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James Henry Christiansen
"I perceived Korea to be the arm-pit of the universe, and not worth two cents, but when you saw the misery of the people, you had to care, no matter how rough or tough you thought you were."
- James Henry Christiansen
My name is James Henry Christiansen, and I was born October 13, 1930, in Atlanta, Georgia, a son of Christie William Christiansen Sr. and Ollie Stallings Beall Christiansen. There were two other children in the family: Vivian Christine Christiansen Hall (born 1925 and still living) and Christie William Christiansen Jr. (born 1927 and now deceased). Father was a soldier during World War I and World War II, although not continuous service. He was in each war three years. At other times he was a furniture salesman or store manager. Mother did secretarial work for Burkhart Shier Chemical Company in Knoxville, Tennessee, and American District Telegraph Company in Atlanta.
I attended Park City Lowry grade school in Knoxville, Technological High School in Atlanta, and Brown High School in Atlanta. I did not graduate. I quit school on my 18th birthday and joined the Army the following day. While I was in school, I worked several odd jobs. I was a shoeshine boy at Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia, where I mostly shined the shoes of WACs. I also was a paperboy, delivering papers for the Atlanta Journal. I worked as an usher at Roxy Theater in Atlanta, too. I delivered and installed typewriter ribbons for Kee-Lox Manufacturing Company in Atlanta; was a "50% up and 50% down" elevator operator in the Atlanta National Building; and was a radio repairman for the Carroll Furniture Company.
During World War II, my father served in the U.S. Army; my brother was in the U.S. Navy Seabees; and my brother-in-law, Walter Dewey Hall, was in the U.S. Army. I was attending school during that time. I participated in tin can drives, paper drives, and copper drives. I more or less participated as an individual and not with groups.
I was scheduled to graduate in June of 1949, but I knew there was no money for college, and with my record, there would be no scholarship. The best future I could look for was a meaningless job. I had made the tragic mistake of falling in love with a beautiful girl, and knew that if I stayed in Atlanta there was absolutely no chance of my getting her. If I went away and made something of myself, I had maybe one in a million chances to get her.
My best friend, Donald W. Webb, joined with me. He wanted to join the Navy, but I couldn't swim. I quickly and successfully argued for the Army. Less than two years later, on 10 September 1950, he was killed in action. My long shot did not come in. I had lost my best friend, and at about the same time he was getting killed, my girlfriend was getting knocked-up.
Donald Ward Webb joined the Army looking for adventure. So did Thomas Jerome Howard and Bobby Matthews, who also joined the US Army at the same time Donald and I did. My father had ordered me not to join. When I disobeyed him, he disowned me, but later relented. I joined on 14 October 1948, leaving from home via the Southern Railway for Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Matthews and Webb traveled with me. Howard was held back for a spell for further eye checks. Nothing significant happened along the way. There were about forty of us and I, at 6'1" and 145 pounds, was the heaviest among us. There were precious few fat people in 1948.
When we got to the camp, we were given sheets, blankets, and pillowcases, and herded into an old barracks with the warning, "No gambling. Absolutely no gambling. We will tolerate no gambling." This was an old con that I recognized from my father’s company in Ft. Oglethorpe (he was first sergeant). The idea was to make sure that you did gamble, and then the instructor would swoop in and confiscate all the money, which was never seen again.
So we started a game of poker and I was dealing when someone yelled, "Here comes Cobb." I told them everybody to put their money in their pockets, and I kept on dealing. Cobb very righteously yelled, "Aha. Caught you gambling." I answered that we weren’t gambling, but merely playing a game of rummy. He was mad because he had a date that night and no money. So he said for me to follow him. We went halfway down the stairwell and he asked, "Do you want to lend me five for eight?" I said for him to put it on paper. He said, "Write it and I’ll sign it." So on my very first night, I had made three bucks, gained a little respect from my fellow recruits, and had PFC Robert E. Lee Cobb, also of Atlanta, Georgia (and with a name like that, where else?), wrapped around my little finger. Cobb was later reported as KIA in Korea, but he was not. I ran into him in Atlanta in 1952. We got drunk and he wrecked his car.
Basic training was eight weeks. We took physical training (a lot of it), did dry rifle fire and then hot fire on the range, and participated in first aid training. We were taught how to make beds, learned military courtesy, and read the Articles of War. We also drilled. Some called this dismounted drill and some called it close order drill. We called it, "Disorderly drill."
Our days were regimented with wake up, reveille, personal hygiene, cleaning the barracks, chow, first call, training, chow, second call, training, chow, free time, and bed. I quickly developed something I called "mess hall discipline." I had always been a finicky eater, but I learned to eat everything they put on my tray. To this day, if I happen to be in a mess hall, I’ll eat things I wouldn’t otherwise eat. The food was nourishing and well-cooked. Ours was a company-sized mess as opposed to a consolidated mess. We got to know the cooks because they slept in the same barracks with us.
Once when I had been to the dentist and had a wisdom tooth CHISELED out and returned to the company area, I saw one of the cooks and asked him what was for chow. It was steak. I asked if it was tough and he said, "Yes." I told him of my jaw and he said, "See me when you come through the line." He had soft-boiled eggs and banana pudding for me. On Thanksgiving night 1948, that same cook, Corporal Epperson, came into the barracks and asked if any of us would volunteer to come help the KPs, because the big meal had overwhelmed the system. About ten of us did, and he fed us all again.
Sometimes S/Sgt Smith woke us up in the middle of the night. When he did this, he was generally pissed about something. But our instructors were not strict at all. If we halfway tried, they could be pretty lenient. I had PFC Cobb in my hip pocket, and S/Sgt Smith treated me kindly when I managed to catch pneumonia during bivouac. He put me on the sick book and sent me to the hospital. The instructors were firm, but not unyielding. If they ever used corporal punishment, I never witnessed it. I have fond memories of my instructors.
We were not at war at the time I took basics, and life was not hard for me during the training. We had to fall out in the middle of the night a couple of times, but that was minor. Many of the recruits lacked self-discipline, so the Army had to supply all of the discipline. I looked on it as a game. If it ever got real rough, I said to myself that millions of others had made it through, and by God, so could I. Collective-type discipline was a very effective tool if used right. It united all of the platoon against the offender, and they usually straightened him out. (I used it myself, as I will explain later in my memoir.) I think that only one guy in our platoon didn’t make it through basic training. He was a "mad Russian" from New York named Peppin. He was disruptive in formations and training. Once at roll call, he answered his name by farting. Needless to say, he didn’t make it through.
I do remember when a recruit from Seneca, South Carolina named Claude Rothell, dropped his M-1 rifle. S/Sgt Smith made him do 25 pushups with the rifle clutched in his teeth. When he had completed the pushups, Smith told him to fall back into the formation. The recruit (who was no small boy) got up and went back to the formation with the rifle still clamped firmly in his teeth. S/Sgt Smith had not told him to remove it, and he held it until he was told. Smith liked that. I also remember when a recruit we called "Preacher" made the mistake of sitting on one of the cook pots while he was on KP. The cooks gave him holy hell the remainder of the day and far into the night. The only thing I got in trouble for was "bouncing" when I marched. I have a peculiar gait that causes me to "bounce" while marching, and I was yelled at continually about it.
Church was offered during basic training. There was a chapel near the training area that conducted services for all faiths, and we were given time to go. Very few of us did, with only "Preacher" going from our platoon. The instructors (cadre as we called them) didn’t interfere. Many of the guys went into Columbia to go to church. You could pick up girls there.
Fort Jackson was located in piney woods that were replete with chiggers (little red bugs). When you were out in the woods, they invariably found their way to the softest flesh on a man’s body, i.e., his penis and testicles. There they burrowed into the flesh. You killed them by painting the resulting welt with fingernail polish that burned like a branding iron, but killed the chigger. They were pretty dormant during the fall and winter.
We had to qualify with the rifle, pass a physical training test, and stuff like that, but nothing special. We also had to watch the usual training films. "The Late Company 'B'" was a film about maintenance. There was also a spate of VD films. I remember one in particular. This soldier went into a bar and sat down. At the other end of the bar was a woman—a real dog—who was so ugly she would turn you into stone like Medusa. After his first drink, he looked again and, while still ugly, she wasn’t so ugly. After each succeeding drink, she got prettier until he was quite drunk and she was very beautiful. He woke up with a dose of clap the next morning.
I really never regretted joining the Army while I was in basics. It was a far better life than the one I had in Atlanta. We were very poor. I had ran away from home twice before I joined the Army. I did, however, desperately miss my girlfriend (the one who later got knocked up by some other man). I always appreciated my instructors, and when I eventually became an instructor in the Far East Signal School, I learned first hand what they go through.
When basic was completed, there was the obligatory parade. (There was a parade every Saturday for the graduating class honoring somebody.) Our honoree was some damn cook who was retiring after 20 years of exemplary service.
I didn’t think that I was qualified for combat after finishing basic training. I thought the training should have been more comprehensive. I knew how to do a lot of things that I didn’t before, but I didn’t think any of them would save my life except maybe the rifle training and the physical training. But I really didn’t think about it at all. We were not at war and combat was the farthest thing from my mind. I was in better physical and mental condition and my morale was better. I had achieved some very small bit of self-respect, of which I had none before.
Donny Webb and I went directly to Camp (now Fort) Gordon, Georgia, after basic training was over. We took the bus, and when we got off of it, it was a blazing hot day in December. We wondered what July would be like. We were taken into an old building and the Cadre, who were all ex-paratroopers, made us do pushups just to say hello. They then turned on a loudspeaker and played a message in Morse code at 25 words per minute. They said we would all be able to read that before we left. It scared hell out of us.
The paratroopers herded us around, but they did not teach us Morse code. For your information, every "stick" of paratroopers (all of the paratroopers on a particular plane who jump together) had within it a Morse radio operator. He was the unlucky one. He had to jump with the radio strapped to him in addition to all of his other gear. There being no miniature radios in those days, he often had to be lifted up into the plane by his buddies because he was too heavy to do it himself.
Not long after we arrived at Camp Gordon, we went on a ten-day Christmas leave. That Christmas Eve of 1948 was the happiest I ever had. My girlfriend visited our house and wowed everybody. Sometimes I wore the uniform and sometimes I wore civvies. I don’t remember any particular comments about my being in the Army. I don’t think anybody gave a damn. When leave was over, I rode the Greyhound Bus back to Camp Gordon. Soon after, Thomas Howard caught up with us. Since it was only 150 miles from Atlanta and we had each weekend off, the three of us hitchhiked home many times in the weeks to come. We also could go off post each night if we wanted.
At Camp Gordon, we learned radio procedure and radio equipment of the era, but mostly Morse code. I can only remember the instructors named Hofslund, Youngblood, and Schuhmacher. Schuhmacher was my sending instructor and now lives about a mile and a half from me here in Rockledge. We have both been Commander of the same Legion Post 22 in Cocoa.
We were started out on "Z" speeds. Z1 was a group of seemingly unrelated letters sent at 5WPM. They included the letters Y, H, N, U, J, M, T, G, B, R, F, and V. When you passed that, you went to Z2, which contained all of the Z1 letters, plus I, K, E, D, and C. Z3 contained all of those letters, plus O, L, W, S, and X. Z4 contained all of those, plus P, Q, A, and Z. Z5 was the numerals. When we had completed Z5, we had qualified at 5WPM. This was all done on paper using a pencil. Then they upped the ante; you went to 7WPM, then 10, 13, 16, and 18. The highest we had to do with pencil was 18.
In the code room, we were sent letters of the alphabet in international Morse code. This sending was done by a recorder, not a human being. We had two five-minute tests every hour, with the machine sending to us. We had to correctly translate from code to English any three consecutive minutes without error to pass that speed and go on to the next. We sat at study carrels, wearing headsets, with each headset individual controllable. Thus we could work self-pace. We had to write or type what was sent to us on paper.
We were then yanked out of the code room and sent to the typing room to learn to type. Our typewriters were called "Mills", although I don’t know why. There were no lower case letters—only caps, and there being no lower case L, it also had the numeral 1 on it as does a computer keyboard. We only had a week to master the typewriter, but that was enough. Then we were sent back to the code room where, instead of using a pencil, we used a typewriter. We were put all the way back to Z1. Lo and behold, those Yankees were damn clever. Z1 turned out to be the letters on the typewriter that were struck with the two index fingers. Z2 included the major fingers. Z3 the ring fingers and Z4 the pinkies. The numerals, of course, used all eight fingers. There was a method to their madness that took a while to fathom. In the beginning of our training, the Z groups seemed unrelated and we couldn’t figure out the logic of the particular combinations. We thought they would teach us A to Z. They didn’t. By their method, when you had finished Z4, you had the whole alphabet.
Then we had to go through the whole process again: 7, 10, 13, 16, 18, but we didn’t stop there. We went on to 20, 22, and 25, all on the typewriter. Somewhere along the line we had been given a sending orientation. They taught us how to adjust a telegraph key, properly place our fingers on it, and how to press it down without bounce, which caused static. They then let us play with it for a while, all the time monitoring us individually and offering on the spot corrections if we were doing it wrong. Most of us had problems here, but we eventually mastered it. In Korea, I could send better than I could receive. Each operator, unlike the machine that taught us code, developed a peculiar style of sending. This was called his "fist." An experienced operator can listen to someone sending and know exactly who it is. His fist is just like his signature.
We had to pass the same speeds sending up to 20WPM. They tested us by making us send to a tape recorder, and then copy it back. They figured that if we couldn’t copy our own mess, then no one else could. It was an amazingly good way to teach code. (In 1951, I became an instructor at the Far East Signal School and used the exact same scheme with good results.) We had to pass 18 pencil, 25 typewriter, and 20 sending. We had to pass written exams on procedure, and demonstrate proficiency on the various radios.
Radio procedure is a language developed to facilitate the passage of messages between two or more operators. Voice radio has its own procedure; Morse has a different one. Teletype has one that nearly duplicates Morse. Here are a few examples:
Procedure is a very complex subject, and very difficult to learn, but once you have it, you pretty much have it for life.
And speaking of procedure, we (the many radio operators in Korea) developed a new procedure that has been adopted by the Armed Forces. It is called "break in." In the example above, when the receiving operator first noticed he had made a mistake (i.e, missed the word after Company) he right then pressed down his key. The sending operator heard this signal between the dots and dashes he was sending, and immediately stopped sending. When the receiving operator senses that sending had stopped, he then sent "Company." The sending operator then resent the word Company and all that followed it. There were no call signs or other garbage involved. This was developed out of necessity. We simply didn’t have time for all of the proper stuff.
Primarily, we were taught to use the SCR-399 radio. It was a huge monstrosity on the back of a 2 ½ ton truck, pulling a 10KW generator (the PE-95) behind it on a ton and a half trailer. This is what we used in Korea. There were various other smaller radios whose nomenclature I don’t remember.
At the end of our training, we had a week long field exercise where it all came together. We set up stations in various parts of the piney woods surrounding Camp Gordon, and sent messages to one another, all the while being monitored by the ever-watching instructors. The instructors took this extremely seriously, although the word combat was never used. We were at peace and it just didn’t enter anybody’s mind. We knew that we were training under field conditions (which literally translated meant combat conditions), but none of us were thinking war or combat. I knew that if called upon, I could operate that radio under damn near any conditions. Ultimately, I was called upon to do just that.
There was really no schedule to complete radio school. It was all self-paced, so some graduated before others. We had 7-hour days, 5 days a week in the classrooms. For me, it was six months. We started in January and I cleared post on 5 July 1949. For Don Webb, it was 11 weeks longer. He got stuck on 22WPM and it took him all that time to pass it. In retrospect, that probably cost him his life. If he had graduated with me, he probably would have gotten the same duty station I got in Japan, and would have been with me. I survived.
After I finished my radio school training, I was assigned to the Far East Command in Japan. I didn’t particularly want to go, but I had signed on the dotted line. I knew I would be there two or three years, and the thought of leaving my girlfriend (the one who eventually "done me wrong") hurt. I can’t explain that any clearer. It physically hurt to be away from her. There was nothing notable or memorable about my departure. I probably shook Dad’s hand, kissed Mom and my girlfriend, and got on the train.
I was to leave the country from Seattle, Washington, but I was held up there for a while because some of my records were missing. In late August of 1949, I boarded the USNS General Shanks for the trip to Yokohama. I don’t know anything about the person the ship was named after. It was a transport ship, but not necessarily a troop transport. We lived in the bowels of the ship, but it had staterooms for the dependents. It was ran by merchant seamen, not Navy. They were mostly Filipinos and Neseis. I didn’t see any other services, and I don’t know of any cargo other than luggage.
This was my first trip on a big ship, but I did not get sick. I woke up the first morning out and the ship was gently rocking back and forth, like I was a baby in a crib. I thought that this was not sickening—it was pleasant. Right at that moment I knew I wasn’t going to be sick. Others were though. They puked everywhere; in the toilets, in the urinals where you then had to watch the vomit run back and forth from one end to the other if you used it. They puked in the mess hall and would come walking out with a stupid smile on their face and their cupped hands full of vomit. Ultimately, they puked over the side where it blew back up into the faces of all who were downwind. But for some reason, I never got sick. I had been sick once on a charter fishing boat during World War II when I was visiting my father who was then stationed on Miami Beach. Tough war.
If we hit any rough weather, it must have been in the middle of the night when I was sacked out. It took about 10 or 12 days, I think, to get to Japan. It turned out to be a pleasant voyage for me, although I did nothing for entertainment. The troops were herded out on the deck each day and they had to stay there. We weren’t allowed to stay below on our bunks. I, however, missed that particular joy each day.
In the Army there is an axiom – "Don’t volunteer for anything." But I had already found that that axiom had to be tempered with a little common sense and intuition. I had learned that in basics when Epperson wanted us to come help clean up the mess hall. I reinforced it in Seattle when the First Sergeant came in and wanted somebody who could type to volunteer for a few minutes work. I did and worked myself into a plush assignment. The same thing happened on the ship. A Sergeant came in and wanted somebody who could type. I did, and from that moment on I was the "Reporter" for the ship’s newspaper. I had to wear a class B uniform, but I had free run of the ship, including the staterooms where the dependents stayed. My sole duty was to sit in the dependent’s lounge (bar) each day and record the winners of the daily bingo games. I then typed this up in a usable format and turned it over to the Sergeant. I was then free to do what I wanted, including going back to the lounge and drinking coffee, or skulking around the dependent’s quarters looking at pretty women. It beat hell out of standing on deck having vomit blown on you.
You may notice that all of my years on the streets of Atlanta had made an opportunist out of me. I had become quite a hoodlum in my youth. It had seemed like an option to me from the crappy life I had, but it didn’t solve anything—just added to the problem. I roamed the streets "rifling" (burglarizing) cars and stealing whatever I could. I had been expelled from Tech High three straight semesters—a year and a half of high school and not a credit earned. The summer when I was 15 (1946), I knew I was headed to the Georgia State Reform School on the day after Labor Day. Georgia law dictated that I must be in school until I was 16, but the Superintendent of School, a purple-haired lady named Mrs. Ira J. Mann, wouldn’t allow any school to enroll me. I was that bad and she hated me.
I had few choices. I could leave Georgia and go live with my sister in Knoxville, but I didn’t like that idea. I thought that 15 was a little young to begin running from the law, so I bided my time. That summer, I read in the paper that Mrs. Mann had retired and there was a new Superintendent named Mr. Edwards. I thought, what the hell, it’s worth a try. I went to the School Board on the 10th floor of the City Hall and asked to see Mr. Edwards. The lady tried to brush me off. I persisted and told her I would come back anytime he was available, but I had to see him and nobody else. Finally they relented and told me to come back at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday. Before I left I told her that somewhere in that building was a big, fat file with my name on it, and requested that Mr. Edwards read it before my return.
When I returned, I knew that he had done so because his attitude was extremely hostile. I asked him if he had read it and he replied that he had. I then said that everything in there was true. There were no exaggerations, no false statements or insinuations, that I confessed I was guilty and everything in that file was true. This took him aback some; he had clearly thought I would deny the file. He asked what I wanted and I said that I wanted to go back to school. I told him that if he would let me, I promised him man to man that I would never do anything like that again and I would bring him an all A report card every semester. He let me go back to school. I kept my word to him. From that day on I never even spit on the sidewalk or jaywalked again. School was easy. There seemed to be nothing a schoolteacher liked better than a bad boy gone good. I had to report to Mr. Edwards every Tuesday for over a semester.
Then one day I came in for my regular appointment and was told to wait. Three and a half hours later, I lost my temper and got up and went home. Then I immediately regretted it. I thought to myself, "You damn fool. You’ve blown it." So I went back on Wednesday to ask for another appointment. He came out smiling and said, "Congratulations, Jim." He had set that up to see if I would come back or if he had to send for me. I was off probation and a regular student again. I still remember that man as the one who helped me turn my life around. As to the other stuff, that had all stopped a couple of years before. I had spent 10 days in the juvenile jail, and six days in the Indianola, Mississippi jail where I had been caught running away from home. Jail is not a nice place and I didn’t ever want to go there again.
I realize that I have digressed somewhat from the subject at hand--my military service in the Korean War--but the above set of circumstances followed me all the days of my life, including the coming months that I would spend in the Far East Command, as I will explain in the pages ahead.
In the meantime, I knew nary a soul on the ship. I was then, pretty much as I was all of my young years, a loner. The ship made no stops en route to Japan. It made the northern journey and we were in sight of Alaska. I wondered why anybody in their right mind would live there. Nothing "eventful" happened on the trip to Japan except that one of the dependent wives made a play for me. As much as I wanted to, I didn't. I was too scared. If they caught me, they would have castrated me and thrown me overboard. The following year, a couple of months before the Korean War started, I ran into her in Yokohama. But the situation was entirely changed and she wanted nothing to do with me. She turned out to be an MP Sergeant's wife. Thank God I was discrete.
Duty in Japan
Once the ship arrived in Japan, I was assigned to "A" Company, 304th Signal Battalion. It was located right in the middle of Yokohama, where we lived in Quonset huts. Since they didn't need any radio operators at the time, I was given duty in the Eighth Army Communications Center in the carrier section. (Carrier is a telephone process where you put many simultaneous calls on one wire.) They then sent me to school to be trained in it. Years later, this would get me promoted to SFC. I had once again, in my sublime stupidity, stumbled into a good deal. I worked 28 hours a week. Because I worked in the Comm Center in Yokohama, I was supposed to have security clearance, but I didn't get it. My "hoodlum years" in Atlanta were starting to catch up with me.
My Company's duty in Japan was operating the Communications Center. That was all we did. "B" Company did all of the field exercises. When I wasn't on duty, I stayed on the post most of the time playing table tennis and pool. Occasionally, I felt the call of nature and went into town to rent one of the women. I didn't like to do that, though. I had seen too many VD films. I also had the opportunity to see some areas in Japan where the aftermath of world War II was still evident. There were many bombed out buildings in Yokohama, and in 1951 I went to Hiroshima. There wasn't much to see though.
I was so desperate to see my girlfriend that I applied to go to Officers Candidate School, figuring that if I got that, I would be in Kansas. Kansas was a lot closer to Georgia than Japan. The application was approved and sent back to me for one more document. By then the war had started and Don Webb was already being shot at. I thought that maybe if I was a Lieutenant perhaps I could marry my girlfriend, but I couldn't allow Don to go to Korea and me to go back to the states. I threw the application in the waste basket. My girlfriend continued to write to me--right up until the time she got knocked up. I still refuse to dignify it by saying "pregnant."
I was in Japan from late August or early September of 1949 until the start of the war. I knew very little about Korea at the time, as did anyone else. At Camp Gordon, the Company Commander had given us a one-hour lecture on it and about the political problems there. That was in June of 1949, a whole year before the war started. The Army knew something. When hostilities broke out in Korea, I followed the news about what was happening there. It was obvious that we were getting our butt kicked. The Stars and Stripes carried a daily situation map, and I was afraid they were going to rename Pusan to Dunkirk.
In Japan, I thought I had it made. I was working in the com Center as a carrier tech again, and was frozen to my job--I thought. I figured that I would sit this one out, but that didn't happen. The Battalion had already gone to Korea and left us Com Center guys behind. Then the Battalion Commander called back to Japan and gave orders to go through everybody's file and send him everybody in the Battalion who was a radio operator, regardless of what they were doing. I didn't want to go, but guess what.
I thought that we were going to get our ass kicked. We were totally unready. I thought that if I was an example of the average soldier over there, then we were in deep yoghurt. I was pretty intelligent, but I wasn't a warrior. We had to pack all of our signal gear and get it on the boats. Signal gear was all of the electronic equipment that we used to supply communications: carrier bays, radios, telephone switchboards, power units to create electricity in the field, etc.
They took those who weren't qualified on the rifle to the rifle range and gave them a refresher course. That did not include me. I was qualified as an expert with the M-1 rifle and the carbine (a small rifle). One qualified by firing at a target from varying distances up to 500 yards. You could qualify as a marksman (lowest rating), sharpshooter, or expert. Others scored your hits on the target and you were rated accordingly. They closed our EM club and gave away every drop of the stock to us troops. Then they were gone. I was told that there was a lack of soap in Korea and to bring plenty of soap. Hell, I found out that there was plenty of soap there. The rats ate my soap. I never knew rats liked Ivory Soap until then. That sounds stupid, but it's true.
Sometime in early August of 1950 I left Japan for Korea. It was on a Saturday morning. I was told to get my gear together, for I was leaving that night. Saturday night I was put on a Japanese train for Sasebo. I had a lower berth in a sleeping car. Can you imagine that? Sunday I was in Sasebo getting shots, making out a last will, and allotting all of my pay to a bank in Atlanta. I met a kid from Brown High in Atlanta. I don't remember his name, but he had already been in Korea, been wounded, hospitalized, and was returning to the line. I don't know if he made it. Probably not. That evening I got on a Japanese ship where the ever vigilant American Red Cross gave each of us ONE cigarette. Those cheap bastards. It sort of reminded me of the last cigarette before the firing squad shot you. I never once saw the Red Cross in Korea. The next morning (Monday), I was in Pusan, and that afternoon I was in Taegu with my unit.
Gone to Hell
My first impression of Korea was that I had died and gone to hell. The ship arrived at Pusan Harbor in the morning, and we immediately disembarked. The port was very busy. There were Koreans unloading cargo at the port. I could tell upon arriving that I was either in a war zone or in hell. I didn't know which.
I was already assigned to a unit. In Japan, I had been in Wire Company, 304th Signal Operations Battalion. While I had been away at Eta Jima, the Battalion had been reorganized. There were no more A and B Companies. when Colonel Galusha, the Battalion CO, called back for every radio operator, I was transferred from Wire to Radio Company. When I arrived in Korea, I was in Radio Company, 304th Signal Operations Battalion Forward. Our next highest echelon was 8th Army Headquarters. We were not in any regiment or division. I didn't know anybody in Radio Company, having just been transferred into it, but I knew most of the guys in Wire company who I visited regularly. I can't recall exactly who was there, however.
We were transported from Pusan to Taegu by narrow gauge railroad ran by Koreans. My unit was located in an apparently old Korean (or maybe Japanese from World War II) army camp near Taegu. I base that statement on the fact that there were some old Quonset huts there. The unit was doing what it was supposed to be doing--supply communications for the 8th Army and all of its units. The 8th Army was the top echelon of command in Korea. It had to communicate with General Headquarters, General of the armies Douglas MacArthur in Japan. It had to communicate with its subordinate units (24th Division, 25th Division, 1st Cavalry Division, 2nd Division, 7th Division, 1st Marine Division, etc., and also the Corps Commanders and the Navy and Air Force--i.e., everybody) under it. We had to supply the means of communication. we used high powered radios, wire, carrier, and VHF to accomplish this mission.
My parents did not learn that I was in Korea until after it was an accomplished fact. And I'm not sure they cared. We were not especially close. I loved them because they were my parents, but I didn't like them. They were both weak moraled people. Their crimes against me were more crimes of omission rather than crimes of commission. With a little supervision from them, perhaps things would have been different. I couldn't stay in the same room with my mother for five minutes without getting into a yelling match. Dad cared about us, but he cared about women, whiskey, and gambling more.
My father got into a shooting match with the Jehovah's Witnesses via the Atlanta Journal's Letters to the Editors. They won't serve in the armed forces during wartime. Dad believed that they were not a religion, but a "cowardly reason for not serving the country that has allowed them to become such a cult." He was very vociferous about it. When he found out I was in a war zone and one of them was working there in the same building with him, he went ballistic. The big boss, Mr. Craig Topple, went on a vacation and left Dad in charge. Topple wasn't out of the door for five minutes when Dad fired her.
New to Korea
My first duty in Korea was guard duty. Some Sergeant saw me standing around and put me on perimeter guard for the night. I was scared all the way down to my toenails. I had already heard all of the horror stories about how the North Koreans would slip up behind you and slit your threat, and everybody else on that perimeter had, too. They were shooting at anything that moved: a tree branch blowing in the breeze, the shadow the moon cast when it went behind a cloud, toad frogs, and the ever present rats. I was the only one who didn't fire my weapon that night. If there was one thing I was afraid of more than a North Korean slitting my throat, it was showing everybody else how yellow I was. That's stupid, isn't it?
The next night, I was made ammunition bearer for Cpl Sy Redding on a .30 caliber machinegun, presumably because I hadn't fired my weapon that first night. He must have thought that exhibited some coolness under fire, but actually I was too afraid to show that I was afraid. I think Sy was from Wire Company. We were all from the 304th, which was attached directly to the 8th Army Headquarters. He transferred to the 25th Infantry a couple of days later and I was made gunner. Sy wanted to transfer out because he had been in one of the infantry divisions and had buddies on the line who he wanted to be with. The feeling of brotherhood runs strong in the military. I sure hope he survived. He was one hell of a good soldier. For one soldier to refer to another as a good soldier is high praise. I don't know what a "hero" is; I only know it ain't me. The only one I can even think of who might fit that category is Sy Redding, because he put himself in harm's way when he didn't have to do so.
Somebody else then became my bearer when I became the gunner. I had never fired the machinegun before, but Sy taught me before he left, and I became quite good at it. For some stupid reason, I felt more secure with that machinegun than with a carbine. I knew if there was an attack, I would be the first target, but I still liked that gun.
My machinegun fired .30 caliber bullets from a belt (more or less a bandoleer that ran through the weapon). And it fired a lot of them in a short time. It took two men to operate it--one, the bearer to sort of hand guide the belt into the weapon and another, the gunner, to aim the weapon and pull the trigger. One quirk was that if it got too hot, it would self-fire. The bullets would "cook off." That is, the heat of the weapon would detonate the shell without you pulling the trigger. Then it would continue to fire until it either ran out of ammunition or the barrel melted down and it exploded, whichever came first. To stop this chain reaction, the bear had to quickly pull one cartridge out of the belt. This interrupted the cook off. The advantages of it were that you could kill a lot of people with it. The disadvantages were that a lot of people were trying to kill you. There were two models of it--the air-cooled and the water-cooled. The air-cooled had heat fins on the barrel to dissipate the heat generated by the friction of the shells rubbing against the barrel. The water-cooled had a jacket around the barrel where water was pumped through it to take away the heat. You could fire a lot more rounds with the water-cooled than the air-cooled before you had to change the barrel.
There is a reason why I was manning a machinegun instead of "doing something radio" when I first got to Korea. We were very close to the front. Only one hill and portions of the 1st Cavalry were between us and the enemy, therefore we had to maintain a perimeter guard during darkness. My machinegun was dug in a mud hole to give it all the protection we could. I was on a machinegun because I was a body. Nobody knew who I was in Korea. I mentioned that I had been transferred from Wire to Radio Company the day I was sent to Korea. Wire Company wasn't looking for me -- as far as they knew, I was still in Japan. The guys in the Wire Company knew, but just like me, they thought the brass was up on everything. Radio Company never got the transfer. I was a man without a country. Thank God I didn't get killed, for they might never have reported me. This got straightened out when we were pulled back to Pusan.
On September 7, 1950, I located where my buddy, Don Webb was. He had arrived in Korea in early July of 1950. Since I had been on that machinegun all night, every night, I had no trouble getting permission to leave the area for a few hours. I hitchhiked to his company, the 16th Recon Company of the 1st Cavalry Division, and from there rode the chow truck to where he was. That was on the front lines. He was about 30 yards up from the edge of the Naktong River. The enemy was on the other bank, but because fighting always happened at night, there was no rifle fire going on when I arrived at his unit. There were some dead Koreans in the river, but no dead Americans. Their bodies had already been removed. Ironically, there was also a dead horse there with all four legs pointing up. I asked, "What the hell? Is the Cavalry shooting their horses? Who shot that horse?" Some old boy said, "I did. He came loping up in the middle of the night, and I told him to halt. He didn't, so I shot him. Guess he didn't understand English." I guess there is humor in everything.
He only talked to me in a general way about what was happening on the front line. He said that so far the gooks (that was what we called the enemy) had kicked their ass, and that's about it. He didn't like it, but he also realized that he had signed on the dotted line too, and this was what he was being paid for. Don told me that they were coming back in on Sunday the 10th. Our time was limited since I had to return on the chow truck, so I swapped trousers with him (his had the bottom torn out and his skinny little ass was hanging out) and came on back to make preparations for Sunday. Again, I had no trouble getting permission to leave.
I need to explain here that Don and I resembled each other very much. We were often taken to be brothers. We went along with it because we could have fun fooling people. That Sunday morning when I got to his company area and asked for him, all I got was people turning away from me and saying things like, "He ain't here" or "I don't know him" or "You're in the wrong place" and other stuff like that. But none of them would look me in the eye. It finally dawned on me that none of these guys wanted to be the guy who told Webb's "brother" that he was dead. I went back to my unit and wrote a letter to my mother to walk down the street and be nice to Mrs. Webb because Donnie was dead.
As it turned out, he had been killed a few hours before I got there. I still cry about that. I'm getting weepy right now writing about it. For years and years I had a recurring dream of running into Don somewhere and finding out that he wasn't killed, but had been MIA all along. But if I was thirty when I had the dream, he was still 18. If I was 40, he was still 18. He never grew old. These dreams have abated lately. I haven't had one for several years now. I don't recall personally seeing any bodies of dead Americans while I was in Korea. I didn't even see Don's. I didn't know the names of any of the others who were in his company and who might have been able to tell me what happened. Besides, they were probably all dead, too.
Point of interest -- Don was buried in Atlanta exactly one year after his death. He was killed on 10 September 1950 and buried 10 September 1951. He is buried in Westview Cemetery, just a couple of blocks from our homes. I have never visited the grave, but I have a picture of it. I just don't think I am man enough to visit it. I hate to cry in public, and I would probably make a spectacle of myself. And it would have hurt.
When I got back from Korea, I looked up Don's parents. They had moved across town and I went there. Mr. Webb was, I think, in the hospital. He died a short time later. When I went in and faced Mrs. Webb, it was the first time that she had ever picked up on the resemblance between Don and me. she said, "Jimmy, do you know you look just like Donny?" I said yes and then she cried, and then I cried. As I said, I hate to cry in public, but I did then. I think I was crying for myself. I felt a great loss, great shame, and great guilt for still being alive. That is stupid, I know, but still true. Losing my best friend was the hardest thing for me personally about being in Korea. I have never really gotten over it. Few days go by that I don't have this tremendous feeling of guilt because I am still alive.
I didn't make up any heroic yarns about Don. If I had started lying, then it would never have ended, so I told her the exact truth about my visit on the 7th and his death on the 10th. I just couldn't lie. Mrs. Webb died about a year later. Don had an older brother Robert who was in the Navy and had been in World War II. He is probably dead now. He had an older sister Martha who was very beautiful and I, like all the other young bucks around West View, had the hots for her--to the avail of none of us. He had a younger sister, Millie Sue, who had asthma and died when she was 21.
Don's parents never blamed me for talking their son into joining the Army. They knew he had gone of his own free will and they, unlike my parents, had signed their consent. He was only 17 at the time. I think about blaming myself a lot, but I know that was the road untraveled, and I can't go back and take it now.
When Donald Ward Webb was killed in Korea, the world lost a damn fine young man. He was amiable, friendly, and outgoing. He played tennis and the trombone. He had a real pretty girlfriend named Mary Ann Hornsby, who was Rogers Hornsby's granddaughter. Rogers was a famous baseball player. I ran into her after he had been killed and she was so beautiful she could actually stop a man in his tracks. She married a preacher and became a bible-thumper. Don had all the earmarks of being successful. Of the four of us who joined the Army that day, Don is dead, Bobby is in jail, and Thomas and I are relatively successful.
No Laughing Matter
When the 8th Army withdrew to Pusan right before I met SSG Crowe, they left the perimeter guard behind and I was in it. All our cooks had left to feed us with for several days were some GI cans (unused galvanized garbage cans) of sugar and flour. They made simple syrup with the sugar and pancakes from the flour. That stuff constipated us beyond belief. When I got to Pusan, it had been about four days since I had been to the latrine, and I was in agony.
The first thing I did was turn in to the Medics. Now, notwithstanding all of the stuff you see on M*A*S*H, the Medics loathed and hated malingerers and goldbricks, but they treated the sick and wounded great. When I walked in that tent, I wasn't bleeding and I had not been wounded. I could see and feel their disgust: here was another damn goof-off.
When I finally got to see the Doctor, he, too, was hostile. He growled something like, "What's your problem, boy?" When I told him and asked if he could give me something to make me shit (my exact words), he burst out in a laugh you could hear all the way back to Japan. I was damn near crying I hurt so bad, and I said, "Sir, I'm glad this amuses you, but I don't see a damn thing funny about it." He immediately sobered and apologized profusely. He said (and this is pretty near verbatim), "Son, I'm not laughing at you. I'm laughing at the situation. I've got a whole damn army out there wanting me to give them something to make them stop shitting, and here you come wanting something to make you start." He fixed me up though, and when I exited the tent, the hostility of the medics was missing. Needless to say, the next time I ingested a pancake was about thirty years later. Portnoy did, indeed, have a complaint.
I didn't like or dislike my first job assignment. It was assigned to me and I did it. I did think it odd that Colonel Galusha wanted all of the radio operators he could get, and here I was in a mud hole operating a .30 caliber machinegun. But I damn sure didn't go to the CO and complain about my assignment. Come to think of it, I didn't right then know who the hell my CO was. I don't remember many of them. They weren't memorable characters.
We had one Lieutenant we privately named "Porky Pig." He, in fact, turned out to be a knowledgeable and capable officer. We had made fun of him (not to his face) and given him the nickname back in Japan because he was fat. He thinned out considerably in Korea, though. There was Lieutenant Dillow. He had been my First Sergeant back in Company A. He had gotten a battlefield commission. I'll tell you more about him later. He was great. As stated, Cpl Sy Redding taught me about the machinegun. I would presume he survived Korea. He was a survivor. SSgt Charles W. Crowe (more about him later) taught me quite a bit about the SCR-399 radio, and of all things, cryptography. I didn't have a clearance for that (more repercussions from my streets of Atlanta days), but nobody ever asked me.
There is one story you need to hear though. There was a big hill between us and the enemy. Each night at about the same time, somebody would light a fire on top of that hill, and then we would have incoming artillery. The shells sailed right over us into Taegu, where they created havoc among the refugees. The fire would go out and the shells would stop. One day a particularly dumb 2nd Lieutenant came out and asked me, "PFC Christiansen, do you believe there is some connection between that fire and the shelling?" I couldn't believe my ears, but I answered, "Goddamn Lieutenant. That keen analytical mind of yours has broke the code." He ignored my sarcasm, but a patrol was sent up there and the shelling stopped.
First Three Months
When I first arrived in Korea, the weather was blazing hot. To cope, we sweated a lot and showered whenever we could. I also "coped" by getting a bad case of malaria, which was kept in check with quinine pills until I left Korea. I suppose I got it on the machine gun. Next to our gun emplacement was a sump hole filled with old garbage, filthy water, and voracious mosquitoes. I had mosquito repellent issued and it was vile stuff, unlike "Off" of today. After a while, the smell abated and you got to where you could tolerate it. Unfortunately, so could the mosquitoes. We were made to take a quinine pill each day and I suppose that kept it inert until I went off of the quinine the next year in Japan.
For the first three months, I was in every conceivable type of terrain. I never encountered any place that we were supposed to go that we couldn't get there because of the terrain. The truck was a 6x6, meaning it had six wheels that were each capable of receiving power from the engine. It was, and still is, in itself a powerful tool of war.
I had no baptism of fire like front line troops had. I never fired my weapon in anger--my basic weapon was a telegraph key, which I "fired" a lot. The enemy was not dominant where I was, and I do not recall ever receiving direct fire. I was in a little hut on the back of a truck operating a radio. The hut was strapped to the bed of a two and a half ton truck. It had one door in the rear. Down the middle was a storage bin, which had cushions and also doubled as the seat for the occupants. On the same side, forward of the bin was the BC-610 transmitter. It was about a three-foot cube monster that weighed several hundred pounds and packed a lot of power. On top of it was an antenna tuner which coupled the antenna to the transmitter. The transmitter also generated a lot of heat which was hell during the summer, but wonderful during the winter. On the driver's side was another chest on the wall running the entire length of the seat. When this was opened, it became the "Operating position" (desk), and contained two receivers, the key, microphone, and other assorted gear. The hut could accommodate two operators, but it was much more comfortable with only one.
Our team had pyramidal tent which had four sides that were vertical up to about 30 inches. From there they sloped to an apex approximately eight feet long. Inside we had four canvas cots, one to a side, and four sleeping bags. In the center we had an oil burning stove. The door opened on one man's cot, so we scrunched around so that we could still get in and out. All in all, pretty plush accommodations, considering where we were at.
The Company Headquarters was stationary to a degree. It moved with 8th Army Headquarters and they moved according to the fortunes of war. The members of the company, grouped in teams, were all over the damn peninsula. We could go for months and never see our company headquarters. We got our mail on the few times that we came back to the company.
The machine gun was manned only at night, and I was the gunner every night. I operated the machine gun from day two in Korea until sometime around September 11 or 12, when the battalion sent us to Pusan. Earlier, the 8th Army Headquarters moved south to Pusan. They felt that the North Koreans might break through the line. Most of the battalion had bugged out a few days earlier. They left us (the perimeter guard and a couple of cooks) behind. I don't know what they thought we could have done if the enemy had broken through. Then we were taken back. The Inchon Invasion had begun and plans for the breakout of the Pusan Perimeter were being formulated.
They formed the entire company outside and started calling off names. They called off a sergeant's name and then three people were told to report to him. They had just made a "team." This continued until there was only one person left--me. They looked at their roster and finally came over to me and asked who I was. When I told them I was PFC Christiansen, they looked at the roster again, scratched their head, and asked what company I was in. I told them, "Radio." They asked how long I had been in Radio Company and I told them the date. (I knew it then, but I have forgotten now.) They told me to stand right there and not to move out of my tracks. After a while they came out and said they had found me and I was to go to my tent and await orders. Sometime later, S/Sgt. Charles C. Crowe came in, introduced himself, told me I was now on his team, interviewed me about my background, asked whether I was a Private or PFC. When I answered PFC, he walked right out of that tent and, I found out much later, had me promoted to Corporal. I don't know why--I suppose I had impressed him. I was now on my first team, and had actually become a person as opposed to the non-person I had unwittingly been for about a month. As to the telegraph key being my basic weapon, that was just my way of saying that I was a communicator--a good communicator--and not a hero. I certainly wasn't one of those. I stayed on S/Sgt Crowe's team as a radio operator from September through October.
Top Secret Trouble
From September through October, while I was a radio operator on SSG Crowe's team, the first UN offensive was taking place. Early on, before Inchon, I was afraid we might be pushed out into the sea. Really, I feared for my life. The Inchon Landing then occurred, causing the enemy to panic and make wild retreats toward the north. The 8th Army broke out of the Pusan Perimeter and gave chase, seeking to trap and destroy as many of the enemy as it could. Wire communications over long distances became impossible while we were in that posture, so Radio company had to send teams to all of the major units of the 8th Army. These were the teams that had been made up that day in Pusan when I was "discovered."
The major thing that happened to me was that I was learning how to be a radio operator. I had been trained as an operator in Camp Gordon, Georgia, but this was the first time that I had ever been called upon to use that training. Morse code is a sort of "use it or lose it" situation, and it had now been about 15 months since I left Camp Gordon. My skills had decreased greatly. I did have several run-ins with SS Crowe. He was, indeed, as I had been warned, a horse's ass. But he was a smart horse's ass, and he taught me well. At that time, I was eager to learn anything that I could. I would have attended a school for the treatment of post nasal drip and hangnail if they would send me. I sensed that Crowe, despite his crude personality, knew what of he spoke, and I hung on his every word. Crowe yelled at people and belittled them in front of others. He had many personality shortcomings, but he was a good radio operator and teacher. Our team went wherever the Commanding General, Lt.Gen. Walton H. Walker, and his staff went.
The most notable (scariest) thing that happened to me was that one night I inadvertently opened a Top Secret envelope that was meant for the staff. A courier inadvertently delivered it to me. It was night, and I was on duty in the hut when the courier knocked on the door. I hated opening the door at night, because you never knew who you were opening up for. But I did, and the courier thrust the envelope in my hands and had me sign for it. Being as inexperienced as I was, I thought it was something for me to send, and I opened it. I quickly saw my mistake. When I saw what I had done, I timidly walked into the command tent and surrendered the document and confessed to what I had done. I thought that they would probably shoot me, but they tut-tutted me out and the incident was forgotten. I'll bet that courier caught hell when he turned in his receipt and they found out that he had delivered a top secret package to PFC Christiansen.
After that, I was a Team Chief for the Net Control Station of a net controlling train and supply. Why they chose me for this job, I'll never know. There were a lot more capable and more experienced operators than me, and I was just twenty years old. I was a PFC--or so I thought. I didn't know that I had been promoted to Corporal.
"Me and Bobby McKee"
From October until Thanksgiving, we were moving toward Seoul and I was a team chief. The holder of that position was responsible for the overall operation of the team. He scheduled the operators, saw to it that all of the equipment works, took care of the welfare of the men, etc. In short, he was the "Sarge in Charge."
By the time we got to Seoul, the enemy was in full retreat, and we were told that we would be "home for Christmas." This whole interval was before the Chinese intervention, when we were kicking North Korea's butt. Here is an interesting bit of history for you that has absolutely nothing to do with this narrative:
The war there in Seoul was over, or so we thought. The mission of those in Seoul was one of resupply. Since the telegraph lines along the Korean Railroad system had been destroyed, radio teams were sent to major towns along the route to dispatch and control the trains. I was given a SCR-399 and all of its appurtenances, three men, and sent to the Seoul Train Station to take charge of this operation. The station, oddly enough, looked almost American. It was a depot with granite floors and indoor plumbing. Pretty fancy accommodations for a soldier at war. We only slept, ate, and used the indoor plumbing in the building. We worked outside in our SCR-399, which was parked nearby.
Again, why I was chosen to oversee operations was, and still is, a mystery to me. I was woefully unprepared. (With age comes experience and knowledge. Being only 20 years old, I had neither of those things.). I had actually been a radio operator only a few weeks since SSG Crowe had picked me up. It was an awesome responsibility, and I didn't think I was up to it. Here is a glaring example: I couldn't even drive. My family was extremely poor and had never owned a car, ergo, I never had the opportunity to learn. They didn't have driver training in school then. I finally learned to drive in 1952 when I was back in Camp Gordon. In Korea, I always had to have somebody drive for me. I felt like a damn fool.
To top that, one of my three men was a new replacement from Camp Gordon named Corporal Robert McKee. My own man outranked me. He and I were told that I was a known quantity and he was an unknown, and that was how it was going to be. He had no objections; I think he was sort of relieved that he didn't have the responsibility. I couldn't object, but I sure as hell questioned the intelligence of it. In the end, I did what I was told to do. My biggest challenge in the job as Team Chief was gaining self-confidences. The actual mechanics of the job were a piece of cake, except for the driving.
McKee and I became fast friends, and later he, along with Ralph Graham, Jr., were sent back to Japan with me to become instructors. The job of controlling the net went without major incident. One day, I was told to return to the company to draw winter clothes for the team. After being issued the clothing, I had to sign for them, and the supply people couldn't find me in their records. I thought, "Oh hell, here we go again." They scoured through their roster of PFCs and couldn't locate me. Finally, in desperation, they looked through the Corporals. There they found me. I had been a Corporal for about two months and hadn't known it. I took some corporal stripes and went on back to the station. One good thing came of this. The camaraderie between "Me and Bobby McKee" (that sounds like a song, doesn't it?) became distinctly better. There had been no friction, but still I had felt uneasy giving him orders.
One notable (at least to me) thing happened during this period. The state of the war at that time being what it was, the army began to reward the soldiers. Train loads of beer arrived in Seoul, and it was announced that on such and such a day, at such and such a place, each soldier would be sold two cases of beer. You had to buy it individually--you couldn't buy for someone else. That meant four trips for the team. I left McKee in charge and went first. Rank has its privileges (especially new rank) and I was going to get my beer. There was an extremely long line into this building, and I was about half way when we noticed a dog sniffing and crying around a little outbuilding. That in itself was strange enough because the Koreans ate dogs and you didn't see many of them loose. The building looked to be about eight feet square and around seven feet high with one door. Nobody was willing to give up their place in line to investigate, but I negotiated. If they were willing to guarantee my place back in line, I would go look. Agreed. When I opened the door, I wished that I had stayed in line. Tumbling out of that door, like balloons at a Halloween party, came hundreds of human heads. The Koreans believe that if you do not have a head, you cannot find your way into heaven. Thus, beheading was a particularly cruel way to execute people. The North Koreans had executed many South Koreans during their stay. I don't know what they had done with the torsos--I never saw them. The line got considerably shorter as the weaker among us vomited all over the place. I returned to the line and stayed and got my beer. I just put it down as one of the horrors of war.
The net remained in operation until about a week before Thanksgiving. A net is a grouping of several radio stations together for a common purpose. Any net has but one net control station. All the other stations in the net are subordinate to it. They must request its permission to speak to one another. The net control can order a change of frequency (the spot on the dial) or mode (Morse or voice) or can command radio silence. The net control is the operator on duty at the net control station. As such I and my operators were giving direction to people who outranked us. I didn't like that one bit. I did then and I do now strongly believe in the chain of command.
As I said, the teams returned to the Company around Thanksgiving. There, I being just another Corporal with precious little actual radio experience, was reassigned to SSG Ralph Graham, Jr. of Memphis, TN. We were eating our Thanksgiving meal when they came and got us. The following period under Ralph Graham prepared me for life more than any of the others.
Great Ball of Fire
Graham was told to take the team to Pyongyang. We were needed there. I immediately respected this man. He was more than just a good radio operator--he was a strong leader. He, unlike SSG Crowe who bullied, commanded. He was a World War II vet of the Americal Division. He kept us all singing from the same sheet of music, did all of the necessary repairs and maintenance on the vehicles and power units PE-95, and did all the driving. He wouldn't trust any of us to do it. I couldn't drive; Jacobs drove like a wild man; and you couldn't trust Sewald to do anything except scrounge. I was a SSG at the time and was the second in command. It was my job to keep the radios functioning, to calculate and cut the antennas and occasionally to encrypt or decrypt a message using a one time pad. Most of our crypto was done elsewhere.
I had taken Radio Shop at Tech High, and had worked as a radio repairman before joining the Army. Actually, we operators weren't authorized to do repair work. You were supposed to send whatever was broken back to a repair depot. But that was impractical. You did what you had to do to accomplish your mission. Graham fixed the truck and power unit, and I fixed the radios.
At Pyongyang, we set up in a field, and it was extremely cold. I was on duty that night and our power unit was acting up very badly. I didn't think it would last the night, and so noted in my radio log. Later, it came time to refuel the power unit, and I reasoned that if I shut it down to refuel, it would freeze solid and I would never get it started again. I decided to refuel with it running. This was a no-no, but I thought it worth the risk. I had poured five gallons of gas in and on the unit (it was so dark and I was not allowed to use a light, that I don't know where the bulk of it went) and was in the process of pouring in the second five gallons when it ignited. It didn't explode exactly--just ignited. Suddenly there was this big ball of fire that burned off the hair on my head, my eyebrows, my eyelashes, all of the hair on the portion of my arms that was exposed, and it scorched my uniform. Some men from Wire Company came and pulled truck and trailer (they were still connected) away, and separated the trailer from the truck. They brought it there, and I went back in the hut and finished the night. I don't have any scars or injuries from that incident. In time my hair grew back, but I was the brunt of several jokes for a while. When you were walking around bald-headed, with no eyebrows and no eyelashes and looking like a damned armadillo, people laughed at you.
The next morning, Lieutenant Dillow (who had been my First Sergeant in "A" Company) came over to see what had happened, and I told him truthfully. I asked him to take my log into custody. He asked why and I replied that due to the notation about the power unit, it might come in handy at the courts martial. He asked what courts martial, and I replied, "Mine, for causing the destruction of the power unit." He just laughed and said, "Chris, there isn't going to be any courts martial--you were acting in the line of duty. If it will make you feel any better, I'll take the log, but I say again, there ain't going to be a courts martial." And there wasn't.
Later that morning, I was handed an encoded message, and told to send it and as soon as it was sent to get the hell out of there. If it appeared we would fall in Chinese hands, we were to torch the vehicle and radio. For some reason, I supposed the Chinese had as much trouble understanding us on voice as we did them. I was told to send it in voice. This was a long, laborious process of saying each letter in phonetic alphabet, but I did as directed. I did not get a roger (a reply confirming receipt) so I repeated the process with the same results. I knew this was an important message because it was a "Flash" message--the highest priority in the military. This was the first of about eight Flashes I was to handle. I reacted by doing what I was sent up there to do. I kept sending that last message over and over until I knew that they either had it, or if I sent it again we (the team) would either get killed or captured. This was the time over all other times when I felt I was in the most personal danger while I was in Korea.
I switched to CW (continuous wave, or simply Morse code) and sent it and ended with K, which in this case was a request for a roger. None came. I sent it once more in CW and signed off with AR instead of K, which in this case meant, "You've had your time at bat, buster. I hope you got a hit because we are out of here." And we were. Graham drove non-stop, except for refueling, all the way from Pyongyang to Taegu. We didn't stop in Seoul. As for Ralph Graham and that team, I wrote a little blurb about them for our historian at KWVA Chapter 210. I also have a photo of that team, made the night before Graham and I (and others) left for Japan.
It was extremely hot and humid during the summer and you perspired continually. You had to constantly drink water and take salt tables. Due to the fine red dust that was constantly in the air due to vehicles, you soon turned red when the dust combined with sweat. The winter, which is generally referred to as "the first Korean winter" was particularly severe. While I was relatively warm in the radio hut, I used to think about those poor bastards in the infantry and I would cry--actually cry. I have since thought that if Don had to die, I'm glad he got it during the summer and didn't have to endure that.
The temperature extremes did not affect the radio gear per se, but it played hell with our power units. They were outside in the weather, and gave up the ghost mostly from non maintenance. People were reluctant to work on those things in that weather.
Our cold weather gear consisted of cushion sole socks and combat boots, long underwear, fatigues, pile hat and field jacket. The cold weather gear that I had drawn in Seoul when I learned I was corporal had to be turned back in so the line troops could have it. It was small enough sacrifice. Our summer gear was exactly like the winter gear, except for the long underwear, pile hat and field jacket.
I did get a very mild case of frostbite on my left foot. This I treated myself with massage to restore the circulation. I didn't have any real trouble with it until the following summer when the flesh on it started rotting and falling off. This occurred about the same time that I had my malaria attack. Captain Wire said that I was the only patient she had ever treated for malaria and frostbite at the same time.
The Chinese had a warm looking quilted uniform. It looked very good for cold weather, but the damn fools wore tennis shoes. Those tennis shoes killed more Chinese soldiers than the American soldiers did. I have heard stories (not actually witnessed myself) of Chinese crawling in to surrender, and they had no feet. They had frozen and broken off.
We kept clean in Korea by most often taking what we called a "whore's bath." That was nothing more than some hot water in your steel helmet. Shaving was accomplished in the same manner. Sometimes when we were lucky, we would come across a shower point. These points were manned by reservists called up for the war. They consisted of a tent with no top, only sides, across which was strung shower heads. Water was taken from a nearby stream or river, heated, and pumped to the shower heads. After you had showered, you exchanged your dirty clothes for clean ones. This wasn't favored during the winter because, although the water was hot, the air was not. For a good shave, sometimes two or more of us would find a Korean barbershop and get a barbershop shave. Since we didn't trust anybody, one of us would hold our rifle on the barber while he shaved the other.
I lost all of my religion in Korea. I remember that someone recited the Lord's Prayer, and I thought, "If the Lord is a shepherd, he is doing a piss poor job of watching over his flock." I have never entered a church since then. I remember how I "celebrated" Christmas when I was in Korea. It was particularly horrible. I had been on a shift at the Comm Center until 6:00 p.m. on the 24th, and I had to go back at 6:00 a.m. on the 25th. I spent most of the day vomiting and having runny bowels from some bad Korean whiskey I had drank between those two shifts.
Other holidays like New Years and the Presidents' birthdays, were not even noticed over there. Thanksgiving day was in Seoul. We had the traditional meal, and then departed for Pyongyang. I turned 20 on 13 October 1950. I must have been in Seoul at the train station, but nothing that I can remember happened. At some point, Bob Hope brought a USO show to Seoul, and he had girls with him--most notably Marilyn Maxwell. I wasn't too close, so I didn't get to see too much of her.
You got a lot dirtier in the summer than in the winter. When we arrived in Seoul the first time under SSG Crowe, another one of Crowe's men, a guy named Varella, and I scouted around and found a Korean home where the resident had one of those Japanese hot tubs. It was a wooden tub about 30 inches cube, beneath which was a fire. You panned water out of it--it was steaming hot--and thoroughly washed yourself. Then you got in the tub and cooked for a few minutes. It was wonderfully refreshing. Anyhow, Varella and I "exfiltrated" out through our perimeter guard that night, had a bath, and then infiltrated back in. We had used the one man holds the rifle routine. We had endangered ourselves by going through the perimeter twice. That's how important a bath was to us.
We had teams everywhere, even on some mountaintops running repeater stations. A repeater station is where you are using line of sight communication (i.e., the signal won't go around mountains or the curvature of the earth. The repeater receives the signal and retransmits it on to its next destination. These guys got killed a lot by guerillas, but I didn't know any of them. The make up of a team depended on the type of team. A Radio team, such as I was on, was generally made up of four people. Each was a radio operator, but generally speaking, the other duties were divided among the four by the team chief. Other duties consisted of maintaining our equipment to keep it working (the equipment took a hell of a beating, especially the power units), cooking, re-supply (sometimes called "scrounging" because most of the time we had to beg from other units for stuff we needed like food and gas), and anything else you could imagine that would allow us to survive and to accomplish our mission.
Bouncing around the rough roads took its toll on everything, especially fragile equipment. The power units were required to deliver power under varying loads and always under terrible conditions. The air that the power units breathed was always full of dust and the filters invariably became clogged. The gasoline we fed them always had water in it and the gasoline filters became overwhelmed. They never got to rest. We used them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Radio-teletype teams were about the same. I don't know what comprised a VHF team -- fewer men, I imagine, because the equipment was smaller. Our Radio Company was the only such Company in Korea at the time. It was just a regular, but specialized Company. It, of course, had a CO and First Sergeant, a Headquarters Platoon which took care of personnel matters, supply section, and mess section. It also had the motor pool section, a major job keeping all of our vehicles running. It had a Radio Platoon containing about 12 radio teams using the SCR-399 radio. It had a Radio Teletype Platoon similar in organization to the Radio Platoon. They used a teletype machine to key the transmitter instead of a telegraph key. They were three times faster, but not near as reliable as we were. We could get through jamming and static when they couldn't. And it had a VHF platoon.
The SCR-399 (now obsolete) was the big daddy of its day. The BC-610 transmitter, which was a component part of the -399, was a 600 watt CW and 400 watt AM transmitter that was capable of sustaining the hard knocks it took bouncing around the rugged country of Korea. It took a licking and kept on ticking. Not only was it a component part of the SCR-399, but also of the AN/GRC-26 (RTTY). It was a tough piece of gear for its day. I wish I owned one today. It was capable of being operated mobile as well as stationary. The receivers were BC-312 which operated on battery, and the BC-342 which operated on 110VAC. Other than that, they were clones. There was also a hybrid coil device whereby you could operate "phone-patch." I'll talk about that later. The SCR-399 was the workhorse of its day--a tough piece of machinery. Its advantages? It worked day in and day out. It was a piece of hardware without equal. Its disadvantages: It was big and required large amounts of expended power just to transport it, not to mention operating it. I loved it.
As I stated earlier, Carrier communications takes many simultaneous signals and can transmit them without interference to each other over one wire, such as a coaxial cable. A coaxial cable is a cable composed of a center conductor (wire) surrounded by an insulating material, and the second conductor, generally composed of a woven braid of wire, surrounded that. Its strong point is that it exhibits a constant impedance. If it reads 50 ohms (an electrical unit of resistance--DC--or impedance--AC--at ten feet length, it will exhibit the same qualities at one mile. It is widely used in communications. I can't get into the technical aspects of it--that would take a volume by itself.
When it was not feasible (and it rarely is in a combat situation) to run such cable, VHF (Very High Frequency), Radio takes over. The output of the Carrier Bay (the term "bay" is a holdover from AT&T in the States, where the process originated) is connected to a VHF Transmitter and transmitted line of sight to a receiver where its output is connected to another carrier bay. The process is duplicated in reverse for the return signal. The maximum line of sight communication distance is about 50 miles, depending on terrain. If the distance required is longer than that, an intermediate or "repeater" station is placed somewhere in the signal path. It consists of two transmitters and two receivers. The signal from one terminus is received on one of the receives and retransmitted on a different frequency to the next terminus. The process is duplicated in the opposite direction. There is theoretically no limit to the number of repeaters you could have in a link, but in practice the most I have ever seen is two, thus the distance was increased to up to 150 miles. Using the equipment we had then, you could have four channels of voice communication, or one or more of the voice channels could be replaced with up to six teletype channels.
The difference between a Radio Company and a Wire Company was the equipment they used. Radio used the stuff I talked about before. Wire had Carrier and the Pole Climbers (wiremen), and the teletype operators. Oddly enough, carrier more often than not had to use VHF as a medium, and therefore had to interface with Radio Company. I think that loop hole has since been closed. After a spell, having been trained in the primary mission of both companies, I could do any task assigned to either company except climb poles. I learned how to do that later in Germany.
When one team (radio, radio-teletype, or VHF) was used as opposed to the other was a result of the tactical and territorial situation. For instance, the 2nd Infantry Division was surrounded for a long time in early 1951. They made no attempt to break out because of the situation. They were re-supplied by air drops and they were kept in contact by one of the 304th radio teams commanded by SSG Nelson (one hell of a good radio operator) who was with them. They communicated regularly with us at 8th Army via CW radio (CW=morse code). They held their ground and did not sustain the casualties that would have occurred trying to break out. Our communications saved many lives. RTTY (Radio teletype) was used in more secure operations. VFW has already been explained, and was used in very secure operations.
More Everyday Life
Our meals in Korea were generally "five in one rations" (rations for five men for one day). These contained some really unappetizing glop such as "beef and gravy" referred to as "bully beef", and "corned beef hash" which was referred to as "pigshit." On Graham's team, we refused to eat that stuff. Jacobs bartered it to the Koreans for fresh eggs. In the 5 in 1's was also a pound of bacon in a can, crackers, little packets of jelly, powdered milk, and instant coffee. The instant coffee went to Jacobs for bartering. The jelly went on the crackers; the bacon was fried; our bartered fresh eggs were fried in the bacon grease--and we had a good meal. Also, there were discs of pressed chocolate drink--one disc to a canteen cup filled with water. It didn't make a palatable drink, but when you added the powdered milk, it was quite delicious. This breakfast of bacon and eggs ala Jacobs was a wonderful meal.
When we were "at home" with radio company on Crowe's team and we were with the General, we ate in their mess. General Walker had amassed a staff of the best cooks in the 8th Army. We were served such delectable items as "Spam ala King", "Breaded Spam Cutlets", and "Braised Spam Tips over Noodles." They were actually quite palatable. Still, I missed milk (always milk) and fresh vegetables. Right after World War II, I remember reading of men who ingested so much milk they died. Their body couldn't assimilate it. There is a humorous episode (nobody died) of milk guzzling in the old movie, "The Best Years of Our Lives." You could take a pint of milk and kill the average Korean if you could get it down him. They couldn't tolerate it at all.
The Korean people lived like dogs. Actually, worse than dogs. I wouldn't treat a dog that way. Children were everywhere, mostly naked, even in winter. I remember scores of them watching me relieve myself in that frozen rice paddy. At the train station, there was a pretty little girl who would crawl up in the hut with me and watch me operate the radio. And no, before you ask, I did not molest her. I perceived Korea to be the arm-pit of the universe, and not worth two cents. But when you saw the misery of the people, you had to care, no matter how rough or tough you thought you were.
There were always Korean prostitutes in the Army areas (or soldiers in the prostitute areas), but don't judge the prostitutes too harshly. They needed to eat and to feed their families. They were selling the only commodity they had. I "rented" one once in Taegu. That was enough for me; the girl stunk like a Hindu jock strap. I had crab lice on me almost constantly. I never really got rid of them until I got back to Japan. I don't know where I got them--probably from the whore in Taegu. The wages of sin....
I had other sins, too. I drank, smoked, and gambled prior to Korea and when I was in Korea. But I gambled very little and still don't. We played a lot of double deck pinochle. Today I claim that not smoking and gambling are the only two vices that I don't have (although I also don't run around on my wife). Cigarettes were available. Drinking was another thing. We didn't have whiskey and had to rely on people returning from R&R for that. The Air Force had whiskey by the barrel and bootlegged it to us at inflated prices. You could get such as I had on Christmas Eve, but that separated the men from the boys. That stuff could make you go blind and sometimes go dead. We had a ration of one can of Blatz beer per day.
I became really good friends with Jacobs. I loved that little Jew Bastard. I don't know if he made it out. I never saw him again after I left. I sure hope he did, and that he had a happy and prosperous life. Then there was Herman England. He was from Arkansas. Christmas of 1950, I was the only man in the Battalion who didn't get a package from home. (My girl wrote only every now and then. Out of sight, out of mind.) Herman gave me a pecan pie that his mother had sent to him. He then wrote his Mother that I never got anything from home, and she started sending me more pecan pies. I saw Herman later in Germany, so he made it. We were friends because we were thrown together in an awful mess. You had to rely on one another. Pies, cakes, candy, and cigarettes came in packages to the other guys. Once in a while somebody also got an orange or a tangerine. When there was bad news from home, we didn't share it. People kept pretty much to themselves about that kind of stuff. You shared everything else, but you kept that one thing as your own.
There were negroes in our army, and I suppose that there was prejudice against them, but I didn't see it manifested in any great way. They bled red just like we did. I also never saw any prejudice toward other UN forces. They too bled red. All of the above pretty much disliked the Koreans of either variety--north or south.
From early December to February 1951, I was doing routine radio operations at 8th Army Headquarters. This was perhaps the most pleasant time, duty-wise, of my stay in Korea. The team was still intact, with Graham as Team chief, but we and several other teams were subordinated to an SFC. Normally, a radio team was commanded by a Staff Sergeant (SSG). There were several such teams there and all of the SSGs reported to a Sergeant First Class (SFC). I've forgotten who he was. An SFC is at the same level as a Platoon Sergeant. Our duty was routine, but constant. We worked in the Comm Center, an old school building serving as 8th Army Headquarters. There were three operating positions there. Each position had a receiver, a typewriter, and a telegraph key.
The keys were connected by wire to transmitters located at a site two or three miles away. This was done for two reasons: If that many transmitters were located nearby, the radiation from them would overpower some of the crypto systems and cause a lot of problems, and if the enemy triangulated on our signals and fired artillery, the most they would get would be a few men and a few transmitters. They wouldn't get the General. The team chief logged in all the messages, and distributed them to the appropriate operator who each had different units to communicate with. None of the operators ever used the communication system to send some kind of personal message to someone. That just didn't exist. That jazz about Radar ringing up Hawkeye's father in Connecticut just didn't exist in real life.
We worked on six hours and off twelve. The hours were chosen to alleviate the need for a chow break, which you would have had to had with on eight and off sixteen. It caused a natural shift rotation. If you got off at six p.m., you went back on at six a.m. We ate before going on shift and after completion of shift. You could eat again if you wanted to, but few of us did. If your relief came in and you were in the middle of a message, you just sent over to the end of that line and sent B, which meant wait, initialed the message at the point where you had sent B, and the new operator took over starting with the next line. After a while, you got to where you don't even think about what is being said in the messages. Your eyes saw a letter and your brain instantly translated it into motion of your hand on the key without bothering to tell you what letter it was. Receiving was just the opposite: your ears heard the sounds and your brain caused one of your fingers to strike the keyboard. Besides, 90% of our traffic was in five-letter code groups that looked like this: XKELI FUMVZ AQPEL, etc. Ten groups to a line. Pretty hard to pay attention to stuff like that.
As stated, there were three nets, two of them with sporadic business and one that was busy all the time. The busy one went to the 2nd Infantry Division, which was surrounded by the enemy much of the time. They did not try to break out. They were resupplied by air, and communicated with from that one position in the radio room. When I came on shift, I always made a grab for that position because it made the time go faster. It was there that I became a decent radio operator. Being a radio operator in Korea was different than being a radio operator-in-training at Camp Gordon. Korea was where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. You knew what you were doing was real and that lives might be saved due to the timely handling of a message. You took pride in what you were doing, and took care while doing it.
Our radio team at the 2nd Division was commanded by SSG Nelson, and a finer operator there never was. All during those months in Taegu sending to those guys in the 2nd Division around the clock, they never broke in once except one time when he had broken his pencil. They copied all of that code without error and didn't even have a typewriter. Supplies were regularly air dropped to the 2nd, and thus to Nelson.
Phone Patch Net
I had one unusual experience during the period before Graham and the rest of us went out on the last before going to Japan. All of our time wasn't spent in the Comm Center. Once, I was operating something new--the 8th Army Phone Patch Net. A phone patch is where your transmitter and receiver is connected into the telephone system. When your party was speaking, the phone line was hooked to your transmitter. When the distant party was speaking, the phone line was hooked to the receiver. The distant end had a similar set-up. Hence, non radio operators could talk to one another over the radio. But it was simplex in operation. That meant only one party could speak at a time, and they had to say "Over" each time they were ready for the other end to talk. This was no problem for military men, since they were used to such stuff. Upon hearing "Over", the radio operators at each end threw a switch causing the switch over. This was normally a means of last resort for commanders, or a means of quick resort if the phone lines were full.
One day I was operating the net when an unknown station called in. I have forgotten his call, but for the purpose of this narrative, I'll call him "Ship." My call was Lark Roger. Now according to security regulations, I was not supposed to answer anybody not in my net, but my intuition told me different. He called: "Lark Roger this is Ship. Request permission to enter your net." Something told me to answer this guy. He was American and was using proper procedure. I had the habit of ignoring security protocol if I felt it wise. In other words, I trusted my judgment. This was one of those times. I answered.
He wanted to know if I could put him in contact with air sea rescue in Pusan. I could and did. He was the radio operator aboard a supply ship out in the Sea of Japan and they had a crew member who had been severely injured and needed a helicopter to take him to a hospital. I made the necessary calls and the pick up was arranged. Later he called: "Lark Roger this is Ship. The chopper is ere and I have to take down my antenna so he can land. Request permission to go off the air." I liked this guy. He was straight arrow all the way. I told him to go ahead. Later still he called again: "Lark Roger this is Ship. The pick up has been made successfully and the crewman is on his way. The Captain and crew wish to thank you. I request permission to leave t he net." I might have helped save a life. I like to think so anyway. In retrospect, I must have exercised good judgment whenever I, of my own volition, departed security procedure. I was never called on the carpet for this or several other infractions.
Dumbest Damn Question
Our team was pulled off the Comm Center duty and sent to support a Corps headquarters (Tenth, I think). This was from February to May of 1951. We got there about two weeks before they did. We set up on the outskirts of a frozen rice paddy. The ground was as hard as stainless steel. If you had to go to the bathroom, you did it right out in the open with about a million Korean kids watching. They were intrigued by anything an American did--even that.
When the Corps finally arrived, they were all pretty sons-of-bitches with scarves, starched uniforms, and shiny boots. Graham and I went to report in and we looked like Willie and Joe. We were dirty, unshaven, and extremely unmilitary. There was a Lieutenant Collins and some Major who looked like a recruiting poster. Damn, they were pretty. While Graham was talking, I felt the need to urinate, so I walked off a few steps, turned my back to the group, and did just that. The Major was furious and stormed off, leaving Lieutenant Collins to chew me out. "How dare you piss on the ground in front of the Major," he challenged. I replied, "Sir, if the Major wants to piss, he's going to have to piss on the ground too, because there ain't anywhere else to piss. And if he wants to crap, he's going to have to do that on the ground, too. But tell him not to worry, because it freezes solid within a couple of seconds, so there is no smell. Just be sure to get us out of here before the spring thaw." The incident soon blew over, and in two weeks they looked just as shitty as we did. But they did make us shave.
While we were there, there was an epidemic of typhus sweeping through Korea. I went on a scouting party to see if I could find a Medic to give us typhus shots. I did, and after looking at our shot records and asking how long we had been there in country, they gave us about nine different shots each.
Sometime later in May 1951, we were set up somewhere in northern South Korea. Included in our Company was Corporal Jacobs and PFC Sewald. Corporal Jacobs was by far the fastest operator among us. When we had somebody on the other end who could copy him, he cleared the traffic. He also was great at bartering with the Koreans. Many times he would venture out, armed with cans of Bully Beef and other similar tasty items from our 5 in 1's (rations) and return with fresh eggs. He was also our chef. PFC Sewald was, we thought at first, our useless member. He had absolutely no self confidence. He couldn't do anything well and was so terrified of the BC-610 Transmitter that he refused to tune it. I spent many hours to no avail trying to teach him in how to do it. He reminded you a little of Joe Bytzphylk--the little fellow in Lil Abner who had the black cloud over him. He aggravated us to no end. But one day we were out on a scrounging mission when we saw a QM Bakery. We sent Sewald in to try to scrounge some break. He looked so pitiful and they felt so sorry for him that they gave him so much he had to make several trips. That was the first time I ever saw him smile. He had found his niche. From that day forward, he was very successful at doing all of our scrounging.
We mainly scrounged for food--we always needed that. "Normal" resupply just didn't exist for us. There was actually none set up. We had so many teams in so many different places that it was impossible. We were supposed to subsist off of the unit to which we were attached, but more often than not that didn't materialize either. Hence, scrounging. Gasoline. The power unit drank about ten gallons every two hours, which meant two 55-gallong drums per day just to feed that thing. And we did a lot of bartering with the Koreans. Jacobs, being Jewish, was an expert at it. I don't know of any specific oddities we scrounged for -- we'd take anything we could get.
Wire Company had an installation nearby, and one day Graham and I left Jacobs and went over to talk and see if we could scrounge anything. A few minutes later, here came Jacobs almost frothing at the mouth he was so wild. He said, "You two are being sent back to Japan, you two are being sent back to Japan." I said, "Dammit, Jake. I like a joke as well as the next guy, but this is cruel." He kept blathering, and, at the same time, Graham and I realized that he was serious and took off running like a pair of scalded dogs. I got to the radio first and called in, "This is Sergeant Christiansen. Do you have any traffic for me?" He answered, "You and Sergeant Graham have been selected to return to Japan. Do you accept?" Dumbest damn question I had ever heard, but I replied, "We accept, we accept." He then said, "You are directed to return to this station by the fastest means available."
Two hours later, Graham and I having hitched a ride on a courier plane that had landed nearby, marched into the Radio Company Orderly room in Taegu. I saluted and said, "Sir, Sergeants Christiansen and Graham reporting as directed." When Captain Secan returned my salute and said, "Well, Sergeant Christiansen, I guess you'll like Eta Jima better this time than you did the last time," I was dumbfounded. I couldn't believe it was him. When I was going to Eta Jima School from October 1949 through March 1950 taking the Carrier course, Lieutenant Secan had been the Officer in Charge of that particular course. As it turned out, I made a scholastic rating of superior (the highest), and a rating of first in my class. It was Lieutenant Secan's duty to write me a commendation which was sent through 8th Army headquarters and through Colonel Galusha, to me. It was nice, but with it and a nickel I could get a cup of coffee. When the war started, the army closed Eta Jima down and sent all those people to Korea. That had been a mistake. When the war started and they wanted to reopen it, they levied the Company Commander of Radio Company for five combat-trained radio operators. Through the changes brought about by war, that man was now Captain Secan. When he reviewed his roster, mine being the only name he recognized, I was the first one chosen. There must be something to that sowing and reaping jazz after all.
In the end, the rest of the team was recalled to Battalion because Graham, McKee, Walter, and I had been selected to return to Japan as instructors in the Radio School at Eta Jima. Of course, I was on other teams with other missions, but this is the one I remember. Apart, we were nothing. But together, we were damn good. I sure hope all these guys lived good lives.
After hearing the news that we were going to Japan, Graham and I got back to our unit so quickly that we had to wait there for about two weeks to get the orders cut. That allowed for the others to get there. There were other jobs going back, too--combat engineers, demolition teams, pole linemen, etc. They were not all from the 304th, but we all went together. We played volleyball, pinochle, and waited. I was both sad and glad to leave the unit. I was glad to get out alive, and sad to leave friends we knew we would never see again. Grown men sometimes cry in such situations.
I think it was in May of 1951 that we took a physical, went through records review and whatever else. Then I flew out of Korea with the rank of Staff Sergeant. We were flown from Taegu to Ashia Air Base in Japan. We had breakfast and were put on another aircraft and sent to Hiroshima. As we circled Hiroshima, the engine on the plane faltered and I thought, "Oh hell, not this after all we have been through. But the pilot got the engine restarted and we landed without incident.
We were then trucked to the port and placed on a World War II landing craft for the trip out to the island. I think it was an LCI (landing craft, infantry), but I'm not real up on Navy stuff. While in transit, I noticed one of the men who came with the boat looking at me. It was 1st Sergeant Frank C. West, whom I knew well. He had been my 1st Sergeant when I had been there before as a student, and I had been a hell raiser. I had studied by day, but at night me and a few others would invariably go on pass and raise hell. If we had ever got caught, this story might be a lot different. But 1st Sergeant West came over to me and said, "Sergeant, don't I know you?" I replied, "I'm afraid you do, Sergeant West." He then asked, "Do you need a moose?" A moose was a kept girl. Not a street whore, but one who was maintained by a soldier and (supposedly) slept with only him. There were advantages to such a set up. I said, having been several months without female companionship, "Yes, I do." He said that his moose had a girlfriend who needed a Sergeant, and would I like to go meet her that night. I told him that I didn't have a uniform, that what I was wearing was all I had to the world, and he said he would get me a uniform. So less than 24 hours out of Korea, I was in the arms of a pretty Japanese girl, and sipping on Asahi beer. I thought, life ain't all bad. I didn't stay with her long, though, because I was more of a rogue than I was a steady man.
Ralph Graham had a moose, too. He had been stationed in Tokyo before the war, and there he had taken on a girl. She looked very Eurasian or Amerasian, and not very much Japanese. I found her quite beautiful, and very gracious and charming. It was the custom, since Americans had so much trouble pronouncing Japanese names, to give your moose an American name. He called his "Joan." Graham and I had got thrust together in November of 1950, and had been together ever since. When we got to Eta Jima, he sent for her, and she moved there. Graham and I had been together quite a while and had not made the connection of a common denominator we shared.
On the 10th of September 1951, the three of us were sitting in the NCO Club when I remembered it was the anniversary of Don Webb's death. I was not, however, aware that he was being buried that day in Atlanta. I stood up, raised my glass, and toasted the memory of Donald W. Webb. When I sat down, they both were looking at me with open mouth and gaping eyes. They had both known Don in Tokyo, did not know of his connection to me, and neither knew he was dead. It turned a pleasant afternoon into a rather soul-searching and weepy one.
Too Many Points
We first had to go to a week long "charm school" where we were taught about the techniques of instruction. It was more learning of mannerisms than anything else, such as "Talk to the class, not the blackboard" and how to prepare a lesson plan, etc. But mainly mannerisms. Then I taught Morse code, and one particular piece of equipment--the Frequency Meter--a device you used to accurately tune transmitters. In a net, all stations were required to operate on exactly the same frequency. The exact frequencies we could operate on were prescribed to the army by international law, and then on down the chain of command to us. A frequency meter, one of which was in each SCR-399, was a highly calibrated, and highly accurate oscillator from which we would emit a signal to our receiver, and then tune our transmitter to our receiver. In practice, only the net control did this. Then he would command the net to "tune to my signal." The subordinate stations would then tune their receivers to his signal, and their transmitters to their receivers. That was it. That was my "duty." At night, I caroused, drank, and chased women.
There were a few American women on Eta Jima, and they were highly sought after. I never chased them, though. They were just too much trouble. And expensive. You had to do a lot of wining and dining. There was always concern about sexually-transmitted diseases being with the Japanese business girls, but I used "safe sex" and came home clean. Several of my friends got a dose of clapp, though. And, in practice, you generally limited yourself down to a few girls. It was actually the other way around--one of the girls found a GI she liked a lot, and put out the word to the others. The other girls then refused to have anything to do with that guy. There was honor among the girls, and I never looked down on them. They were doing all that they knew how to do.
It seems to me that the Japanese people were different from Americans only in that they had grown up under different surroundings and customs. All customs, world-wide, originated because of some need in the past. For instance, the Japanese custom of taking off one's shoes before entering the house began because their floors are fiber mats, and since there were no sidewalks, their shoes became very muddy. The Jewish taboos against pork originated in biblical times when the Jews were roaming the desert. There was no refrigeration, and eating pork under those conditions invariably resulted in death from trichinosis. As far as liking or disliking the Japanese people, I can only speak for myself. Hate is a very difficult emotion to maintain for any length of time, and I had none for the people.
I had quarters, a private room above the NCO club, and life was good. I didn't get into any trouble, but I did get the hell beat out of me once. Ralph Graham had been out the preceding week and a bunch of students jumped him and beat the hell out of him. We could not let that go unanswered, so me and a guy named Pankey went out and proceeded to jump every student we saw. This eventually backfired, and I got beat up so bad that my face looked like the "elephant man." This didn't occur until after Pankey and I had sent several of them to the hospital with large lumps on their heads. I knew I couldn't walk back through the gate looking like that, so I took refuge in "Mommasan's Whorehouse," where for three days I was nursed back to health by Tomiko, the girl who liked me and had put the word out on me (as mentioned above). Sunday night I was presentable enough to get back into the gate. Monday I went to the Dental Clinic and got a guy there I knew to get one of the Japanese dentists to repair the front tooth that had been broken in the fight. This had to be done on the quiet because I didn't want anything on my record that might connect me with the fight. I was never missed at work because Graham, McKee, et al were quietly subbing for me in my classes. That is what it was all about: taking care of your buddy.
When I had arrived in Japan, I wrote to my family and gave them my address. They knew I was safely out of Korea. Then I got word from my loving sister, who loved to stir up trouble, that my girlfriend had just given birth to a baby. I took it like a man; there wasn't anything else I could do. But inside, hidden away from my buddies, were tears. The girl still had strong binds on me, even after she had the baby.
I reenlisted while at Eta Jima on October 14, 1951, the day after my 21st birthday. My first three year enlistment ended on the 13th, and I had the choice to accept a one-year involuntary extension (the so-called "Truman Year") or reenlist. I reenlisted. I decided that I really didn't want to go home.
My malaria flared up in Japan when I went off the quinine tablets. I was in the hospital two weeks and for the first week constantly hallucinating about falling off of the back of a railroad train. There was a wonderful nurse named Captain Wire. That was an odd name, but certainly appropriate. Late December while I was rotating home, I was able to return some of her kindness. When I was in Camp Drake in Tokyo awaiting transportation home, I noticed a Sergeant fuming and cussing. I asked him what the problem was. He said that he was trying to call his wife who was a nurse in Eta Jima, but was having no luck. When I asked his name and he answered Sergeant Wire, I said, "Sergeant, the good Lord has seen fit to deliver you into my hands today." Having worked before in the Comm Center, I knew a lot of the circuits and how to bully the Japanese operators. I succeeded in getting him through to her. He was about to cry when he finished. I have always felt good about that. Theirs was a secret marriage because enlisted and officers were not allowed to marry in those days. I don't know whatever became of them. I flew out to Tokyo a couple of days later en route for home and never saw either of them again.
I had been quite content where I was, but I had amassed too many points, and had to rotate home that December, against my will. I had to catch the train in Kure on Sunday morning. I took all my luggage over on the ferry on Saturday, checked it on through, and came back to Eta Jima (you have probably figured out by now that "Jima" in Japanese means island), where the NCO club threw me a big party. They grabbed any excuse to throw a party. Sunday morning, I got showered and dressed and caught the ferry back to Kure. I was sitting there alone in the station when Ralph and Joan appeared. They had come to tell me goodbye. I have never seen nor heard of either of them since.
Final Leg Home
Being the rank I was, I was given my choice of transportation home. I chose to fly. I flew out of Tokyo on Pan American Airways to Wake Island. We refueled there and flew on to Honolulu. There, I got a shower, a steak, and drunk. We also had to undergo Customs and Agricultural Inspection there. We refueled there and flew on to Travis Air Force Base in California. I'm not sure how long the trip from Japan to the USA took. Going across time zones and the International Date Line, you sort of lost track. But it was a long time for air flight. They didn't fly so fast in those days.
There was not a soul waiting for us when we stepped on American soil. I hadn't told my family I was coming. Communication was difficult then. You actually had to make a reservation for an overseas call, and it cost twelve dollars a minute. The first thing I did when I got off the plane was walk into the terminal, have a beer, and play the jukebox. I hadn't seen a jukebox in quite a while. I remember looking at the selections and seeing, "Traveling Blues by Lefty Frizell." I thought that with a name and title like that, it had to be good. It was. I still have that record today.
I called home the next morning to tell my family that I was in the States. I wasn't in a hurry to see my parents, and my girlfriend had just given birth a few months earlier. Prior to the return trip to my hometown area, I was given eight men and was told to take them to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. We didn't get liberty. Instead, we went to Pittsburg, California, and got on the train. My processing had been completed and my records had been flown ahead of me. We were at Travis about 18 hours when I left, heading east.
It was about a four-day ride. We had sleepers. The last day of the trip was December 24, 1951. We transferred to the Southern Railway in Cincinnati, and when we rolled across that bridge into Kentucky, I first realized that I may have a problem. Jim Crow segregation was still in effect, and one of my troops, Cpl. Lemuel Walker, was black. I knew we had to eat supper in the dining car that night. Walker was a fine soldier who kept to himself mostly and was immaculate in his uniform. I knew that I had no intention of allowing him to be humiliated by being told he had to eat at some other time. I was fully prepared to order my men to tear the train apart if necessary. I sought out the conductor and told him this. He said, "Sergeant, there is no problem. We would be honored and happy to have Corporal Walker eat any time he wishes." I said okay, but we would dine as a group.
When we got to the dining car, the conductor came running over and said, "Sergeant, we have a problem." I thought, "Oh shit. Here it comes." But he said, "Sergeant, I have to apologize, but we are all out of military meals." When you traveled rail, you were given "meal tickets" which the railroads had to accept. What you got was a piece of cold meatloaf and a roll. He continued, "So since we have no military meals, you'll just have to take turkey or steak or anything at all you want from the menu, compliments of the Southern Railway." And we ate well.
As the other passengers got up to leave, each and every one of them stopped by our table to wish us Merry Christmas, and each and every one of them made it a special thing to speak to Corporal Walker. That conductor had done his job well. I was very proud of the evening. So on December 24, 1951, about 14 years before Martin Luther King had ever been heard of, the Southern Railway, without fanfare and with great dignity, was quietly integrated by Corporal Lemuel Walker.
I never saw any of these men after that night. By the time we got to Atlanta, all of them were pleading to go home. My orders said to report "without delay", but they had an EDCMR date of 27 December. EDCMR means "Effective Date Change Morning Report," and I knew they wouldn't be looking for us until then. This was a trick I had learned from my Father. So I decided to let them go home. God knows they had earned it. I gave each of them their records, and told them to get there not later than 1700 on the 27th, and they took off in various directions. I guess they all made it back, because I was never called upon the carpet. I left the train myself, caught a cab, and got home about fifteen minutes before twelve.
One Disgusting Christmas
Dad had already gotten drunk and gone to bed. He got up for a minute or two to say hello and then went back to bed. He was too soused to navigate. Mom was at a party on the corner with the Robinsons. Mom and Mr. Robinson had staggered down the hill to Mozely Park, where they presumably made the beast with two backs. Mrs. Robinson came to our house and offered to take me into her bed. It was one disgusting Christmas.
I went to see my former girlfriend on that Christmas in 1951, and then took her to lunch the next day. That was the last time I saw her until early 2000, when she emerged again. Life did not turn out too well for her. She was 70 and was living ALONE on a limited income in a rented trailer in Palmetto, GA. Fifty years is a long time. If you are with somebody for fifty years and watch them age, the shock of seeing them after fifty years doesn't occur. When I saw her, she didn't have a tooth in her head. Her upper lip looked like a corrugated wash board. Her chins hung down. She had age spots the size of a Kennedy half dollar, and a rash on her body that she said was caused by bathing too often, but which I suspect was caused by just the opposite. And if you think my family sounds bad, you should hear how hers turned out. I won't get into her children because I don't really know them and they are of no concern to me. One of the five, somewhat like I had done, broke away and made a life for herself. I wish her well.
But as for my ex-girlfriend, I said, "It has been nice. See you around. Don't call me -- I'll call you." I had told her previously that I was a member of the world's most exclusive club--those of the men in her life who did not have carnal knowledge of her. I decided to stay in the club. That should have given me some satisfaction, but it didn't. Her life came to a tragic ending soon thereafter. She apparently spread those pretty legs once too often, and caught herself a bad case of the AIDS. She left this world on October 9th, 2003. I still regret all the lost years. I don't think that girl ever knew or cared just how big a factor she was in my life.
More Army Life
After the holidays were over, I had a short tour through the Replacement Depot at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and was then sent back to Camp Gordon. There, my duty was training, training, training. The SCR-399 had been replaced by the AN/GRC-26, which could do all that the SCR-399 could, plus radio-teletype. I had to go to school to learn radio-teletype (RTT) code, and a few pieces of new equipment. The Battalion I was assigned to was the 39th Signal Support Battalion, and was composed of Headquarters Company and the 595 and 596th Signal Support Companies. I was in the 596th.
They were scheduled to go to Germany later in the year. As a Korean rotatee, I was guaranteed a year in the states, but I waived that and went with them. Much of the training consisted of one company taking all their gear and going to Fort Jackson and setting up. The other company set up in Camp Gordon. For a week we communicated with each other, and then the companies switched places--Gordon going to Jackson and Jackson returning to Gordon. We did this several months. Meanwhile, I did not go particularly wild as some returning war veterans did. I had had a big cooling down period in Eta Jima. I, as did just about everybody in the unit, drank heavily. I got called on the carpet several times, but never got into serious trouble.
Later in Germany, I decided to get out of the Army. I had risen to SFC, and there was just one more enlisted grade, First Sergeant, that I could aspire for and I didn't see that on the horizon. I had originally joined the army to try to make something of myself so as to have a chance of getting my girlfriend, but that was no longer a factor. Clearly, it was time for a change. I refused to reenlist. I was discharged from the Army 22 September 1954 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, the same place I had entered.
Tense Times in Germany
I was in Germany almost two years to the day from September 1952 until September of 1954. For a spell in the 596th, I was team chief of an AN/GRC-26, and then I transferred into Carrier Platoon because I could get another stripe. I got the stripe. Then I transferred to Radio Company, 97th Signal Operation Battalion, where I went back into RTTY and commanded another AN/GRC-26.
I didn't mind my assignments. They were important ones. The first year, I spent almost 300 days in the woods testing the efficiency of VHF transmission from a certain location and at a certain azimuth. Actually, I was providing information to our high command as to where to put command posts in the event of a Russian attack, when it would be too late to guess about frequencies. They had all been decided on from the data I had provided. My stint with the 97th was less rigorous, but just as important. At that time, there were thousands of dependent women and children there. We had to prevent them from falling into Russian hands in the event of an attack. My job was to coordinate their travel along pre-selected escape routes. We trained for this constantly, including participation by some of the dependents in our exercises. Then I threw in the towel and went home for discharge.
The situation was always tense in Germany. At times we were eyeball to eyeball with the Russians. If one side decided to have a maneuver or training exercise, and loaded up and went into the woods, then the other side saw this as the enemy being mobilized, and they had to follow suit. Each time either side saddled up, the other side followed suit in a matter of minutes. All it would have taken is one shot fired and all hell would have broken loose. Alerts were a constant happening. When you went to bed, you didn't know how long it would be before someone told you to saddle up. In the 596th, I was exempt from some, not all, of these alerts due to the work I was doing. In the 97th, I was caught up in each and every one of them for the same reason--the work I was doing.
These two missions have long since been obsolete due to satellites and new equipment, so it is all right to talk about them. The locations of the places I conducted tests could have been great intelligence to the USSR. In truth, it could have changed the outcome of the war had there been one. If the Soviet Union had captured thousands of American women and children, they would have had a BIG chip to throw on the table of negotiations. In other words, these were important missions.
While stationed in Germany, I had a few chances to see parts of Europe. I went sight-seeing in Paris with Marvin Grayson, who now lives in Atlanta. I went to Marseilles with Joe Milici. Both were Team Chiefs of a Carrier rig, as was I, in the 596th. Joe retired after 20, went to CCNY and got a Bachelor of Science degree. He was then hired by the CIA, and he retired from there after another 20. He now travels around the country doing anything that catches his fancy. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia. He never married. I am in contact with these and others from those days.
After I was discharged, I quickly adapted to a routine of WWW: Work, Whiskey, and Women--not necessarily in that order. I was living for today, not yesterday or tomorrow. It was that way for several years. I didn't talk about the war, and thought about it as little as I could. I thought about going to school. I even went so far as to go to Georgia Tech and pick up an application for night school. But bear in mind that I was still a high school dropout. It was not until 1981 that I had the impetus to go to school.
I married Audrey Noel Walkup on 20 September 1958. We left Miami after work, drove all night to Folkston, Georgia, got married, and returned to Miami where we both went back to work on Monday. We are still married today. Our children are Deborah Sue Morin, now in charge of Hospice for Central Brevard County, Florida; Marjorie Ann Bryann, housewife and substitute school teacher; Christie William Christiansen III, retired from USAF and now living and working in Adelaide, Australia; and James Walter Christiansen, BSEE, BSAP, University of Miami, MS Ecology, Colorado School of Mines, and Project Manager, EPA, Denver, Colorado.
I went to work for Telautograph Corporation, which is now defunct, in Atlanta, Georgia. After a few years, I left Atlanta and went to work for Western Electric Company, which is now part of the Bell System. I eventually became a journeyman electrician, after becoming a technician at Cape Canaveral; a lead technician at Cape Canaveral; an engineer's aide at Bay St. Louis, Mississippi; and a design engineer at Kennedy Space Center--all of this while still officially a "high school dropout." After the big 1969 layoff, I reverted to journeyman electrician. Lots of things have happened since then. I officially retired on 13 October 1990, my 60th birthday. But I have done a lot of odd jobs since then. I don't do a hell of a lot of constructive work. I mostly drink. But occasionally I do something halfway worthwhile at the Legion or the KWVA.
I did not continue my formal education until 1981. I passed the first two years in one year due to credit being given for my military experience. The next two years lasted for five years, and I graduated with a BA LS on 31 July 1987. I was 56 years old. I am a graduate of the University of Central Florida. I had a lot of "discussions" with my fellow students, many two generations separated from me. But most of them cowered from me, and there were really no altercations.
Korea changed me forever. I became an adult. It was more of a change in perspective than in appearance or actions. No one ever commented, but I was treated differently from when I was a young hoodlum. At the time, I didn't think that the United States should have sent troops to Korea, but history has taught us it was a wise move. When asked, I say, "Hell yes, MacArthur should have gone north of the 38th parallel." You fight wars to win, not to stalemate. If the guys who died in the early days had known what had happened later in the Korean War, they would have rolled over in their graves. Korea was "the Forgotten War" because of lack of commitment by the American people. The North Koreans had not bombed Pearl Harbor, ergo it was somebody else's war.
My training served me well in Korea. Without it, I would have been dead in the water. when I started in Korea, I was a very poor radio operator. But falling back on the training I had received and the experience I gained there, I became a passable one.
I have never revisited Korea and I do not intend to. I didn't leave a thing in Korea, and I didn't leave a thing in Atlanta either. But I do see good having come out of the Korean War. It was the first chink in the Iron Curtain. It was the first salvo that eventually brought down the Soviet Union. Period.
Recently, an Associated Press story appeared in the newspapers about supposed killings at a place called Nogun-ri. This was followed by a story about a bridge blowing in the early days of the war when many civilians were killed. I have a friend in the Korean War Veterans Association (KWVA) who had to blow many bridges in Korea. Had not that bridge been blown, many other lives, and possibly the war, would have been lost. War is not a nice thing, and you do what you have to do. It is unfortunate that those people had to be sacrificed, but that is the nature of the beast named war. And why now after fifty years are they just now coming forward? In a word: bullshit.
Efforts to locate and return our country's Missing in Action boggle the mind. These MIA were spread over Korea and Manchuria, and even Russia. The task of tracking them after all of the participants are dead is awesome. And if you find them after all these years, what are you going to find: a tooth or a toenail? I would like for all of them to be identified and returned, but I don't think that will ever happen.
Today, I have service connected disability for frostbite, with my left foot rated at 0% disability (0% = not presently disabling), and 0% for malaria. Any other problems, and I have them, have occurred since then. I have had no difficulties getting compensation for disabilities associated with the Korean War. The VA has been more than accommodating to me.
For years I have tried to locate Ralph Graham. I looked in the White Pages and I joined GI Search. I have little hope of finding him. He was several years older than me, and I'm now 71. I haven't tried to locate any of the others. I figure they are all dead. I located a couple of guys from Eta Jima who didn't remember me. Evidently I wasn't the commanding presence I thought I was. I am in contact with many of my friends since Korea.
Korea was a learning experience; a transition from boy into man, and much sadness. I do not feel heroic about my duty there, because I was never under fire and I had some creature comforts the men who were heroic didn't. But I still feel we did our job. That period of my life, along with my sorry childhood, made me what I am today. My wife complains sometimes that I acted like the Great Santini with our children. Perhaps so, but the end justifies the means and ALL of our children are well-adjusted, successful, and happy citizens.
I have not really told my children (or anyone) about Korea. They don't understand it and don't want to hear about it. And I don't really want to talk about it. This interview is an example. Had you been a woman sitting across a desk from me, I wouldn't have answered these questions--some of which are quite painful--so candidly. I don't think I could have discussed my bad years, my rotten family life, my peccadilloes and such with another person, especially a lady. I used language that I wouldn't in such a situation. However, in this case, you are just a blip on a computer screen, and it is not so hard to be candid with a blip as it is with another human being. This has allowed me to get some of this stuff out of my system.
It is unpleasant to bring up old memories sometimes. Even though I survived, have had a reasonably successful life, and look forward to some comfortable years, I still lost a lot in that war -- my best friend, and the love of my life at that time. And I lost my innocence. I go to several veterans clubs to drink and tell stories, but here in my American Legion, Amvets, and VFW Posts, war stories are frowned on. Only in the KWVA, which was just formed last year with me as its first Commander, do war stories abound. I believe that is because this is the first time there has been a large grouping of Korean veterans together. That bridge that we talked about: one of our members, 2Lt George Rosenfield, blew it and others, including the one behind me in Pyongyang. He talks about that stuff, and I think that he, too, wants to get it off his chest.
There are a lot of things that I don't volunteer. I give the information only when asked. Both of my sons know of my problems as a teenager because they asked specific questions, but neither of the girls knew a thing about it until last year (2003) when I made copies of this interview "required reading." I got strangely similar reactions from the boys. Chris asked me first, while we were driving down the street in Colorado Springs. I am ashamed of that portion of my life, but I figured that if he cared enough to ask, then he was entitled to a truthful answer. I told him all of it, including the part about Mr. Edwards, the Superintendent of Schools. I told him that it was my decision to go see him and my parents knew nothing about it. He just smiled and said, "Well, Pop. I guess you have always done things by yourself." And that was the end of it. About five years later, while riding south through Colorado, Jim and I were headed to the San Juan Mountains to go on a hike. Jim asked if I had been born eighteen years old. He said that he kept trying to look into my past, but when he got back to my eighteenth birthday, he ran into a brick wall. I told him that his brother already knew, and then I told him. He was pensive a few seconds before saying, "Dad, in my whole life, I have never been prouder of you than I am right now. You made a decision at fifteen years of age that many, many grown men couldn't make, much less stick to." So that ended that. They both know, and they both accepted it. Things like that have, in the long run, made me believe that candor is the best approach. Get stuff like that on the table and deal with it.