|Back to "Memoirs" Index page|
Robert B. Campbell
"A lot of the guys performed heroic deeds and got deserved recognition for them. But in my book, the real heroes were the ones who didn't make it home...the KIAs and the MIAs. Theirs was the ultimate sacrifice."
- Robert B. Campbell
My name is Robert B. Campbell of Medina, Ohio. I was born on May 21, 1933 in Cleveland, Ohio, a son of Bertram D. and Helen V. Halterman Campbell. Father was a shipper for Republic Steel and Mother was an insurance agent for Prudential. I had one younger brother, Walter L. Campbell.
I attended Clark Elementary in Cleveland, then James Ford Rhodes High School, also in Cleveland. I graduated high school in June of 1951. When I was a junior and senior there, I worked as a pin setter in a bowling alley on weekends.
World War II was going on when I was in school, and although I had no relatives in the war, I personally helped support the war effort by participating in paper and scrap drives at my elementary school. During one scrap drive, I won a prize for collecting the most. I also sold Defense Stamps door-to-door in my neighborhood.
I couldn't get any kind of decent job because I was 1-A in the draft. I couldn't afford college, so I figured I'd go into the service and then go to college on the GI Bill when I got out. I had always been partial to the Marines. Both my aunt and my next door neighbor dated Marines during World War II and I got to talk to them when they were home on leave. They let me read their Leatherneck magazines. I was totally hooked from then on.
I enlisted with two guys from my class--George Manson and Gilbert Reis. I imagine they joined because of the employment situation, the same reason I did. Why they picked the Marines, I don't know. My folks weren't too happy when I told them that I had joined. They said I should have joined the Navy or Air Force. I enlisted on August 1, 1951 and left Ohio by train to attend boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. Manson and Reis were on the same train. They wound up in a different outfit than I was in, but also went on to advanced training and then to Korea. Both returned home safely. I lost touch with Manson, but I have lunch with Reis a couple of times a month.
We arrived at Parris Island on a shuttle bus around 2 a.m. and were met by a sergeant who boarded the bus cursing and shouting at the top of his lungs. As I recall, most of his comments were about our ancestry and our lowly position on the scale of human evolution. He herded us off the bus and marched us to a temporary barracks where we spent the night. I was appointed as "fire watch" and had to patrol the building until reveille in the morning. I got no sleep that night.
Boot camp was 12 weeks. We lived in two-story, wooden barracks built on sand. The "H" shaped barracks housed four recruit platoons. There was virtually no grass, trees or shrubbery. At that time, Parris Island was a pretty desolate place. There were hordes of mosquitoes and sand fleas, and they were an irritation because of the multitude of their bites.
My senior DI was Staff Sergeant Burnette. My junior D.I was Corporal Chaisson. Neither were World War II vets, nor had they been to Korea. Our days and nights were highly regimented under them. I don't recall ever being awakened in the middle of the night, however 4 a.m. sure seemed like the middle of the night. We got up each morning at that hour when the DI came into the barracks, flipped on the lights, then banged a broomstick on an empty GI can while shouting, "Reveille." We had to leap out of our racks and stand at attention at the foot of them, holding all our bedding in our arms. We then made up our beds, sometimes over and over until the DI approved. We were then given about ten minutes to use the head and get dressed, then we were marched to chow. All this time we weren't allowed to talk.
After eating breakfast, we fell outside and studied our guide books until everyone had finished eating. As I recall, we had about 15 minutes to eat. We were then marched back to the barracks to scrub it from top to bottom. It was called a field day. Sometimes we had two or three field days just for the hell of it. Training began right after the morning field day and lasted all day until evening chow. After evening chow, we trained some more, usually until around 7 o'clock. Then we cleaned our rifles, shined our shoes, read our guide books, etc., until around 9 o'clock. We were allowed to write letters from 9 until lights out at 10. That was a typical day in Boot Camp.
On Sunday mornings, we did our laundry. Those who wanted to attend church were allowed to do so. Probably ten or twelve men in my platoon took advantage of it. The DI didn't go to church with the recruits. The men were taken to church by one of the squad or section leaders from the platoon, if there was one in the church party. Otherwise, the D.I assigned one man from the party to be in charge. It was always a man who was squared away and on the stick. Sunday afternoons were ours to do as we wished--as long as it was in or around the barracks. We got no liberty or time away from the barracks during the entire 12 weeks of boot camp, and I don't recall any times that were pure fun. But then, that wasn't the purpose of boot camp.
In the field, we learned close order drilling, the manual of arms, how to take our rifle apart, clean it, then put it back together in our sleep. We learned how to fire it accurately, and we also learned bayonet, judo, and knife fighting. In the classroom we learned Marine Corps history, how to take care of our gear, infantry tactics, survival training, and other miscellaneous military topics.
Our DIs were very strict. No one was allowed any leeway or individualism. We conformed or else. The DI's job was to tear the civilian down to nothing and rebuild him into a Marine--one who followed orders unhesitatingly, without stopping to think or reason why. The only way to do this was to maintain strict discipline. It's what makes Marines Marines.
The DIs used corporal punishment, but not often. A recruit who was caught smoking had to smoke a pack of cigarettes with a bucket over his head. If someone kept fouling up in drilling or at inspections, the DI would whack him over the head with his swagger stick, usually a cut-down broomstick. It stung, but we learned fast. I got whacked over the head on several occasions for goofing something up--drilling, failing to memorize general orders, a button unbuttoned--little things like that. No big deal. I don't recall any real troublemakers. Anyone with a wise-guy attitude was squared away in a very short time by the DI.
Probably the "worst" offense was dropping a rifle. If we did so, we had to hold it out at arm's length until our arms felt like they were going to fall off. Then we had to sleep with it. I saw several men disciplined this way. Another offense was being caught for not shaving. The guilty person had to dry-shave, sometimes with a bucket over his head. One other offense I recall was a few guys who didn't shower regularly. The DI ordered four or five recruits to give them a dry shower. They took the offender into the head and scrubbed him from head to foot with dry scrub brushes. It usually only took one time for the crud to learn his lesson. I also remember that one guy got caught with several candy bars in his locker box. The DI made him eat all of them on the spot, wrappers and all.
Group discipline was a regular occurrence. If we had a big rifle or gear inspection and one or two men failed it, the entire platoon was punished. The punishment usually took the form of extra drilling long after lights were supposed to be out, or an extra field day with the entire squad bay being scrubbed on hands and knees with tooth brushes. Sometimes we were herded outside with our scrub buckets after dark, ordered to fill them with sand, and made to march around the area until we were ready to drop. This collective punishment was to teach teamwork. If one person screwed up, it could affect everyone. In combat, this could be deadly. We had to know that we could rely on every man in our outfit. If anyone wasn't pulling his share, it was up to his teammates to square him away, if possible.
We were fed very well in boot camp. There was lots of chicken, roasts, chops, casseroles, potatoes, vegetables, eggs, and bread. The only bad thing was the grape drink served at every meal except breakfast. I think it was to make sure everyone drank plenty of liquids. Parris Island was very hot in the summertime. In fact, the heat and humidity there was the hardest thing about boot camp for me.
If someone didn't make it out of boot camp, it was generally for physical or psychological reasons. We had two guys in our platoon who didn't make it. One had broken-down arches and could barely walk. The other one was a chronic bed-wetter. Both were given medical discharges.
I was never sorry I joined the Marine Corps. I knew what to expect long before I ever enlisted. There were no surprises for me. I had taken military gym in my senior year of high school. The military gym was offered as a preparation for service in the military, and was only for boys. I don't think it was common nationwide. I never heard of another school system that had it. It consisted of close order drilling, calisthenics, and running obstacle courses five days a week, so I was well-prepared for boot camp. I was made a squad leader early on and got several perks as a result. The main perk was not having to stand fire watch. Another was not having to do certain work details. Instead, I got to supervise members of my squad doing them.
When boot camp was completed, we dressed in our khakis for the first time, had a big, final inspection, then passed in review of the camp's big brass. After that we had our platoon picture taken. Then we were officially Marines. I left boot camp feeling like a Marine, too. I had an entirely different outlook on life. Like most 18-year-olds fresh out of school, I didn't really have an "outlook" on life before I joined the Marine Corps. Life was to enjoy and have a good time. There was no sense of responsibility or accountability. Life was all about me, with little regard for others. I guess I would have to say it was a selfish outlook at best. After becoming a Marine, I was a team player and had complete confidence in myself. I knew I was a member of a unique organization--one that not everyone could qualify for. I was a lot more mature. I did a lot of growing up in three short months. I was also in the best physical condition of my life. I had come to appreciate my DIs. After I finished boot camp, I realized that they were the sole people responsible for molding me into a Marine.
I went home for a ten-day leave after boot camp. Mostly I hung around with my buddies who hadn't left for the service yet. And I visited my high school--to show off, naturally. I wore my uniform the entire time. I was a Marine and proud of it! Several people commented on my being a Marine. I was more of the scholarly type in school and it was quite a surprise to a lot of people. I think people figured that the jock types were likely to wind up in the Marines rather than the bookies. Manson and Reis were jocks. I wasn't.
Advanced Infantry Training
After my leave was over, I flew on a chartered flight to Camp Pendleton, California, for three months of advanced infantry training. We flew in twin engine "DC-1s," or something like it. They were old planes, anyway. We ran into a storm over Texas and developed engine trouble. We had to make an unscheduled landing somewhere in Texas for repairs. It was a very rough and uncomfortable flight. It permanently soured me on flying.
Once at Camp Pendleton, we were assigned to infantry training companies and immediately began our advanced infantry training. I was put in the anti-tank assault platoon of a Weapons Company and received training in flame throwers, rocket launchers, and demolitions. We had so many instructors I can't recall their names. There were several in each facet of our training.
I don't recall many details from advanced training. All of our training took place at Camp Pendleton with the exception of cold weather training. For that we went up to Pickle Meadows in the Sierras. It was all so intense and frantic, getting us ready for Korea, that everything is kind of a blur now. I do remember that we had a lot of night training in addition to training all day long. We were really whipped at the end of the day. We trained until we were proficient and then went on to the next phase.
We had liberty on several nights during the week. As I recall, we got weekend liberty on Saturday afternoon and didn't have to be back until Monday morning, unless we had a training exercise over the weekend. We usually went to Oceanside on liberty. It was a small servicemen's town just outside Pendleton.
After advanced training we got a ten-day leave. It was just after Christmas, as I recall. They made up a military train that ran all the way to Chicago. From there we took a regular scheduled train home. The military train was ungodly slow and stopped at every whistle stop between California and Illinois. There were no Pullmans. We sat up the whole way. It took three days each way. That left us four short days at home. After leave, we boarded ship at San Diego and sailed for Korea in early February of 1952.
Trip to Korea
The name of the ship that took us to Korea was the William Weigel. It was a troop transport that held up to 3,000 men. I believe there were about that many men in our replacement draft. Not being a sailor, I really can't describe the ship other than it was big and it was a rust bucket. I guess troop transports weren't given the Navy's loving care that other ships got. The ship was filthy and it stunk. Only Marines were transported on it. There was cargo in the hold--some trucks and jeeps and other military supplies.
This was my first time on a large ship. I didn't get seasick, but a lot of the men did. My guess would be that around ten percent got sick. Some were sick the entire voyage and spent all their time in their racks--when they weren't throwing up in the head. Actually, guys vomited all over the place, even in the galley at mealtimes This invariably started a chain reaction of vomiting. The food was lousy enough as it was. The ship reeked of vomit. The heads were all stopped up and were ankle deep in foul water. Troop ships are hell ships, no question about it. We got caught on the fringe of a typhoon midway between Hawaii and Japan. The ship bobbed and pitched like a cork for three days. This made the seasick guys even worse. It was a miserable trip. We all looked forward to Korea long before we arrived. Anything to get off the damned ship.
There was no entertainment on the ship. About the only diversion there was reading, sleeping, or playing cards. It was a BORING trip! I had no duties aboard ship. Some guys were put on mess duty, but I wasn't. I knew just a few guys on the ship--Jerry Beck, Jay Bryant, John Binnchi, Joe Barberra, Guisti, Butti, and Amey are the only names I remember. They were guys from my platoon at Pendleton. We had calisthenics once a day, but that was the extent of training. The ship was cramped and there was simply no place to train.
We stopped at Kobe, Japan, on the way to Korea. The port where we were to land on the east coast of Korea was not deep enough to handle a troop ship, so we transferred to LSTs for the trip from Japan to Korea. We got about six hours liberty in Kobe.
I believe we landed at the little port town of Sokcho-ri just north of the 38th parallel on the morning of February 4, 1952. It was on the east coast of Korea. We debarked immediately, then stood around for hours waiting for transportation to our units. My first impression of the country was the smell. There was an overpowering smell of feces. The Koreans used "night soil" to fertilize their fields.
We couldn't tell immediately that we were in a war zone. Sokcho-ri wasn't that big a place and it hadn't been the site of any heavy action. After we arrived and while waiting for transportation, we were assigned to our units. I was assigned to Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. As I recall, the assignments were done alphabetically. For instance, if the 1st Marines needed 300 men, the first 300 men starting at "A" went there, and so on through the 5th and 7th Marines. Men who had specialized training--say for artillery or aircraft support, etc.--naturally went there instead. I wasn't assigned to a platoon or squad until I joined my company. A couple of guys that I trained with at Pendleton--Jerry Beck and Joe Barberra--were sent to Weapons Company, too. All the other guys I knew went to other companies.
They loaded us on "six-by" trucks and drove us to our outfits. It was about a three-hour drive, but seemed longer because of the open trucks and the cold weather. It was close to zero in the mountains on the east coast where we were located. We huddled together and bitched on the truck ride up to the front line. We stopped for chow (C-rations) along the way. We drove through a few small villages or hamlets. Most of the places were in bad shape from the war. They were, in fact, mostly in ruins. As we passed through, the small kids ran after the trucks trying to hawk their wares. They were really entrepreneurs, trying to sell us everything from cokes and candy bars to their sisters. What impressed me the most was that it was still bitterly cold and the kids weren't dressed warmly. They wore thin shirts and pants and rubber sneakers without socks. It made me feel colder just to see them. I didn't notice many adults. I guess they were all inside their houses.
Korea was a land of weather extremes--all bad. It went from 30 below zero in the winter to over 100 degrees in the summer. During the cold winter months, we wore long-johns, utility trousers, waterproof cold weather trousers, utility jacket, sweater, parka and thermo boots. The enemy wore heavy quilted coats and pants and, for the most part, sneaker-like shoes. From what I understand, they weren't very warm. In between summer and winter was the monsoon season that turned the country into a flooded swamp. Aside from the war, it was a very unpleasant country to live in. I would say that, other than logistical problems, the bad weather was a morale factor more than anything. The cold and heat were virtually unbearable. During the monsoon season, no one was ever dry.
We got to our units just before dark. My regiment was in Division reserve at the time, having just been relieved on the line. I believe it was located about ten miles behind the lines. We could hear artillery fire. In reserve, they trained and recuperated from their stint on line. I had been trained for anti-tank assault, but they didn't need anyone in that platoon, so I was put in the communication section of the 81mm mortar platoon. I knew absolutely nothing about mortars or communications. I received all of my training on those while we were in reserve. The 81mm mortars were heavy mortars that were under the control of Battalion rather than the line companies. The line companies had their own mortars, but they were 60mm and much smaller. They were not much more powerful than a hand grenade. Forward observers up on the line called in targets of opportunity, such as troops in the open, bunkers, or enemy machinegun emplacements, to Fire Direction Control. These were called fire missions. FDC plotted the coordinates, then gave them to the guns to fire the mission.
The 81mm was a three part weapon comprised of the tube, the base plate, and the bipod. It took three men to carry the gun in a mobile type of warfare, and however many men needed to hump the ammo, usually around four or five. I don't remember the weights of the gun or ammo anymore, but they were heavy. When I was over there, the guns were dug into permanent positions behind the MLR. The communications section of an 81mm mortar platoon served as the link between the Fire Direction Center, the guns, and the Forward Observer on the line. All of these communications went through a switchboard which they maintained. They were also responsible for running the phone lines from the Fire Direction Center to the FOs and for keeping them working.
Although I arrived in Korea on the east coast, the 1st Marine Division was moved to the western side of Korea in March just before we came out of reserve, so I never went on line on the east coast. The reason for moving the Marines to that sector of Korea was that it was astride the old invasion route to Seoul and the Marines had the reputation for not giving ground. The "old invasion route" to Seoul was a corridor down through the mountains of North Korea leading to Seoul. It had been used over the centuries as an invasion route to the south. We didn't move from the east along this invasion route, but rather, our positions on line were astride this route. At that time, the peace talks were going on at Panmunjom and this sector was adjacent to Panmunjom. The high brass didn't want to lose any ground in that area so they put the best troops there. All the positions we were on were heavily trenched as the war had become static at this point. The last part of the war became known as the Outpost War because most of the battles were fought over outposts. We lived in bunkers which were either dug into the hill or the trenches. The vegetation on the hills was very sparse due to having been shelled so much. Because they were steep, the hills were difficult to climb, and during the monsoon season everything became a quagmire.
The Marines who arrived in Korea before our replacement draft taught all the greenhorns the ropes. If we wanted to survive in Korea, we knew that we had better damn well listen to the old salts. It was one of these old salts who taught me to be an FO. He was a World War II veteran. The best officers were the ones who listened to their sergeants who'd been there a while. All the "short-cut" ways to do things that weren't in the book had to be learned on the job, the hard way. If someone went strictly by the book, he didn't last long in Korea.
About five weeks after I got to my company, we moved out of reserve and I went up on the line for the first time. I carried a carbine and a bayonet. I saw my first dead gookd (sorry about the term, but the enemy will always be gooks to me) shortly after going on line. It was from a distance of about 300 yards. They had been killed by an air strike. I saw my first dead Marine after being on line for about a month. He was killed by an incoming round of mortar fire. I think that was the first time that I really became aware of my mortality. I had never seen violent death before Korea. The first few times it shook me up quite badly. After that, I guess I became inured to it, except when it was a buddy or someone I knew who died. The first few Marines I saw die were relative strangers to me. The first one I saw die was a pilot of a Corsair who crashed just in front of our lines. He had been on a bombing mission way out in goony land and had been hit by antiaircraft fire.
My "baptism of fire" (the first time that I personally experienced being under enemy fire) happened after I went on line. I had been down to the guns which were set up behind the MLR and was returning to my bunker on the line when I got caught in the middle of a mortar barrage. I guess the closest one landed about 20 yards away. The barrage didn't last long, although it seemed like an eternity. When it was over, I set a land-speed record getting to my bunker. I had the shakes for a while after that.
Basically, my company stayed in the same general sector of the line while I was in Korea, although we changed positions a few times. At various times I was on Bunker Hill, Vegas, Carson, and the Reno block. It was Regimental policy to move line battalions around, probably so that they didn't get too "comfortable" in one place. The longest time by far that I was in one position was about 95 days. That was the longest by far. We were on the sector of line called the "Hook." The terrain on the west coast of Korea was very hilly. They were high hills for the most part, but not mountainous like the east coast. They were steep, rocky hills overlooking rice paddies for the most part. They were covered with scrubby brush and the shattered remains of trees, mostly pines. The Hook was maybe three or four miles east of Panmunjom. We did a lot of mortar fire on the position from April through June of 1952. There were landmines in the area, but my outfit had little trouble with them that I remember. Of course, there were always isolated incidents, but I don't recall any specific details about any of them.
It was fairly quiet during that period, mostly patrolling and one raid that I recall. Raids for the most part were to inflict punishment on the enemy by attacking his positions and killing him, but not seizing the position. This one raid was one of the few daylight raids pulled off while I was there. It was disastrous because they saw us coming all the way and were waiting. We took a lot of casualties and probably inflicted a few on ourselves. I don't know whose bright idea it was--some idiot in the rear, undoubtedly. At times like that, I absolutely believed that lives were being needlessly wasted in a needless war. The particular times that come to mind were when we, the Marines or any of the UN troops, took a hill from the gooks, then just abandoned it and gave it back to them. This was very hard to take, especially when we suffered a lot of casualties taking the hill.
There weren't any other nationalities actually with us, although several UN countries had troops in Korea. We did have Korean Marines on our flank, and at other times we had the British Commonwealth troops or the Canadians or Turks on our other flank. The Canadians were memorable for burning up ammunition like there was no tomorrow. We relieved them one time and the ammo they left behind was mind-boggling. They had these hand grenades that screwed together and looked like a dumbbell. We rolled them down the hill just for kicks. They had the power of a 60mm mortar. The sky over their position was lit up like the Fourth of July nearly every night. I don't know much about the British or the Turks except that they were reputed to be good fighters. The same could be said for the Korean Marines who were trained by the United States Marine Corps.
Most of the gooks I saw appeared to be in their twenties and thirties. However they were dead, and that probably makes a difference when estimating age. I wouldn't say they were good fighters. They were certainly fanatical. Possibly they were doped up at times. Many of them didn't even have weapons when they attacked. They seemed to have no regard for their own lives. They weren't very good marksmen and were no good at hand-to-hand combat. Their tactics were entirely different than ours. They just came on in swarms with no apparent tactical coordination or movement. When they attacked, they came on in an upright position--in droves--with no attempt to use any tactics such as some men providing covering fire for the others. I guess their "tactics" could be compared to those of a mob. They were inferior fighters compared to the Marines and relied on superior numbers to win battles. They were poorly equipped as individuals, both in clothing and weapons.
I would say that 90 percent of the fighting was at night when I was over there. We had total air superiority and it was suicide for the gooks to show themselves during the daytime. Consequently, they stayed buttoned up during the day and came out at night. The area around our positions was always fenced in with several layers of barbed wire. The area in front of the wire was then mined. There was always a minimum of 25 to 50 percent of the troops on watch during the night. One hundred percent when we expected an attack. One of the hardest things for me to get used to over there was staying awake all night and sleeping during the day. It screwed up my sleep cycle for years afterward.
We received every conceivable fire support possible--artillery, rockets, 4.2 inch mortars from Regiment, naval gunfire, and close air support. Our Marine Air Wing generally bombed, napalmed, and strafed enemy-held hills directly across from our lines. I probably saw several dozen air strikes while I was over there. We also generally had tanks up on line. They were dug into revetments and used as artillery pieces. I didn't like them, however, because they drew a lot of fire. The 81mm wasn't fired continuously. When they were fired, they could damage or destroy a bunker with a direct hit. Their effective anti-personnel range was about 50 yards. A Forward Observer located targets of opportunity for the guns, then called in the map coordinates to Fire Direction Control (FDC). When the guns fired, the FO then adjusted the fire on to the target if necessary. An FO also ordered missions requested by the line company CO.
I became a Forward Observer the first time we went back on line. I had been training as a switchboard operator while in reserve and I hated it, so when I heard that they needed an FO, I volunteered for it and went up on line where I was trained on the job by an old-timer--Clyde "Papa-San" Emmons, who was ten years older than most of us. (Thus the nickname.) He was my first and best buddy over there. I think he stands out in my memory because he was the epitome of a Marine to me. He was cool-headed and unruffled under fire, but knew how to relax and have a good time when there was no pressure on us. He made it out of Korea; I met him stateside one time afterward.
As an FO, I was rather autonomous and didn't have much to do with officers. I had my own team and operated independently of Weapons Company. I usually had a different team every time I went up on line. (Forward Observers joined the line companies when they went up on line and fought and lived with them until relieved.) A few guys I remember are Don Chab, Don Miller, Dave Rosenbury, Clay Waughtel, Eugene Akana and Clyde Emmons. We were always attached to a line company when the battalion was on line, and rarely got to know any of the Weapons Company officers because they never came up on line. The only time I saw them was when we were in reserve. I don't remember any of their names. My team faced the same dangers any infantryman on the line faced. We lived with them and went on patrols and raids with them. In some respects, being an FO was a little more hazardous because our observation posts were usually located on the outposts. I was an FO the entire time I was in Korea except for that month in reserve when I first got there.
Fortunately I was never in hand-to-hand combat, although I was close enough to the gooks to throw hand grenades on more than one occasion. I'm glad I didn't get closer than hand grenade range. As I mentioned earlier, the action took place at night. We couldn't see the enemy until he was on top of us. Throwing grenades took out more of them at one time than shooting them, plus grenades were more frightening than small arms fire. Therefore, we not only had a tactical advantage using them, but a psychological one as well.
I was one of the lucky ones who made it through the Korean War without a scratch. I did get a bad concussion from a direct hit on my bunker by an artillery shell and suffered a partial hearing loss as a result. I believe we were fixing chow. There were four of us in the bunker at the time. After the shell hit, we picked ourselves up and checked for injuries, then waited out the barrage. Afterwards we checked the bunker for damage, then saw the corpsman for treatment. We all had concussions. I have a hearing loss, which has progressively gotten worse as I get older. I never tried to put in for disability. My hearing loss wasn't that bad while I was still in the service. Now it's way too late to try to get compensation.
Bunker Hill was a heavily fortified hill complex a few hundred yards in front of our lines. It looked right down our throats, so the big brass decided to take it from the gooks. The hill was only a mile or two from where the peace talks were going on at Panmunjom. We could see the barrage balloons over the site from our position. The balloons looked something like blimps only smaller, and were first used in World War I as observation balloons. They were also tethered over prime targets to prevent planes from bombing the targets. In the primitive air war of World War I, this was fairly effective. They were used over Panmunjom primarily as a marker for pilots so that they didn't mistakenly bomb the peace talks.
The battle for Bunker Hill took place around August 12, 1952, and lasted for several days. [Note: actual dates were August 12-16, from a source on Google.] The bulk of the fighting took place at night. It was estimated that the Chinese fired over 30,000 rounds of artillery and mortar fire on the hill during the course of the battle, and used over a regiment of troops against one battalion of ours. Our casualties were horrendous.
We attacked several hours after dark set in. We had a lot of preparatory fire on the hill beforehand--air, artillery, and mortars. Baker Company made the initial assault. It was hot--the temperature was in the 90s. During the day it was well over 100. We had just been issued flak vests, which were a godsend and saved a lot of lives. Unfortunately, they were heavy and didn't "breathe," so were intolerable in all that heat. We had a lot of heat prostration cases.
Baker Company captured the rear slope of the hill that night, but the gooks still held the far side of the hill. We were relieved by another company the next day because of our heavy casualties. Most of our casualties were due to mortar and artillery fire. I think they, too, were relieved by another company because of their casualties, and this company eventually captured the hill. The better part of one battalion was chewed up on that damn hill. A lot of the details are blanked out in my mind, and I don't remember them at all.
I find it difficult to talk about the fact that I lost a lot of buddies while I was in Korea and that several others died during the course of the war. The battle of Bunker Hill is where I lost most of my buddies. The hardest thing to take about this battle was that we gave it back to the gooks a few months later. The hill was abandoned long before the truce was declared. The brass decided that it was too costly to defend. They should have realized that before they wasted all the lives taking it.
For our participation in the Battle for Bunker Hill, our unit got the Navy unit commendation which, after the Presidential Unit Citation, is the highest citation a unit can receive. I personally received the usual campaign medals and ribbons. I am proud of what they represent and of what I did to earn them.
Life in Korea
I spent a year's worth of holidays in Korea. Except for Thanksgiving and Christmas, they were just another day. On Thanksgiving we were on line and they brought hot turkey dinners up to us in thermos cans. Very tasty. On Christmas I was on OP Carson and feasted on C-rations. And that was it for the holidays--no special observances or anything like that, at least not on line. I was on an outpost at the time, so I didn't have the chance to celebrate the Marine Corps birthday while I was in Korea. There weren't too many lighter moments in Korea either--not for the Marine infantry anyway. There were a few "characters" in the company as there are in any group of people. Probably "eccentric" would be a better word to use.
We did get a chance to blow off some steam in reserve when we got our beer rations, however. It's what we did for recreation when we weren't training. We drank our beer ration and whatever else we could scrounge up. We had movies in some of the reserve areas and we played baseball and had boxing matches when the weather and the war permitted. Emmons had a guitar. Being from Texas, he naturally played country western. There were lull times in the fighting. Sometimes we went for weeks at a time without engaging the enemy in actual combat, especially in the wintertime. Artillery and mortar fire were exchanged on a continual basis, though.
One of my buddies from high school was in the Air Force stationed at Kimpo airfield, and he paid a surprise visit to me up on line. I had just come in from an all-night patrol and he was waiting in my bunker. We had a great reunion. He had brought two steaks and a six-pack of beer with him, but unfortunately some jarheads conned him out of the steaks by telling him that I was out on an OP and he couldn't go out there. Fortunately, they didn't get the beer! I also drank beer while in reserve. We got a beer ration. I also smoked. I didn't before I got to Korea, but we got a pack of cigarettes in our C-rations every day, and free cartons of cigarettes were handed out while we were in reserve. What with the stress of combat and all the free butts, nearly everyone smoked.
Sometimes there were unexpected dangers, too. Two such incidents stick in my mind. There was an artillery FO that I shared a bunker with during a long spell on line. He was a nice, friendly guy and didn't seem to have any problems. When we went back into reserve, he and a buddy were sitting on their cots cleaning their carbines. Nobody knows why, but when this guy finished cleaning his, he put in a full magazine and fired it into his buddy, killing him. It still gives me the shivers. It could have just as easily been me he killed. I heard that he wound up in Leavenworth Federal penitentiary. Another tragic incident was the time one of our patrols was coming back in one night. They passed our outpost and someone on the OP heard them and threw a hand grenade, killing the patrol leader. He was a short-timer and due to go home in a couple of weeks. There were passwords and such, but there was always some idiot who never got the word or the drill right.
We spent a lot of time in our bunkers when we weren't engaging the enemy. I imagine that life inside a bunker is comparable to living in a jail cell, only more primitive. Basically, it was a hole in the ground. Generally there was rack space for however many men it slept and a little walking space in between. The biggest drawbacks were the rats that shared the bunkers with us, and the cold and dampness of the bunkers. The rats lived in the walls and were nocturnal, coming out at night to eat any scraps of food dropped or left over. I can't tell you how many times I was awakened by a big rat running across my chest. Not a pleasant experience.
We washed up using our helmets for wash basins. I guess we were pretty ripe, but since everyone was in the same boat, no one noticed or cared. On the rare occasion, we managed to get back to the Battalion shower setup for showers and clean clothes. We didn't get back to the showers often, however.
My only contact with the natives was strictly as an observer. Our company had contracted civilian laborers that we called yobos. They carried supplies up to us, built and repaired bunkers, and sometimes acted as stretcher bearers to evacuate the wounded. They were mostly men too old to serve in the ROK army. They were fed and paid for their work. We had no opportunity to mingle with native women.
I got one skoshi (small) R&R to Seoul while we were in reserve one time. It was just for the day. I went with a buddy. We had a terrific steak dinner at the main Army PX, drank a lot of beer, bought some souvenirs to send home and visited a cathouse which was too filthy and stinking to entice me to sample the wares. At other points in time in Korea, I saw a couple of USO shows. The only performer I remember was a comedian named Roscoe Ates. The rest of the show was singers and dancers. I missed all the big names who came over to entertain. The USO shows were well received. It was a taste of home.
I never had the opportunity to have a taste of the native food in Korea. Their favorite dish was kimchi, a concoction of fermented cabbage, fish, onions, and spices. It stunk to high hell and left the eater's breath foul for hours. That would have been enough to turn me off on sampling their food had I had the chance to try it. Our standard food was C-rations while on line, and mess cooking in reserve. The food wasn't good like stateside. A lot of times we ate 5-in-1 rations prepared by the mess cooks. They were similar to C-rations in that they were all canned. I never ate anything really good in Korea.
Mail delivery was exceptionally good in Korea, even when on line. The only time we didn't get mail regularly was when we were on outposts. I received most of my mail from my folks and my grandparents. I also corresponded with a few girls and a few of my buddies. My folks and grandparents also sent packages regularly. Mostly they sent stuff like canned fruit, nuts, sardines, Vienna sausages, and potato sticks. They also sent cookies and paperback books. The two things I requested they send were candles and sweat socks. Candles were the sole source of light in our bunkers. A few lucky guys managed to get hold of Coleman gas lanterns, but most of us relied on candles, which were hard to come by. As for socks--we could never have too many socks because they wore out so fast.
I know of several guys who got Dear John letters. It was devastating to them. Mostly it was girl friends dumping them for someone who was available at the time.
For me personally, I think the hardest thing about being in Korea was not knowing what the next day would bring, or if I would even be alive the next day. My strongest memories of Korea are the battles, the weather, and the buddies I made over there.
When I became a "short-timer," due to go home to the states, there were times when I would have liked nothing better than to crawl into a bunker and stay there until it was time to go home. Of course, that was wishful thinking. I think the part that shook short-timers up more than anything was to see another short-timer get it.
A replacement draft arrived every month, so we knew within a day or two of when we were to go home. A little over a year in Korea was the normal tour of duty. I think we were in reserve at the time I got my notice. Naturally, I was glad. I never wanted to see Korea again and was thankful I had made it out okay. I don't understand why anyone wants to pay a return visit. There are no happy memories for me there.
We left our unit by truck and went to the point of embarkment. We were deloused, turned in our weapons, were issued gear, and underwent a cursory physical including a stool sample to be checked for worms. We also were given our sea bags which had been stored in the rear while we were in Korea. They contained every bit of clothing and personal gear that we owned in the Marine Corps. I think this all took a couple of days. I'm really hazy about the last couple of months or so that I was there.
I left Korea sometime the first week of February 1953. We returned to the states on the USS Meigs. A lot of the guys I came over with were on it. I don't remember all of their names. For the most part, they were in the replacement draft that I went over with--those who survived, anyway. As I recall, it was a somber mood overall. I imagine mine was the same. I guess we were all thankful that we made it.
There was not nearly as much seasickness as going over. The weather was good. We stopped at Kobe, Japan, on the way back to transfer from LSTs to the troop ship. We got a few hours ashore and I got a big steak dinner and some good Japanese beer. I guess the trip back to the states was around nine or ten days. Troop ships were slow. We disembarked at Treasure Island, San Francisco. There were relatives of some of the guys aboard ship, but not many. Other than that, I don't recall anyone else meeting us at the dock.
Seeing mainland USA was not really an emotional time for me. I guess I was still numb from Korea. I do remember sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge and being impressed by its size. I don't remember how we processed off the ship. I guess we just filed off, then got on trucks for the process center. We got liberty and I went to a fancy restaurant and had a big steak dinner. I remember ordering four desserts, and the astonishment of the waiter. Real desserts were something we hadn't had since leaving the States.
My first duty station after Korea was Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I was there for approximately 13 months, then I got transferred to the Naval Security Station in Washington DC for the last five months of my enlistment. At Lejeune I had the same duty I had in Korea--an FO for 81 mortars. At the Naval Security Station, I was in a guard detachment and pulled duty as Corporal of the Guard even though I was a Sergeant. We were short-handed at the time. I settled into my stateside duties in a relatively easy transition, as did most Marines.
I thought about reenlisting while stationed in D.C. The duty was the best I'd ever had in the Marine Corps. I wanted to go to Flight School for training as a pilot, but they would only guarantee officer's training, so I turned it down and took my discharge on July 31, 1954.
I started school at the Cleveland Institute of Art shortly after my discharge, graduating from there in 1958. I only worked at summer jobs until I graduated. I married a girl I met in school. We married in 1958 after my graduation. We celebrated our 41st anniversary this year . We have two sons, Jeffrey and Scott. Jeff is 37 and Scott is 35.
After graduation, I started working at American Greetings Corporation and stayed there for 37 years until I retired. I was an illustrator, art director, and humor writer. I also drew a syndicated comic strip in the late 1960s. I retired on June 1, 1996 and started my second career as a writer. I have written two novels about the Korean War and am now trying to get them published. Whether they are published or not, writing them has been a great catharsis for me. A couple of years ago you would never have gotten this interview from me. I rarely talked about Korea. In fact, not many people even knew I was there. It's not that I was ashamed of what I did. I think it was the fact that most people just didn't give a shit about the war, so why bring it up? That was something we Korea vets learned to live with. We weren't a bunch of whiners like the Viet vets. We just kept it bottled up and went on with our lives without a lot of bullshit copouts.
I'm sure that going to Korea matured me a lot faster than I would have otherwise. It also gave me a better appreciation of the value of life. I think that when you have the power in your hands to take the life of others, it makes you more aware of just how fragile and precious life really is. I was a lot more outgoing before I went to Korea. When I came back, I was almost reclusive and still am to a certain extent. I'm sure others noticed a change in me, but no one told me so to my face.
At the time, I did not perceive Korea to be a country worth fighting for, but I absolutely do think that the United States should have sent troops to Korea. It was the first time we stood up to communist aggression. If we hadn't, I think we would be living in a totally different world today. The Korean War was the free world's first major victory in the Cold War. I believe that it was instrumental in the eventual downfall of communism.
I have an opinion on the recent Associated Press stories about the "Nogun-ri Massacre." It may seem cold-hearted, but I believe the over 50,000 deaths, over 100,000 wounded, and the 8,000 MIAs we suffered in Korea is adequate reparation! If it weren't for our sacrifice, all those people would be starving under North Korean domination today.
I haven't told my children very much about Korea because at the time, I was still keeping it bottled up. When they went to school, the Korean War was covered by a small paragraph in their textbooks. Now it is being taught in the proper perspective. My grandson is very interested in it and wants to be a Marine like his grandpa. I have mixed feelings about that, but support him all the way.
Without the discipline, teamwork, and esprit de corps that was instilled in me in boot camp, I probably wouldn't have survived Korea. Marines are always called upon to do the impossible, so in Korea I guess it was difficult to know when we were doing it. All the Marines' victories are against overwhelming numbers and odds. That may sound flippant, but it's true. I would say that the withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir is a perfect example. The Marines brought out all their men and equipment in sub-zero weather. They were one division of Marines against two armies of Chinese--equivalent to several divisions. In the process they destroyed the two armies. The Marines who took Inchon and were at Chosin deserve all the recognition that they got. However, all the ones who fought the last half of the war and participated in some of the fiercest fighting of the war got very little recognition. I doubt that this will ever be rectified. People didn't care about the war then and I doubt whether many care about it today. It's something that those of us who were there had to learn to live with. A lot of the guys performed heroic deeds in Korea and got deserved recognition for them. But in my book, the real heroes were the ones who didn't make it home...the KIAs and the MIAs. Theirs was the ultimate sacrifice.
When I came back from Korea, I didn't attempt to look up the families of the buddies I lost in Korea, probably because I was trying to forget the whole thing. Now I wish I had. I have found three buddies through the internet. I found Don Chab, who I shared a bunker with during my first 90 some days on line. I found Gil Reis, who I enlisted with, and I located Ralph Eugley, the Comm Chief of the 81 mortar platoon. Don and I have gotten together along with our wives several times. I have lunch with Gil a couple of times a month. I talked with Ralph on the phone a couple of times and am hoping to get together with him next year. I would like to find Papa-san Emmons, but have had no luck. He would be pushing 80 now if he's still alive.
Going to Korea was an experience I would not have missed for anything in the world, but it was also one I'm glad my kids don't have to undergo. Serving in the Marine Corps has given me confidence in everything I have ever done and the ability and courage to face up to whatever challenge life gives me. When you become a Marine, you join a brotherhood for life. I still live by the values I learned in the Marine Corps. Most of my closest friends today are former Marines. We understand each other.
Obituary - Robert B. Campbell
Robert B. Campbell of Lafayette Township, a 25-year resident of Medina County, died suddenly Wednesday, November 27, 2002 at home. Born May 21, 1933 in Cleveland, he lived in northeastern Ohio all his life. Bob was a decorated combat veteran who was proud of his service in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War, where he attained the rank of sergeant.
He met his wife Judy while attending the Cleveland Institute of Art; they were married 44 years. He worked 37 years at American Greetings Corporation as an illustrator, art director and humor writer. He drew the syndicated comic strip, "Norse by Norsewest" which ran locally in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1970. After his retirement in 1996 he began a second career as a successful published novelist, writing three novels spurred by memories of the Korean War.
Mr. Campbell was an officer of the Medina County Marine Corps League Detachment 569, Medina VFW Post 5137 and the Korean War Veterans Association. His hobbies included fishing, writing and most importantly, spending time with his grandchildren.
Mr. Campbell is survived by his wife, Judith (Weber); sons Jeffery of Parma and Scott of Medina, their wives Andrea and Marlene, daughter-in-law Janet Markus of Medina and grandchildren Joseph, Lisa, Tyler, Paige and Logan. Interment was in Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery.
It can not be inherited.