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"When I arrived in Korea in 1953, my first impression of the country was that it was a dirty, stinking, nearly destroyed hell hole. At the time I wondered what we were doing there. My attitude changed some and I felt sorry for the South Koreans, especially the little children. "
- Tom Cearlock
My name is Tommy Wayne (Tom) Cearlock. I was born on October 14, 1932 in Vandalia, Illinois, but I have lived in Arthur, Illinois since 1961. My parents were Henry and Treva Harrison Cearlock. I had two brothers Bobby Dean and Donald Dale. My older brother died as an infant. He was two years ahead of me. My younger brother was killed at home by a falling tree while I was in Korea, so I don't have any brothers left. I had no sisters.
While I was growing up, my family lived on rented land close to Shafter, Illinois, which was about eight miles northwest of Vandalia. Kazle was the name of one landlord, but I can't remember the other two. The main crops that we grew were corn, soybeans, wheat, oats for grain, and alfalfa and clover for hay. Much of this was for feeding the horses. We had milk cows, hogs, and chickens for eggs. Milk and eggs were sold for income. We didn't have any extras, but we always had enough to eat and a place to sleep. We went into town about every week for groceries, and once in a while on Saturday night we went to a movie. We butchered our own meat, had our own eggs, and had milk for butter and cottage cheese. Sometimes we had homemade ice cream. In winter we went to the creek and cut ice to freeze it with. We were poor, but I didn't really know it. We made a lot of our own toys. Mom made a lot of clothes, too. I cannot remember any of us ever being bored. We were just busy and happy.
I attended a one-room country school called "Rush" which was close to Shafter. I attended grades 1 through 8 there, but I didn't go to high school because I was helping my dad farm. All of the kids in my grade school went out along the old country roads and creeks to gather milkweed pods that were used to fill the life preservers used by the Army during World War II. My brothers, my parents, and I collected scrap iron and glass for the war effort and sold it for a few dollars. I bought savings stamps at ten cents each. I think I put them in a book that, when filled, was good for an $18.00 savings bond that in ten years would be worth $25.00.
None of my immediate family served in World War II, but I had some cousins who did. One of them, Halden Casey, was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. His brother, Bill Casey, served in the Navy. Marvin Cearlock, another cousin, served in the Army Air Corps. We had no way to watch the news about the war. We had a battery-operated radio to listen to when we had a battery for it. Then we read news about the war in the newspaper some of the time.
I worked for several of our neighbor farmers, sometimes for pay and many times just trading work on the farm. It could be picking corn, baling hay, plowing, or fixing a fence. One of our neighbors bought a hay baler and I worked for him for two years during baling season. I was paid $2.00 a day. I saved enough money in 1951 ($50.00) that I went to the Craycroft Motors, a Ford dealer in Vandalia, Illinois, and bought my first car--a 1936 Ford, for $50.00 plus $2.00 tax. I had to borrow $2.00 from my brother to pay the tax. I had a part-time job during the winter, mostly at an auto wrecking yard in Vandalia.
Between World War II and my being drafted, I was finishing school, helping on the farm, working in an auto wrecking yard, and I did some auto repair work at home. Ray and Leta McDowell and their daughter Gayle lived in Vera (a very small town) about two miles from my home on the farm. The little town was sort of a hangout for teenagers, and I was there quite often, plus I worked some for Mr. McDowell. Gayle and I were married September 13, 1952 at a preacher's home in the country on Rt. 185 west of Vandalia near a tiny old town called Vanburensburg.
A year or so before I was drafted in the Army, I bought a used tractor and my dad and I rented some more land. We farmed that on the shares until I was drafted. My dad started looking around for someone to help him with the farming while I was gone. The Korean War was going on at the time I was drafted. We knew about the war--knew enough about it to know that it was bad and that I didn't want to go. I went into the Army in January of 1953.
I was inducted in St. Louis, Missouri, and went by train to Ft. Custer, Michigan, where I was issued clothing and got a G.I. haircut. We got a lot of unkind words. I guess that was the start of training. Two days later we were sent by Army bus to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. The base is located 32 miles south of Louisville, Kentucky, in hilly, mountainous country. It is the site of the U.S. gold depository and home of the 3rd Armored Division. On the way there we stopped at Camp Atteberry, Indiana for lunch. Upon arriving at Ft. Knox, I think in the late afternoon, we were assigned to our units and barracks. My first unit was Quartermaster Supply Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Armored Division.
Our living quarters was a two-story barracks built of wood, with showers and latrine on the ground floor. I think there were 30 trainees on each floor, with the drill instructor or barracks sergeant's room on the upper floor. There was a total of 60 trainees in the barracks. The building was heated by a coal furnace tended from outside in a furnace room which was part of the barracks building. Usually the tending of the furnace was done by one of the trainees who was on "detail" doing extra work because of something he did wrong.
I had eight weeks of basic training before another eight weeks of special wireman's training. I don't remember the instructors' names, but most of them were either Korean War or World War II veterans. The combat veterans were the best instructors. Basic included map and compass reading, pistol, rifle, machine gun firing and field repair, gas chamber experience, hand grenade practice, hand to hand combat training, bayonet practice, how to live in the field, and a lot of physical exercise. Much of the classroom training used films and demonstrations on the things we did in the field, plus things such as how to protect ourselves from severe weather, things that we could or could not eat or drink, and survival training. We spent one week on bivouac in the field, training with tank and artillery warfare. We slept in pup tents and had to eat C-rations.
We were awakened in the morning by reveille being played, which we heard by way of speakers that were in our barracks. I think it was at 5 o'clock in the morning normally, but we were awakened earlier many times in other ways. Breakfast was about 15 to 20 minutes after reveille, followed by close order drill or manual of arms with rifles and physical exercise. We had little free time. There was a movie house, bowling alley, game room, and other things to do, but we hardly had time for any of these. Each barracks had a "G.I. party" every Friday night. We scrubbed anything that didn't move! Lights were to be out by 10 o'clock, then we had bed check.
We were awakened in the middle of the night a few times, usually because someone messed up or some officer decided to have a nighttime compass and map training test. Sometimes it was because some guy missed bed check, so everyone was awakened--only to find out that no one knew anything about it. We had several black recruits in our outfit, but I don't ever remember seeing any sign of prejudice.
The instructors were very strict. We could get two days K.P. (kitchen duty) for a bird crapping on our cap while standing at attention at reveille formation. (I know this from experience.) An un-stripped cigarette butt thrown on the ground meant the whole group would crawl on hands and knees side by side over possibly an acre or two of rocks, brush, mud, or whatever was there to pick up anything that was not fastened down. (This was police call.) I do not know of any corporal punishment unless push-ups were called that. If they were, then I did my share of them. Any little infraction of any rule called for at least 25 pushups. There were some good instructors, however, even though they were strict. Our barracks sergeant once gave me his pass and uniform to get out the main gate to go home for a weekend that I did not get a pass. It was a very bad idea, for I was A.W.O.L. and he broke a big rule. We were lucky that we didn't get caught. I wish I could remember his name.
I was on guard for a 24-hour period, at which time I was required to stay in the guard house instead of my barracks. There were cots to sleep on and I was to walk guard six hours, then off six hours, and so on. Normally the rifle was locked up in a rack when not in use, but not when on guard. We then just kept it with us. When breakfast time came for me, I left my rifle on my guard cot and went to eat because weapons were not allowed in the mess hall. When I returned to the guard house, my rifle was not there--a very serious problem for me. I contacted the corporal of the guard and he explained in great detail that while on guard duty I was not to leave the rifle--ever. I was supposed to take it with me to mess hall to eat if I was on guard duty. The discipline for this was that he tied a short piece of rope around my wrist and to the rifle and told me to wear it for one week and not be caught without it, including showers, shaving, eating, and sleeping. That thing was very unhandy and cold in bed.
We were once out on a training session in the field, so the mess hall hauled our noon meal out to us in trucks. The officers and NCOs went through the chow line first, of course, and out there we just ate wherever we found a place to sit down or whatever. There was a Sergeant Lewis who happened to be the barracks drill sergeant of one of my best buddies. This sergeant found a wooden ammo box about two foot square to use as a seat. By the time that my buddy and I got through the chow line, the box was not being used so my buddy used it until Sergeant Lewis saw him. After a good chewing out, he made my buddy put the box above his head and run a few laps around our area while singing out, "I won't take Sergeant Lewis's box anymore." Everybody except my buddy thought that this funny.
The same buddy and another guy caught their tent on fire while we were on bivouac. They were trying to keep warm by building a small fire in front of the tent with some straw. It burned the tent, their sleeping bags, rifles, and everything they had. They had to pay for all of the lost equipment, plus do several hours of extra duty details. This buddy, another Vandalia boy, was inducted the same time that I was. We took basic together and were sent to Ft. Lewis near Tacoma, Washington together, but he was sent to Japan and I to Korea. He later transferred to Korea because he did not like Japan. David Schert was his name. A very colorful guy. I love him.
The discipline was not always just to the individual. If something was done by a person in a group and the instructor could not find out who did it, the whole group usually got disciplined for it. A lot of the time the individual received some rough times from the group later if anyone knew who had done it. I remember one guy in our barracks who hardly did anything right. It caused a lot of trouble for everybody there. He stole from everybody, lied about everything, and could not seem to learn how to do anything right. He missed bed check, didn't take too many showers, his bed was not made up right--the list was endless. He was given a few showers with a scrub brush and G.I. soap by his fellow trainees. He was finally taken out of our company, but I don't know where he was sent. (I only remember one guy who did not finish basic, and that was because of his bad hearing problem.) I believe that when the instructors used collective-type discipline, the reason might have been that each person in that group had some influence on the others. If all were punished, maybe it would help to stop some later foul-up. I believe the instructor thought that it would help him in some small way while teaching us all something. Some instructors also enjoyed showing how much authority that they had, too.
We were pretty well fed in basic, although I didn't think it was too much or too good at the time. It just wasn't home cooking, I guess. Breakfast was usually eggs, bacon, pancakes, sausage, and biscuits and gravy. Dinner and supper consisted of meat, potato, vegetables, and fruit. I'm sure that it was a well-balanced meal.
During the summer in Kentucky, there were the normal insects and bugs. There were also some snakes such as rattlesnakes, but I did not see too many. We were told of one incident that happened before my training period. They were doing their infiltration training, crawling under machine gun fire through barbed wire and logs. One guy crawled upon a snake, causing him to raise up and be shot in the head by the machine gun fire.
We had to qualify for most of the things that we were trained for, such as operation of weapons, endurance tests and communications. At the later part of basic we were qualified with the M1-Garand rifle, carbine, and .45 caliber automatic pistol. Upon my M-1 Garand rifle qualification, I had a score of 298 points out of a possible 300. This earned me second place in a group of I think 400 or 500 men. I was very proud of that and it earned me a chance to go to sniper's school, which I turned down--but I was happy to have been asked, anyway.
The documentary and educational films that seemed most important to me were the ones that were about how to find food and such like to get by when necessary, plus films on weapons and equipment repair and care. There was a list of plants and animals that could be eaten if we had to--things like certain snakes, insects, bugs, worms, birds, plants, and fish. They did not sound too good, but if we were starving, they might look a little better. These were good things to know should we need them badly enough, I guess.
There were churches in Ft. Knox, both Catholic and Protestant. I don't think they were too well attended, considering the number of trainees that were there.
I did have some fun in basic, but it really didn't take too much to seem like fun then. Things like short sheeting someone's bed was a popular thing to do. It was funny to see a guy trying to get into his bed in the dark with the sheet folded in half so he would be in the fold instead of under it. I was on the top floor in the barracks so the framework of the building was exposed above the beds. When the lights were out it was pretty dark. We would take a rope and put it over the frame above a guy's bed and tie a cardboard box on one end of the rope. At the other end someone a bed or two down would hold the box up until the guy dozed a little, then drop the box. This worked good when the victim who came in late probably had a little too much to drink. Sometimes this worked more than one time on the same guy.
The hardest part of basic for me was probably to have to stand at attention while getting chewed out by a yelling and cussing instructor and I couldn't talk back or do anything about it but say, "Yes, Sir." I really hated that. But I did get used to it as time went by. I came to appreciate most of the instructors. I believe now that they knew what they were doing. At the end of our basic training one of the instructors said, "I know that you all hate my guts and think that I am one rotten SOB, but that is exactly what I want. Someday if you go where I think you are going, you may look back and thank me. You are mad enough to fight to kill at the drop of the hat if need be, and that is exactly the way I wanted you." He was right.
There was a graduation ceremony with a parade when our basic was completed. Some of the guys' families came to it, but my family could not make it. I don't know if I felt ready for combat upon finishing basic, but I was glad it was finished and really was not in any hurry to see any combat. I think that basic made me more "hard-hearted." I don't know if that is the right word, but I just had a "don't give a damn" attitude about some things. This did not apply to family or friends, but toward a lot of things. I did have a lot of respect for our country, the flag and the Army, and I think that I loved my family more than ever before.
Field Wire School
Between basic and field wireman's training, I got a three-day pass and went home. I wore my uniform while there and people did notice and usually had something nice to say. After my three-day pass, I went back to Ft. Knox to wireman's school and eight weeks of field wire training, climbing poles, and stringing wire. I didn't have any experience with communications that qualified me for it. In the Army, whatever you didn't know was what you were going to get. I took my car back and Gayle rented an apartment off base. I was allowed to live there during my schooling (with several strict regulations from the Army to be able to do that). It was a better eight weeks than basic.
My field wire training was at a different part of Ft. Knox with a different company commander and other officers. I don't remember the names of any of the instructors, but they were all good at teaching this field. Most of them were former wiremen, not a bunch of school boys. We had a lot of telephone poles, electrical and telephone schools, and classrooms. The first three or four weeks we had more classroom studies, then later we did more pole climbing and field work training. They taught us how to repair telephones and switchboards. We did a lot of pole climbing and stringing wire on them and operating switchboards. Usually we had classroom training in the morning and pole climbing in the afternoon. The old poles had been climbed so much that they were all splintered and chewed up so badly that when we climbed them, sometimes the climbers would split out and down we would go. It was hard to climb them without falling off. I did that one time, but they made me go right back up because it cut down the fear. They said if we waited a while, we would be afraid to go back up. Even then it made us a little shaken up. We also had to pass a basketball around to each other while we were up on poles. That taught us that we were not to hold on with our hands and to do other things with them.
I think the equipment that we trained with was mostly left over from World War II. It was in pretty good shape, although the old telephone poles were the exception. They were not in too good of shape. They graded our pole climbing by scoring the way we climbed. We had a written test in electrical wiring and telephone installation and repair. The one thing that was almost useless in Korea was the pole climbing, for there were hardly any poles there for wires. It was very hard to dig a hole there because of all the rocks. We had a few poles after moving back just before my tour was over. The switchboards there were different also, but worked about the same.
Our schooling was pretty much an eight-hour day. I had a pass to live off base with Gayle and could go home for all my off duty time weekends and nights. I had more liberty during my eight weeks of advanced field wire training, but I was required to report in the morning for inspection. To keep my pass, I could not get any gigs at all. A "gig" could be something like having unpolished shoes. I had to be clean-shaven, have pressed clothing, a shined belt buckle, clean rifle, and be on time for everything. I really had to keep on my toes, but it was worth it.
After my training was completed, I got orders for overseas duty in Korea. I think I had a 12 or 14-day delay en route from Ft. Knox to Ft. Lewis, Washington so I could go home and see my parents. I had a 1940 Ford Coupe toward the end of my time at Ft. Knox. I drove it back to Vandalia and then caught a train out of St. Louis to Seattle, leaving my car in Illinois. David Schert, my good buddy from basic training was also from Vandalia. We both were to report to Ft. Lewis, Washington, by midnight June 21, 1953.
We had been given tickets when leaving Ft. Knox, but we had to make all connections ourselves. The day that we drove to the St. Louis train station to make our connections, the girl at the station told us there were no seats left on the date we needed to leave except a private room. It had a fold-out toilet, a lavatory, fold-out upper and lower beds, and it cost $30 or $40 more than our tickets were. (We country boys were getting a little more education on getting train reservations.) We were trying to figure out how to come up with the extra money when the girl asked us where we were shipping out to. When we told her Korea, she said, "I'm going to change your tickets at no charge." I guess she could tell she had a couple of country boys there. Then we had a choice of leaving on one day and getting there about 22 hours early, or leaving the next day and being about four hours late, so we chose the later one.
I remember the train ride from Vandalia to Seattle, Washington, very well. It wasn't a troop train--it was a regular passenger train. Much against the porter's wishes, we put our duffel bags in the very small train room with us, which made it pretty close in there. The porter came in the evening and lowered the upper bunk so we could go to bed. He did not like the bags in there, but he put up with it. We tried to lower the bunk ourselves one time and got it about halfway down before we had to call the porter to fix it. This made him a little unhappy, as well as the one time that David flushed the toilet while the train was in the station (a big no, no). We let the porter shine our shoes, too. There was a box with a door opening out into the hallway. Someone told us to put our shoes in it and the porter would polish them. He did that for two or three days, and then he quit--probably because of no tips. I don't think that he minded when we were escorted off the train. We were probably lucky that he didn't have us thrown off before that. (David Schert was a load of fun any place that he was. I think a lot of him.)
The train made some stops at different stations along the way, but it was never stopped more than a few minutes anywhere. Going through the Rocky Mountains was very pretty, but I really did not see too much from the train. It also traveled through the night and we could not see anything then. It had a dining car where we ate our meals.
Because we had chosen the train schedule which caused us to be four hours late in arriving in Seattle, Military Police were waiting to escort us right off the train and give us a ride to base in their private M.P. car instead of riding in the bus. They took us to the Company Commander at Ft. Lewis, who had some rather harsh words and warnings, but we never heard any more about that.
The ship I left for Korea on was the General Freeman, a Military Sea Transport Service (M.S.T.S.) ship. It carried 1200 troops and I would guess maybe 500 civilians. I don't know about cargo, but I doubt if it carried any. We sailed from Seattle, Washington on June 30 for Yokohama, Japan, arriving July 19, 1953.
About the third day at sea it was very rough. We needed to hang onto our bunk to stay in it. Mine was against the bulkhead and I could actually feel it move in and out as the waves hit it. For entertainment on the ship, we mostly played cards and games. There was a troop theater at the end of ladder #2 (a quote from my General Freeman newspaper). It was very small as I remember. I don't think I ever got into it. The Cabin Class had their movies on a deck lounge that was somewhat nicer than what we had. Their pets had it better than we did. The only duty that I had on the trip over was we had to scrub the deck one or two times, I believe. The only training that we had on the ship was fire drill and trying to figure out how to get 1200 troops into about six little life boats. I think the best way would have been to jump off the d+++ thing and maybe catch a ride with some of the civilian's pets' boats.
A couple of things happened on the way over. Once we were getting close to Japan, they announced for everybody on board to have a haircut before we reached port. The barber (there was only one) was located at the top of a ladder well and in a room about eight foot square. Here we were three days from port and 1200 guys were supposed to get a haircut. The barber was not too fast and his hours were too short. Frank Bensley (a guy from Greenup, Illinois) and I sat on those ladder well steps for two full days and did not even get close to having a haircut. We agreed to cut each other's hair. One of us had a small pair of scissors--the kind that little kids play with--and we cut each other's hair. It was a little painful and not too pretty, but it was a fresh haircut. I also washed my dirty clothes the easy way that a sailor told me about. He told me to tie them to a rope and hang them over the side of the ship to be dragged through the salt water. Unfortunately, he failed to tell me how long to leave them in the water. I left them in about 20 minutes. It cleaned them all right, but they came out about a foot shorter with lots of strings--and now they were white. About all that I had left was the waist band of my pants. I'm pretty sure that the sailor had a good laugh over that.
The ship was supposed to drop anchor in Japan and we were told we would be going to Camp Drake near Tokyo. However, by the time the General Freeman arrived in Japan on July 19, 1953, the orders had been changed because of needing more troops fast in Korea. We were taken off the Freeman, walked across the dock, and loaded onto the General Meigs. We sailed the same day to Camp Sasebo in Japan, arriving there the next day on July 20. We were issued a new M-1 rifle and three rounds of ammo to zero in the rifle. We fired the three rounds and were then issued two sets of fatigues, three pair of socks, a steel helmet, a towel and a duffel bag. I don't remember much of anything else that we got, but we were put back on the General Meigs on July 22, 1953, and sailed for Inchon, Korea. I guess it took about four days from Yokohama to Inchon, Korea. That would have been 23 or 24 days from Seattle to Korea.
The port of Inchon had no dock, so LST landing boats were sent out to the Meigs to take us to shore. There were two or three white hospital ships anchored out in the harbor and a line of helicopters waiting to land wounded soldiers on the ships. I could hear the guns, bombs, and small arms fire very clearly, and I, for one, was scared to death. I think I was not alone. If the rest were not scared too, they were not thinking too good, for this was a war zone to me.
We had to walk down a narrow, two-foot wide plank about 30 or 40 feet long with a short rail on the sides to get to the LSTs. The ship and boat were naturally rocking some, and one guy dropped his duffle bag with his rifle strapped to it into the water. We were literally packed standing in the boat for the ride to shore. This was in the morning. I don't know what time, but it was before noon.
Upon getting off the boat, we were stripped of all clothing, ordered to shower, and issued clothing treated with some kind of chemical to resist the Korean parasites. We were then loaded on a bus to Seoul and the Yongdong-po Replacement Depot. We spent the night there and were assigned to our unit there. It was just a little repo depo--there wasn't much there except a couple of Quonset huts. They just made sure we got our orders and if they wanted ten men in one company and five in another, they split us up. I don't think there were more than 15 men there when I was there. There was a cot and blanket for each of us in the Quonset where we spent the night. I didn't know where I was going until they put four of us in a 2 1/2 ton GMC truck on the back of a load of artillery ammo and dropped each one of us at a different outfit during the night. My first night in Korea was sleepless, but it was better than the night I was dropped off at the 300th.
I was now in C Company of the 300th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (AAA), a Wyoming National Guard outfit. The company had just been in one of the worst battles (for them) of the entire Korean War. I was the last one off the truck about 10:00 that night. Each of the other three guys were dropped off at earlier points on the way up there. We were in the Kumwha Valley about 20 miles northeast of Chunchon in the Iron Triangle. I was told earlier that when I got there I was to check in with the Company Commander, but a corporal told me that I could see him in the morning and asked me if I had a bed, which I did not. The corporal tried to help me find somebody to hook my tent to, but he couldn't. I was the odd number. I only had a shelter half--which made about nothing without a partner. He told a couple of guys who were under a tarp tied onto some ammo boxes and a half track to move over. I tied my shelter half to the side of the half track and slept on two ammo boxes. A half track is a two-ton vehicle that has tracks on the back and wheels on the front--a kind of a truck. It usually had machine guns or something like that on it. We couldn't use a light. In the shot-up mess the Corporal told me not to go out walking around, for they had trip wires around the area to warn them should the enemy try to sneak in. Sure enough, somebody set off the flares and all hell broke loose. Thank God we did not shoot one another. I didn't know anyone in my company, but Frank Bensley, my "ship's barber" on the Freeman, was in Headquarters Company of the 300th. Neither one of us knew this for a while after we arrived there.
I was in the replacement depot one night and the next night I was up in the company. Since I was in artillery, which was behind the front lines at that time, I didn't actually see any fighting. It was artillery and they didn't fight unless the infantry did. The last defensive firing position for the 300th was during the Battle of Kumsong River Salient. The 300th fired 33,191 rounds of artillery (105mm ammo), an average of 3,000 rounds per day from July 13 to July 24. The 300th fought its way through King's Pass (12 miles) to a new defensive position by July 20 with two casualties killed. They were PFC Gene Daley of "B" Battery and a forward observer named PFC Robert Sneed. Eight soldiers were taken prisoners of war from observation posts that were overrun. The last round was fired on July 27 at 0435 by 1st Lieutenant Horton of "C" Battery. "C" Battery was the battery that I was sent to, arriving on the 27th of July at night.
Two days after I got up to the company, the cease fire went into effect. There was still some fire because occasionally somebody would fire one back and forth--some nut, but it wasn't war anymore like it had been. I was tickled to death. None of us thought that we would be able to just pull out and go home. We knew better than that. We knew they probably wouldn't bring as many troops over now that the fighting had ceased. We hoped that we might get to go home a little sooner. There was some drinking to celebrate the end of the war--if anyone could find something to drink. Most of us didn't have anything to drink, so we just hollered. It was kind of a happy time.
When I first got to Korea, they were on a point system. It took 36 points to be able to rotate back to the States. Front line soldiers received three points per month, artillery got two per month, and those in the rear got only one. In the three-point zone, a soldier could rotate in 12 months. A forward observer was in the three-point zone, so I volunteered to go up there to an outpost. I believe that the OP was actually in front of the infantry lines. There was a lieutenant, a forward observer, a sergeant, a radio operator or wireman, and a driver. I'm not sure how many points that I had before they dropped the point system after the cease fire, but I did have enough points to help me some, as I rotated back to the States in 14 months. I could have been there two or three more months without the points. It seems to me that we might have been paid a little extra, too, but I'm not sure.
I was assigned the job as field wireman. My main job was to either install telephone wires on the ground (or in the trees if I could) or repair our telephone lines. Once in a while they would put a post in, but most of the time we ran the telephone wires on the ground. As I mentioned earlier, in Korea we couldn't dig a hole because the ground was full of rocks and the poles would fall down. But we hooked up telephones. We had big spools of wire mounted on the back of a Jeep and then we had smaller ones about ten inches in diameter and a foot long that we carried. The lines were strung for communication purposes. They had something called permanent lines, but really they were not very permanent. They got ran over by tanks and cut up and torn down, and the Koreans cut them. Also, we moved around so much the lines didn't last too long. At some time during this time, I was the C Battery switchboard operator, but only for about a month or two. I did not like being shut up in a bunker so much, so I went back to field wireman.
We had so many days to go up in the demilitarized zone (the DMZ) and get all of our equipment and bodies out of there after the war ended. The North Koreans had the same thing. This was not a fun job. The detail I was in was a group of about 15 or 20 men from different batteries, sent up there to help clean up. (I don't remember any natives helping.) We found nasty stuff up there--Jeeps, a tank or two with artillery mounted on them, guns. Things were laying everywhere. I remember that two of the tanks with artillery had taken direct hits. We had to drag them out with a tank retriever, which was another tank with a wrecker boom on it. We used those to pull out anything we could hook onto. We took the things we found to a kind of wrecking yard. After that I don't know what happened to them. We found dead Americans too--bodies and body parts. There were people to take care of them. They had to put them in body bags and take them to Graves Registration. I went up to the DMZ two or three different times. There was an occasional rifle or gun shot from who knows where. That helped to make it a bit spooky. I never knew of anyone being hit at this time, but there were several out there--some from other outfits.
There was no real schedule for hours at all. We just sort of did what had to be done. That might be cleaning equipment or guns, digging a hole, repairing something, or preparing for a quick move. We lived wherever we were at--anywhere we could sit or lay down. We weren't in tents. We were in trenches and tunnels that they had already dug before we got there. Sometimes we were under a half track or under a truck. The DMZ was never a safe place to be near. There were very few luxuries while we were on the outpost. We lived in a crude bunker and had only water to drink and C-rations to eat. We were there usually a week and then went back to the battery with a 1,000-yard stare and in bad need of a bath. We were the eyes of the artillery and the cannoneers used the information we gave to them to aim their guns onto the target.
A lot of our time was spent searching for, collecting, and salvaging used inactive wire. We called it "policing wire." New wire supplies were always short. It had gotten so it was very hard to find inactive wire, so our wire sergeant arranged a wire-hunting trip to the east coast on the Sea of Japan. We spent three or four days in search of wire. The sergeant, six men, and two Jeeps with trailers and several large wire spools drove the 50 or 60 miles to the coast without finding much inactive wire. We sort of played on the beach a day or two. On the way out to the east, we found a large Korean active telephone cable (10 or 15 wires tied together). It was being used, but knowing that we almost had to get some wire before returning to the battery, and considering the fact that it was Korean, we helped ourselves. We positioned the two Jeeps two or three miles apart and at an appointed time, we cut both ends at once. With two guys in each trailer winding wire as fast as possible, we soon had a good supply of stolen wire and were on our way back. We had covered the trailers with tarps and met a lot of ROK Army MP Jeeps shortly after that, but they did not stop us to check us out. I'm not sure why they didn't, for I know their ROK Army communications were a little fouled up after that. We had tapped into the line on the way out there to see if it was inactive, and we could tell they were in use because there was a lot of Korean talk on them.
At one time while at the 300th, my basic training buddy David Schert, who was a company clerk in Pusan, Korea, got access to a Jeep and drove it up to where I was. It was a distance of about 70 or 80 miles. He stayed in our battery for three days. (How he pulled this off, I do not know--he was a guy with many talents.) This was about six months after I got to Korea, and he only made it that one time. He and I went on a couple of sightseeing trips, one of which was up to a blown-away village in Kumwha Valley on the DMZ. While standing on a pile of blown-up dirt and rubble, we saw some 20 or 30 ROK Army soldiers with a Lieutenant who were walking in the road. I heard a mortar (a sound once heard, never forgotten) coming in and we hit the ground. It landed in the road near this group and one of them was very badly hit. The Lieutenant asked us if we could take him to their unit down the road a few miles. The man was covered in blood and full of holes. His uniform was in shreds and I'm sure he died, but we did take him and the Lieutenant to their unit. This was probably two or three months after the truce. As I said, it was always very dangerous in areas close to the DMZ line.
I got lost badly once while I was in Korea. I will never forget that experience. In fact, there are not too many days that this does not cross my mind. I volunteered for outpost duty once. There was always supposed to be a lineman at the outpost, and that was going to be my job when we got there. A guy from another battery and I were taken to the base of some mountain. I'm not sure what his job was supposed to be on the outpost. We had to wait until dark to start up the trail to the outpost. We were given some directions, but no maps or a compass, and we didn't have a radio or any communications with anyone while going up. It sounded pretty simple at the time, but it didn't turn out that way. There were other trails that branched off at places, and we obviously got off the right one in the dark and became lost.
When we started out, we were three or four miles from the outpost. The hike should probably have taken maybe two or three hours, but it took us all night because we got lost. I'm not sure when we realized that we were lost, but it was probably when the only direction that I was sure of was up. (We did know we needed to go up and not down.) More than one trail went up at different angles and we didn't have a clue any more as to which one to take. A compass probably would have helped. No one had told us how many different trails were on that hill. We backtracked a few times trying to find the right one, but we weren't getting anywhere. It was not a very bright moonlit night, but the trails could sort of be made out without using a light. I think we had a flashlight with us, but we didn't use it unless we just had to. The flashlight had a filter on it--I think it was amber or frosted. It cut the light down to practically nothing. We couldn't use much light up there because we didn't want to be seen by the North Koreans up there for fear of being shot. There were also a lot of mines all over Korea that were unmarked. When I realized that we were on the wrong trail, I was afraid. At that time I had very serious doubts if we would ever get off the hill. No one on the outpost was looking for us. They were probably just teed off because we were late getting there.
I truly believe that God sent an angel to us in the form of a Korean man who lived in the one little hut we found on the way up there. The hut was just mud and sticks and grass and there wasn't much to it. I didn't see inside of it. I just hollered and hoped that he was a native and not the enemy. I couldn't say a word to him or him to me, but we understood each other. Using all kinds of sign language, I made him understand that I wanted the outpost where the big guns were shooting over. He got us back on track and by then it was getting daylight.
The 300th moved back about five or ten miles about 30 to 60 days after the cease fire. I was in this move. The trucks, Jeeps and guns were driven, and all other equipment was hauled. I'm not sure how long it took, but I think it was maybe two or three days. This was about 45 or 50 miles north of Chunchon and about 10 to 15 miles east of the blown-away village of Kumhwa in the Kumhwa Valley. They were there until they were sent back to the United States.
I was transferred from the 300th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (C) Charlie Battery to the 24th Infantry Division, 21st Infantry Regiment, Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion during May of 1954. The 300th, which was a Wyoming National Guard unit, was deactivated and sent back to the United States soon afterward. I preferred the 300th over the 24th because I was there first and for a longer period of time. The guys were all much closer. They were my "family." The conditions there were a lot more tense, but we seemed to watch each other's back and I guess we were all scared together. When someone left for home, there were usually a few tears shed. Even though we were happy for them, we hated to see them leave. I never felt as close to the ones in the 24th. Although I did have good buddies there, too, it was not quite the same. The actual living conditions were somewhat better and there was a little less dirty work in the 24th, but it was not the 300th.
The 300th received the USA Presidential Unit Citation for the Battle of Soyang May 16-22, 1951, USA Presidential Unit Citation for the Battle of Kumsong July 10, 1953, Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation for the Battle of Soyang and the Battle of Kumsong, and seven other commendations from other divisions and outfits dated from December 1950 to the cease fire.
The 24th Division was located a little farther south from the Kumhwa Valley. I believe the division was closer to Chunchon. It was a little farther back from the DMZ than while I was in the 300th. The 24th never moved while I was in it. My job in the 24th was not much different than what it was before. Our quarters and the movie theater were a little better and our quarters had a few more conveniences. (I think they got a mess tent and other improvements after I left the 300th and just before the end of the battalion's tour in Korea.) The cease fire was still in effect, but all the officers and headquarters had to have communications whether they were fighting or not. I was still a wireman. A lot of times we went out on practice maneuvers that required communications, too. We had equipment to keep clean and be repaired, did some upgrading of communications, and patrolled the DMZ some of the time. The Army seemed to always find something for us to do, even if it didn't need doing.
The weather there was no different than at the 300th because it was only about 20 or 30 miles south of where we were before. The winters were extremely cold and summers pretty hot also. The living quarters there were squad tents on a wood frame and floors, but we had better latrines built over pits instead of just having a slit trench. There was also better lighting, a better mess hall, and a Quonset hut movie house with regular movies. I am not sure how big this area was, but it was quite large. It was a regiment, but I'm not sure how many were in a regiment.
The heat in the summer was probably comparable to Illinois, but the cold was worse. I don't remember the heat much. Heat never bothered me. But I remember the cold. It sure seemed to me that it was colder than the temperatures in an Illinois winter. We didn't have the insulated clothing that there is today. We wore field jackets, sweaters, long underwear, a parka, and a hat that had ugly ear flaps that pulled down. We also wore insulated boots called Mickey Mouse boots--big black things that looked like Mickey Mouse feet.
After we moved back, a typical day was breakfast about 6 a.m. and maybe repair broken or torn wire in the field or repair telephones or a switchboard. Maybe we would have to run wire to a new phone location. We were more or less off duty at 6 o'clock in the evening, but that was not always the case. We got wood-framed and floored tents at some time while at this location, as well as a generator to have some electric lights (one bulb per tent). I was put in charge of starting and stopping the generator each day and keeping it gassed up and such. There was usually plenty of work to be done. Sometimes we went up in the hills to shoot our rifles or blow up old Korean bunkers, mortar pits and Korean caves with hand grenades. I went to Chunchon sometimes to get supplies from a quartermaster's depot or something that had a warehouse of military supplies. It was a pretty good-sized town over there. There were a lot of Korean shops and businesses as I remember it.
On the outpost we ate mostly C-rations. Back at battalion we had meals cooked at the mess tent for a while. Later on we had a Quonset building for a mess hall to eat in when not out on a patrol or maneuver. We had a lot of powdered and canned food in the mess hall building such as powdered potatoes, powdered eggs (usually green in color), powdered milk, and anything else that could be powdered. We ate a lot of dried chipped beef in gravy on toast for breakfast. This was known as S.O.S. Other foods included liver (also green), pork or beef. Sometimes that was just fair. We had plenty of peanut butter and lots of rice prepared in every way one could think of. (I hate rice to this day.) During times on patrol, it was back to good old C-rations. One time two or three of us went deer hunting and killed a deer. The mess sergeant would not cook it for us, so we cooked it over a big fire in a fox hole. It burned on the outside, but we thought it tasted pretty good with a little beer to wash it down.
I never ate the native food, except I tried kimchi once. I did not care for it. It was not really recommended to eat their food, and I was a little afraid of it. I think that the S.O.S. was as good as about any of the food there. The canned fruit was also good. Some of the time the S.O.S. was made with hamburger and other times it was the chipped beef. Both were pretty good. The stateside food that I probably missed most was fresh meat, fresh potatoes, and eggs.
We had movies part of the time, mostly outside. Later on they had a Quonset hut for a movie house. For other entertainment there were always a few comedians among the group it seemed. There was one that was a buddy of mine. He was called Kilroy. I don't remember his real name, but he was a good source of entertainment. I remember that light bulbs were very hard to come by. As I said, we only had one bulb per tent. One time ours went out. The movie house had several up around the edge of the ceiling. When the lights were turned out for the movie, Kilroy decided to get a bulb or two while the room was in darkness. He climbed on something in the dark and was getting a bulb when someone yelled, "Look at Kilroy" and turned on the lights. There he stood up at the ceiling unscrewing a bulb, looking very surprised. Almost everyone in there except Kilroy thought it was very funny. We did not get to keep the bulb and Kilroy got to dig a new latrine pit for us the next few days.
The only flare-ups that I know of were the occasional shot or two up close to the DMZ. There were a few reports of casualties, but the only one that I remember other than the Korean who was hit while I was sightseeing with my buddy was a soldier in the squad tent next to mine. He shot himself through the stomach while cleaning a grease gun (a .45 caliber fully automatic submachine gun). I am sure that he was killed.
My weapon was an M-1 Garand. They were very dependable and very accurate. It held eight rounds at a time and was semi-automatic. It also had a bayonet attachment. Occasionally we carried a hand grenade, but not too often. We carried those if we thought we were going to go up to a foxhole or a bunker. But like I said, I was there mostly after the real bad fighting ended, so I very, very seldom carried a hand grenade.
When I was with the 300th, we were out in the field and we lived in tents. I never lived in anything but a tent when I was in Korea--never. Things kind of calmed down and the 300th moved. They cleaned up a spot and more or less put up a permanent tent with a wooden floor. They were pretty large tents that could house ten men to a tent. There were two little vented heating stoves in there that burned fuel oil. To keep our clothes and things, we usually found an ammunition box or a crate of some kind. We didn't have any kind of lockers--at least, I didn't.
We had slit trenches and latrines, and if we wanted to take a bath we went to the river. Two or three times a portable shower unit came to our company. It set up on the bank of the river, pumped the water out, heated it, and sprayed it out. We were out in the open with no cover. I remember a couple of times in the winter going to that. As long as I was in hot water, I was fine. But when I got out, I wanted to dry real fast. They didn't furnish the towels. We used the towel already issued to us.
We washed our clothes in the river and beat them with a rock. We didn't wash them and hang them on a tree by the river because if we did, they would be gone. I lost my clothes about the second week I was in Korea. They took everything I had but what I was wearing. It was while we were at the location near Kumhwa that my clothes were taken after I had washed them in a stream and hung them on some bushes to dry. I don't know if it was other soldiers or Koreans that took them. The Korean natives were bad about stealing about anything that was loose. I tried to get more clothes from Service Battalion, but there wasn't any available (they said). So one of the old-timers told me to more or less get them just like they had gotten mine. With that lesson I learned not to leave my clothes unwatched. I also lost my beer ration the same way. The solution for that was to bury it in the rocks while cooling it in the river instead of just putting it in the water.
Anything that came from home was in demand. We shared with everybody, so anything that came from home didn't last long--food, cigarettes. I had a good friend in my battalion. He was from New York City. His mother sent him three or four sticks of pepperoni and that went over about as good as anything. Everybody liked it. I guess the longer you keep it, the harder and better it gets. It was awful good. I believe his mom sent some over for all of us. I got packages and letters from my wife pretty regularly. She was scared to death for me. After I got lost on the way to that outpost, I wrote home and asked Gayle to send me a compass, which she did. They were scarce in Korea. I think the dumbest order that I ever was given was from Captain Horton and had to do with my mail. (He and 2nd Lt. Richard Bowditch are the only two officers I remember by name.) I had received no letters from home the first 30 days that I was over there, and then I got them all at once. That evening I went out to a trash-burning dump to read them. Upon finishing, I burned them on the burning spot. The Captain saw me do that and made me clean up the whole burning site and bury it all.
About the only bad news that I know of anyone getting was when some of the guys got a Dear John letter from their wife or girlfriend. That usually brought on a good drunk when beer or whiskey could be found. Usually some of the guy's buddies could help out in this area. Gayle sent me cookies, candy, the flashlight that I mentioned earlier, and even a pair of sunglasses. Her parents and mine also sent me goodies. The cookies and cake was usually mashed or just crumbs, but they still tasted great to us. We always had a lot of buddies when a package came, and we always shared (almost always).
As to attending church in Korea, there was an Army chaplain--usually a Warrant Officer--that had services. I am not sure, but I think he was from Headquarters Battalion. The first few months that I was there the service might be anywhere and not too regular as I recall. Then later there was a chapel building at headquarters battalion with more regular services. I did not attend very regularly. I did quite a lot of praying on my own. That could be done anywhere, any time. In one of the earlier services (I think there were three other guys attending), I accepted Christ. I do not know just where we were located, but it was in the Kumhwa Valley with a few sprouts and brush around and me sitting on my helmet. It was the most outstanding service that I ever attended.
The only American women that I saw over there were either nurses or USO show performers who were there for the troops. Two USO shows came to the 300th while I was there. One of them featured Mitzy Gaynor and the other was Liz Taylor. Both shows were very good (with several pretty girls) and very well accepted. We appreciated them very much.
Our holidays in Korea were not celebrated by us too much. There was not much there to celebrate with. Christmas and Thanksgiving we had turkey and the trimmings, which was good, but I don't remember much celebrating. It seemed to be even more lonely than usual, I thought. The hardest thing about being in Korea for me was being away from home and family.
I was in Korea for two birthdays. On October 14, 1953, I was 21 and in 1954, I was still there for my 22nd birthday. There was not any celebrating that I remember except probably an extra beer or two. That is about all we did for most celebrating. When we had leisure time I wrote home, played cards, and slept. A lot of times maybe two or three of us would take our rifles or pistols and some hand grenades and go up into the hills and shoot or blow up some old Korean caves or mortar gun pits.
Occasionally a Korean prostitute or two would sneak into the army base, but that was strictly against all regulations and did not happen very often. It was guarded pretty close. Small Korean boys outside the areas pimped for their sister or mother--always "very pretty" (they said) 12-year old sister or mother. A pack of cigarettes or a dollar or two was usually the price quoted. Sometimes the girls themselves would be out there or along the roads advertising themselves. There was no shortage of them in any towns either, and they were very forward. "Keep two feet of good, fresh air between you and the girls." That was one US military safety rule that I stuck to religiously.
I could have gone on R&R for five days in Japan while I was in Korea, but I turned it down. I should have taken it, but I didn't. I even had a Japanese American buddy in our battalion who had relatives living in Japan who I could have gone with and stayed at their home. I don't know why that I didn't (dumb). I did go on a four-day R&R in Korea. It was a recreational camp where it was nice to relax and play games, eat pretty good, and just rest up. It was called the Taro Leaf Rest Area and was a part of the 24th Division, but quite a distance away from the Division area. I was not in the 24th at that time and am not even sure where it was located.
Other than David Schert, who I had taken basic training with at Ft. Knox, and another basic training buddy, Frank Bensley, I never met anyone from the states that I knew while I was in Korea. I had no relatives in the Korean War that I knew of at the time. There was an Edward Cearlock and a brother (I think). They were distant cousins to me I'm sure, but I am not familiar with them. I believe one of them was killed in Korea.
I smoked and drank while in Korea, but I did not gamble. I drank some before going into the service, but not too much. I also smoked before going into the Army, but I smoked much more after being in Korea. We got some cigarettes from C-rations and they must have been five years old. We also got some from the Red Cross about the same age as the C-rations. We could buy them for $1.00 a carton of ten packs. We got a monthly beer ration that could be two cans or more than a case. A truck brought it up to the battalions, then it was divided equally to all. Anyone who did not want his ration was always asked by a buddy to take it anyway and it was usually bought by the buddy. Whiskey could not be bought by anyone under the rank of sergeant, I think. If we had a friend who worked in the officer's or NCO non-commissioned officer's club, we could have them sneak out whiskey (sometimes). Also the Korean KATUSAs could get it at a Korean PX, but we needed to really know the KATUSA and trust him because we could get poisoned. The "gooks" were bad Koreans who could open a bottle without breaking the seal and replace the whiskey with bad alcohol that could make someone go blind or die. The KATUSA knew what to buy that would be good. Of course, this was not legal, but you know how that is.
The only experience with the Red Cross was when my brother was killed at home. They did not impress me much at that time. My brother was killed when he and my dad cut a large bee tree down to remove the honey from it. The tree was on a hillside in our pasture and when they cut-sawed it down, the tree turned the wrong way, causing a large limb to hit my brother, killing him. We used to do this about every Fall. If a tree was found that had a bee hive in it, we would wait until Fall when it was cooler and cut it for the winter's supply of honey. Usually we cut them at night to keep the bees a little calmer. Gayle and my mother were both there when this happened. Gayle rushed to a neighbor's house for help and several people came as quickly as possible, but there was nothing that could be done. The coroner said he died instantly. I received the word six days after his death by the Red Cross calling my Battalion Commander. This was actually on the day of his funeral. The funeral had been postponed while the family at home was waiting to hear if I was getting to come home for it. They did not know that I had not been notified yet. This is why I have little respect for the Red Cross. I do not know why it took six days to call my outfit to let me at least know about my brother's death. I received a letter the next day from home telling me the bad news and I never received a letter from home in less than seven days. My brother and I were very close, even though he was five years younger than me. It was an extremely difficult time for me after his death, but it had to be so much worse for the family at home. I cannot imagine what they must have gone through and there was nothing I could do. With God's help we all made it.
I had little contact with the natives of Korea, even though they were scattered everywhere. I saw many of them along the roads and in the rice paddies and villages. Some were farmers, I think. I saw real small children to old people washing clothes in ditches and carrying poles of wood, loose hay, and all kinds of things. They worked in the rice paddies a lot during the summer. They walked right through where our guns were set up like we were not there sometimes. Some of the boys usually would sneak in our battalion trying to sell trinkets, cigarette lighters, and such. They usually got ran out, but it didn't seem to slow them up and they kept on coming back.
The natives mostly lived in huts built of grass and mud. They were poorly dressed and very poor, I'm sure. Their villages and towns were in bad shape. Much damage from the war was easily seen. They smelled awful and were very dirty. Most of their sewage was in the ditches along the road. They also used the same water for washing and cooking. Many of the roofs on the mud huts were covered with drying octopus. I think the children ate this like candy. Many times I saw little two to four-year old children standing along the roads begging GIs for anything that we would give them. Most of the time no one else would be in sight. It was a pitiful sight, really. I felt sorry for the children for sure. I saw hardly any racial prejudice except we GIs did some dirty tricks on the Korean natives sometimes. I guess we thought we were trying to get even with them for so many of them would steal everything we had if given the chance. I probably would have done the same thing in their position at the time.
At the time I did not think Korea was worth the powder it would take to blow it away. I really didn't have much pity for the people of the country. This feeling did improve with time and I am glad that we helped them out. I think part of the bad feeling was because we could not tell the South Koreans from the North Koreans and didn't know who to trust. That did improve with time.
I got my notice of departure from Korea for a certain day. I was very glad to be leaving my unit for home. When it came time to leave, I turned my rifle and equipment in and wrote home telling everybody. Then a couple of days before that date the orders were canceled for some reason. Then I was not so happy. About four weeks later I got new orders and was ready to go. Someone took me to Chunchon by Jeep, where I went by train to Pusan. We boarded the ship General William Mitchell on November 10, 1954. I was a corporal at that time. I don't remember seeing any replacements coming into Korea as I left.
There was no one on the ship that I knew, but it was a pretty happy mood on board, for we were all going home. There was quite a bit of sea sickness on the ship, but I did not get really sick--just felt a little rough and mostly ate oranges and stayed out of the mess hall most of the time. I made the trip pretty good.
I was assigned to a detail they called ladder well detail. That was cleaning the stair wells leading up into the open decks where everybody tried to get to open air upon getting sea sick. They gave out details by calling out names over the speaker system the first day on board. At that time no one knew anyone on board. I did my detail the first day, but the next day I became one of many "AWOL" soldiers the rest of our trip to the United States. Our names were announced every day all the way across. I knew the Navy people did not know who I was and I thought, "What can they do to me now? I'm on my way home." Nothing was ever said to me upon our arrival in the States.
The weather coming home was very rough. There was a lot of sea sickness and there were several days that we couldn't go up on the open decks because of rough seas. It took 14 days to reach Seattle and there were no stopovers on the way. I really do not remember any entertainment on board, but there must have been some movies. They may have been up on the open deck--some were on one of the ships that I was on, I know. I'm sure we had some card games (always).
I thought that the first sight of US land was the most beautiful sight that I had ever seen in my life. It was very emotional to me and I think most everybody else, too. There was a lot of cheering and I'm sure a lot of tears, too. We came back into Seattle, Washington. There was a band there playing and some people too, but really not a large crowd. I was very proud of my country and glad to be back to it. It's the best country in the world.
We were taken off the ship and taken by bus to a bunch of barracks. They divided us into groups and told us when and how each group would be sent home or wherever they were to go. I was put in a group of 37 to fly out to Chicago at 6 p.m. that evening. I felt very lucky to be one of the very few to leave that day and to fly also. We were put on a two-engine old C-47 cargo plane that landed in Salt Lake City, Utah and North Platte, Nebraska. We landed in Chicago's Midway Airport at noon the next day and were greeted by some boys who had flown out of Seattle that morning and beat us there. A bus then took us to Ft. Sheridan for our mustering out of service. I never had any liberty before getting out. I believe it was three days at Ft. Sheridan to get all the processing done. From Chicago I caught a train to Springfield, and my wife and parents met me there.
It took some adjusting to civilian life from Army life upon returning home from overseas. It was so much less stressful, and I felt as if I should be doing something, but did not know what. My language had to be cleaned up a bit also. I had a little trouble just settling down to relax. I also had some trouble sleeping and had bad dreams and nightmares. I still have nightmares sometimes and blame some of them on my Korean experience, even though that has been nearly 55 years ago.
When I came back from the Army I went to Carbondale University at Southern Illinois University Vocational Technical Institute. I took a welding course for one year and then I moved to Niantic and worked at Caterpillar in Decatur in 1955, starting there when it first opened up. I worked there for three years and then I worked for Superior Welding in Decatur. I bought a welding shop in Vandalia in 1959 and moved down there. That didn't go too well, so two years later I moved to Arthur because I got a job at Collins Daugherty Chevrolet in Arthur. I worked there for about 12 years and then I got a job in the post office. I worked there for 22 and a half years and then I retired.
My strongest memories of Korea are of the cold and miserable weather. I also remember the fear and sometimes being hungry and dirty, too. But I know that it was nothing to compare to what the guys went through earlier in the war before I was even there. The heroes to me are the ones that didn't make it home from Korea. They are the ones who fought bravely to their death when there was little or no chance of their survival in the worst weather conditions known to man, outnumbered hundreds to one, but they still fought until the end. The ones who were taken prisoner of war are also heroes. We can never know what they went through and they still fought to escape--and many did. All those were the heroes to me.
I very much disliked going into Army life at first. I did not want to go in, but I am so very glad that I did. I'm sure it made a better person out of me. I was a poor country boy who had not been away from home for any long periods of time ever. I had a new wife for three months before leaving for the Army. I was homesick at first but made my mind up to do my best. It never got easy, but I did learn to handle it. My wife wrote to me every single day that I was in there and she can never know how much that meant to me. (She is the very best.) About the first thirty days that I was in Korea, I got no letters, then I got them all at once. It was a great day for me.
I felt more fear when first arriving at my battery during the night than all my time in Korea, with the exception of the long, fearful hours I experienced while being lost and trying to find our outpost. I think I probably reacted pretty much like any other new replacement. I just made up my mind that a lot did this before I was here and I can do it, too! I did the best that I could by gritting my teeth and going for it. I listened to the old timers and learned a lot. I prayed a lot, too. All these things got me through.
The basic and advanced training definitely helped me a lot in Korea as well. This training helped me know a lot of things that I did not know--like how to just survive or take care of myself without all the comforts of home. I could do without bathrooms, daily baths and beds, and I could get by with little food and water. The combat training was very important, too. It was not always easy, but I lived. In my case at least, the advanced training taught me how to do some things that had to be done. I feel that both basic and advanced training served me pretty well.
When I arrived in Korea in 1953, my first impression of the country was that it was a dirty, stinking, nearly destroyed hell hole. At the time I wondered what we were doing there. My attitude changed some and I felt sorry for the South Koreans, especially the little children. I felt that Korea probably was worth fighting for after all. The thing that bothers me is I think that when you go into a war, you should fight to win it--not stop on some make-believe line before it is finished. Korea was a war that they half did. Truman should have let MacArthur have his way. He would have finished it.
I'm not sure how much good came out of the Korean War, but I believe Korea has come a long way, and I believe we did help them a lot. I think it was important that we stopped the North Koreans, Chinese and Russians from running over South Korea. If we had let that happen, I shudder to think what might have happened to South Korea and probably even other countries. I believe we should have finished the job and just let General MacArthur loose--plus maybe one more A-bomb. (Just my opinion.)
I have never been back to Korea. I would like to go back if I could go back to the areas and places where I was while there. I don't really want to just take a tour of the cities. I would like to see Seoul and Chunchon. Seoul was a shot-up, rubble-strewn mess when I saw it. I'm sure it is quite different now. (Maybe someday I'll get to see it again.) I believe that it is right that we have troops stationed in Korea even today to help support South Korea. The whole Korean crisis could start again if we gave it half a chance.
We honor World War II veterans much more than Korean War veterans--and more than Vietnam veterans too, I think. I have nothing against that. They deserve every bit of it. There aren't too many memorials for the Korean War, I guess because Korean War veterans don't yell and holler about everything. I did not enlist in the Army, but was drafted. I didn't exactly want to go, but I was proud to serve and the Army would have been my choice if I had enlisted. I did miss being at home, but I wouldn't take anything in the world for the experience. I was proud to serve my country even though I was not a volunteer. I did not personally receive any medals or awards except the Korean Service Medal and a Good Conduct Medal (that about everybody got). I also received a 50-year anniversary Korean Service Medal that was awarded by the Korean government during the war, I believe, but our government would not approve it until the 50th anniversary. None of these are real outstanding, but I am proud of them anyway. I missed out on two years of my life while I was in Korea. I had a wife and family at home and I wanted to be there with them. I don't regret that I went to Korea, but I wouldn't want to go again. Korea was a dump.
Many in the next generation think that America is not so great. They don't salute the flag. They don't do this, that, and the other. If they don't like it, let them go over there and try it. It wouldn't take them long to see. They would soon find out. Should any student or anyone else ever want to use what I or any other Korean War veteran has written about our Korean War experiences, I hope they understand that we tried to do our jobs there the best that we could under the worst of conditions--arctic minus 20 degree snowy winters, horrible rocky mountain terrain, while hungry, short on supplies and ammunition, literally fighting for our lives.
I'm sure that not much will ever be in any history books about the Korean War. Relatively few people even know that there was a Korean War or where Korea is located. I know that, like World War II vets, we Korean vets came home to NO fanfare and we went back to work without bitching for the next ten years. We are still a proud bunch of guys who do not need or want patted on the back all of the time. Just don't forget us--and know that we fought for our country proudly. Korea is now a much better place than it ever was before. I personally saw many very small children who stood along the road begging and starving, wearing rags for clothing. I'm sure some of their parents had been killed. Thank God they are better off now and I'm pretty sure that they have not forgotten the Korean War or what our good old USA did for them. I hope that the Forgotten War won't always be forgotten by Americans.
I have told about some of my experiences, things that happened, and the conditions in Korea while I was there to my children and others. I have tried to tell things that would make them appreciate what we have here to be thankful for. I always feel that most people do not want to hear my stories or that they might feel like I'm bragging about my experiences. I am a little uncomfortable telling them about Korea unless they ask or seem interested. Then I do like telling them. I am very proud to have been a very small part of that period of time in our history, but I don't want to try to be something that I really am not. Anyone who has not had that kind of experience cannot begin to understand the stress, pain and grief. I don't want anyone to think I am asking for pity by talking about it. I'm sure in their later years they will have more time and become more interested in history and this sort of thing. I know that I have.
I have not really searched for buddies from the war, although I did find Frank Bensley who lives in Westfield, Illinois. I have met with him several times. I found him by seeing his name in the 300th AFA Battalion Association (in Cheyenne, Wyoming) newsletter when he joined the group. I met him in person shortly after that. I have also met with David Schert who lives in the Vandalia, Illinois area. I do not know where the others are, but they were scattered all over the United States. I am a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Korean War Educator, and a member of the Korean War Veterans National Museum, 300th Armored Field Artillery Battalion Association Cowboy Cannoneers, and the Civilian Marksmanship Program.
My experience in Korea changed me. It made me realize that there is somebody more powerful than I am. The Good Lord takes care of you. That stayed with me all of my life. My time in Korea was a mixture of emotions--fear, grief, loneliness, sorrow, discomfort, and home sickness, with some funny experiences mixed in at times. I learned a lot and grew up fast. I would not take anything for the experience, but would not want to do it all again for anything.