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Louis G. Buttell
Silver Spring, MD-
"It was in America's vital interests to intervene in the Korean War and the vast majority of men who fought there believed it to be right. The reservists in particular acted in the highest American tradition of citizen soldiers. They were called to active duty, they came forward, fought and died, and those who survived returned to home, family, and jobs, resuming their former life and proud of their service."
- Louis Buttell
My name is Louis G. Buttell. I was born January 15, 1927 in Queens, New York, the only child of Thomas G. and Marie A. Gardiner Buttell. My mother and father both served in the Marine Corps in World War I. They were separated and then divorced in the early 1930s when I was quite young. After that I saw my father infrequently until my mother died in 1973. I then contacted him and we saw him and his second wife from time to time until he died in 1991.
My mother worked for the U.S. Civil Service Commission and I lived with her throughout my childhood. Mother was a civilian clerk typist at Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington, DC when the United States entered World War I. Someone decided that it would be symbolic if women participated in the war effort as part of the Armed Forces. The women at Headquarters were invited to enlist and about 150 (as my mother recalled) accepted. They were put into uniform, drilled on the mall every day, and then performed virtually the same duties they did as civilians. My mother served on active duty from September of 1918 to July 1919. She remained in the Marine Corps Reserve until 1922, when she was discharged. She received the World War I Victory Medal and the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal for her service. She kept in contact with other Marinettes (as they were called) over the years. During the later years, the Marines invited them to Headquarters periodically for a reunion.
I attended Blessed Sacrament Elementary School in Jackson Heights, New York, and then high school at Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx. I tried out for the high school football team and didn't make it. I turned to sports writing instead and became sports editor of the school paper. I was also manager of the baseball team. At age 16, I worked daily as a Western Union messenger, delivering telegrams by bicycle. The hardest part of the job was delivering telegrams from the War Department to families whose sons had been killed or wounded in the war. I could tell it was that kind of telegram because the office stamped red stars on the front of the telegrams--one for wounded, two for dead. Besides the Western Union job, I worked as a clerk in a wartime agency called "Supervisor of Shipbuilding" in Manhattan, New York. I was primarily a gofer/messenger. After I graduated from Fordham in January of 1944, I attended Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts. Holy Cross was a four-year college. My career plans were to be a journalist, so I studied English and philosophy there.
I wanted to enlist in the Marine Corps when I was 17, but my mother declined to give permission. I believe she thought I would be killed in action. I knew that I would be facing the draft on my 18th birthday in 1945 and I did not wish to be drafted into the Army. The Navy offered the rate of second class seaman to those selecting the Air Crewman Program, so I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in November of 1944. I attended Navy boot camp at the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Memphis, Tennessee, and underwent the normal training routine for new enlistees. I was given navy uniforms, checked medically, given a haircut, and assigned to a unit and barracks. The area in which the boot camp was located was a flat area that was part of a larger naval training complex.
My Navy supervisors (I can't remember what they were actually called) were petty officers, some of whom had served in the Pacific. Boot camp was eight weeks of discipline and learning basic naval skills, military drill, and swimming. We were awakened at 5 a.m. in the morning by a bugle call piped in over the PA system. Breakfast (the food was nourishing and plentiful) followed almost immediately and the training day usually began at 7 a.m. Free time was limited and we were not allowed to leave the boot camp area. Once a week the barracks had to be thoroughly cleaned and floors waxed and buffed for inspection. The barracks with the best record each week received additional free time. Lights out was usually at 9 p.m. If we were awakened at night, it was usually at the whim of the petty officer in charge of the barracks. The navy petty officers were quite strict, making it clear that we were there to learn discipline in anticipation of wartime service, but I do not recall any brutality. I remember that the entire platoon was disciplined on more than one occasion when the offending individual did not step forward. This collective discipline was to make the point that military service, especially in wartime, was a team effort. Those that didn't make it out of boot camp usually left for physical or mental problems.
There were numerous training films. I suppose the ones warning against the dangers of VD were the most gruesome. There were certain time and numerical requirements for running the obstacle course and other physical exercise programs. There was also a type of written IQ test. I don't recall that any one thing was harder than another.
Most of my platoon attended church, but there was no pressure put on us to go. Again, we had no opportunity to leave the camp, but I think most of us felt that we were there to serve our country and made the best of our situation. The only thing of interest that I recall that happened during training was a shakedown racket in which some of our rated supervisors got money from some of us for granting permission for something to which we would normally be entitled, i.e., visiting the canteen. The scheme was uncovered and the violators were punished. I had respect for some of my instructors, but not all--especially those involved in the shakedown episode.
When boot camp was completed, there was a graduation ceremony, at which each recruit received a certificate of completion. I had no regrets for having joined the Navy. I was more disciplined in my personal life after joining. After boot camp, I attended aviation radio school, also in Memphis. Attending the school was an option that had been offered to me when I enlisted. I was guaranteed one rank (Seaman Second Class) above the normal enlisting rank of Apprentice Seaman with slightly higher pay. At the aviation radio school, I primarily learned Morse Code, sending and receiving, and the operation of radio equipment used aboard naval aircraft. It was 16 weeks of hands-on training with instructors who had been in action. In order to graduate, I had to take and send Morse Code at so many words per minute and prove that I could operate complicated radio gear. In my free time I usually went on leave to Memphis, which was just a few miles away from the base via Navy transportation. I often went to USO centers.
Following graduation from aviation radio school, I expected to be sent for training as a radioman/tail-gunner in torpedo bombers or dive bombers and to eventual service in the Pacific. It was at this point that I was selected for officer training in the Navy's V-12 program. It was a program under which, after successful completion of written and oral examinations, the Navy sent individuals to college and, upon graduation, continued them in service as officers. The V-12 tests were open to any enlisted member of the Navy. Their purpose was to determine if we were qualified to be sent to college by the Navy and eventually to become a commissioned officer. In my case, I was selected for the program in June of 1945, and was sent to Cornell University where I studied until June 1946. By then the war was over. I was discharged from the Navy because the Navy no longer needed as many officers in peacetime as in wartime.
I returned to Holy Cross College in the Fall of 1946, and entered the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps. The NROTC (like the Army ROTC) was a program designed to supplement the service academics in supplying commissioned officers in the armed forces. A student took regular courses leading to a degree. In addition, he was required to take military courses in whatever branch he intended to serve. I had to take such courses as Basic Infantry Tactics. Upon graduation in June of 1948, I received a commission as Second Lieutenant. I had the choice of accepting a commission as a Naval Reserve Officer in the Marine Corps or the Navy. I chose the Marines.
Most graduates pursued civilian careers (as I did in journalism) and remained in the active or inactive reserve. Some graduates applied for regular commissions. I worked at Newsweek Magazine in New York as a reporter from September 1948 until July 1950. While working at Newsweek, I was in a Marine Corps reserve unit--the 14th Signal Company in Brooklyn, which met for training once a week. I was unmarried at the time.
When war broke out in Korea, there was no doubt that I would be called out. The Marine Corps had been severely cut back in manpower after the end of World War II and it was obvious that most, if not all, Marine reservists would be called to active duty if the Marines were to play a major role in the Korean War. When our unit got called out, we had about two weeks to get our affairs in order before reporting for duty. We were all volunteers, having applied for and accepted commissions in the Marine Corps. We knew that if armed conflict came, we would be called. There was no resentment. We felt we were doing our duty. The only unhappiness was at the usual vagaries of the military service. I felt that since the United States government had determined that saving Korea was in the national interest, it was my duty to serve.
Normally it was necessary for any Marine officer commissioned from NROTC to take months of additional training before being assigned to a combat unit. In July of 1950, we were sent by train to Camp Pendleton, California. The unit was then broken up and its members assigned to active duty units. Two months after reporting for duty at Camp Pendleton, 300 other lieutenants and I were sent for further training at Marine Corps Base Quantico, VA for ten weeks, October-December 1950. Four other 2nd lieutenants and I who had had no active duty as officers were among them. I might point out that the coruscated First Special Basic Course lasted for ten weeks while, at the same base, 2nd lieutenants of the regular Marine Corps were undergoing the same type of training, but of six months duration. I felt that it was an inadequate period of time to train young officers to lead 48 enlisted men in combat. We were all taught mainly infantry tactics and use of weapons by regular officers and enlisted personnel of the Marine Corps.
After ten weeks of training at Quantico, five of the second lieutenants from our reserve communications company were assigned to the infantry. Several other lieutenants with no previous acquaintanceship with communications were sent to school to learn to be communications officers. It would have made more sense to send the men with some communication background to advanced communications school and then into combat.
When our training at Quantico ended, we were given ten days leave and then sent to Camp Pendleton for a week of mountain training in an area north of Oceanside. We learned that in flat country, troops advanced along a front and tried to make sure that their flanks were secure. In mountainous country, a unit could not advance in a straight line, but instead must advance up a ridge line, always coming in at an angle, which made movement difficult. Also, we learned not to take the easy route between the ridge lines or what was called "the saddle"--the lowest portion between two higher points. It was quite tempting to do this since it made for a faster advance. (Thus the expression, "high diddle diddle, right up the middle.") If this was done and there were enemy on the ridge lines to either side, one found himself the victim of what was called "plunging fire"--that is, the entrenched enemy firing down on an exposed position.
While at Camp Pendleton, we normally had liberty about once a week in Los Angeles, about 90 miles north. I usually went to dances and bars. When our training was complete, we were then sent to San Diego by ground transportation to board ship for Korea. I sent a letter to my mother. I believe she felt the same as when she declined to let me join the Marines in World War II. She didn't want to lose me and, as it turned out and unlike several of my friends, she didn't. I packed what belongings I was allowed to take, and said goodbye to fellow Marines who were to come after us.
We left the United States in early January of 1951 on the USS J.C. Breckenridge. It had been used earlier to transport military dependents and their families to Japan and return. There were approximately 2500 Marine officers and men aboard. I assume there was military cargo aboard. Officers shared a very small stateroom with two bunks and a bathroom. Enlisted quarters were two three-level bunks with a shared bathroom and showers. We ate in an officer's mess while the enlisted men were in a mess that was much like a cafeteria.
I had never been on a large sea-going vessel before, but I did not get sea sick. Others did. En route we hit some rough weather. We passed through a large tropical storm which caused the ship to plummet up and down throughout one night. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and feeling as if I was on a down elevator going full speed. Other than that, the trip was quite uneventful. For entertainment on the ship, we watched movies, read, and played cards. It was rather eerie to sail across the Pacific, fully-lighted, with movies on deck and knowing that we were going into combat. The trip took approximately two weeks.
The ship stopped first on the west coast of Japan and then on the east coast, where we were transferred to LSD's for the trip across the Sea of Japan to Korea. We knew what had transpired in Korea between the end of our training and our arrival in Japan. We were briefed on the tactics being used by the North Korean Army and Chinese People's Liberation Army. The latter had ended the war in late November and pushed the allied forces back below the 38th parallel. Specifically, we were told that the Chinese tended to attack in mass formation in an attempt to overrun Marine positions by sheer force of numbers.
I was apprehensive about leading men into battle, and talked to as many officers who had been in combat in Korea as I could to learn as much as I could about leading men in combat and what to expect from the enemy. Again, I felt that ten weeks training at Quantico was inadequate to transform me from a communications officer into an infantry leader. I was not overly concerned over my own safety. Instead, I was worried that my lack of training and experience might lead to casualties among the men I was to lead, and that thought always lingered. After I arrived in Korea, got to know the men, and watched other company officers in action, I felt more confident.
We arrived in Korea on January 20, 1951. We were offloaded onto an LST which landed at Pohang, Korea, and were immediately trucked to the units to which we had been assigned. My first impression of Korea was that it was very cold, mountainous, and forbidding. There had been fighting in the area and there were signs of devastation. I was armed with an M-1 carbine and a 15-round ammunition clip on the journey to my unit. Easy Company, Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment (E-2-7), First Marine Division, was in bivouac at Pohang, having been evacuated from the Chosin Reservoir with many casualties and having been engaged in a campaign south of Pohang to round up North Korean troops who had been isolated by the Inchon landing. When I joined it, E-2-7 was in an urban area and because we were not actively fighting, civilians remained in the area, many looking for food, business, etc. from the troops.
I was assigned as Platoon Leader of the First Platoon (48 men) of E-2-7. The previous platoon leader had been wounded and evacuated, and I replaced a sergeant who was acting platoon leader. Two enlisted men from my reserve unit in Brooklyn, New York met me as I got off the truck. They gave me equipment which provided invaluable to me. I was briefed immediately by the company commander (Merlin T. Matthews) about the company and its men, many of whom had survived unbelievable combat conditions during the withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir. I also sought advice from the acting platoon leader. He was a staff sergeant who had seen considerable action before I arrived. I sensed that he did not feel comfortable with me as a green officer. I did learn from him, even though he did not offer as much help as I had hoped for. I met other officers Richard Dively, company executive officer, and McPoland, who was one of the other platoon leaders They had all served in combat and I was impressed by their competence. They were extremely helpful in teaching me the ropes concerning leadership and enemy tactics. What I learned "on the job" is hard to recall, but I remember that it was mostly about the necessity to let the men know that I was concerned about their safety and well being. I also learned that fighting in mountainous terrain required different skills.
The situation in the early days of the Korean War was chaotic. Officers and men I met on my arrival there told me that a favorite trick of the North Koreans was to mix soldiers dressed in civilian clothes among refugees, and if our troops allowed the refugee group to advance close enough, the North Korean soldiers would break out and attack. I hope no one condones cold-blooded killing of civilians. However, in light of this trick, I could understand firing on a group of apparent civilians if they were ordered away but continued to move toward our lines. That is apparently what happened at Nogun-ri in the early days of the war. The incident at Nogun-ri made controversial Associated Press headlines in the late 1990s.
As my company commander, Captain Matthews was my superior and gave me orders. Colonel Homer Litzenburg, Lt. Colonel Ray Davis, and Captain Merlin T. Matthews stand out clearly in my mind after all of these years. Litzenburg led the Seventh Marines at Inchon and at the Chosin Reservoir. He gave a fighting speech before we left for combat in February 1951. His officers and men idolized him. Colonel Davis had won the Medal of Honor at the Chosin Reservoir and served as Litzenburg's executive officer. He was a quiet man, but inspired the greatest loyalty among the officers and men. Captain Matthews, commander of Easy Company, was the same type--quiet, firm, and fearless. I served with other World War II salts. Many were naturally unhappy at being uprooted again from home and family and put in harm's way, but it never affected their fighting ability or desire to be a good Marine.
My first glimpse of combat came on a brisk morning when there was a clear blue sky and bright sunshine. Our battalion was to assault an enemy-held ridgeline and my company was the reserve unit. We were strung out on a lower, circular ridge line. As such, those of us in the rear could observe the company assaulting the enemy position in an uphill attack. Prior to the assault, three P-51 aircraft bombarded the ridge in a massive air strike. To my virtually untrained eye, their bombing runs were spectacular. Fire and explosions rocked the enemy position. As onlookers, we felt the enemy position had been neutralized. We saw the assault company move forward and also saw considerable fire coming from the enemy position. It was only afterwards when we talked with members of the assault units that we learned that the P-51s were too high when they dropped their bombs and had little effect on the dug in enemy troops. The assault unit suffered severe casualties before taking the position. I mention this in contrast to a Corsair run that I will describe later. In defense of the P-51 pilots, they were fighter pilots and had little or no training in close support of ground troops.
After two weeks of bivouac, we were sent into combat in the vicinity of Wonju in mid February. We came under mortar fire shortly after entering the combat zone, causing several casualties in the company, including two dead. One of the mortar shells dropped into a foxhole adjoining mine. Our battalion moved forward day by day against enemy forces, taking one ridge line, moving down the forward slope, and then climbing the next ridge line in the face of enemy fire and bitter cold weather, including snow and rain. Because we were part of General Ridgeway's Operation Killer, we called ourselves the "ridge runners." Our replacement draft (the 5th) fought exclusively on what was called the east/central front. From south to north, some of the places were Wonju, Yanggu, Hoensong, Hongchon, Hwachon reservoir, and back and forth across the 38th parallel from January through April of 1951.
I saw my first dead enemy approximately three weeks after I arrived in Korea. I saw my first dead Marine about the same time. It's hard to remember. I had talked with so many people about their experiences at Inchon and the Chosin Reservoir that I think I was pretty well prepared for the sight of casualties, both wounded and dead. My recollection is that it did not affect me greatly.
One particular day, we got a late start leaving our position and moving down the mountain. As we started across the valley to the next ridge line, we came under intense long-range enemy fire from the ridge line ahead. This slowed our movement so that by the time we had reached the foothills, fought our way up the mountain (footing being hazardous because of icy conditions), and secured the right end of the ridge, it was dusk. The company commander sent out a patrol to reconnoiter the west end of the ridge. It quickly came back, reporting that there was a log bunker with an unknown force of enemy troops who had fired on the patrol. The company commander ordered us to dig in for the night. As we began digging into the frozen ground, mortar shells from the bunker began falling on our position. We managed to dig deep enough to hunker down, but the shelling continued throughout the night, causing numerous casualties. We fired our own mortars against the bunker, but it was strongly constructed and the shells bounced off harmlessly.
At first light the company commander sent a probing force against the bunker, but the enemy repulsed them. At that point, the company commander directed our air forward observer (at that time all Marine pilots had to serve a month’s tour with Marine ground battalions as forward observers) to call in air support to take out the bunker. My recollection is that within a half hour (it could have been longer), Marine Corsair appeared overhead and made a run on the bunker at low altitude, dropping a canister of napalm which missed the target. We could see the pilot making his turn for a second run, this time at an even lower altitude. We all swore he could not have been more than a hundred feet off the deck--we could see his face and goggles. This time he didn’t miss. He laid the napalm canister directly on the bunker and the enemy troops spilled out, most of them badly burned by the jellied petroleum. We rose and cheered as the Corsair roared off. We were certain he had saved our lives and allowed us to continue our mission. Unfortunately, we never learned his identity. We would have stood him drinks in every Officers Club in Japan.
When I arrived in East Central Korea, it was still winter and quite cold. The temperature ranged from single digits at night to the 20s and low 30s at night. It snowed frequently. From inside to out, we wore long underwear, a wool sweater and weatherproof trousers, padded vest, waterproof field jacket, waterproof lined hat with ear flaps, waterproof lined gloves, two pairs of wool socks, shoepacks (combination leather and rubber boots) and a steel helmet. The .30 caliber carbine carried by company grade officers and other personnel was extremely susceptible to cold, wet weather, jamming frequently. As far as I can remember, other weapons were much more reliable.
In the Spring it remained quite cold at night, but the days were quite warm, causing us to have to change clothing frequently, which was not easy under combat conditions. We wore standard Marine issue dungarees (I still have a set), green tweed jacket, trousers, cap, steel helmet, and leather boots. Summer was quite hot. The warm weather clothing issued to us was adequate except for the footwear. The boots did not allow for any air circulation and as a result, caused moisture to accumulate and create a condition called immersion foot. This caused the skin on the soles of the feet to turn white and blister, and required treatment off the front line.
The terrain was mostly mountainous but there were forested areas on the slopes which provided some, but not much, cover to advancing troops. When we were in actual combat and paused for the night, each man had to dig a foxhole for sleeping purposes and protection from shell fire. We had our normal supporting arms--the company machine gun and mortar platoons, and the battalion 81mm mortar platoon, artillery, and air support on call.
The Seventh Marines were attached to the Army First Cavalry Division in March and April of 1951 for the purpose of an offensive operation. There was no actual integration of forces. We were just under their command for that period. During my time in combat, the units on our flank were a division of the Republic of Korea (ROK) army. At that time they were untrained and unreliable. In April of 1951, they broke and ran under a massive Chinese counter attack, leaving the Seventh Marines and other units of the First Marine Division exposed and partially surrounded. Fortunately, a blocking position was put in place and we were able to get to the rear and re-establish our position. The South Koreans became better as the war wore on.
There were always Korean refugees, women and children, and we tried to send them to the rear when we encountered them to keep them out of harm's way. There were considerable numbers of children in the cities and small towns. A young Korean boy tagged along with our battalion and he became a sort of mascot, running errands, etc. The enemy and the South Koreans were commonly referred to as gooks. It was a term of derision when applied to the enemy, and used almost affectionately when applied to the South Koreans as "our gooks."
Most of the enemy soldiers that I saw were young. How good they were, I cannot tell, but they were determined and very numerous. I don't remember exactly what type of rifles they used. They made very effective use of mortars and hand grenades. The North Koreans and Chinese liked to launch surprise assaults at night, but I would say that most of the fighting was done in daylight, even though they fought more night engagements than we did. They tended to make mass attacks, relying on numbers to overrun our positions. We tended to use infantry and supporting arms, and tried to take the enemy on the flank rather than by frontal assault. I was never involved in hand to hand combat. I fired at enemy troops when necessary, but as a platoon leader I was more involved with directing troops than firing on the enemy. While I was in Korea, my company was never called upon to do the impossible. We were in some tight spots, but we did our duty. The men in my platoon who were at the Chosin Reservoir were the ones that did the impossible in Korea.
There were several men in my company who were killed and wounded between February and June of 1951. During that time period, Easy Company suffered almost 200 casualties. In early March, the company suffered heavy casualties in an engagement described by company commander Matthews: "I remember my reply to our battalion commander when he told me that the regimental commander demanded an explanation of why our effective strength fell so quickly between March 6 and 8. I told Lt. Colonel Meyerhoff that it was because we had been pushed into a 'meat grinder' where at least a battalion was needed."
Casualties from the February to June 1951 time frame who come to mind were Merlin T. Matthews, Company Commander; Richard Dively, Company Executive Officer; Boyce Clark, rifleman; Dick Bohart, Browning Automatic rifleman; Norman Kellogg, rifleman; Gene Cockrill, rifleman; and J.D. Hargrove, rifleman. I cannot provide their states of origin. The U.S. Navy assigned hospital corpsmen to each Marine unit. When a Marine was wounded in combat, the corpsman went to his aid, even though the unit might be pinned down by enemy fire. Combat Marines have the highest regard and respect for Navy corpsmen who risk their lives to treat wounded Marines on the battlefield and drag them to safety at the risk of their own lives.
There was no opportunity for tanks to operate in the mountainous area in which we were fighting, but we received very good support from the battalion 81mm mortar platoon and division artillery. Air support was superb early on, but became less a factor later because of a decision made by MacArthur's headquarters in Tokyo and noted in the new book, "The Battle History of the US Marines." In Korea, each Marine battalion had a Marine pilot as a close air observer. That is, when the combat units called for close air support, the pilot on the ground serving with forward units directed his planes to the target. At first, combat units could call in and receive air support from Marine aircraft. The Marine Corps stressed close liaison between ground troops and aircraft and incorporated that into the training of both ground and air units. But Tokyo changed the system so that when air support was called for, whatever aircraft were available--Marine, Navy, or Air Force--were sent. The result was that on many occasions, P-51s were sent in response to calls by Marine combat units for close air support. The problem was that the P-51 pilots had never trained with ground troops and the plane itself could not throttle down to speeds necessary to drop napalm or anti-personnel bombs effectively. It was quite obvious from the ground. Marine Corsairs would come in so close to us that we could almost touch them before dropping their payloads. The P-51s stayed way up there and were just not as effective. Aircraft were also used to drop supplies to us from time to time. At one point, because of heavy rains we were unable to receive supplies by road so they were airdropped on our position. A good deal of the drop landed behind enemy lines. We were fired upon when trying to retrieve supplies that had dropped between the lines.
The time over all other times when I felt that I was in the most personal danger in Korea was when our company was advancing over open ground and we came under intense enemy artillery fire. Since there was no cover and no time to dig foxholes, we were spread out on the ground and vulnerable not only to a direct hit, but also flying shrapnel. I prayed a lot. When General MacArthur made his threatening speech advocating nuclear weapons and the Nationalist Chinese entered into the war, I was discouraged. I thought that if those two things happened, there would be another world war.
There was no opportunity to bathe in the front lines, nor to change into clean clothes. We tried to have the men change socks daily because the socks became soaked with perspiration inside the unventilated shoe packs, but that was not always practical. We shaved when we could, mostly with cold water.
I spent much of my time in Korea in foxholes, but never in a bunker. It was extremely uncomfortable because one never had time to dig it deep and wide enough, or we were too tired to do so by the time to dig in. The ground was hard and rocky and the entrenching shovel was usually inadequate to the task. The main thing was to get off the skyline and hope a mortar shell or hand grenade didn't drop into our hole.
On the front lines, we ate C-rations which were plain, but nourishing. In reserve area, a mess hall was set up and mostly canned food was cooked and served. On the morning of going into combat from a reserve area, we were served the traditional Marine jumping off breakfast of steak and eggs. They were the best thing I ever ate in Korea from a mess tent. We never ate the native food because we were advised not to.
I did not have a particular buddy in Korea. I saw men from my reserve unit, my rifle company, and officers I trained with before going to Korea. We laughed and joked often to relieve the tension that always existed when we were in a combat area and likely to come under enemy fire. Shortly after arriving in Korea and before our company went into combat, we were billeted in tents in a reserve area. These tents were heated by stoves full of kerosene, I believe. At one point there was an acute shortage of fuel and our tent had run out. A couple of hours later, two of my men showed up with four ten-gallon cans of fuel. I asked them where they had gotten it. They rolled their eyes and said they just found them sitting outside the supply dump. We called such finds "midnight requisitions."
About once or twice a week we received mail from home. My mother, grandmother, and friends sent me mail from home. They also sent packages. Other Marines received packages, too. They contained non-perishable food, cakes, and cookies. Those who got bad news from home were filled with sadness and frustration at not being able to help out at home. Of course, if there was a serious illness or death, the individual was sent home temporarily.
Religious services--or "divine services" as the Navy and Marine Corps called them, were available from time to time, but not usually in the front line areas. Also not available on the front lines were prostitutes. They were said to be available in rear areas. The only American women I saw in Korea were nurses and war correspondents. I remember one in particular was May Craig, who was reporting for newspapers in Maine. Another person of interest that I met in Korea was New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey. He once came for a tour of the front (not too far front) and I was one of the New York residents selected to shake hands with him.
I spent Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day in Korea. They were usually just another day. My birthday occurred when I was aboard ship going to Korea. Jack Benny and a touring USO troop entertained us while we were in reserve near Yang. I remember Benny joking, "Now I've been to all the great cities of the world: London, Paris, and Yang." There was no R&R during my time in Korea.
Most combat troops, myself included, smoked in Korea. Cigarettes were included in C-rations. Beer was shipped to the front infrequently and officers received one or two bottles of whiskey from time to time when Marine pilots who were sent as air-ground observers came over from Japan to relieve their colleagues.
I don't think I ever felt completely comfortable as a platoon leader because of what I considered to be a lack of adequate training. An officer mainly fears that he will expose his men to danger by not doing his job well. I felt that I was not only treated with respect by my men, but that they liked me personally. They confided their fears and person problems in me. They were concerned with their own safety and, in the words of one, asked, "What the hell are we doing here, Lieutenant?" I tried to instill a spirit of teamwork or "we're all in this together" to assuage the personal fears and to explain why the United States' national interest required us to be in Korea. When I was transferred back to battalion headquarters, they all lined up to shake my hand and say goodbye. I felt that all members of my platoon were exceptionally good Marines, especially since many of them, like myself, had been civilians five months earlier.
Among my duties as platoon leader was the responsibility to write to family members to tell them that their loved one had been killed in Korea. It was difficult, especially in one case where a man had joined the platoon one morning and was killed that night before I ever had a chance to talk with him. In those letters, I tried to be as personal as possible and to justify the reason for the man's service and death.
The Marine Corps had a "first in, first out" policy. That is, the earlier a reservist was called up, the earlier he got out. I was called up on July 25, 1950, only a month after the Korean War broke out, so I was released relatively early. By the time I was released, I was attached to Regimental Headquarters, a relatively large and impersonal organization as compared to a rifle platoon of 48 men. The battalion communications officer was sent home because of family illness and I had experience as a communications officer in a Marine Corps reserve unit, so I had been sent back at the end of March 1951. I was sorry to leave the men in my platoon, but glad to get off the front line because there was always the threat of being wounded or killed. At battalion headquarters, it was safer, warmer, and less stressful. I no longer had to worry about the safety of 45 Marines in a rifle platoon. Once at headquarters, I was the acting communications officer, assistant personnel officer, and legal officer. I remained there approximately two months before being transferred to regimental headquarters.
I had acquaintances at battalion headquarters, but there was much coming and going so not many lasting friendships were made. When it was time for me to leave to return to the States, I said goodbye to people I knew and left. My recollection is that I went from around the 38th parallel by ground transportation to the rear Marine base at Masan, just north of Pusan. There I was put on a plane with other Marines being sent home and we were transported to Tokyo for preliminary processing. I left Korea about September 15, 1951. I had arrived in the country as a Second Lieutenant. I left Korea as a First Lieutenant. In Japan, our trunks containing normal uniforms and other possessions were returned to us and we were checked out medically. Then we boarded a plane again and left for the United States. The trip took approximately 48 hours, including stopovers at Wake Island and Pearl Harbor. We were restricted to government quarters while on the ground.
The plane landed at an Air Force base north of San Francisco. I was grateful to be home safely. I was sent to a Marine processing unit at Treasure Island, where I received back pay and discharge documents. I then went to visit relatives in the area and slept. I spent the second day in San Francisco hitting the bar circuit while awaiting final processing to return to New York. I didn't think about re-enlisting. I had no desire to become a regular Marine. I was released from active duty about September 20, 1951, but remained in the Marine Corps Reserve until January of 1961.
After I was discharged from active duty, I think that I had a more mature outlook on life having seen combat. I took courses in journalism at Columbia University under the GI Bill. I also returned to work at Newsweek Magazine as writer-researcher until 1952. I then worked for Greenwich Time, the daily newspaper in Greenwich, Connecticut; the Voice of America; the March of Dimes; the American Podiatric Medical Association; and a second tour with the Voice of America. I married Betty Johnson at Wethersfield, Connecticut on November 28, 1959. We have a daughter Amy and a son John. I remained at Newsweek until June of 1995. In my retirement I use the computer, play golf in season, and spend the winter in Florida.
My strongest memories of Korea are of the cold, fighting up and down a seemingly endless string of ridge lines, fear that I would let my men down, the fortitude and valor of the men I served with--uncomplaining about the big things and cursing the little things, and deep sorrow at the death of comrades. I served with heroes, including Colonel Ray Davis who won the Medal of Honor at Chosin; Captain Merlin T. Matthews who was wounded twice and who was the epitome of a Marine rifle company commander for me; and two friends with whom I went through infantry training and who received the Navy Cross for valor--Lt. Lucian Vestal and Pete McCloskey.
At the time we first sent troops into the Korean War, it appeared that our national interests were threatened and the memory of the democracies' failure to stand up to Hitler early on were fresh in our minds, so I thought it was right to send troops to Korea. I was ambivalent at the time about whether MacArthur should have gone north of the 38th parallel. Now I think it was a mistake, especially the manner in which it was done--that is, sending army divisions north across a wide front with huge gaps between units and sending the First Marine Division by itself to the Chosin Reservoir in the face of Chinese threats to enter the war if the Marines persisted on trying to take the reservoir area. If the decision to go beyond the 38th parallel had to be made, a more controlled advance might have prevented the Chinese from rolling the Eighth Army all the way back into South Korea. It might have given the allies more leverage in negotiating a cease fire.
The First Marine Division received the Presidential Unit Citation while I was in Korea. I did not receive any personal decorations--just the medals that all who served in Korea received. I have preserved the seven meadows (Korea Reserve Service) and two unit citations (Presidential and Korean Presidential) in a shadow box which hangs in my den. I also have a set of miniature medals which I wear to Marine Corps reunions.
I lost track of my men until 1998, when I put a notice in the Old Breed News, newsletter of the First Marine Division Association, asking for information about men from E-2-7 in 1951. Boyce Clark of Seattle responded and said he was a rifleman in my platoon in Korea. He said that he remembered that I had found out that a certain day was his first wedding anniversary and that I gave him a drink of whiskey from a flask that I carried to celebrate the occasion. I went to the Division reunion in Cincinnati the next year and was reunited with him, Norman Kellogg, Dick Bohart, and Gene Cockrill, all of whom served under me. I now keep in regular contact with them. I also recently met a number of former officers with whom I served in the First Special Basic Class, a brief training program prior to shipment to Korea. We held our first reunion in 49 years at Quantico, Virginia in 1999 and now meet annually.
If some student finds a copy of this memoir for use someday, I would want him or her to know that the Korean War carries the nickname "The Forgotten War" because after the North Korean invasion, the Inchon Landing, and the Chinese intervention, the war settled into a virtual stalemate. People put it out of their minds. Also, when men came home from Korea, it was not in great numbers involving ship arrivals, parades, etc. When I came home, I was grateful for having survived an ordeal I never expected to have to undergo. I was glad to be home, I put active duty behind me, and I went back to work. It was in America's vital interests to intervene in the Korean War and the vast majority of men who fought there believed it to be right. The reservists in particular acted in the highest American tradition of citizen soldiers. They were called to active duty, they came forward, fought and died, and those who survived returned to home, family, and jobs, resuming their former life and proud of their service. The loyalty and unselfishness that men displayed to each other under life and death conditions in Korea reminded me of how much of life is chance. Men live or die on the battlefield, often because of a few inches. I believe the good that came out of the Korean War is that it sent a message to the Soviet Union and China that the western democracies were prepared to resist aggression. In light of North Korea's large standing army and threatening gestures, I think a U.S. presence in Korea is still prudent.
I don't believe that World War II veterans are treated with more respect and appreciation than Korean War veterans, but I do believe that veterans of the Vietnam War are treated with more respect than Korean War veterans. Yet there were just as many men killed in Korea in a shorter period of time than in Vietnam. It is an unfortunate side of war that men go missing in action for any number of causes. It is right for the government to extend every effort to locate them, but to charge that there is some kind of neglect or malfeasance because all are not found is not understanding the vagaries of war and the destructive power of weapons.
Serving in the Marine Corps helped me to take pride in my post-military work. I keep in contact as much as possible with men I knew while on active duty and in the Marine Corps reserve. I will always remember the men of Easy Company, Second Battalion, who served with me under the most severe conditions of combat. Those relationships have enriched my life. One never forgets his time in service, especially if one has been in combat. The Marine Corps seems to instill a greater sense of pride--esprit de corps--than the other service. My army friends kid me about Marine Corps bragging, but they sense the underlying pride.
There were no reunions of the First Special Basic Class until 1999 when several members, headed by Jim Fitzgerald, who was the first member of our group to be wounded (February 1951) of the Class got together, unearthed an old roster, and sent out letters. We met at Quantico, had a successful reunion, and agreed to meet again. I volunteered to help with publicity, but when the person who had volunteered to be in charge was unable to do so, I inherited the job and, with the tremendous help of my wife, have been doing it ever since.
The highlight of our reunion at Quantico was the dedication of a memorial to the 11 members of our class who were killed in action, paid for by voluntary contributions from members of the Class. Senator John Warner, a member of the Class, attended and gave a moving talk. (We have also raised money for and installed bronze plaques in their memory at the colleges they attended and have purchased memorial bricks at the new museum with their names and units inscribed). We subsequently met at Camp Pendleton, New Orleans (headquarters of the Marine Corps Reserve), Camp Lejeune, Camp Pendleton again, and this year back at Quantico. Our 2006 reunion included a tour of the Capitol arranged by Senator Warner's staff and a personal meeting with Senator Warner in the Senate Chamber. We also received a preview tour of the new Museum of the Marine Corps. At all of our reunions, we have a memorial service to remember our 11 and those who have died during the past year.
Lt. Felix W. (Bill) Goudelock, February 3,1951
History of First Special Basic Class