tour in Germany
The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, enter the Army at Fort Chaffee in 1958. On the 9th of March that same year, I received orders to report to NATO in Germany to A Battery, 2nd Rocket Howitzer Battalion, 73rd Artillery, Third Armored Division in Hanau, Germany. This unit had two 155mm Howitzer batteries and one 8-inch Howitzer battery that was able to fire atomic shells. The latter spent most of its time in the Fulda Gap area. There was also a Long John rocket battery (like the scud missile from Desert Storm One) that was part of the 2nd Rocket Howitzer Battalion, 73rd Artillery Station at Hanau, Germany. These units spent most of the summertime in the training area doing live firing. In the wintertime when the ground was frozen, we trained throughout the state of Hesse, Germany. There were three self-propelled Howitzer batteries. The rocket battery was mounted on trucks. We spent very little time in garrison duty. The unit was on the move most of the time doing road marches to practice keeping the proper distance.
The division was commanded by General Abrams (the new tank is named for him), who served under General Patton in World War II. He was a general who got things done without a lot of orders that made it hard to comply with those orders and still get the mission accomplished. When he assumed command the unit had a 60 percent breakdown rate on the road marches. He came to each of his units and held a meeting with all of the NCOs in them. We were given a chance to air our problems to him, such as the shortage of spare parts, not having the number of hours to do the proper maintenance on our equipment, etc. He told us that he would see that we had the hours we needed to maintain our equipment. He left us with a warning that he would have a crew that would check the breakdowns on road marches. If they were due to poor maintenance and we were in charge of that piece of equipment, he told us, "You will turn in your stripes because you were not doing your job. I'll give those stripes to someone that can get the job done." The unit went from 60 percent break down rate to a 12 percent rate. The breakdowns were now due to second or third echelon maintenance that was out of our control, not because of first echelon maintenance.
On 1 June 1961, I went to Ethiopia on a three-month Military Advisory Group (MAG) mission to bring the Ethiopian army up to date and to train them in the use of the 155mm Howitzer. (They had only 105mm Howitzers.) The purpose of this mission was to increase their fire power. I flew from Frankfurt to Cairo to Addis Ababa. The trip took about 12 hours. I was put up at a hotel that was run by Italians and liked to starve to death because the food had no taste (everything was cooked in olive oil). I skipped a lot of meals. The MAG people had a truck that brought supplies to them. I put in an order for food supplies and after that I ate very well on the food that I ordered each week.
The Ethiopian army equipment was in poor shape. While I waited for the 155mm Howitzer to arrive, I set about bringing the 105mm Howitzer up to the standard of the American army. The recoil system was low on recoil oil. When I asked, "Where is your recoil oil?", the reply was there was no oil in the country. I took a carton of cigarettes, went to the quartermaster depot, and came away with five gallons of recoil oil in gallon cans. I overhauled all of their twelve 105mm Howitzers and made lesson plans on the 155mm Howitzers that I was to use when the weapons arrived. In two weeks six 155mm Howitzers arrived and class started. In one day I taught the officers. The next day I taught the others the same class. During the last week, the battery put on a firing demonstration for the government. It turned out very well.
I was to meet Emperor Haile Selassie and eat lunch with him as his guest. (According to an ancient Ethiopian tradition, King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba were the parents of Menelik, legendary first king of Ethiopia from which all other Ethiopian monarchs trace their descent.) They set up a long tent and there were rugs on the floor of it. We sat in two long lines facing each other. The food was brought in and placed in the center of the two lines. There was roast lamb, all kinds of pickles, and a type of bread that we folded our food into (like a taco). They served a powerful mead to drink.
The emperor asked me if I would like to be assigned to the MAG and work in his country. He told me that he would look into it. The army was fighting in Eritrea and I wanted no part of this conflict. With a letter of commendation in hand, I returned 1 June 1961 to Germany and finished my tour. On the 10th of September I received orders to report to the 1st Battalion, 29th Artillery, 5th Infantry Division (separate) at Fort Devens, Massachusetts.
I arrived at Fort Devens 4 October 1962 as a chief of section. I was told that I was to take over the chief of firing battery and that the rank was open. They said that I would be the next E7 on the promotion list. The newest list had just been published so I knew it would be a while before the next one. I took the officers at their word and took over the job. We were a 105mm Howitzer (towed) battery and had a firing range on Cape Cod where we went for two weeks training after I arrived at Devens. We returned to the fort just before Christmas. Most of the men were allowed to go on leave. I was told that I was to go to a school on the new self-propelled 105mm Howitzer because sometime in the spring of 1963 the new Howitzer would arrive and we would use it when we went to West Point for the summer training of the cadet at the Point. The school was at Fort Knox and was for two weeks.
After the holidays I returned to Devens to await the new weapons and to make lesson plans for the class that I was to teach. The weapons arrived in March and we had two weeks of class learning all about them. In May we loaded the battery on flat cars and moved the unit to West Point. We did cadet training until August of 1963. When we left the Point, we moved to Camp Drum, New York, for three months of intense training on the new weapons. We return to Devens in time for Thanksgiving and some much-needed leave time. I took 21 days and went to West Virginia to look for James Thomas' family. My search was not very fruitful. I went to a town, got a room, and called the Thomases in the telephone book to see if they were his family. No luck. I then moved to another town and repeated the process until my leave was up. (I would try again on my next leave.)
I returned to Fort Devens and let others take their Christmas leaves while I worked on getting ready for the Inspector General's inspection that was to come the second week in January. We passed with a 94 percent rating--the best in the battalion. By spring we were qualifying with our small arms and getting ready for amphibious training in the Virginia area. One of the other batteries was to go to West Point for summer training of the cadets. Two batteries went to Cape Cod for a month of training.
We returned to Devens and went to Little Creek amphibious training area in July for a month of training. The unit received the highest score of all those units that trained that year. We were the last unit that trained for the year 1964. The battery commander was promoted to Major and was due to leave. An E7 and I were in the orderly room when he made a remark that sent me into the battery commander's office. He looked at me and with a big grin on his face he told me, "You are doing a good job for me." This was when I found out that he was in the chief of firing battery slot. Supposedly he had a medical problem that would not let him do field duty. He was at post housing where he took care of problems with on-post housing families while I busted my hump without a chance to make E7. I stormedinto the battery commander's office and told him that I wanted a transfer out of the outfit and why. On the 29th of September, I was on the way back to Korea to the 4th Battalion, 76th Artillery, 7th Infantry Division.
The 67th Artillery Battalion spent most of its time in training. The equipment was from the last days of the Korean War. One of the Howitzers that was there was one of the ones that we took back to Korea in 1953. There was a posting in the log book that I had made in it at Fuji that year. The trucks were worn out. Half the time we had to tow them from one place to the other. Just like the time we first arrived in Korea, the equipment was in poor shape. There were few parts and we could not get them through Army channels. Instead, we had to go to the Korean market in the village and ask for the parts. If they didn't have them on hand, with a little crossing of the palms with a few won (money) they would have it the next day. The Army told us that the parts for the equipment were not in the Far East. Everyone from the battalion on down seemed to have this mindset (get by--don't rock the boat). The Far East was considered the back water of American defenses. All the best equipment was going to NATO, so Korea was last on the list to get new equipment.
We had an Inspector General inspection and the motor pool failed. My section was the only one that passed. This was due to the fact that my paperwork was up-to-date. The Battery Commander called me in and told me that I was to take over the motor pool. When I told him that I knew nothing about a motor pool, he told me that I had 30 days to get ready for the next inspection. I worked day and night. I took one truck at a time, went over it with the manual, and that night I did the paperwork on it. Most nights I got to bed about 0200 hour with three hours of sleep. I was back in the motor pool by 0500 hour. The cooks brought me a tray of food and I started in on the next truck. This went on until the re-inspection, which we passed with an 84. With the paperwork, it went to a 97.5 percent.
About this time there was a flood. We had boulders the size of cars wash down through our camp. It washed out all the roads and we spent the next month repairing the roads in our area. To me, the Army seemed to be headed downhill. No one kept their word. If anyone asked a question he was considered to not be a team player. The NCOs seemed to have lost their direction and let the young officers do their jobs. The NCOs needed to be the buffer between the officers and the lower ranks. Now they told the troops that the officer want this or that done. Because of this, the NCO took himself out of the chain of command and was losing the respect of his troops. This would come back to haunt the NCOs in Vietnam, where the troops lost all their respect for the NCOs and got rid of officers that they did not like by any means that were available to them.
After a year I received orders on the 6th of October 1965 to report to the 3rd Infantry Division, 2nd Battalion, 39th Artillery, Service Battery to be the next First Sergeant after the present one left. He had a month left so I was to be trained by him during his last month in the country. The unit was in the midst of an inspection. They had just returned to the firing range. After four months in the field, the unit was in bad shape and failed the inspection. The battalion went on a crash program to prepare for the Inspector General's inspection that was to come in about six weeks. At the same time, the regular training in the battalion was carried on. The battery commander called me in after looking at my records and told me that he wanted me to take over the battalion ammunition supply sergeant's job until after the inspection. Then they would send me to a school for senior NCOs that would give me the background for the paperwork that was needed to run an orderly room, do the morning reports, prepare reports that must go to higher headquarters, and do the hundreds of things that that must be done to keep the unit running smoothly. I already had my security clearance to handle the special weapons ammunition that the unit had on hand. I ran the section from 19 November 1965 to 8 April 1966.
After one month in school, I returned to run Service Battery until I received orders on 15 October 1967 that sent me to Vietnam. The battalion executive officer (XO) got orders to go to the same unit. I took no leave and reported to the 1st Battalion, 11th Artillery, 9th Infantry Division on 27 November 1967 for my last tour in the Army.
As we flew into Vietnam, we could see gray smoke and flames on American bases. I thought someone was in a firefight or they were under attack. Was I wrong! They were just burning human waste. We landed and when the plane door opened, the heat rushed through the body of the plane. We knew that it was going to take a lot to get used to the weather.
We loaded onto buses for the trip to the 9th Division headquarters at Bear Cat and the replacement center where we would train for the next week and become acclimated to the weather, draw the proper equipment, and zero our new M-16 rifle before joining the unit to which we were assigned. Two days before we were to leave for our unit, we went into the field for a night to set up an ambush position. We were met by a group of children that walked with us to the area. The children left and we moved to another area and set up a tight ambush area that night. The area that we left was attacked by the Viet Cong. The next morning as we left, the children showed up and walked back to the trucks. Some of the young men held hands with the children. We loaded onto the truck, then the children began to throw rocks at the truck, hitting some of the men that just a short time ago had held their hands and given them candy and gum. This was a rude awaking for some of them.
My unit was in support of the infantry on a road clearing mission north of Saigon. I was assigned to the Tactical Operation Center (TOC) while I waited for the first sergeant's job to open up. The TOC job was to see that the commander was kept informed of everything that was going on in the unit. All messages were recorded and posted on the TOC chart, so all he had to do was look at the chart. I had to be sure that the radios were manned 24 hours a day and to be sure that the supply reached the right places. If a re-supply was needed by air, they contacted the heavy lift unit to make the lift by helicopter.
There were two TOC centers, one small one in the field and the main one in the base camp. There was a shortage of heavy lift helicopters and the ammunition section failed to re-supply the unit. The battalion commander came by the TOC tent, took me to the side, and asked me to take the ammunition section because there was a shortage of young officers and he had no one to run the section. I flew by chopper back to the S 4 section and took over the ammunition section for the next month that we remained in the field. The unit returned to Bear Cat just before the TET holiday. When the TET holiday started, the Viet Cong, along with units from the North Vietnamese army, attacked throughout South Vietnam. We had to fight our way to some of the firing batteries to deliver ammunition during that time.
After TET we moved to Dong Tam basin in the Mekong Delta. Dong Tam was started in January 1967. They pumped the sand from the bottom of the My Tho River into the rice paddies along the river to build it. In the beginning, the base was on the north bank of the river at the mouth of the Kinh Xang Canal on 400 acres. They pumped six feet of sand into 400 acres to make a stable land mass to build on. The last expansion was 200 acres on the north perimeter of the base.
The battalion moved to Dong Tam in March 1968 and into barracks of a infantry unit that had moved to another part of the delta. We lived there while we built our own living quarters on the west side of the base near the Kinh Xang Canal. We made our ammunition run to the firing battery in the morning and most of the time we were back by lunch time. We spent time helping to put up the buildings in the battalion area.
Most of the work was done by the people from the city of MyTho and other areas in the delta who were given jobs to work on the base. My day started at 0500 hour. By 0515 I was in the TOC for the day, reviewing the night action in and around the area all the way to the firing battery and determining who we were to re-supply with ammunition for that day. If it was a long run I had to figure out what help I could expect along the way from infantry that were in my area and along my line of march. If I ran into a ambush, I had to know how long it would take them to reach the convoy. I also had to know the call sign for the cobra gun ship that was on call to help those that were in trouble until help arrived. By 0545 I was in the barrack (the ammunition section had a whole floor to itself). I woke Corporal Bolander and Sergeant Davis. (Bolander was married to Sergeant Davis' daughter.) I then went to the mess hall for breakfast by 0630. The section was at a large table that we sat at to eat. While we ate, I briefed the section on what to expect for the day and to check to see that they had the proper equipment with them--flak jacket, two canteens of water, web belts with ammunition pouches, steel pots, etc. Sometimes I checked each man for this gear, but most of the time I just looked them over as they filed out of the mess hall.
At 0715 I went to the TOC to pick up the ammunition requests from the firing battery and do the paperwork to draw the ammunition from the dump. Meanwhile, Sergeant Davis and Corporal Bolander prepared their trucks for the run to the firing battery. At 0745 the convoy rolled up on the road in front of the TOC with my Jeep in the lead. The 60mm machinegun was mounted in its place on the Jeep, put there by my driver Donald Chandler, who I am still in contact with today. (We call each other on Sunday of each week and talk about what has happen to us over the week.) I used the battalion wrecker to load and unload. This cut down on the time it took to complete the mission. It also stopped the back-breaking job of loading and unloading the ammunition and left us with more time to pull maintenance on our equipment to keep all of it on the road and in good repair.
We hauled ammunition all over the delta area and along Route 4 (Thunder Road). It got its name from all that action along the road. When we first arrived at Dong Tam, we got ammunition that came up the Mekong River to the MyTho river to Dong Tam until they built a dump at Dong Tam. There was also a fuel dump in the northwest corner near the base. On February 23, 1969, the Viet Cong hit the fuel dump with a 120mm rocket. On March 26, 1969, they hit the base with 13 rounds of 120mm rocket that blew up the ammunition dump and sent a shock wave that knocked people off their feet or across the room and knocked some barracks off their foundation near the blast area. They moved both dumps to the northwest corner of the base and put a berm around it made of sand. I was told I was to take over B Battery as 1st Sergeant in May of 1969. I was told that I would have to re-enlist for another three years to make the rank permanent because I had not done the job for at least three years. That was when I put in my paperwork to retire.
I left Viet Nam on 20 August 1969, and went to Fort Sill until I was discharged 1 November 1969 with 22 years, 7 months, 23 days service, thus ending my Army career.
Keeping a Promise
The night of 6 July 1950, as two young men rushed north toward the North Korean Army that had jolted them out of an easy life and into a war, they knew that some of those in their unit were going to die. As they sat in those truck seats, they made a promise to each other that if one or the other was killed, the other would find his family and tell them what happen to the other. Those two men were James Thomas and James Bolt. On the 14th of July 1950, while trying to reach Headquarters Battery that was under attack, a lieutenant came along with Joe Duran and James Thomas trying to reestablish communication for B Battery. The lieutenant and James Thomas were killed in a roadblock before they reached Headquarters Battery.
When I returned to the States, I spent my leaves in West Virginia, trying to find James Thomas' family. I stopped in each town and called the Thomases listed in the area phone book to see if they had kin killed in Korea. I then moved on to yet another town and did the same thing. I did not know the city or the county that James was from, so I had no idea where to start. One of my buddies sent me a list of those who were killed in Korea and I found that James came from the county of Fayette and the city of Fayetteville (population 1,848). Most of his kin had moved away to other places but after all those years of searching, I found his brother Ralph in 2003. He called his sister, who was six years old when her brother was killed.
The family knew nothing of how James was killed--only that he was killed on the 14th of July 1950. His remains were returned and he was laid to rest without the family being told the details of his death. After his sister Ernestine called from Columbus, Ohio, I gave her Joe Duran's telephone number. She called Joe and in October of 2004 we met at Myrtle Beach where the old 63rd that became C Battery, 52nd was holding it reunion along with the 21st Infantry Regiment Association. We gave his sister a plaque that told what happened to James. Joe Duran spent a half day talking to her about James' last ride. As for me, I had kept my promise. It was never too late to keep that promise and put a family's mind at ease. I gained another family and I feel close to them.
When I retired and came back to Laurens, South Carolina, I had been away from the state for twenty-two years except for visits on leave time. My roots run deep in the red clay of South Carolina and no matter where I went, this was still home. Family past and present seemed to tug at me in those far away places as I went about my duties. Always in the back of my mind something that I did or something that someone remarked brought thoughts of home on those lonely nights in the barracks as taps sounded and the lights were turned out and I was left with my memories and the thoughts that raced through my head. Thoughts such as, "Who was that blue-eyed kid that died on that lonely hill?" I did not know his name (Boyd Tucker). And I wondered what James Thomas' family was thinking about that same night I was thinking of him. As I drifted off to sleep, I tried to shut those thoughts out and think of those nights so long ago as I sat in front of a blazing fire and listened to the dogs as they ran a hot trail along those river bottoms as the frost began to form. I looked at the faces of my friends and felt the feelings of being alive and hoped that they would shut out those bad dreams that I knew would creep into my sleep before the night was over.
The trouble that I had being a civilian again was not being regimented after all those years in the Army (when I had to get up at a certain time and eat at a certain time). I had to learn to relax. Sometimes I drove too fast just to get the adrenalin going. I had a number of fights for the same reason. It took me a year to break away from the Army and move back into civilian life. My mother noticed that I was very quiet around other people in the family when I came home from Korea. She was the only who did. The others thought that I was the same person that had left home in 1948. I wasn't.
When I returned to Laurens, I took all my paperwork to the Veteran Affairs Office to have it recorded. The secretary's name was Christine Edwards. She was the first female to be elected to the city council in the city of Laurens. She was a redhead with a temper to match, and she was the best looking woman that I had ever seen. She typed up my papers and I signed them and left. I could not get her out of my mind.
I had some money saved up and had my first car--a brand new yellow 1969 Camaro--and the mindset of an 18-year old. My brother had a cabin on Lake Greenwood that I could use for the year of 1970. I went wild and got it all out of my system.
By March 1971 I was ready to settle down and the money was just about gone. I got a job and went to work for Winn Dixie grocery chain. In April of that year I got up the courage to go to the Veteran Affairs Office to ask Christine for a date. We were married on August 17, 1971, and she remains my best friend. We were just short of being 43 years old when we married. We are now 78 years old and these have been the best years of my life. We are both from big families and at our late stages of life we decided not to go for the raising of children. I am happy with my loving mate and the life we lead.
I worked for Winn Dixie for three years, and we bought a home that we have lived in for the last 37 years. In 1974 I decided to go back to school. First I went to a technical school where I got my South Carolina GED in two years. I majored in public works and got my Associate's Degree in Public Service in August 1977. Then I went on to the University of South Carolina where I got an Associate in Arts degree on the 12th of August 1979.
While I was in school, the other students thought nothing about world affairs--or very little else, except getting through school, then getting a good job and living the good life. All they talked about was "me this and me that". They seemed to think that this freedom in which we live here in the United States is their birthright. They had not a thought about what it had cost others who made it possible for them to get in a car and drive all the way to the west coast without having to get a travel permit to take the trip. The people of many other nations do not have that simple freedom and privilege.
After I finished college, I went on to do some teaching in some of the local schools for five years, then in 1985 I retired for good. I spent the next years traveling all over the states, gardening, doing voluntary work (Meals on Wheels working with the shut-ins), mowing grass, and cleaning yards to make the Holliday Acres area look better.
I do not have any permanent disabilities from the Korean War, but I have Type Two diabetes due to exposure to Agent Orange in the Vietnam War. I have not put in for compensation because there is just so much BS that veterans have to go through to get a few dollars. Also, if I got it, money would come out of my retirement and be transferred to the Veteran's Affairs office, and this is not taxable. So it is not worth the trouble. One can mess up his or her retirement pay when he or she gets involved with the Veteran's Affairs Officer.
I am in contact with most of the men that I served with in Korea and some men from other divisions. I see them at the reunions that I attend each year. I am a life member of several military groups, including the 1st Cavalry Division Association, 3rd Armored Division Association, Society of the Third Infantry Division, Society of the Fifth Division Association, 9th Infantry Division Association, and 24th Infantry Division Association. I also contribute annually to the 7th Infantry Division Association, 21st Infantry Regiment, and 52nd Field Artillery Association.
When I went to Korea, I thought that there was good in all men. Then throughout my tour in Korea, I saw man's inhumanity to his fellow man. This made me take a hard look at those that I served with and to never take a person at face value. I learned that if I got to know him, I would be able to understand a person and find out just what makes him do and act the way he acts. If I understood him, I discovered that I could control his actions better.
I feel that the United States should have entered the war in Korea. Someone had to stop the communist expansion efforts to use other states to expand their type of government. Otherwise, it would have been first Korea, then Japan, then southeast into the island nations until the Pacific Ocean was one big communist lake--then the whole world would have been in trouble.
As for the crossing of the 38th Parallel, that was not MacArthur's call. That was the United Nations' call. The push north failed due to the Chinese entrance into the war after Mao got all that equipment from Stalin so his Army could invade Formosa. The fight in Korea drained him of men and equipment and his grand plans for this invasion did not take place. When we were forced back, someone had to take the blame. It fell on MacArthur. If the push north had worked, the United Nations would have taken the credit. The mistake that was made was not knowing where those three Chinese field armies were and that they were moving into North Korea and would attack with 300,000 men through the center of Korea using the same tactic as the North Korean Army--outflank and encircle.
The South Korean people now have a good economy and they now have machines that harvest rice and thresh it in the fields where it used to be done by hand. They have a good school system. All the children are taken on field trips to see where the young Americans came to their country to help their fathers and uncles to stop the North Koreans who had invaded the South. The South Korean people must decide whether they want American troops to remain in their country today, and whatever they decide they must live with. They must weigh the facts. Can their army stand up to the North Korean army and protect them? Or is it safer to have a United States presence in Korea to back up their army with weapons that they do not have?
I never thought much of the United Nations. When things went good, the United Nations was great. Then when things went bad, it was the USA's fault. The US Army and the Korean army had most of the troops that were in Korea. The rest of the forces in Korea were token forces in Korea from the United Nations. The Cold War turned warm because of Russia's failure in South Korea, thanks to the allied troops that fought there. It never reached the boiling point that would bring on World War III. Only the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of a war that would have left the world a cinder in space.
My thoughts on Korea are that I had a lot of respect for the Korean people who suffered through three years of war and afterwards built a strong economy and created jobs for the people. I am proud of the small part that I played in that country's history. From that morning so long ago on 6 July 1950, through the following terror-filled days, to the 14th of July with the dying all around me, to the streets of Taejon on the 20th of July when I thought, "This is the day that I die," to that sweet smell of death at Taejon in September when I saw man being inhumane to man. There, some 7,000 to 8,000 Koreans paid the price of freedom on that hillside, including the mother that tried to protect her child as she died--the baby whose little head was bashed in. Now they want to rewrite history to say that it never happened. As long as I live, no way will I just ignore what happened to those brave people of Korea on that hillside so long ago.
I do not follow other stories about the killing of innocent civilians that some say took place in Korea during the war years. I did not walk in their boots, so I leave them to judge themselves and face the ghost that comes to them in the night to disturb their dreams and that stays in the back of their minds day and night.
Many have forgotten about that time in Korea so long ago, or they do not want to recall the things that happened. With me, it is burned into my mind's eye--from those lazy weekend days on the beach in Japan to those terror-filled days from the 8th of July to the 21st of July 1950. After the battle in Taejon, I walked down to a pool of water, removed my boots, and walked in with all my clothing on. I scrubbed the grime, sweat and blood away, but the thing I could not wash away was the memory of the time period 7 July to 20 July 1950. The memory of those days will be with me until I have breathed my last breath. To the men in the 63rd that made it through those 13 days I say it was a job well done. We hung in there until help arrived.
The term "Forgotten War" for the Korean War came into being because when World War II was over, everyone was getting on with their lives. They had no time to get behind this war and decided, "Let's forget this little war that is in that faraway place that we know nothing about nor do we care about." To the next generation, I leave this message about the Korean War. I want them to know that this war was where America drew a line in the sand. The road to the USSR's downfall began in Korea. When I substitute teach, I talk about the Korean War and those brave young men who, without the proper equipment, took on an army that had fought in China with Mao and was sent to Korea to be the backbone of the North Korean army. I tell my students about those few brave young men who fought, died, fell back, and bought the time for a build-up of troops that threw the North Koreans out of South Korea. We tried to unify the country, only to have the Chinese enter the war and drive us back to the 38th parallel. For three years we fought in places like Pork Chop Hill, Outpost Harry, Old Baldy, and a lot of other places with names remembered only by those that fought and died there. Some that died have never been found to this day. There are still some 8,000 who remain missing. As for training, it takes money to train men for combat and to keep a unit combat-ready. Since those who have been trained generally complete their tour of duty every two years, our government then must start all over again. The United States is never really fully combat-ready. It is about 60 percent ready.
Korea was a place where I saw a group of young men without proper equipment and not enough ammunition fight, cry, and die. They fought, cried, and lost their lives in rice paddies, on lonely hills, in hot and humid days and nights, and in monsoon rains that turned the earth into a swamp. They fought, cried, and died in sub zero weather when the Mongolian Express brought cold weather that dropped to 35 degrees below zero and caused bare skin to freeze to metal. Through all of this these young men did what had to be done. When they returned to the United States, they came home to a nation that had no time for them. Most slipped back into a society that could have cared less what they had just gone through. The American people did not want to hear about Korea. In earlier World War II, the entire population felt a sense of pride about the part that was played by each and every family to win the war. The attitude about the Korean War was much different. Only those that lost loved ones had sacrificed in the Korean War. Most everyone else had not sacrificed a thing.
To those that gave all that they had to give and to those who died in those hell-hole POW camps, you will never be forgotten. To those that lived to return to the United States, I say, "Brother, you kept the faith. Rest and sleep well, my brothers. You did your job and you did it well. When I leave this world to join all of you in that big base camp wherever it is, and as I pass the reviewing stands, I can look each of you in the eye and truly say that I have never forgotten what we did so long ago in that far-off land called Korea. As I look at Korea today and what has happened to the country, I think our efforts were not in vain. When I draw that final breath and cross to pass in review, those that gave all that they had to give will tell me, "Job well done. Welcome Home, Forty Yards."
Being in the Army taught me that one must be involved in all the things in his or her city and county to make it a better place for everyone to live. We should also never let our young forget that "Freedom is Not Free." Someone must pay the price for that freedom with blood. Others give their lives for our freedom.
- Forty Yards -