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Donald Chase

Framingham, MA-
Korean War Veteran of the United States Army

"The good that came out of the Korean War was that we stopped a rogue nation from taking over a free one. All who served in Korea gained the respect and friendship of the Korean people. Having U.S. troops stationed in Korea now may help their economy, but I do not think it is a necessity for defense. I have not revisited Korea, but often have the desire to do so. Probably the main reason I don’t go there is that I know it will not be the Korea I knew. The old saying, you can never go back to what once was, still holds true."

- Donald Chase

 


Memoir Contents:


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Introduction

Don Chase was born on 11 January 1926 in Framingham, Massachusetts, the son of Ralph L. and Mary Carroll Chase. He became the only member of his family to serve in the military during World War II when he joined the US Army Reserves on May 20, 1944. He served with the 89th and 83rd Infantry Divisions in Europe during World War II after joining the regular Army in October of 1945. He was discharged October 1948, but re-enlisted in the Army in December of 1950. He first arrived in Korea in January or February of 1951 and served with B Company, 19th Infantry Regiment, and 24th Infantry Division. He was wounded in March of 1951. He was injured a second time in June or July of 1951. He returned to Korea in November of 1952, and was assigned to I Company, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division in the Chorwon, Kumwha area. He was wounded a third time in Korea on July 26, 1953, the day before the war ended. He was discharged October 13, 1953.

[Editor’s Note: The following memoir is entirely in Donald Chase’s own words.]


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Joining Up

"I registered for the draft upon turning 18, and persuaded the draft board to take me early on. I was considered a volunteer. I was afraid the war would be over before I got into it. To me, it was the great adventure. I was very nave and innocent at the time. I chose the Army because my father had been a soldier during World War I. Two of my friends went into the Army at the same time and we took basic training together. My parents were very upset because I went into the service before I had to. They wanted me to finish high school first. I was sworn in the 20th of May 1944 at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. My basic training was done at Camp Croft, Spartanburg, South Carolina. This was an Infantry Replacement Training Center. Almost all the traveling from home to Army camps was done by train."


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Basic Training

"Upon arrival at the basic training center, all of us were given an orientation lecture by a captain who would be our company commanding officer. This lecture covered the "do’s and don’ts" of Army life. This was 1944 and my platoon sergeant (Bailey was his name) was a veteran of the fighting in the Aleutian Islands. His assistant, a Corporal Johnson, really did most of the training work. Both men were tough, no nonsense soldiers, but very fair in their treatment of everyone.

Basic training lasted seventeen weeks. Everything was well organized, and in those twelve-hour days we were taught everything that a soldier had to know to fight as an infantryman. Discipline was strict, but because we were mostly young men and full of it, a certain amount of humor was always present. Each weekday started with one hour of calisthenics, rain or shine, then breakfast at the mess hall, family-style. Everyone would sit quietly at the tables, food was brought to the tables, and then the mess sergeant would give permission to eat. In my opinion, the food was excellent, wide variety at mealtimes, and I believe our mess sergeant took pride in his job. Everyone took turns doing K-P duty, so I know the kitchen area and eating area were kept spotless.

After breakfast, we returned to our barracks, cleaned everything up and got ready for the day’s training sessions. All training was conducted outside and we marched or walked to whatever area of the camp was involved. Camp Croft was in the middle of vast peach orchards, yet the training areas were dry, dusty, and the heat was brutal. There were bugs and insects around, but they never were a major nuisance. We learned how to use all the weapons that are prominent in the infantry. I earned badges and bars for proficiency in carbines, rifles, BAR and machine guns, and was familiar with mortars and anti-tank guns.

I do not remember any discipline problems and the minor screw-ups were handled on an individual basis. Saturday mornings were spent cleaning the barracks and latrine, cleaning individual’s equipment, putting footlockers in order, and getting everything ready for the weekly inspection. Bunks had to be made up a certain way, clothing hung in a specific order, and equipment lay out neatly. These Saturday morning inspections were serious business because everything (and I emphasize that) was checked thoroughly. If the barracks area was not cleaned properly, everyone had to turn to and work until the inspecting officer was satisfied. If an individual’s rifle was not clean or his clothes not buttoned properly, this had to be corrected before he was excused for the rest of the weekend. Many of the men I trained with lived in the immediate area and worked hard to pass inspection so they could go home for the weekend. Church services were available on Sunday for those who wished to go.

Summing up basic training, although I was rather shy and timid, I got along with everyone, met some great fellows, and do not remember any fights or nastiness involving me. I gained about twenty pounds and took great pride in my ability to handle everything that basic training entailed. I found it to be a very positive experience and enjoyed it because I was someone who truly liked being in the Army. Being able to wear a cap with the pale blue piping, showing you were infantry, meant something special to me. There was no aspect of it that I found particularly difficult, and at its completion I really felt I was a soldier. I never gave it a thought as to whether or not it realistically prepared me for combat."


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Advanced Training

"After basic training ended, I traveled by train to my home in Natick, Massachusetts, having been given a ten-day leave before reporting to my new station, Camp Butner, North Carolina. I do not remember anything special happening while on leave or the train rides.

I checked into my new unit (the 89th Infantry Division) on a Saturday night. Very few people were around because most had weekend passes. This division had been activated in 1942, but had lost many men who were taken from it to make up other divisions. Now, while at Camp Butner, it was being brought up to full strength for deployment overseas. I was assigned as a rifleman to K Company, 354th Infantry Regiment. Just as in basic training, I had no trouble in adjusting to this new environment, and felt completely at home in a short while.

It is difficult to explain, but once a person has been taken into a regular Army unit, a certain pride in your unit develops. To me, it was a big thing to be able to sew on the sleeve of my blouse, the patch indicating 89th Infantry Division. With this, I was no longer a rookie, etc.

It was October 1944 when I joined this division, and for the next two and a half months we trained in all things pertaining to the infantry. Within a certain context it was a continuation of basic training. The main difference was that we all knew we would be fighting the enemy together, so a closer type of camaraderie was present.

The sergeants in my platoon were great guys who knew how to do their jobs without being overbearing, mean, nasty, etc. These men had been in the Army a couple of years already, knew how the system worked, and were well aware that this was a temporary phase in most of the men’s lives. Our company commander was one of the best I ever knew. The thing that made him so great was that he was a wartime officer, not a regular, and wasn’t concerned in the least about many of the petty things that are a part of military life. He was well-respected, liked and maintained good discipline in a lighthearted way. Even when we were in combat, he was not the type to foolishly endanger men’s lives in a quest for medals. His main thought was to come home in one piece and bring as many men home the same way.

In late December 1944, our division got orders for overseas shipment. This was the end of our training period. We sailed from the port of Boston, Massachusetts, and on the second day out I turned 19 years old. It was off to the great adventure, World War II. France, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria."


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Trip to Europe

"As a rifleman in the third squad, second platoon, K Company, 354th Infantry Regiment, 89th Infantry Division, I sailed from the port of Boston, Massachusetts, on the troop ship Edmund B. Alexander. The date of leaving was 10 January 1945. The ship I was on was very large and I believe it carried about five thousand troops plus the crew. I had never seen or been on a ship of this size before. Because this ship left after dark, there wasn’t much to see in the harbor on the way out to the ocean, but the next day’s early morning light showed this troop ship to be just one of many now scattered all over the sea. There were ships of every kind and size as far as the eye could see in every direction. Evidently this was a large convoy being shepherded by numerous Navy destroyers. It was truly an unforgettable sight.

During the ten days it took to reach Europe, all troops were kept busy. There were abandon ship and lifeboat drills, guard duty, cleanup details, classes on potential situations while in combat, and countless inspections of quarters, weapons, etc. We were fed two meals a day, good food, and it seemed that there was one long continuous chow line. I was seasick the first five days, but after it passed I ate all food at chow time. Despite the cramped quarters, seasickness, etc., there was always a great deal of horseplay and levity present. We were young kids, rolling with the punches, enjoying this great adventure and giving very little thought to what lie ahead."


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European Theater

"On the night of 20-21 January 1945, the troop ship I was on anchored in the English Channel outside the port of Lahore, France. Supposedly, when we had left the States it was to go to England, but because the Battle of the Bulge was going full blast and there was a desperate need for infantrymen; our division was diverted from this plan and sent directly to France. Lahore was in ruins and big ships could not get near the docks. This meant we had to climb over the side and into smaller landing craft to get ashore. It was dark, the weather was unbelievably cold, and the long drawn out process left everyone half frozen. Once on land, we loaded on to open semi-trailer trucks for a long ride to our temporary camp, a place that became known as Camp Lucky Strike. The cold was so intense that everyone’s hands and feet were almost useless. Combat boots gave no protection from the cold, and gloves were useless.

Upon arriving at this camp, which had once been a German air field, tents were set up and it became a matter of survival because of the bitter, bitter, wet, damp, cold weather. Each tent housed about twenty men and had one small stove at each end. These stoves burned coal or wood, but there was no wood to be had and the coal ration was two helmets of coal per day. Consequently, there was really no way to ever get warm, and we stayed half frozen, night and day. We had two meals a day, consisting of powdered eggs, a large chunk of bread, and half a canteen cup of coffee. All of this was caused by a supply problem then prevalent in the European Theater.

My company commander, Captain Brosseau, was a great officer, and he and the other officers did their best to make things as good as possible. If some soldier stole some wood from a French farmer, they would overlook it. If we sneaked away from the camp at night to swap cigarettes for bread at some French bakery, nothing was said. Military discipline was always maintained, but in a lenient way. A limited amount of training, consistent with the existing conditions, took place. We also cleared the minefields around the camp area. Some of the first casualties in our division were incurred during this operation.

Approximately two or three weeks after landing in France, our division was assigned to General Patton’s third army. We were loaded into railroad boxcars, packed in like cattle, and traveled across France to Trier, Luxembourg. In this city is where I had my first combat experience, crossing the Moselle River. An engineer unit attempted to build a pontoon bridge across the river, but German shellfire forced them to give it up. So under cover of darkness, we paddled across the river in small rubber assault boats. There were no casualties at this time but later in the morning, German machine gunners cut down two men in the first squad while we were crossing a large open field.

Although I had seen the damage and devastation left by earlier battles, the seriousness of warfare had not really registered. I was young, gung ho and like all the other young guys, believed myself invincible. In no way could I ever picture myself being killed. Hurt maybe, but I always had the unshakeable belief that I would make it through. Seeing the engineers being shelled the day before, forced to the ground by machine gun fire with two guys wounded, finally brought home to me the fact that war could be deadly, especially when as an infantryman your participation in it is at its most elementary level--where the killing takes place. This first encounter with the enemy was my baptism of fire.

During the next two months, these skirmishes took place over and over again. Although the war was winding down and the Germans were fighting mostly delaying actions, using second-class troops (the cream of their army had been used up), men were still being wounded and killed during these nameless battles. I never took part in any of the headline battles, except the Rhine River crossing, and never had to endure what the guys did on D-Day, Bastone, Anzio, etc. I survived our assault crossing of the Rhine River at St. Goar, March 26, 1945. The second battalion had already crossed and rumor was that two companied had suffered heavy casualties. Now it was our turn, and we were scared. Down to the river’s edge, into small rubber assault boats, then paddling like wild men, driven by sheer terror, to get to the other side. With bullets cracking overhead, 88 shells exploding in the water, all of us trying not to panic, arms pumping like windmills, we finally reached the far shore. A quick regrouping of the platoon, and then into the relative safety of the cellar of a nearby house, each of us in our own way happy to still be alive." [Editor’s Note: Don’s details here about the Rhine River crossing appeared in Voices: Letters from World War II.]

"When the war ended, my company was near a city named Zwickau, deep in East Germany. It was really a happy day when the news came that the fighting was over. No more having to dig holes every day to crawl into for protection from exploding shells. No more wondering if some unseen enemy soldier was about to shoot you. Now we could have a hot meal, get a change of clothes, show a light at night, etc. It took a little while to get used to doing all the things that are normal in life.

In early June 1945 my 354th Infantry Regiment was sent back to France to operate Camp Lucky Strike, processing troops returning home. I was put in charge of ten German prisoners, and our job was to make and serve coffee, tea, and hot chocolate during chow times for the departing troops. In August or September I was transferred to Headquarters Company, 329th Infantry Regiment, 83rd Infantry Division in Linz, Austria. This was occupation duty, and consisted mostly of guarding buildings and keeping order.

During this time, the Army was desperately trying to retain soldiers, and came out with incentives for reenlisting. So in October 1945, I enlisted in the regular Army while still in Europe. I was allowed to choose branch of service (I chose engineers) and theater (I chose Alaska). In December 1945, I came home on the Montclair Victory ship. After a furlough home and some time at Fort Devens, Massachusetts-Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, I was sent to an engineer detachment at the Nome Army Air Force Base, Nome, Alaska. While there, I was trained in structural and crash firefighting. It was great duty, and I enjoyed the eighteen months I spent there.

After my tour in Alaska, I was sent to a fire department at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. This is where I finished my three-year enlistment, being discharged in October 1948. I returned home to Massachusetts after discharge in 1948, and went to work as a carpenter, building houses. In 1950, in addition to carpenter work, I got into auto racing, driving on racetracks in New England. When the Korean War started in June 1950, I was anxious to re-enlist, but was having a great time with the auto racing and decided to wait until the season was over, which I did. On December, 1950, I reenlisted in the regular Army again and went to Korea."


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Another War Adventure

"My service during the Korean War started on December 1, 1950, when I reenlisted in the regular army and asked for duty in the Far East. There was an army regulation then in effect that let volunteers choose the theater in which they wished to serve. After a physical and the completion of the paperwork, I was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey. While there, I learned that, because I had over four years of prior service, I would be kept at Fort Dix, helping with the training of new recruits. This wasn’t what I had enlisted for, so after getting permission from my company commander, I went to see the inspector general and showed him the Army regulation which guaranteed me service in the Far East. Shortly after my visit, orders came down transferring me to the Far East Command. I’ve always thought how ironic it was that I had to fight to get into the Korean War, while others who had no desire to go were sent there at top speed.

After leaving Fort Dix and a train trip across the country, I arrived at Fort Lawton, Washington on the Pacific coast. It was now January 1951, and there was a crying need for troops in Korea. Consequently, my stay at Fort Lawton was a short one. One of the things I noticed while there was how bare and under-stocked the supply warehouse was. Winter clothing especially, was in short supply so I wrote to my sister asking her to send me wool socks and gloves. For a return address, all I could give her was an APO number, but fortunately the things she sent reached me later on in Korea.

As I have already mentioned, troops were desperately needed, so within a few days after being issued some equipment, I, along with others, was loaded onto a plane and flown to Japan. For some reason my mind is completely blank about the plane trip. I cannot recall how many were on the plane, what type of aircraft it was, how long the flight took, etc. only that this first trip to Korea was by airplane from Fort Lawton, Washington state.

I don’t remember where in Japan the plane landed, but all of us ended up in a place called Camp Drake, which was handling replacement troops for the units in Korea. The stay here was very brief, about three days. Records were checked, combat equipment issued, rifles zeroed in on the rifle range, and then assignment to a division in Korea. I would go to B Company, 19th Infantry regiment, 24th Infantry Division. The short trip from Camp Drake to the Japanese port of Sasebo was by train. This port was just across the sea from the Korean port and city of Pusan. The ferry ride across the water was uneventful.

It was late January or early February 1951, and I was at last in Korea. Whoever was in charge of the replacement system was really on the ball, because the group I was with did not linger around Pusan at all. That same day, we were put aboard a Korean train for the trip north. Before boarding the train, everyone was issued ammunition for their weapons. Bands of North Korean soldiers still roamed around the area and we were told to stay alert. At that time there was always the possibility of their attacking the train. Naturally, talk like this caused a certain amount of tension, but nothing happened and we all reached our assigned units, somewhere around Taegu.

Being a replacement is a unique experience. You are the new guy, the unknown, and for a while will remain the outsider, neither accepted nor rejected. Also, if you are assigned to a rifle squad as I was, you will be given the job no one else wants, carrying the BAR. Almost always, the new man gets saddled with this, and I was no exception. A BAR is a potent weapon, but it weighs about twenty pounds without a loaded magazine. Add to this a web belt harness worn to carry six twenty round magazines, and you really had a load. Needless to say, I wasn’t too thrilled at being given this job, but had sense enough to keep my mouth shut.

What helps a new comer is that there is always someone who will say hello, explain what’s going on, and in a certain sense, ease the transition into the group. This usually begins at the squad level. One of the things I remember about these new comrades was the number of older fellows. They had fought in World War II, joined the reserves, and found themselves called back to active duty, never dreaming this would happen. I became friendly with one of these guys, and because we both were World War II veterans, around the same age, and had similar interests, talking came easily. He was married, had children, and didn’t like being there at all. In my conversations with him, he explained how this war was nothing like what we had seen in Europe. The Koreans all looked alike, there was no way to tell friend from foe, and they seemed to be everywhere. Sadly, this fellow was killed a few weeks later. I was in the hospital at the time, and never did learn any details about his death.

I had become a member of B Company while they were in reserve, so I had a few days to orient myself as to what was going on. One of the things I learned was that the term "front line" was used very loosely. It was a war of movement, up and down the peninsula, see-sawing back and forth. I am not sure, but think that at this time my unit was in the west central sector, north of Taejon. Only through rumors did I get any information as to what was happening elsewhere. For those of us who were privates in the ranks, the only thing we knew for certain was what took place at the squad, platoon and company level. Everything else was hearsay.

The company’s time in reserve came to an end after receiving orders to mount an attack. Everyone was issued extra ammunition, hand grenades, C-rations, etc. Under cover of darkness, supporting tanks were moved into position while we GIs were led to jump off positions. Now came the hard part--waiting for the final order to move forward. Weather-wise, it was cold. Shortly before daybreak, artillery fire was brought to bear on a long ridgeline at our front. Finally, as the darkness started to lighten, the artillery fire ceased and we were ordered forward. Half frozen rice paddies separated by raised dikes were crossed, and then began the climb to the ridgeline. Even though the tanks behind us were firing directly into their positions, the North Koreans were throwing plenty of lead down at us. With bullets cracking overhead, men falling here and there, my thoughts were filled with a prayer to the Lord that I not suffer a wound that would leave me blind or paralyzed. For some reason, this was always my greatest fear while in combat. Any other type wound, I felt I could handle. By the time the objective of the attack was secured, it was late in the day. So we were told to dig in and prepare to stay there for the night. Curiously, although there were many blood splotches in the area, no bodies of enemy soldiers were found. I assumed that the dead and wounded were carried away by the retreating North Koreans. The details of this particular battle have always stayed very prominently in my mind, even though it was just one of the many such actions I participated in while with the 24th Infantry Division. I still remember the cold, overcast, gloomy day, the eardrum-shattering blasts from tank guns, men falling without a sound except to cry out for a medic, and the overrun and deserted enemy positions with blood stained ground and shrubbery.

This action, which was my initiation into the Korean War, was repeated to a lesser degree over and over again in the next few weeks. Every morning, one or two day’s supply of C-rations was given each man, plus extra bandoliers of ammunition and hand grenades, if needed; then would begin the march north. The terrain was very mountainous and every path or trail followed led to a still higher peak or connecting ridgeline. Sometimes the area was such that you could look at a road far down in a valley and see an unending stream of white-clothed Korean refugees headed south. I heard many tales of how North Korean soldiers would blend in with these refugees and then disappear into the countryside behind friendly lines.

It was obvious that fighting had taken place previously along the route we were traveling, because many times we came upon partially decomposed bodies of American soldiers still in their foxholes. It was a depressing sight. Although there were no pitched battles at this time, encounters with the enemy were a daily occurrence, and there were many casualties. The enemy, too, suffered their share and some of the prisoners we took were in terrible condition. Their footwear was a type of sneaker that gave no protection at all from the cold weather, so almost all of them had frozen, swollen, and blackened feet. They must have been suffering terribly, yet all maintained a very stoic demeanor.

The routine that was followed each day was a simple one. At dawn, men climbed out of foxholes dug the previous evening, started small fires to heat C-rations if permitted, and after eating, moved out. There were always slight variations to this theme. For instance, sometimes the terrain was so rocky, it was impossible to dig holes, so we would pile up stones to build above ground fighting positions. At certain times, no fires were allowed, so the C-rations were eaten cold, barely palatable. Water was scarce, and whenever I filled my canteen I made it a point to add a couple of purification tables. I must have slipped up somewhere, because later on, I came down with dysentery so severe I couldn’t even crawl, let alone walk. It was bad enough to put me in the hospital for a week.

During this advance, different units of the battalion, from company to platoons, would take turns being the lead element. Platoon leaders, lieutenants, were always up front with their platoons. Our company commander, Captain Butler, was a very visible person, as was our battalion commander, Lt. Colonel Burton. Maybe there was psychology involved, but the presence of the battalion commander was a confidence-builder.

It was March 13, 1951, and the day had started in the usual fashion. The squad I was in was the leading party as we made our way up the winding ridge line. We hadn’t gone very far, when suddenly bullets started spattering amongst us. Naturally, everyone dropped to the ground, while at the same time trying to locate the enemy. As in past encounters, there wasn’t a real heavy volume of fire—just enough to make everyone seek cover and slow things down. As I thinking of this occurrence in hindsight, the enemy must have been fighting delaying actions. Even though we were pinned down, I had noticed a rocky ledge a short distance from our position, and asked the lieutenant if I could go out there for possibly a better look. Getting his okay, I put my BAR aside and crawled onto the projecting ledge. From this spot, I had a clear view of the surrounding area. A short distance away was another mountainous ridge, and while I was looking it over, a North Korean soldier stepped out from behind a large rock. I didn’t think he had seen me so while still on my hands and knees, I turned to get my BAR, intending to take a shot at him. But he had seen me, and fired a couple of times before I could get to my weapon. One bullet went through my upper thigh leaving a hole as big as a baseball. Another hit the rocky ledge I was on and shattered. About six pieces went into my lower back. When this happened, it felt as if someone had struck me with a giant club.

I quickly crawled off the ledge to find cover and get my wounds taken care of. Because this happened high up in the mountains, getting me to an aid station that was far below would be a difficult process. Our company had a group of Korean laborers who carried supplies. Four of these men were detailed to carry me to the aid station, accompanied by a GI guide. The six of us started this trip about mid morning. The shock of the wound itself, plus the morphine given to me by the medic, had dulled any pain there was, so I was in pretty good spirits. I knew my wound was not too serious, but it did put me into that special category of fighting men who were truly combat soldiers, wounded in action. As the time passed and darkness set in, I began to wonder if we would ever reach the aid station. Also the possibility of being captured was very prominent. Another thing was that my leg had started throbbing and the pain was intense. Finally, around ten or eleven o’clock that night, we reached the aid station. I had tears in my eyes, partly from pain, and partly from happiness in knowing we had made it. I have never forgotten that trip, or ever figured out how the guide found the aid station.

The next stop for me was the Swedish Red Cross Hospital in Pusan. I don’t know what circumstances dictated my being sent there, but it turned out to be a very pleasant hospital stay. In addition to American soldiers, there were British, Australians, French and Turks. There was no friction between nationalities, and patients who could walk were happy to do things for those who could not. Once again, the special camaraderie that exists among soldiers was evident in every respect. The doctors, nurses, and other staff personnel were wonderful, and the care we received was excellent. Generally speaking, the atmosphere of most hospitals is rather dark and gloomy, but here it was just the opposite. Even though everyone was suffering from wounds of different types and severity, and having dressings changed every day was painful, a certain level of lightheartedness was always present, with much good-natured bantering going on. This was especially true when the nurse would come by each morning to give all patients their daily penicillin shot.

A very pleasant experience I had while at this hospital was due to the friendliness of a young Korean girl who worked in the mess hall. One of her jobs was to serve the drinks at mealtimes--coffee, tea, or cocoa. Tea was not a popular drink with American soldiers who preferred coffee, but was very popular with the British soldiers and myself. Unfortunately, many times when I got to the mess hall, it would be all gone. Noting my disappointment one day when there was no tea left, this young lady asked me if I was a British soldier. I told her I was an American, and tea was my favorite drink. In the days that followed, no matter when I showed up for my meal, she would have a big mug of tea for me. The tea urn itself might have been empty for others, but for me there was always tea. She did this in an unobtrusive manner, so only I was aware that she was giving me special consideration. Her caring thoughtfulness really touched me, and from this a very nice friendship developed. After her work was finished in the evening, we would walk around the hospital compound together, and then watch the outdoor movies shown every evening at dusk. There was nothing romantic or anything like that. We were just two young people who, despite the cultural differences, seemed to be on the same wavelength. She was a great friend and companion.

My thigh wound was healing without any real complications, except there was not enough skin left in that area to cover the hole left by the bullet. To correct that problem, the doctor had to cut out a chunk of muscle, then use wire stitches to stretch the skin over the hole. This solved the problem, and after a couple of weeks, the wire stitches were taken out, leaving the wound to finish healing. I had been in the hospital about six weeks, and was getting anxious to rejoin my company. Sometimes, if a person was hospitalized too long, upon release they might be sent to another unit instead of back to their original one. I didn’t want this to happen to me, so I asked my doctor to declare me fit for duty. He was hesitant to do so because my wound still wasn’t completely healed, but I convinced him that I was okay, so he signed my release papers. Probably the great shortage of infantrymen at that time also helped. So with three or four band-aids, covered by a light bandage on my thigh, I left the Swedish Red Cross Hospital to return to my company."


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Back on the Line

"On or about 19 April 1951, I reported back to my company. What struck me right away was the number of men I did not recognize. Evidently, while I was away, the fighting had taken its toll. Many fellows I had known were no longer there, being either dead or wounded. But the routine itself hadn’t changed, so it was easy for me to pick up where I had left off. Also, someone else was now carrying that heavy BAR. Slowly but surely we advanced over the rocky ground the next couple of days.

Then one morning everything changed. Instead of resuming the advance, we were ordered to fall back and do so quickly, because the enemy had launched a major attack. My company began retreating hurriedly, yet in an orderly manner. The first day of this retreat was so fast-paced that two other fellows and myself, physically soft from our previous hospitalization, were unable to keep up, and were left behind. We were told to do the best we could and catch up before nightfall. The three of us were scared to death of being captured, and that thought was an incentive to keep moving. Along the way, we met an American soldier who was shaking with fright. He told us he was the sole survivor of a tank crew. In his hand was a 45 caliber automatic, and he said he would shoot himself rather than be captured. Fate on that day was with us, and just before dark we came upon my squad that had been assigned the task of digging in across the ridgeline as a blocking force.

So while my three companions continued on, I paired up with the assistant squad leader and went to the spot where we would dig in. The nine-man squad was spread out across the ridgeline path and a short way down the slope on either side, two men to a foxhole. Orders from the squad leader emphasized that every one stay in place until told by the platoon runner to leave. Waiting in the darkness caused tension to build, and it became even greater when the sounds of the approaching enemy--rattling of equipment, voices, etc., became audible. It was just too dark to see anything, but shortly after hearing them coming in our direction, we began to smell them, which meant that they were really close. Koreans and Chinese ate a lot of garlic, and this gave them a strong garlic-smelling body odor. My partner and I were keeping quiet, hoping that there would be no encounter. Suddenly a shot rang out, coming from the ridgeline above us. Seconds later, the platoon runner was at our foxhole, whispering that it was time to leave. Everyone else had left, and we were the last ones. We quickly climbed to the ridgeline path and followed the runner, who knew where the rest of the platoon was. It was a very nerve-wracking situation, and matters were not helped when we unexpectedly met an enemy soldier on the pathway.

We were all stunned momentarily, and just stood there looking at each other. He was the first to recover from this shock, and ran into the bordering woods. No shots were exchanged, but this incident made us realize that the enemy must be flanking us. We finally came to where the rest of the waiting platoon was, and heard that our squad leader was the only one missing. If I remember correctly, our lieutenant had orders to withdraw immediately, so there was no chance for any of us to go looking for him. Even at that time, I had wondered why we were pulled from our positions as individuals rather than as a squad unit. As for our squad leader, what happened to him is unknown.

I don’t remember how long this retreat lasted, because the days and nights all seemed to blend in together. At some point, we reached a certain area where we were told to dig in and prepare defensive positions. There would be no more falling back. Whereabouts in Korea this took place, I had no way of knowing. It was during this time that I was made assistant squad leader. We dug deep foxholes with connecting trenches, put up barbed wire, and sprinkled the immediate front with mines. In a short time, the foxholes had overhead covers of logs, sandbags and rocks. Empty C-ration cans, with small stones inside, were hung on the barbed wire. If anyone tried to get through the wire at night, these cans would rattle, giving us a warning. Water-cooled machine guns and heavy recoilless rifles were also set up. We were able to do all this because every day the sky was filled with airmen who bombed and strafed any enemy caught out in the open. It was a very impressive sight, and really boosted our spirits when those planes--mostly World War II P-51 Mustangs--came roaring over and went into action.

Building the defense line kept us busy during the daylight hours, and fighting off probing enemy attacks at night left little time for rest or sleep. Many replacement troops arrived to bring the squads, platoons, etc., up to full strength. By now it was obvious that things were not as precarious as they once had been, so everyone began to relax a little, considering the circumstances. We began to feel that no matter what the enemy threw at us, we could handle it. Most of the new men were solid, but one new guy in my squad was a nervous wreck, and he should never have been sent to us. One dark and rainy night, his fear was so great that when he heard a noise, he shot at it and accidentally killed a buddy in a nearby foxhole. At daylight, I saw the dead fellow slumped in his hole with part of his head sliced off and his brains leaking out in the rain—a dreary and grisly sight. Compounding this accident was the fact that the fellow who was killed was due to rotate home in about three weeks. As for the man who accidentally killed him, he was transferred to a non-combat unit. I believe I am speaking the truth when I say that whenever there was a casualty, either by accident or enemy action, everyone felt bad, yet at the same time, secretly glad that it wasn’t them.

Since the air cover kept the enemy at bay during the day, they could only attack at night. Several times our sector was hit. First we would hear bugles, and then the commotion would start. In the light made by flares, you would see flitting shapes and shadows, but they never got through our wire. One of our fears was that our mortar men might run out of flares. There was something frightening about fighting in the dark.

One night the enemy attacked the company to my left, and observing the battle was like looking at a movie. Tracer bullets from both sides, ours red, theirs green, were crisscrossing in the darkness as the gunners sought to zero in on each other. Exploding shells, some of them white phosphorus, made things look like a giant fireworks display. Seeing all that happening so close by was very scary because I thought our area would also be attacked. Waiting for it to happen was in some ways harder on the nerves than participation itself. That fight lasted most of the night, with none of us in my group being involved. The following day, our platoon was sent out to check over the previous night’s battleground. We found many dead bodies, but no wounded. There were numerous hand grenades lying about with their arming pins just barely in place. Any unexpected contact with one would cause the pin to fall out and the grenade to explode. It made for a deadly booby trap.

On later reflections about this particular battle, I thought of how different it was between the "big-picture" I saw, and the small limited view a soldier has when in the battle itself. "In clashes with the enemy, the adrenalin really flows and your full focus is on what’s happening in your immediate vicinity. The big overall picture is never even known or thought about. What is on the individual’s mind is, do I have enough ammo and grenades, will there be enough flares for the night, are the radios working so artillery support can be called in, etc. Everything becomes very personalized for the individual.

I cannot remember how many days my unit stayed at this defensive line. While there, we got a chance to take one shower and had one change of clothes. Somehow, I ended up with half a British soldier’s uniform, pants, and they were made of a heavy scratchy wool material--very uncomfortable, but clean.

One day, word was passed that our unit was going on the offensive again, and the slow grinding march northward over the ridgelines began. It was a repeat performance of what we had done earlier. Drive the enemy from the high ground during the day, set up a defensive perimeter at dusk in case they counter-attacked, etc. On one occasion, our company was stranded on some high area, when contact with the two flanking companies was lost. We sat there for two days and nights, completely surrounded by North Koreans or Chinese. Ammunition, water, and food were supplied to us by airdrops. Fortunately, the enemy wasn’t very aggressive, and in my platoon, only three of us were slightly wounded. I was lying on the ground when a mortar shell explored nearby, causing a large chunk of rock to slam into my left hand. It just barely broke the skin, but my hand swelled up to twice its normal size. This happened on the first day we were surrounded, so with no place to go, I had to let it heal itself.

Driving the retreating enemy back north went on in a relentless and unceasing way. Not only did we have tremendous firepower, but one fellow in our platoon carried a flame thrower. Whenever we came across a cave or a suspicious-looking hole, he would shoot in a terrific blast of flame. Occasionally, in response to this, there would be a God-awful scream that made it obvious that some poor devil had just been cremated. Other times, if a ridgeline or hill was becoming very difficult to seize, airplanes would fly over and saturate the whole area with napalm. Moving over and through that blackened, still smoldering, burned ground was tough because everywhere in sight were cooked bodies of enemy soldiers. All I could think of at the time was that they looked like over-grilled hot dogs--seared, charred, with body juices oozing out. It was a very nasty sight, but just something that was gotten used to. I and everyone else became very callous about such things. Evidently, human nature is such that at certain times, a protective mechanism kicks in that lets a person weather sights such as these, yet still function.

My unit had been in continuous action for about a month and we were worn down to the point of being little more than ragged, bearded zombies operating on will power alone. Most of my squad was dead, wounded, missing, or hospitalized with malaria, dysentery, etc. Of the ten or twelve men I had started with, only three were still around. Yet in spite of the conditions all around us, things were brightened sometimes when Korean military laborers would arrive on the scene with five-gallon cans of hot coffee, and mail. In the overall big picture of the war, things like that had no significance, but for us, the recipients at the time, it was a great morale booster.

It was early June, and the weather was hot. Water became scarce, with all of it being used for drinking purposes, none wasted on washing or trying to keep clean. When I would look around, I would see a group of very dirty, smelly, emaciated scarecrows. At that time, I think I probably weighed about one hundred and twenty pounds. Still, the daily forward movement went on without pause.

One day when the lead company had run into stiff resistance taking the lower part of a hill, our company was ordered to pass through their positions and capture the crest. The battle so far had been costly for both sides and although the American dead and wounded had been carried away, the dead and wounded enemy soldiers were still lying about in their shallow foxholes. There wasn’t much time to dwell on this scene because we already had our orders--keep moving and get to the top of that hill. The slope was covered with heavy brush and fallen trees knocked down by shellfire. Those things alone made moving upward difficult, and with a well-concealed enemy throwing hand grenades and firing down at us, progress was slow. It was a matter of moving forward as best you could, fire your rifle at the top of the hill, and hoping for the best. As in other fights, my focus was primarily on what was taking place directly to my front, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw my squad leader stumble and fall down. Upon going to his aid, I noticed that he had been shot through the knee. I called for a medic, and then rushed forward to rejoin the two remaining men of my squad. We finally reached the top of the hill, but bullets were still flying in all directions. The near misses made a loud "crack"; others thudded into fallen trees, while some kicked up dirt. Trying to escape that lethal hailstorm, my companions and I sought protection behind an uprooted tree stump.

I was crouched down, wondering what to do next, when something slammed into my neck with terrific force. My mouth flew open and a sheet of blood sprayed out. Although the shock of this stunned me momentarily, it did not knock me out. In my mind was the thought of finding a more protected spot, but when I attempted to move, my arms and legs would not respond. I was temporarily paralyzed. That really scared me, yet I felt that as long as I was conscious and could to a degree control how I was handled, everything would be all right. To make sure of this, I rejected the medic’s deadening morphine shot out of fear that it might knock me out.

That direct frontal assault had caused so many casualties there were no more litters left. A makeshift one was put together using hand-hewn poles and a poncho. I was rolled carefully onto that made-up litter, and carried off the hill. I cannot remember how long it took to reach an aid station or what field hospital I was in. The doctor who examined me knew right away that my neck was broken. When x-rays showed a bullet lodged between the vertebrae, he directed the ward men to place sandbags on each side of my head, preventing any movement. He told me it was a miracle I was still alive. I know my wound was the cause of much discussion, because while I was in that hospital and later on in hospitals in Japan, Hawaii, Texas and Massachusetts, groups of doctors would gather around my bed and talk about what would be the best and safest way to remove the bullet. Early on, I had been placed in a head-to-waist cast, and with the immobilization of my neck, feeling came back into my arms and legs. After numerous bedside consultations, I was operated on while in Murphy General Hospital in Massachusetts. Even though the bullet had gone in underneath my chin, for some reason they took it out through the side of my neck. I have it now as a souvenir."


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Return to Far East

"Upon release from Murphy General Hospital, I was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, to work in the carpenter shop. My job there was to help in the making of targets for the rifle range, signs, and other miscellaneous products used on the base. In June 1952, I was transferred to the Psychological Warfare Center at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, again to make training aids, etc. I also worked as an orderly, taking care of the officer’s quarters. In late September 1952, I again asked for duty in Korea, and was sent to Fort Lawton, Washington State for further service in the Far East Command. Processing for shipment overseas did not take very long, and sometime in October I was on the military transport ship, the Marine Phoenix, sailing for Japan. I do not remember how many days it took, but I am pretty sure we docked in Yokohama, and it was early November.

One of the interesting things about my return to the Far East was that as a returnee, I had to sign a waiver before they could send me to Korea. After signing the waiver, I was allowed to choose which unit in Korea I wanted to serve with. For some unknown reason, I chose the 3rd Infantry Division. As before, infantry troops were in short supply, so in a matter of days, I was back in Korea, this time as an assistant squad leader with I Company, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, which was holding a sector in an area known as the Iron Triangle. The part I company was responsible for was in the Chorwon Valley, a low flatland surrounded by enemy-held mountains.

During the year I had been away, everything had changed except the weather. Even in November, it was bitterly cold. Also, it was no longer a war of movement but one of trench warfare, exactly like World War I. Sprinkled along the trench line were heavily reinforced fighting positions called bunkers. Those partially underground dugouts usually held two or three men. Because the bunkers were in a certain sense home, much time was spent in making them as comfortable as possible. The ingenuity of the men was amazing. Some had jury-rigged oil cans serving as a heat source. Others had metal boxes for burning straw, cardboard, wood, etc. A few had homemade bunks and wooden boxes for tables. Considering the conditions at the time, those underground castles provided a great deal of comfort and safety. One drawback was that when summer came, mice and rats would get in to eat the crumbs of dropped crackers, etc. That would attract the snakes that ate the mice and rats. It could be very unsettling to hear a rustling sound overhead, look up, and see a snake moving over and around the logs and branches making up the roof of the bunker. I shot one of those snakes. It was about three feet long, very thick-bodied, with a large wedge-shaped head. The Korean soldiers who were with me at the time got very excited about it, but I couldn’t understand whether it was because the snake was poisonous or just that they feared snakes.

Directly in front of the trench line was a wide apron of barbed wire, and beyond that, no man’s land. No soldiers from either side ever moved about in that desolate wasteland during the daylight hours. Doing so would have brought artillery fire down on them. Two very prominent hills were in that no man’s land area, one called Jackson Heights, the other, Outpost Tom. Some bitter fighting had taken place there. The enemy controlled Jackson Heights, while we controlled Outpost Tom. Every night, a couple of squads would be sent out to occupy Tom, and, at the same time, fortify it. I would be out there with my squad, and we would chop small holes in the frozen ground, put in a block of explosive, and gradually blast through it. While we worked at that, the other squad would be spread out around the hill on guard. The cold was intense, and by the time we left there, just before daylight, everyone’s hands and feet were half-frozen."


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Next Five Months

"If I remember correctly, my company spent the next five months in that section of the 15th regiment’s area. I do not remember any direct contact with the enemy, yet the constant night patrols, and listening post and outpost duty was really hard on the nerves. One of the difficulties encountered during patrol duty was due to the fact that each squad had two Korean soldiers and two Puerto Rican soldiers. The men were good, willing soldiers but some could not speak or understand English. I would always keep one of the Koreans with me and put the others with GI partners to keep the communication problem to a minimum. In one sense it was a quiet sector, but there was no way to relax. The enemy held all the high ground and the crack of a bullet passing by showed that their snipers were alert. No one exposed himself unless absolutely necessary, so most daylight hours were spent keeping out of sight, cleaning equipment, doing odd chores, and trying not to freeze to death.

Two incidents that were very unusual happened while I was in that particular area. One involved the pilot of a crippled jet fighter plane trying to reach the safety of our lines. His plane must have been badly damaged because as it approached, it kept dropping lower and lower, and finally the pilot ejected from it. Unfortunately, he was not high enough for his parachute to open fully. He dropped straight down in enemy-held territory, so no rescue attempt was made. The other occurrence took place while I was on Outpost Tom. It was early spring, and the outpost had been fortified to the point where men could stay on it both day and night. On a day when I was out there with my squad, we could hear the music that the enemy was playing on their hill, Jackson Heights. No one was in sight, of course, yet the music was loud and clear. I believe it was their way of letting us know they were still in control of that high ground.

Shortly after that musical serenade, the company was pulled out of the front line and put in reserve. What a relief it was to get a break from that twenty-four-hours-a-day threat of death. While on the reserve list we got a hot shower, clean clothes, hot food, and sleeping on a cot inside a tent. Compared to the front line conditions, that was living in luxury. It was a great boost to everyone’s spirits. While in reserve, a certain amount of refresher training took place, but in an easy-going way. My platoon leader, Lt. Francis Nester, was a great officer and person. He was always in command, yet never unnecessarily hounded the troops. I don’t think I ever heard anyone in the platoon speak of him in a negative manner. How many days the company spent in reserve, I can’t remember. I do know that when the company returned to the front line trenches, we were still in the Iron Triangle—Chorwon Valley area--but in another sector of it."


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Outposts Dick and Harry

"The trenches, bunkers, barbed wire, etc. were all in place as before. In addition, several tanks were dug in to the rear of our trench position. They were well-camouflaged, with only their long ninety-millimeter gun barrels showing. If you were moving through the trench when one of them fired, the blast would make your eyeballs rattle. Two or three hundred yards forward of the main trench line were listening posts, and out beyond those were the two main outposts for that sector, Outpost Dick and Outpost Harry. The enemy held the mountains--one called Star, the other called Charlie--which dominated that area, so getting to the outposts was through connecting trenches. On maps, all the high ground was identified by numbers, but I do not know what numbers represented that area. As for the low terrain to the immediate front, it was called, Happy Valley.

There were many, many things that took place while I was in that so-called Happy Valley area, which I believe was north of the 38th parallel. The enemy was extremely aggressive, and there were constant nighttime skirmishes, sometimes leaving casualties, sometimes just leaving frayed nerves. Every night was a one hundred percent alert, with squads and platoons rotating with the duty of manning the listening posts and outposts. If it was my squad’s turn, I would take two or three men out to the listening post foxhole, connect up the field phone, and make sure that everyone was relieved every two hours. It was a very nerve-wracking job, being more or less by you in the middle of no man’s land. In the darkness of night, imagination runs wild, and every sound was caused by nail-biting. One night I was at the listening post with my Korean soldier friend, and we saw a body of men moving around. Using the phone, I told my platoon leader about this, and asked him to check and see if there were any friendly patrols in the area. A few minutes later, he called back telling me that K-company had a patrol out. Those men never saw us. Even though they passed close enough for us to recognize their helmets, I made no effort to get their attention. Miscommunication often led to GIs shooting at each other.

The outpost that my company was responsible for was called Dick and it was on a ridgeline that led directly up to the enemy-held mountains. Getting to it involved a long, hard climb through a connecting trench. The route to this outpost was difficult to travel in dry weather, and after a rainy spell the trench became a sea of mud that increased the difficulty. Reaching that outpost after a slippery, muddy climb would leave a person exhausted. I was making the trip on one of the dry days when I came upon a hand, severed at the wrist, and half a head, lying in the trench. There were just those two pieces of a human being, nothing more.

As with the listening posts, squads and platoons would take turns manning Outpost Dick, each group usually staying two or three days. Moving around during daylight hours was very dangerous, so everyone stayed in the bunkers out of sight. Being a squad leader necessitated my moving about the outpost, and one day I was caught in an enemy mortar barrage. Fortunately, I was in a shallow trench that gave me some protection. The enemy soldiers who were firing those mortars were nearby, because just before a shell exploded, I would hear that whispered chug sound as a round left the tube. Enduring a shelling like that, plus the ordinary every-day tensions, would stretch nerves to the breaking point. A small measure of relief would take place when on certain days most of us would be trucked to a rear area to dig backup trenches. The work was hard, but at least there was little danger of being killed.

Both ambush and reconnaissance patrols were conducted on a regular basis, again with all units taking turns. Two of those patrols left very vivid memories in my mind. One early morning while returning with my platoon after being out on an all night ambush patrol, we came upon a body. Because of the darkness, the only way I could identify it was to feel the feet and legs. Feeling sneakers meant it was an enemy soldier who could be left there, but since I had felt combat boots, I knew the body was one of ours, and had to be brought in with us. To make sure it wasn’t booby trapped, I tied some common wire around the legs, moved a short distance away, and dragged it a couple of feet. Nothing happened, so we rolled it onto a litter and brought it back to the main trenches. Daylight revealed the body to be a Greek soldier from the Greek battalion that had spent time on Outpost Dick. That body was a living mass of maggots, with the eyes gone and the skin of the face rippling where maggots by the millions were eating beneath it. For days afterward, no matter how many times I washed my hands, I could not erase the feel of that maggot-infested corpse.

A reconnaissance patrol was memorable because the four of us who were on it were almost killed by a friendly rocket barrage. We had gone out into no man’s land with instructions to reconnoiter the area at the base of the enemy-held hills. For weapons, we each had a carbine plus one fifteen-round magazine carried in a field jacket pocket. The patrol leader, the senior sergeant, also had a small walkie-talkie radio. There were four checkpoints on the route laid out where we would stop and click the radio button. This would let the lieutenant back at the CP know where we were. He would answer our signal with two clicks on his radio. Of course, we were moving along as quietly as possible, but tension builds, and when in the darkness I heard a rifle bolt sliding into place, my heart almost stopped. After a momentary pause, we continued on toward the last checkpoint. We were almost there when a multitude of rockets, coming from our side of the lines, slammed into the area. The good Lord must have been watching over us, because if those rockets had hit five minutes later, we would have been wiped out. It was a frightening experience which left us all shaken. Close calls like that, plus intermittent sniper fire and shelling during the daylight hours, made it impossible to ever relax. Always being under enemy observation, since they held the high ground, was mentally exhausting."


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Outpost Harry

"I belong to the Outpost Harry Survivors group and when events of that battle are discussed there are always differences of opinion as to what took place, yet every person speaking is sincere in his account of that fight. The enemy had probed aggressively against Outpost Harry, which was to the right front of my company’s position in the main trenches. On June 10 and 11, 1953, they launched a full scale attack upon it and my company’s trench area. My memories of Outpost Harry were written up in the Outpost Harry Survivor’s newsletter, and are reprinted below:

As I remember it, I Company was in the MLR to the left rear of Harry. What other companies were on either side of us, I don’t remember.

For me, an assistant platoon sergeant at the time, the night started like any other when we were on 100 percent alert. As soon as darkness set in I took four guys to the listening post, several hundred yards out in front of our platoon area, in no-man’s land, "Happy Valley." This listening post was connected to our platoon CP by common wire. I then returned to the MLR and checked with the squad leaders to make sure everyone was set for the night, also see that the squad CP phone lines were working.

The machine gun section of the fourth squad was in bunkers on the MLR but the 60mm mortar section was set up behind the MLR. There was a good bunch of guys in my second platoon and everything seemed to be okay, so I then went down to the platoon CP to have a cup of coffee with our platoon leader, Lt. Nestor and Platoon Sergeant Burns. I think Sergeant Burns was close to rotation, so I was to a degree, platoon sergeant.

I had a habit of continually walking up and down our sector of the trench line, making sure everyone was awake. This came about because when I had been in Korea in 1951 with the 24th Division, many guys would fall asleep in their foxholes, even when we were on some mountain surrounded by North Koreans. The best way I knew to make sure this didn’t happen here was to keep checking each bunker. After a while, some shells started coming in and this got everyone’s attention because it was a continuous thing and getting heavier all the time. Some were landing in the trench, in the barbed wire in front, also behind us. They were really coming down. I stayed out to make sure there was plenty of ammo, grenades, etc. Because the shelling was so heavy, the phone lines from squad CPs to platoon CP were often blown apart and I was constantly splicing wires together so everyone could stay in contact. It was a matter of starting where the wire came out of the bunker, letting it slide through my fingers until I found the break. Then start at the other bunker, repeating the process. If you remember, there was always plenty of slack in the common wire so it was easy to make a splice once the break was located. I think the Platoon CP was staying in contact with the company CP at this time using the radio.

The night wore on with the shelling increasing in intensity. Some of the guys were firing out into no man’s land and one of the machine guns jammed just as I came into the bunker. The gunner pried out a ruptured cartridge, adjusted the headspace and had that gun firing again in what seemed to be a matter of seconds. He was an expert and I know I couldn’t have done what he did under the same conditions.

As I left this machine gun bunker I ran into Lieutenant Nestor, Sergeant Burns and Sergeant Woods. Lieutenant Nestor told me that there was no response from the guys in our listening post and he was going out to bring them in, if they were still alive. I joined him and the four of us left the trench line and headed for the listening post. As I have already mentioned, the shelling was unbelievable. I never thought we would make it. We reached the listening post and found the four guys were okay but terribly scared, which was understandable. Through shell flashes we could see Chinese soldiers moving around but they were not coming in our direction so we all headed back to the MLR. That tremendous shelling continued all night and when daylight came everything was a shambles. Wire blown apart, parts of the trench caved in, some bunkers partially destroyed, etc. Only at this time did I learn that K company had taken a beating on OP Harry, and that a couple of our guys in the 60mm mortar section had been badly wounded. As usual there were all kinds of rumors as to what was going on, but all I knew for fact was what I had seen and participated in and about my platoon’s sector.

It seems to me that the next two nights were about the same except the shelling was not as severe as the first night. I don’t remember who was on OP Harry during these two nights. My most lasting memory of this battle is about that tremendous artillery barrage upon our positions. I believe now, our company was in a spot where they could attack the flank of the Chinese who were attacking Harry. And the reason we were shelled so ferociously and heavily was to prevent this. From what I’ve read, during this battle, US troops mounted two attacks on the Chinese from the right side of OP Harry, which helped stop their attack on Harry itself."


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After Harry

"Shortly after the Outpost Harry battle I was promoted to platoon sergeant and learned that my platoon was slated for a raid on an enemy-held hill. Lieutenant Nester and I were taken to a small airstrip where two L-5 observation planes were waiting to take us up for an aerial reconnaissance of the area—he in one plane, me in the other. I don’t know what altitude we were flying at, but the view of the enemy’s trenches was clear and distinct. After making a number of passes over their positions, the pilot banked the plane sharply and headed back to the airstrip. He told me we had been shot at several times, and to stay around any longer would be pushing our luck. I had been so engrossed in looking over the enemy trenches that I had never noticed it. Thanks to his sharp eyes, we didn’t end up splattered over the mountainside. Before we could carry out that planned raid, my company was relieved by another unit, and we were trucked to a different sector, supposedly in reserve.

The time spent in reserve was about eight hours. Word had come down that the enemy had badly mauled a company in a South Korean division, and we had to take their place. The sector of the front we were taken to was extremely rugged terrain, and it was a long, exhausting climb getting to the new positions. Once there, foxholes were dug on the forward slopes, and everyone settled in. There was a very deep gorge between the enemy-held mountain and ours but it still was dangerous to move around too much. Because of the ruggedness of the area, it was a backbreaking job for the Korean laborers to bring us water and C-rations.

Nevertheless, one day (26 July 1953) in addition to the usual load, they had brought up half a dozen five-gallon cans of hot coffee, a real treat. I took a can and crawled from foxhole to foxhole in my platoon area, and filled each man’s canteen cup with coffee. The other platoon sergeants had done the same thing for their men. We had just crawled back into a shallow depression and started to pour coffee for ourselves, when all of a sudden, there was a blinding orange, red, yellow blast, and I was knocked flat. It must have been a mortar shell, because it hit without any warning. One fellow was killed outright, and several of us received severe shrapnel wounds. The side of my head had been ripped open, and each leg had two big chunks of shrapnel in it, high up near the groin. I never lost consciousness, and still remember that Lieutenant Nester was one of the men who carried me down the mountain to a litter jeep. There was a short ride to the aid station where the medics strapped my litter to a helicopter skids, and then I was flown to a surgical hospital somewhere in the rear. The shrapnel was removed from my head and legs, and very shortly after that I was put on a hospital train headed south. A medical officer on the train checked each man’s record, and then assigned him to a certain hospital. I asked him if he would send me to the Swedish Red Cross Hospital in Pusan, explaining that I had been there two years earlier. He granted my request, and I spent the next six to eight weeks there recovering. The Korean girl who had befriended me two years before was still there, so we had a pleasant reunion. Within a certain context, it was a relaxing, enjoyable period. It was nice to renew old friendships, but I had a difficult time trying to explain why I had come back to Korea."


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Going Home

"After discharge from the hospital, sometime in late September 1953, I rejoined my company, but only to wait for orders shipping me home. In early October, I was sent to the port of Inchon, where my service in Korea came to an end. I left Korea, sailing on the military transport ship General Walker. After an uneventful voyage, I arrived at San Francisco, California. When I reached the United States, processing for my discharge was done rapidly, and I was released almost two months before my enlistment was officially up. I do not know why this was done, and it surprised me, because a previous enlistment had been served in full. I gave no thought whatsoever to reenlisting. There was no war going on, and I was not cut out to be a spit and polish garrison soldier. My date of discharge from the Army was 13 October 1953.

Returning home after the war was a low-key event for me. I was never a drinker, party animal, etc., so shortly after getting home, I went back to work in construction, building houses. I also used the fall and winter months to build a new stock car for the upcoming 1954 racing season. Auto racing on New England race tracks was something I had done before going to Korea, and resuming this activity in addition to my carpentry work kept me very busy. The events of the Korean War more or less faded into the background, although the dreams at night were always present."


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Life after the Army

"I did not get any further schooling after being discharged in 1953. Back in 1944, I had left high school two months before graduating to go into the Army, but because I was passing in all subjects, my diploma was sent to my parents. Total years in school numbered twelve. After I got back from Korea, I married Carole L. Bater. Our marriage took place the 19th of June 1955. We have three children: Stephen, Peter, and Ellen. My work has always been in the construction industry. I was a carpenter by trade, as well as job foreman. I built houses, hospitals, office buildings, steel plants, highway bridges, etc. I retired in 1990, but still do odds and ends of carpenter work. I play golf, take part in our DAV chapter, bring other veterans to hospital appointments, and I write poems."


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Final Reflections

"As far as I am concerned, the decision to send U.S. troops to Korea was one hundred percent correct. At that time, Russia was aggressively trying to enhance its sphere of influence, and if they prevailed in Korea, using the North Koreans as a cover, their next target would have been Japan.

General MacArthur should only have gone above the 38th parallel to lock in defensive terrain features that would help protect South Korea along that line. After reaching the 38th parallel area, he should have halted and informed President Truman and his advisors that South Korea was once again intact. His ego led him to believe that he could conquer North Korea. The most serious mistake that the U.S. and United Nations made was that they did not spell out, early on; exactly what their aims were in handling the whole situation. I believe that if they had announced to the world at the outbreak of the war that they intended to restore the border and insure the sovereignty of South Korea, the war would have ended in 1950-51. It was the ambiguity of the pronouncements by the U.S. that led to its going on for three years.

The good that came out of the Korean War was that we stopped a rogue nation from taking over a free one. All who served in Korea gained the respect and friendship of the Korean people. Having U.S. troops stationed in Korea now may help their economy, but I do not think it is a necessity for defense. I have not revisited Korea, but often have the desire to do so. Probably the main reason I don’t go there is that I know it will not be the Korea I knew. The old saying, you can never go back to what once was, still holds true.

The Korean War is "the forgotten war" because it was fought during a time when everyone here in the states continued to go about their business in a regular way. The war caused no inconveniences to the average citizen, and only those who participated in it, plus their loved ones, were truly aware of it. Otherwise, it was only an occasional paragraph in the newspapers or a blip in the evening news on television. The Korean War is not something I have ever talked freely about with my children or anyone else. I never knew how to talk about it. But I believe that students should understand that the Korean War was fought to support a just and noble cause. Korea remained a free country and became a great supporter of the United States.

Since I am a veteran of World War II, I can attest to the fact that World War II veterans, as a group, are the most respected of all veterans. This is because they took part in a world war that shaped the history of the world itself. Also, every citizen in that age group can relate to them since even those who were not in the military were a part of the overall war effort. As far as other veterans, their wars were overshadowed by other events.

Regarding the killing of civilians at Nogun-ri, in no way do I mean to sound callous, but in every war that has ever been fought, civilians have died. Only those who were there when that happened really know the circumstances. Any and all recounting of events, even by the participants, must be suspect because no one knows what the mindset was when certain events take place. At Nogun-ri, were the troops green, scared young kids? Were they mentally and physically exhausted zombies? No one knows.

I certainly have my share of memories left from the time I spent in Korea, and I am absolutely convinced that I am alive today only by the Grace of God. In many of the incidents I have recounted, there are stories within those stories. Although almost all my time in Korea was spent as a front line combat infantryman, I never fought at the Chosin Reservoir, Old Baldy, Heartbreak Ridge, etc. Outside of Outpost Harry and the Iron Triangle area, all my combat occurred in mountains and places the name of which I never knew. No matter where or what battles were fought, it is always difficult to explain the circumstances to those who were not there. Many veterans rarely talk about combat experiences to non-veterans knowing this. On the other hand, when veterans get together, stories flow easily because all know there is understanding.

A lot of years have passed and some things are difficult to recall, but many, many scenes and happenings are still just as clear in my mind as when they took place. Because by nature I am a quiet, reserved and introverted-type person, it has always been easy for me to be very observant of what goes on around me. There is one factor that often comes into play when writing about wartime experience is branch of service. When you participate in war at the infantryman’s level, there will be moments when you become so beat, worn out, exhausted, etc., your mind slips to another plain. Reality becomes lost, and later on you will struggle to separate what you know took place from other pictures that are in your mind. Example: I know without any doubt whatsoever that I saw the enemy soldier who shot me in March 1951. He was quicker on the trigger than I was. Alongside this scene in my mind is another picture, where prior to this I shot two enemy soldiers running along a ridgeline. I know I was carrying a BAR at this time. Did this take place or is this something my exhausted mind and body conjured up? To this day, I don’t know the answer.

I do not think that going to Korea changed me in any way, but serving in the Army made me a wiser and more understanding person. I feel that my Army service was one of the most positive things in my life, and I would willingly do it all over again. My personality has always been a positive one and no one has ever mentioned to me that I acted differently after returning from Korea. However, my experiences have shown me that those of us who participated in war at its most elementary level, where the killing is done, will carry emotional scars for the rest of our lives. A person would have to be made of stone or be completely devoid of feeling for this not to be true. The so-called enemy soldier was a human being, but more than that, he was someone’s son, brother, husband, etc. Probably the subconscious thoughts along those lines are why some of us still have nightmares and are afraid to sleep at night without a light on. By the time the war ended, my nerves were completely gone. During the last few weeks of it, it took every ounce of will power I had to do my job.

The Korean War left me with a few medical problems, but I can’t complain. At least I am still alive. After the doctors removed the bullet from my neck, they had to fuse three of the cervical vertebrae together, so I lost most of the mobility of my neck. I have to turn my body to see right or left, because my neck won’t turn. My lower back has several bullet fragments in it, so it’s always sore. Because of shrapnel wounds in both legs, plus a bullet through my right thigh, my legs will be bothersome at times. I had no problems getting disability compensation for my wounds, and have been taken care of by the Veterans Administration since 1953.

Writing poetry about the war years was a form of therapy for me when all the scenes and experiences would come to mind after I retired and had time on my hands. In fact, it has never ceased to amaze me how certain things from that war still stay so clearly in my mind even though they all happened almost fifty years ago."

 

[The above Korean War memoir is written entirely in the words of Donald A. Chase, who participated in an interview with Lynnita Sommer (Brown) via U.S. mail in 2000. Many of his original war-related poems appear on the Poet’s Corner page of The Korean War Educator.]

Additional Note: Donald Chase was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor for his actions in support of the defense of Outpost Harry:


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Award of the Third Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster

TO THE PURPLE HEART
Dated: July 10, 1953

"Sergeant First Class DONALD CHASE, RA31467752, Infantry, Company "I", 15th infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division, United States Army. On the night of 10 June and during the early morning hours of 11 June 1953, elements of the 15th Infantry Regiment had the mission of defending a strategically valuable friendly held position in the vicinity of Samoul-ni, Korea, when a numerically superior hostile force launched an intense assault against them. During the progressive battle, Sergeant Chase, an assistant platoon sergeant, courageously dashed about the shell torn trenches checking positions, offering the men encouragement, and supplying them with ammunition. Upon learning that several of his comrades were stranded at the listening post several hundred yards beyond the main line of resistance, he volunteered to accompany the group which went out to rescue the men. Throughout the night, he frequently exposed himself to intense enemy fire to complete his duties. He made repeated trips to the platoon and squad command posts to check and repair the communication lines which were often destroyed. As a result of his actions, he helped save the lives of his comrades and was highly instrumental in the defense of the friendly position. Sergeant Chase’s outstanding heroism and devotion to duty reflect great credit upon himself and the military service. Chase originally entered the Federal Service from Massachusetts.

SUBJECT: Recommendation for Award

15RCO 201 Chase, Donald (Enl) 1st Ind RA31457752 (27 June 53)
SUBJECT: Recommendation for Award
Headquarters, 15th Infantry Regiment, APIO 468, 1 July 1953
TO: Commanding General, 3d Infantry Division, APO 468, US Army
Recommend approval for award of the Silver Star.

FOR THE COMMANDING OFFICER:

R.F. Akers, Jr.
Colonel Infantry
Commanding

 

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