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Earl Boyce Clark
Salt Lake City, Utah
"The aftermath of any battle is one in which you are personally gratified to still be alive. It is tough to lose a close friend or for that matter, any Marine, but you have to be mentally strong to realize that while one battle is over, you'd better "stand by" for what takes place tomorrow. Even after all these years, every battle in which I participated stands out."
- Boyce Clark
My name is Earl Boyce Clark. I was born February 24, 1927, in Salt Lake City, Utah, a son of Alonzo Benjamin and Blanche Ruth Redman Clark. My father was a telegrapher with the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, and my mother was a beautician. I have a brother Boyd who is nine years older than me (born April 22, 1918) and a sister who was born June 13, 1922. Both are now deceased.
I went to several grade schools, graduating from the 8th grade from Briscoe School in 1942. I graduated from O’Dea High School in Seattle. I was in the service at the time, but graduated with my class in May of 1946. While in school, I had a variety of summer jobs, including working on a farm at Briscoe School, laying irrigation pipes, raking hay, cleaning dairy barns, and digging up sugar beets. I also worked for the City of Seattle with a work crew cleaning up parks. We called ourselves "sanitary engineers."
My brother Boyd joined the U.S. Navy in April of 1942 and served until October 1945. He was an SM1. He met his future wife, Virginia, when she was also in the U.S. Navy. She was a PHM3. In high school, we were active in savings stamps and war bonds programs, seeing which class could outdo the other in monies raised for the war effort. I was also in the Boy Scouts when I was younger, although I only went as far as First Class Scout. I was a bugler for our troop. We scouts also collected newspapers, old rubber tires, metals of all kinds, etc, for the war effort during World War II.
I was draft age when I was in high school, but received deferments in April and August 1945 in order to try to finish high school. I was finally called up and joined the United States Marine Corps in September of 1945. I enlisted in the Marine Corps because several of my friends went in before me. My best friend wrote me from boot camp to "join the Army, Navy, or Air Corps, but don’t ever join the damned Marine Corps!" I guess I had to prove a point—if he could do it, then so could I. It was the best move I ever made, other than marrying my wife. Also, my dad was in the Army in World War I and my brother was in the Navy in World War II, so I figured we needed a Marine to bring the family full circle.
Only one friend joined with me. His name was Wayne Olmscheid. He went to Broadway High School in Seattle and we played against each other in baseball and football. He also felt it was time to join, and we left for boot camp together in September of 1945.
My mother was very upset that I had joined, especially the Marine Corps. She said that if I had to join, make it the Navy. My father died when I was seven years old so I didn't have his input about my decision to join the Corps. My brother and sister thought it was just fine. I joined on 15 September 1945, and went to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California, for boot camp training. I traveled by train, along with my friend, Wayne Olmscheid.
We arrived in the late evening and were met at the reception center by Marine Corps personnel. We piled off the buses and assembled in what appeared to be groups of forty or so. All were issued bedding and we marched to a large two-story building where we grabbed our own sacks for the night. It seemed the night would never end. There was a lot of horsing around and most were tired and wanted to sleep. After the lights were out, several guys kept making a lot of noise, which irritated most of us. Someone made nasty remarks about someone’s ancestry and if they had mothers did they know who the fathers were. Lights came on and it looked as though there would be a battle. Cooler heads prevailed and all was quiet – until reveille sounded.
My platoon number was 114, and everyone in it was Caucasian. We had no black recruits at the time I spent at MCRD. My senior DI was Platoon Sergeant O. Paschall, a veteran of World War II. My other DI was Sgt. S.G. Stewart, also a World War II veteran. I definitely came to appreciate my G.I.’s—both of them. They were veterans of Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Tarawa, and here they were giving us the benefit of their combat experiences. Their detail to training paid off for many of us in the years ahead. I only wish that I could have expressed my thanks to them in later years. To me they were and still are heroes of the Marine Corps.
Boot Camp was eight weeks. We lived in Quonset huts lined on the outside with white rock that we always kept clean with white wash. We had the usual ants and some roaches, but nothing of any particular grief. We woke at 0500. Reveille was sounded by bugle, followed by personal hygiene, exercise, chow time, squaring away the barracks, close order drills, more exercises, and classes.
Church was offered on Sunday, and most took advantage of these services. The DIs did not interfere if anyone wanted to attend church. Our only other free time was one half hour before lights out. We were awakened several times during the middle of the night for footlocker inspections, weapons inspections, head inspections, etc.
Classroom training consisted of map reading, military discipline, military courtesy, care of equipment, field and detail stripping weapons, use of fragmentation hand grenades, safety and sanitary precautions, chemical warfare, compass reading, writing messages, interior guard duty, first aid, etc. I remember a film showing the atrocities committed by the Japanese against American forces and this definitely stuck in my mind.
Most of all we learned that our rifle was our best friend. This was discussed both in the classroom and on the various rifle ranges. We all had to qualify in firing the M-1 rifle, M-1 carbine, the Browning Automatic Rifle, the bayonet range, as well as the grenade range.
This may not qualify as "fun" in boot camp, but I always enjoyed helping some of the "older boots." I was eighteen and some boots were in their late twenties and not in such good shape. Sometimes on the obstacle courses they had a tough time managing climbing the walls. I’d lend a hand whenever possible and boost them up until they could manage a hold on top of the wall.
Our DI’s were strict, but generally fair. Discipline was meted out both individually and collectively. While I’m sure I screwed up my fair share of times, I was never disciplined for not doing something the right way. If someone was a constant screw up, the DIs came down pretty hard on the individual, and sometimes all of the platoon suffered the consequences just because of one person’s foul up. This situation was handled by the platoon, so few mistakes were made once the foul-up got "the word."
I only witnessed a couple of times when the DI administered corporal punishment. One boot never seemed to respond to the directions given him. The Platoon Sergeant carried a swagger stick with a .30 caliber casing on one end and a .50 caliber casing on the other. On one occasion he brought the .50 caliber end of his swagger stick down with such force on the recruit that it split his pith helmet. The blow did not cause harm, but scared the hell out of the boot. Another time, a rather large recruit challenged the DI and was about to throw a punch when someone stepped in and put an end to what could have been a major problem. The DI did discipline the boot, but brought no charges.
One time a boot dropped his rifle and ended up sleeping with it and two others. The rifles were laid horizontally on his rack and he was to sleep on top of them. Another time a boot was caught chewing gum in chow line. He was brought forth from the chow line and the gum was placed upon his nose. He had to march up and down the chow line yelling out, "I’m a shit bird…tweet, tweet." A big mistake was to refer to your rifle as a gun. When this happened you had to march back and forth, generally at your barracks, and hold your rifle in one hand exclaiming, "This is my rifle." And with your other hand grasping your penis, you had to yell, "This is my gun." Ending with, "My rifle is for firing, my penis is for fun."
Our entire platoon was disciplined for not having a clean barracks floor, so we all grabbed our issued buckets and proceeded to give the area a "clean sweep down, fore and aft." We had one guy who never cared about personal hygiene and didn’t take all the time necessary to clean himself up. It got to the point where he was getting "pretty ripe", so we told him, "Either take a good long shower, or we’ll help you out." He ignored us and we placed his miserable body in the shower where a few people made him bright and shiny with the use of scrub brushes. He objected, but did get the message.
I thought the chow at boot camp was pretty good, and there was plenty of it. But you damned well better eat everything they put on your tray. We had meat, mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables, milk, coffee, desserts, eggs, and sometimes beans for breakfast.
In our platoon, only one recruit to my knowledge didn’t make it until graduation. He suffered an ankle injury and was placed in a casual company. I never did find out if he was assigned to another platoon. We bitched a lot, but I never was sorry to have joined the Marine Corps. The hardest thing for me about boot camp was not the training, although at times it was very difficult. Instead, I found the separation from family and friends to be the hardest thing about boot camp.
The only ceremony we had in boot camp was the Graduation Ceremony at the end of our training, when we were finally referred to as Marines. I left boot camp feeling that I had truly accomplished something, and finally being a U.S. Marine was worth every moment I had trained for. I was part of something bigger than just myself. I could relate to all my fellow Marines as we had something in common, not like back home in civilian life. Boot Camp without a doubt saved many Marine lives in combat. The closeness, discipline, and overall training proved invaluable.
I had a fifteen-day leave after boot camp. I went back to Seattle to visit family and friends. I always wore my uniform while on leave. Everyone wanted to know how tough the boot camp training was and, of course, I had to embellish the hardships—just a little.
After my leave, I reported to Headquarters Marine Corps, San Francisco, California in January of 1946. I went by Greyhound bus to California, and then reported to HQMC at Treasure Island. I did not go to infantry training as planned, but was assigned to work in a small arms plant at 11th and Market Street in San Francisco, along with Wayne Olmscheid, my friend from Seattle. Inasmuch as there were no quarters available at T.I., we were given a subsistence allowance in the amount of $105.00 per month. This was in addition to our base pay of $72.00 per month, so believe me, Wayne and I lived the Lives of Riley with all this new found wealth. We found a place to live (exist) at 100 Harrison Street on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. The cost at the Harrison Hotel was $14.00 per month total, so Wayne and I each paid $7.00 per month. Needless to say, we ate out, and we had our uniforms pressed at the cleaners at least twice a week, whether they needed it or not. We had struck the mother lode!
Our duties at the small arms plant consisted of sandblasting all weapons returning from the Pacific areas, repairing weapons where needed, re-bluing weapons and finally applying cosmoline for protection and wrapping them in a wax type heavy paper before placing them in wooden crates for storage. I probably ended up using one of the weapons five years later in Korea!
I received no cold weather training. Four months later I was assigned to Marine Barracks at the Bremerton Naval Yard near my home in Seattle. This duty was short-lived as I then left for Pearl Harbor Naval Base in July 1946. Both of these duty stations involved being assigned as Military Police.
Bremerton to Pearl
First, let me explain the reason for my being assigned to the Bremerton Naval Shipyard. A directive came out from HQMC stating that if personnel wished to re-enlist for a two-year period, they would be awarded $300.00 and given their choice of duty stations. The money sounded good, and two years didn’t seem too long. So on 11 April 1946, I signed on the dotted line and re-enlisted. My choice of duty station was the U.S. Naval Shipyard at Bremerton, WA.
I reported to Marine Barracks and was assigned to Guard Company #1. My duties as an M.P. were primarily driving a jeep on Base Patrol, and on occasion, I was assigned to one of the gates at the shipyard, checking on the I.D.s of military, as well as shipyard workers. This duty was short in nature. I reported to the Marine Training and Replacement Command at Oceanside, California, on 19 June 1946. So much for my re-enlistment choice of duty!
I trained briefly at Camp Del Mar in amphibious tactics, and then on 1 July 1946, I boarded the USS Renville, along with 800 other Marines, for the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor. Some Marines went on to other duties in either Tientsen or Tsingtao, China. I was assigned to Company "A", and later to the Brig Detachment.
My duty there was as a "chaser." Under arms (12 gauge shotguns), we took military prisoners around the Naval Base, cleaning up a variety of areas. Many of the prisoners were doing hard time for their offenses, and waiting to be transferred to Federal prisons in the United States. Later I transferred to the Base Patrol, which was located directly above the Brig. Here we maintained Base security 24 hours a day. Three eight-hour shifts utilized radio-equipped Jeeps to patrol the rather extensive base. We were on guard for fires, thefts, break-ins, vandalism, and/or domestic disturbances, both on the Base and in neighboring Pearl City, just outside the Main Gate.
We also pulled duty at social functions and manned several entrances to the Base. One particular instance, I received a call from an area called Baker Docks, where a sailor had been discovered floating in the water. It was determined by investigators that the man had been missing for some time. The only distinguishing thing about the sailor when he was pulled from the water was his white uniform and his bright red hair. On another occasion, a fire broke out on one of the docks and, upon arrival, one of the fire personnel handed me a respirator and a fire extinguisher and we set forth helping to stem the fire. Fortunately, the fire trucks and personnel from the Base Fire Department arrived and did their job in putting out the fire. Another time while on patrol, I came across a lady in labor. She was attempting to get to the hospital in Honolulu. A call was made for assistance and a medical crew from the Naval Dispensary, including a Corpsman, delivered the baby boy right in the vehicle.
Our Marine Barracks, along with the Brig, overlooked Hickam Field. Even in 1946, hanger damage from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor years ago was still evident along the field perimeter, and as one entered the Main Gate at Hickam, bullet holes were still noticeable, but covered up. As we patrolled an area called Hospital Point, we could look directly across to Ford Island, where the super structure remains of the U.S.S. Arizona were visible. My reaction was one of disbelief. How could we ever be suckered into having so many ships all lined up like ducks in a row in such a small area. I had read so much about the attack on Pearl Harbor, but never realized until I saw the place just how confining the narrow waterway was.
Liberty, of course, was the highlight of our stay at Pearl. More often than not we boarded the liberty bus and headed for Honolulu. We did what any red-blooded Marine would do, and that was to find a good place for chow, check out the local bars, and last, but certainly not least, find some female companions. Providing we had the necessary funds, all could be accomplished with much enthusiasm. We also cranked up a six-by truck, loaded it with as much beer as we could muster, and headed across the island to a secluded beach for a beer party. We took along burgers, beans, and whatever else was available. I remained at Pearl Harbor for eighteen months.
The 52-20 Club
In December 1947, we departed Pearl Harbor on the President Hayes for San Francisco. Upon arrival and from then until my discharge on 5 January 1948, I was in a casual company stationed at the Department of Supplies located in San Francisco. When I was discharged on 05 January 1948, I was automatically placed in a Class 111B Reserve category. As for the reason in "joining" the reserves, I thought I had no choice. I never did attend, nor was I required to attend, any meetings.
From 06 January 1948 until September 1948, a number of my friends and I who were just getting out of the service signed up for what we called the "52-20 Club." This was a program operated by the state unemployment department. We lined up each week at the unemployment window and received $20.00. This program was to last for 52 weeks, hence the "52-20 Club."
After receiving our $20.00, we then met at one of the local watering holes. Then one by one some of my friends got married. Others found jobs, and our "club" days swiftly came to a halt.
In September of 1948, I enrolled in what was then Seattle College (now Seattle University). I turned out for the freshman basketball team, and in the spring of 1949, the baseball team. Money was in short supply, even with the G.I. Bill, so I opted to seek employment and I dropped out of school.
I first found work at the Sears & Roebuck Department Store. Then the best thing that ever happened to me took place, and Charlotte Lou Lumbert agreed to be my wife. We had met at a dance at a place called Angle Lake where I proposed to her in the parking lot. This happened in the Fall of 1949 and on 04 March 1950, we became man and wife. We were married at Glendale Lutheran Church in her hometown of Burien, Washington. Most of my friends from school and the 52-20 Club joined in this happy occasion.
War Breaks Out
We had been married nearly four months when the Korean War broke out. I had known about Korea because several of my school friends had joined the Army and were assigned to duty in Korea, two having been discharged after serving there for two years.
When the North Koreans invaded the South, we, of course, listened to the news and read the papers, so we had an idea what was going on. My wife Charlotte asked me if I would have to go and I assured her that I was in the inactive reserves and that it was unlikely. At the time, I was employed as the Assistant Manager of Standard Stations, Inc. I came home from work one evening to find a large manila envelope directing me to report to Camp Pendleton, California. I was to take the train from Union Station in Seattle and be at Camp Pendleton by 19 September 1950. This was not what I had in mind when I "joined" the inactive reserves, and in no way was I prepared to leave my wife. While I objected mainly to myself in having to go, deep down I felt the time would come and all reserves would eventually be recalled. Did I want to be in the war? Hell no! As for minding being recalled to duty, you bet I minded, as did most of the people heading off for this "Police Action."
My preparation for leaving the country for combat consisted of two things. The toughest part of leaving was saying goodbye to my lovely wife, mother, brother, and sister, as well as my friends. Beyond that, I tried to remember the lessons taught to me by my DIs, and I took great interest in my new assignment at Camp Pendleton, where I was in a Fire Direction Center for the artillery. Our duties were to receive information from Forward Observers and plot the course of artillery fire. All this would change when I got to Korea! In the meantime, I tried to listen to or read as much as I could about what was going on in the Land of the Morning Calm. I would find out first hand in a very short time.
Far East Command
We left from San Diego on 16 November 1950 on the USNS General E. T. Collins. This troop ship was built by the Kaiser Yard in California, and commissioned by the Navy in 1944. The 17,300-ton, 523-foot ship had a speed of 17.5 knots. In looking through my souvenir booklet, the first day page has a newspaper headline stating, "1800 Enthusiastic Marines Bound for Korea." There were no other people on board except us "enthusiastic" Marines. To my knowledge, the only cargo we had were crates of C-rations.
There were a couple of days where the sea was rather rough, but nothing out of the ordinary. It took us 15 days to get to our destination, which was Yokosuka, Japan, a total of 5,246 miles. Our usual form of entertainment was playing cards or occasionally watching movies. As for duty, everyone seemed to pull some sort of guard duty. Guarding just what is still a mystery to me. I stood a fire watch while on board, but mostly hung out with some of the radio crew. The only eventful thing that took place was firing our weapons off the fantail. There was not much to shoot at, but at least it was something to do.
I knew the following people on the ship, as we also trained together: John Corey, Seattle, WA; Don Armstrong, Longview, CA; Len Campbell, Yakima, WA; Ed Buslin, Auburn, WA; James Delozier, Granger, WA; Jack Brundage, Spokane, WA; and Bill Bartell, Seattle, WA. We made the 15-day trip straight to Yokosuka. In Japan, we received our cold weather gear at Camp Otsu in Kyoto, and then were transported on to Korea.
The "Bean Patch"
We arrived in Pusan, Korea with the 3rd Replacement Draft on the morning of 5 December 1950. We debarked and then formed ranks to receive assignments to various units. After this, we boarded trains for Masan, or the "Bean Patch," as it was called. This is where the 1st Marine Division re-formed its depleted ranks.
As we boarded the train, we were issued two bandoliers of .30 caliber ammunition for our M-1 rifles. My first impression of Korea was how dirty it was and the smell. As for feeling we were in a war zone, I can’t honestly say how I felt, although having been given ammunition, I realized that we had better be prepared for anything.
Our trip from Pusan to Masan was uneventful, but I did see areas where previous fighting had taken place. We could observe villages all over the place. Some had set up crude places in which to live. Along the way we could see some better dwellings made up of scraps of what looked like wooden crates.
When we arrived at Masan, the Division was placing new arrivals with their respective units, which were depleted because of the Chosin campaign. At Camp Pendleton, I had trained with the artillery as a plotter in the Fire Direction Center. Upon arriving at Masan, we opened ranks and I was assigned to the 7th Marines. From the time of my arrival until my departure, I was in the 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
When we received our respective assignments, I lost track of all my friends from home and training. I knew no one in my new squad. My first duty in the squad was as an Assistant BAR man (Browning Automatic Rifle) in the second Fire Team. Each squad comprised of three Fire Teams. There was a Squad Leader, Fire Team Leader, BAR man, and assistant BAR man. During training at Masan, all three squads within the platoon trained together.
Our weapons were all World War II vintage, and did what they were designed for, which was to kill people. To me, the M-1 rifle is the best weapon ever made and certainly did much to save my life in Korea. You'll find others who swear by the old Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), which has been around in one form or another since World War I. I did have an occasion where my M-1 jammed and I used a BAR that belonged to my BAR man in my Fire Team. It was so cold that every time I pulled the slide back to activate the weapon, it just seemed it took forever to engage. But once you got the weapon warmed up, it was outstanding. Even now I give my old BAR man Norm Kellogg a bad time about his favorite weapon.
I can’t really say that I was in awe of the people returning to Masan who had been at the Chosin Reservoir, but I can say that we were all intent on listening to the stories they relayed to us regarding their experiences against the CCF. To a man, all were helpful in answering any questions we threw at them: "How tough a fighters are the Chinese and North Koreans? Are they well equipped? What lessons did you learn to pass on to us?"
My first squad leader (Stanley Robinson) was a veteran of Chosin, and our squad paid close attention as he related what had taken place there. He was most emphatic in telling us to never underestimate the ability of the CCF, and never assume they are dead—just make damn sure we knew that they were dead! He told us that they were past masters at booby trapping—weapons, supplies, and their own people—so he warned us to be cautious. This proved to be a great lesson later on in February 1951.
Although they were veterans at combat, there was really no way that they could help us to adjust to combat. The only way we learned about combat was to actually experience it first hand, which came sooner than we had expected during the Pohang Guerilla Hunt in mid-January 1951. I can’t say that I was fearful of what was ahead. Instead, I was just anxious as to when and where we would experience our own personal war.
Like I said, we were at the Bean Patch from early December 1950 until we packed up and headed for Pohang some fifty miles north and east of Masan. The Bean Patch was an ideal place as it could accommodate the entire Division, which would use it as the Division assembly area. We were told that the Bean Patch had been used by the 1st Marine Provisional Brigade in August 1950. The landscape was flat, very large, and had a mountain range to the north where guerillas were known to operate. Our Company, along with others, spent a great deal of time on the rifle ranges checking out our weapons as well as conducting night operations and performing perimeter guard duties. Due to the possible infiltration of guerillas or North Korean People's Army (NKPA), we were always on alert.
During this time at the Bean Patch, there were several occasions when our 7th Marine Regimental Commander, Col. Homer Litzenberg, presided over the awards for his Marines from Chosin. Awards ranged all the way from the Colonel presenting the Navy Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, and, of course, Purple Heart medals. He was affectionately known as "Weepin’ Homer" because of his sometimes teary manner when he placed the Purple Heart on one of his Marine’s chest.
We spent Christmas at the Bean Patch, and that was the only time I saw enemy propaganda leaflets. I saw one Christmas card showing a family back home having Christmas dinner, and the caption underneath saying, "Find a Way Out! It’s no disgrace to quit fighting in this unjust war!"
Pohang Guerilla Hunt
In mid-January, we packed up and headed north and east to rid the area of guerillas who were infiltrating. They were remnants of the North Korean People’s Army. Some sources say their numbers exceeded 6,000. The guerillas burned small villages and became general pains in the ass, but were most elusive.
After arriving at Pohang, the 7th Marines were assigned an area stretching from Pohang to the Andong-Yongdok road. This encompassed an area 20-25 miles wide. We reached our destination by trucks. From then on all our travel was by foot. My immediate Commanding Officer in early January 1951 was 1st Lt. Robert Bey, followed by Capt. Walter Anderson and finally, Capt. Merlin Matthews in February 1951.
My first firefight came in the early evening in January 1951. Our platoon was on patrol as usual and all of a sudden, whistles blew and loud yelling took place. A small group of NKPA initiated a firefight and yelled out, "Marines you die" and "We’re gong to burn your parkas." I happened to be next to "Pop" Burkett, my squad leader. We hunkered down right where we were. I remember putting my pack board in front of me thinking that was going to help. Being as close as they were and not knowing if they were going to attack, at this point I reached back and put my bayonet on my M-1. "Pop" looked at me and said, "What the hell are you doing?" I said, "We better get ready in case they come our way." "Pop" agreed it was a good idea. We only spotted about three or four enemy, but it sounded like many more. They fired off a few rounds, threw some concussion grenades, and that was about it. We spread out a little more, fired off some rounds, and that was our initiation. It ended after no more than twenty minutes, but it seemed much longer.
The "guerilla hunt" didn’t really amount to much except to give us some training. We didn’t stay long in any one place. I will say that even though the living places of the South Koreans appeared to be in poor condition on the outside, the interiors seemed quite comfortable, as with their radiant heat the place kept warm.
The only eventful part happened in the first firefight that I experienced and mentioned above. We came across many South Korean village people. Their small huts and meager possessions stick out in my mind. In searching through one village that had been partially burned, we came across a stash of ammunition, including hand grenades. One of the interpreters questioning the villagers indicated that soldiers from the NKPA had been in the area recently, and said they would return. Noticeably missing from the village were men of military age. Usually, there were just women, some quite elderly, yet a number of young boys and girls.
All in all, the guerilla hunt lasted from mid-January 1951 until probably mid-February 1951. According to some figures, our casualties were 19 KIA, 7 DOW (died of wounds), 10 MIA (missing in action), 148 WIA (wounded in action), and numerous frost bite cases. I cannot really remember if we came across any U.S. Army people in areas formerly occupied by Army troops, at least during the guerilla hunt. But we certainly did later. We (Easy Company) suffered no KIAs, but did have either six or seven WIAs during the month-long hunt. Personally, I did not know any of the Marines listed as KIA. Of course, any time you lose a Marine either killed or wounded, the shock was felt by all.
During the hunt, I recall no leisure time, with the possible exception of writing to my wife and mother. At one time I had pleurisy and was out of action for one day in February. The weather was ALWAYS LOUSY—too damn cold. Of course, we always had to be on the high ground to dig in for the night, which meant we had to climb those miserable hills. By the time we reached the top, we had worked up a pretty good sweat. By the time we dug in, we started to cool off, which meant chills for the rest of the night.
There was always another hill to climb. Once you thought you had reached your destination during an assault, there was always another hill over that other ridge. A couple of times we had supply problems, both with C-rations and ammunition, but the cargo handlers, South Koreans with their heavy A-frames, showed up and replenished our needs.
We never had the luxury of finding a suitable bunker in which to hole up. We always dug in, usually late in the afternoon or early evening, and always on the high ground. When we did dig in for the night, two people shared a foxhole. More often than not, we had a 50/50 watch system. One person tried to catch some sleep while the other person remained awake and on watch.
As for personal hygiene, it was often tough to maintain. Shaving was few and far between, as was brushing teeth, although we did make an attempt to do these things. Climbing hills was always difficult and we’d always sweat going up and then cool off as we dug in for the night. Our feet would sweat and it was very important to try to keep them as dry as possible. An extra pair of dry socks was a must, and we often carried them under our shirts where they could stay warm. January and February were miserably cold months in which to chase guerillas and at the same time take care of our personal cleanliness, but we damned sure tried.
I can’t honestly say that I received mail during the hunt. In fact, I probably didn’t get any mail until we came back in late February. On one occasion, I received nine letters from my wife, who wrote to me daily, as well as several from my mother and from several friends. I made one request for something to a friend of mine on the Seattle Police Department. I asked him to send me a .38 caliber snub-nosed pistol that I could keep handy in my sleeping bag. I reminded him that I had boarded a plane from San Francisco to Seattle in 1946 and brought back a .30 caliber M-1 carbine in my sea bag for him. I am sorry to say that he never complied with my request.
We boarded trucks and left the area for a place called Hoengsong (north of Wonju), where we were to take part in a new offensive. We came across an Army unit that had been ambushed in what is known as "Massacre Valley." The troops had been bound with communication wire, stripped of their clothing, shot, and bayoneted by CCF or NKPA troops. There were several Army survivors, but most were wiped out. We took up positions and just waited. In mid-February our missions were completed and the guerilla hunt came to an end. The First Marine Division would become a part of the Eighth Army and our next mission would be Operation Killer. Eventually we were attached to the IX Corps, along with the 6th ROK, 24th Infantry Division, and the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade.
We had a number of encounters with the enemy during Operation Killer in February, but sustained few casualties. E-2-7 had no KIAs to my knowledge, but did have six or seven WIAs. I had one friend, J.D. Hargrove, who was slightly wounded from a concussion grenade. He received his wound during an assault, but it was not serious enough to have him evacuated. He later was wounded on two separate occasions.
On February 24, 1951, I celebrated my 24th birthday as our first objectives had been seized. This was the day that Operation Killer came to a halt. It was also announced that on 24 February, General Puller would take command of the 1st Marine Division. I further recall that this was the day that IX Corps Commander General Bryant Moore was killed as the result of a helicopter crash. So much for my birthday.
Soon, Operation Killer was replaced by Operation Ripper. It wasn’t until early March 1951 that we were hit hard and often by CCF forces. We suffered many casualties during the month of March. From 6 March until 9 March, our Company had 9 KIA, and from 6 March to 31 March we had 42 WIA. Of the nine Marines listed as KIA on March 6, 7, and 8, I knew rather well Robert Raspanti and Robert Churchill. Churchill was killed by machine gun fire and Raspanti from mortar fire.
Not enough good things can be said regarding our corpsmen. They appeared like magic whenever anyone was wounded. They not only patched people up, but helped with evacuation when needed. Evacuating the wounded had to be among the toughest things we were asked to do. Often times the wounded had to wait until the area was secured before they could be taken off the hill. It was tough duty because you wanted desperately to get the wounded to an aid station, but that, of course, took other Marines to man the stretchers, which meant if anything "hit the fan", you may end up shorthanded. The last people to leave the area were those KIA.
The 7th Marines, along with the 1st Marines, were considered the combat units at this time, while the 5th Marines were in reserve. We took the high ground in and around Hoengsong. Our sector (7th Marines) was called Hill 536. Our objective was to seize this hilltop, which was significant because of the possible approach of enemy forces from the north should they decide to mount another offensive. We did so, but with numerous casualties. We ran into well-dug-in Chinese forces who hit us with mortars, machine gun fire, and small arms fire. They had the advantage of concealment in log-covered bunkers. We were in an area referred to as the Arizona Line, and the terrain was miserable and well booby-trapped, which made our advance extremely difficult. With falling snow added to the misery, our final assault on Hill 536 had to be one of the hardest fights of the 7th Marines during this period. In spite of air strikes and artillery, the enemy put up a fierce defense. It was a long afternoon, and between two battalions (2/7 and 3/7), we had 14 KIAs and 104 WIAs.
Those involved in this phase were the 1st, 5th, and 7th Marines, with air support from Marine Air Groups. To be honest, I have no idea how many enemy forces were involved, but I estimate that possibly three divisions of CCF took part in this operation. We fought in the early morning, afternoon, and at night. The CCF liked to infiltrate whenever possible, especially at night. Although they did enter our perimeter on several occasions, they never left alive.
It wasn’t until 4 March that we realized that our objective had been secured. I can vividly remember that day, as it was my first wedding anniversary. A light snow was falling as we started our assault in the early morning. By the time we reached the crest of the hill expecting a fight, we found that the CCF had pulled out during the night. There were only a few CCF left behind to give cover, and they were quickly dispatched. We found several fresh holes where the Chinese had buried their dead. On 4 March, as we were sitting around having chow, I mentioned to our Platoon Leader Lt. Louis Buttell that this was one hell of a way to spend my wedding anniversary. He reached into his pack and pulled out a small flask and we toasted my anniversary with some Canadian VO. We talked about this episode nearly 50 years later at a 1st Marine Division reunion. I had marked this day down on one of the pages of a Bible my mother gave me and showed it to him.
As usual, the weather was just plain nasty. The snow was beginning to melt and turned to thick slush and mud. There was no way to stay dry, and when you dug in for the night, it was always a wet hole. The weather conditions no doubt played a role in lessening our ability to move swiftly, but it did not affect our ability when engaging the enemy. The miserable snow and cold weather never did hinder the outcome of any engagement against the enemy. Our objectives were always carried out and we always secured the high ground before digging in for the night. Fortunately, too, we had the advantage of artillery and air support, which made our task on the ground a bit easier. Overcoming difficulties was standard procedure, as we were confronted daily with difficulties, especially the weather.
I witnessed many acts of bravery, but then this was a common occurrence. There were many Marines that I thought should have been awarded medals, only to find out later that this was not the case as they were officially never "written up". Now and then you'll see where someone has been awarded a medal for something they did 50 years ago. Better late than never, I guess. As for any acts of cowardness, I did not personally witness any such thing.
To a man our officers were just outstanding individuals, either before, during, and after a battle. As previously mentioned, my first Commanding Officer (E-2-7) was 1st Lt. David Vanderwart, followed by 1st Lt. Robert Bey, then Capt. Walter Anderson, and Capt. Merlin Matthews. Our 1st Platoon went through quite a few Platoon Leaders due to their being wounded or relieved. All were outstanding leaders, and two distinguished themselves by being awarded the Silver Star medal for their actions—Captain "Matt" Matthews and 1st Lt. Gilbert Westa. Our Platoon Leader Mr. Westa received his for actions against the enemy on 28 May 1951. He stood and directed our fire against a vastly superior force. We maintained our position and forced the CCF to withdraw.
Enemy fire power was mostly in the form of mortars, both light and heavy. They were extremely accurate with their mortars and caused numerous casualties. While they did have artillery and did use it occasionally, their biggest weapon had to be the mortars. They didn't seem too eager to attack us head on, but would rather delay our advances with defensive tactics. They were good at this and would leave a small force to defend a position while their main forces would pull out and regroup. Early on it seemed as though the enemy tactic was to engage us, but then and often at night, would withdraw. Their tactics did not seem very effective, as we eventually caught up with them and resumed our assaults on their positions. Of course, during an assault the enemy had the high ground, which put them at an advantage. It was easy for them to throw hand grenades down hill at us from concealed positions. Often times during our assault and as an enemy kneeled or stood to get a better position to throw, they were killed outright. In late February, we overran an enemy emplacement, killing three CCF who had stayed behind in a delaying effort. As we reached the crest of the hill, we could see the enemy heading off down the ridge. After securing an area, we often found their dead, and on occasion found a prisoner who told us that they had carted off their wounded.
The terrain in Korea always had an effect on our movements, including fording streams. And, of course, the elevation was unfriendly, as we always had to climb one more hill to dig in for the night. Many of us were new to combat, but I believe to a man we held our own and became "old timers" really fast. As for holding up emotionally, I’d have to say for all the walking, climbing hills, sleeping in sometimes frigid weather, trying to keep feet and weapons dry, attempting to heat C-rations for a meal, and fighting an enemy bent on our destruction, I held up well, as did all my buddies. We were all in the same boat and just encouraged one another.
Our cold weather gear left much to be desired, although we were better off than the Chinese. The enemy forces I encountered had pretty much their own type of winter gear. They wore padded pants and jackets that appeared to be made out of cotton. Some had heavy type canvas shoes, but most wore what looked like sneakers or slippers. In contrast, I had long johns underneath a pair of wool pants, two pair of socks, thermal boots or shoe packs as they were called (which weren’t worth a damn), sweater, field jacket, scarf, parka and mittens. As for keeping warm…our winter gear helped, but I was never really "warm" in Korea. Until I left Korea in early June before the summer heat set in, my summer clothing was all that I had worn during the winter.
After the fighting at the beginning of March, we were still south of the 38th and heading north to the villages of Hongchon and Chunchon. Our assaults during early March were difficult, but made easier thanks to the close air support provided by Marine Corsairs. Weather permitting, these Corsairs strafed the hilltops and also dropped napalm, which devastated the area. The Corsairs and the accompanying artillery when assaulting a hill will always stand out in my mind. Our fire support when the weather cooperated was outstanding. Again, Marine artillery and close air support could make our task on the ground much easier.
The Chinese were good fighters, although they would rather put up delaying tactics, booby-trapping objects, including their dead, as opposed to mixing it up hand to hand. You bet we were close enough to see the enemy, and the ones I remember seemed to be on the young side, although later on we took a couple of prisoners who appeared to be in their fifties. Only on one occasion were we alongside troops from another nation other than ROK forces. That was when we took over positions from the Turks, and then only briefly.
Our platoon was involved in hand-to-hand combat on three separate occasions, including once in February and twice in early March 1951. In February while on patrol, our platoon encountered a small group of CCF who appeared to be resting and were not aware of our presence. We approached with fixed bayonets, yelling and firing our weapon, which totally freaked them out. Four were killed outright and two died later from wounds suffered by the bayonet. Four threw down their weapons and were taken to the rear as prisoners. This was the first time we actually had the opportunity to pull off our own bayonet charge. The next two times we experienced any hand-to-hand combat was in the snow of March 1951. The circumstances were similar both times, as we were overrun late at night by a small group of infiltrators who had evidently laid all day under a blanket of snow watching us dig in. On March 5 or 6, after securing Hill 505, the Chinese counter attacked in the early morning. A light snow was coming down and they started throwing concussion and fragmentation grenades. This was much more startling than effective. 1st Lt. Dively killed one of the attackers with a bayonet that he kept in his sleeping bag, while most of the others were shot at close range. We had one KIA (Robert Raspanti), and twelve others with shrapnel wounds (WIA). Within two days and with Hill 505 now secured, we pulled a bayonet charge of our own on a nearby ridge just north of Hill 505. We totally routed a small force, killing five who were probably left behind to delay us. Their big mistake was to bunch up. They were met with machinegun fire as well as small arms fire.
While the enemy groups were small, they sure raised havoc, which made us much more aware of the importance of a 50-50 watch each night. For all their efforts in attempting to overrun us, none of them survived as all were killed on each of their futile attacks. As for we Marines, the aftermath of any battle is one in which you are personally gratified to still be alive. It was tough to lose a close friend, or for that matter, any Marine, but you had to be mentally strong to realize that while one battle was over, you'd better "stand by" for what will take place tomorrow. Even after all these years, every battle in which I participated stands out. Some actions may not have been as bad or as long as others, but any time you face an enemy who is trying to kill you and your comrades, believe me, they "stand out."
During the period of March 6 through 9, E-2-7 had nine KIA’s, and from March 6 through 31, suffered 42 WIAs. We didn’t find out until years later that our entire Company had been cut off by the Chinese, the reason being that we (E-2-7) had been pushed into a meat grinder where at least a battalion was needed. Our C.O. Captain Matthews did not receive orders to withdraw, and by the time he could raise anyone by radio, we were surrounded on three sides by several thousand CCF. Finally, the Captain got through to Col. Ray Davis (Medal of Honor recipient, Chosin Reservoir). Colonel Davis’ order was, "Don’t leave any WIAs behind, and don’t try to bring out any KIA’s." On 6 March 1951, we lost Martin Brizius and Calvin Collins. On 7 March we lost Robert Raspanti (CT) and Robert Churchill (TX). On March 8 we lost Felix Castille, Lafe Materne, Guermo Passero, and John Regan. All these Marines were KIA.
There were no E-2-7 people taken prisoners of war during my tour of Korea (December 1950 to June 1951). Unknown to us ground pounders, however, there evidently was some concern by our C.O.s that during early March when we were surrounded by the Chinese this could have been a possibility. Not likely, but a possibility.
I am sorry to say the only Corpsman I can recall was "Doc" Bancroft. Many other names will come up. Every Corpsman I saw in action to aid fallen Marines either in the field or aid station, or hospital ship, was remarkable. On several occasions, corpsmen helped us place our wounded on the pods attached to helicopters for evacuation to field hospitals. One of our Platoon Leaders, Lieutenant Dively, was evacuated by helicopter from a hilltop we had secured after being wounded. Helicopters no doubt saved the lives of our Marines.
The ROK’s were not the best fighters in the world, and this was borne out in the April Spring Offensive when they broke and scattered, leaving our left flank wide open. Our contact with the South Korean military was primarily with the 6th ROK Division and the KMC regiment. The 6th ROK Division was on our left flank when the CCF started their Spring Offensive. The Chinese found a soft spot along the ROK line, and they just fled, leaving our flank vulnerable.
There were many occasions where tank support proved helpful. In early April, as an example, and prior to our assault, tanks shelled the hillsides with their 90mm guns, which tore up many Chinese bunkers. There was a strong possibility that tanks supporting our assault in early April 1951 caused friendly fire among the 7th Marines. At the time we figured it was from enemy mortars/artillery. In retrospect, the damage could have been inflicted by tank 90mm guns. More often than not, however, the tanks offered great support.
There was one occasion I recall where both ammunition and rations were air dropped to us. That took place near Taegu, sometime after we left Pohang. It must have been late January or early February. We received C-rations and ammunition and then headed north along the Hoensgong-Honchon-Chunchon road. Most of the time, however, the Korean cargo handlers supplied us.
Every time we dug in either for the night, or several days (which didn’t happen too often), we set up our perimeters with Fire Teams, machinegun sections, mortars, etc., so that our area was well protected from any enemy advance. Generally, our assaults and fighting took place during daytime hours, although there were times as previously mentioned when we attacked at night.
I only spent a brief time in a bunker and that was in April 1951. As always, we had reached the high ground and planned to dig-in for the night. Near the top of the hill someone spotted a bunker and after checking it out thought this would be a good spot to "call home" for the night. In the early morning all hell broke loose and the Chinese advanced toward our positions. Those of us in the bunker got the hell out and scrambled to find holes already dug previously. I happened to find a hole near what appeared to be a well-used trail. Positions previously set up started to engage the Chinese at close range with small arms and machinegun fire. After several minutes things quieted down, and from my position I could hear the Chinese talking rather loudly as if giving some kind of orders. Then once more the Chinese made a futile assault on our positions, where seven were killed and the others driven off. This was the last time I ever cared to stay inside any structure. You may have felt safer in a bunker, but this one was not too large and stunk to boot.
Life in a foxhole was naturally much different. Depending on the ground, there were times when it became difficult to dig a two-man hole. On one occasion as I went to dig-in, I uncovered the body of a Chinese who had been left behind and buried in a rather shallow grave. I just covered him back up and moved a few feet away and dug another hole for the night. There were times during the winter months when we dug-in the ground was so frozen that it was almost impossible to dig a deep hole. We then just sat back to back in an effort to keep warm, and then we would just shiver all night until we "saddled up" in the morning and moved out to another location.
The enemy had weapons similar to ours. In other words, they had handguns, rifles, light and heavy machine guns, and mortars. As for their effectiveness in combat, the ones I came in contact with were for the most part more willing to use delaying or defensive tactics as opposed to coming directly at us. Of course, there were times when they became offensive and probed and attacked, mainly in the evening. They were excellent in their use of both small and large mortars.
In addition to the heavy casualties that we suffered in March, we lost three Marines KIA in April of 1951. They were Bill Bowden, George Kennedy, and Billie Medlin. Also during this period we had 34 WIAs. These losses were due to frontal assaults of two objectives against well-dug-in Chinese troops. It was here on 6 April 1951 that I suffered my first wound, having received a blast concussion and fragments from Chinese mortars. My best friend, J.D. Hargrove, was also wounded at this time. The day before, during an extensive firefight, seven Marines were wounded, two being unable to find good cover and were out in the open and exposed to CCF. JD Hargrove and I were in a position whereby we felt we could get to these two Marines. JD, along with others who saw what we were up to, laid down a field of fire on the Chinese while I was able to reach one (James Blackburn) and pull him to a relatively safe position. I then went back to help the other (can’t remember his name). I then put Blackburn on my back and carried him up an incline to the trail and then to a makeshift aid station. The other Marine was ambulatory and he waited until I returned and together we went to the aid station.
Then, as mentioned above, I was wounded (6 April) and spent the next ten days at a field hospital. When I returned to the Company, someone told me that I had been recommended for the Silver Star for getting Blackburn and the other Marine to safety, but that it had been reduced to a Bronze Star. I never really thought much about this award until years later, as there was no mention of this citation in my service record. I did contact HQMC and personnel regarding this matter in 1988, but nothing came of it. By the time I tried to verify this with my Platoon Leader, Lt. Gil Westa (an attorney from Denver), he had passed away. When I did challenge this matter upon my separation, the Navy Yeoman who was putting together information for my DD-214 said there was nothing he could do as my records were not available. After I lost my arm (2 June 1951), I didn’t feel much like making a fuss, as I just wanted to get home and get on with my life. Now, I wish I had made waves as the award would be something to share with my kids and grandkids, but such is life.
April of 1951 was the Chinese Spring Offensive. It was a difficult period of time. After I left the field hospital on 17 April and returned to my company, we didn't have to wait long for a major Chinese attack along our lines. On the night of April 22, 1951, the Chinese attacked in full force. The 7th Marines were situated in a position that had the 6th ROK Division on our left flank. The Chinese poured through the started ROK defenders and they fled, leaving our left flank exposed. This meant that the Chinese flooded the area to our rear and we had to fall back to our previous line called Pendleton, located south of Hwachon. After we reassembled, the 7th Marines were assigned to defend the area around Chunchon in expectation of further Chinese attacks. Thanks to Marine Corsair close air support, artillery and tank support, significant Chinese attacks were halted. Hereafter, near the end of April, the CCF were ineffective and we proceeded north. Along the way we captured Chinese stragglers and uncovered huge supplies of ammunition, small arms, mortars, etc. In effect, the Chinese were pushed back north of the 38th parallel. It was here at the Hwachon Reservoir that we set up once again, awaiting the next move by the Division. We heard later that Marine losses amounted to nearly three hundred, both KIA and WIA, in a period of two days. During that same period, it was estimated several thousand Chinese were killed and many were captured.
On one occasion our Company, while maybe not called upon to "do the impossible", did just that. Our Commanding Officer, Col. Herman Nickerson Jr., was asked by General VanFleet while visiting the 7th Marines OP, "How did you ever get those men up those cliffs?" "General," said the Regimental Commander, "they climbed." This action took place in May of 1951.
By then, the weather conditions in Korea were just terrible. When I arrived in December 1950, it was freezing cold and the cold didn’t let up until April. Then it was time for the snow to melt and we had slush and mud to deal with. By the time I left in early June of 1951, it was just starting to warm up. By all means, the temperature extremes did affect our weapons. I had two Browning Automatic Rifles in the space of an hour, and each one malfunctioned due to the cold. The bolt action froze up, leaving the weapon almost useless until you could warm it sufficiently. That was not much help when you were shooting at someone.
While at Masan in early December, it was rather easy to keep clean as we had showers and could change clothes. Due to the cold, it was miserable whenever we had to shower or even go to the head. As for the food we ate on the front line, it was various types of C-rations. My favorite was the beans and franks, along with the chocolate for hot cocoa. In the reserve areas we ate much better—foods such as spaghetti, burgers, chops, potatoes, beans, bread, etc. You always knew when another action was about to take place when the menu consisted of steak and eggs—almost like the last meal before an execution. The only native foods I tried were the rice and kimchee. The kimchee was not bad going down, but you paid the price later—at least, I did with cramps and diarrhea. The best food was the steak and eggs we enjoyed before jumping off to another objective. Stateside food I missed the most was a good pot roast, turkey, ice cream, and pumpkin pie.
To me, the war was very serious and if there were lighter moments, none stand out in my mind. As for humorous things that happened, I recall a time when we were on a patrol and all of a sudden the Chinese dropped a few mortar rounds. Our squad leader, "Pop" Burkett had gone off to relieve himself and had his pants down around his ankles and came running back toward his hole all the time holding on to his rifle with one hand and his pants with the other. The mortars eased up, but we sure had a good time razzing "Pop" for putting on such a good show. The only other one I can think of in my unit who was somewhat of a character was Ed Rybaki, a tall slim guy who always had a smile on his face and was constantly whistling or singing the Marine Corps Hymn.
Fortunately, I received mail on a regular basis, primarily from my wife. My mother, brother, sister, and some close friends from school also wrote. My wife sent a package every now and then, including candy, Vienna sausages, cookies, etc. All my mail seemed to arrive in good condition. Others in our platoon got packages, mostly food items. One guy got the ingredients to make a pizza, which he never did. I had heard about people getting "Dear John" letters, but no one in my outfit received any such news, at least to my knowledge.
Religion, of course, was important, but I never had much time while on the line to participate. While in reserve, we had the opportunity to attend Chapel.
The only time I saw an American woman while in Korea was at the Field Hospital, once in April and again in June 1951, aboard the hospital ship Haven. As for prostitutes, there certainly may have been, but not in the areas in which I served during my stay in Korea.
I spent Christmas in Korea and brought with me from Japan several bottles of Asahi beer. When I broke these out in the tent to share with others, you’d think I had given them a million bucks. We had a great time singing Christmas carols, and toasting everyone from Harry Truman to General MacArthur, who at one time said that we "would be home by Christmas!!" Another highlight of Christmas was when we were outside singing carols, a light snow was falling, and I heard this voice yelling out, "Where’s me hat?" Here we are thousands of miles from home and this voice was one I remember from O’Dea High School in Seattle. It was my old friend from home, Joseph Gerard Patrick O’Brien. Needless to say, we finished all our Suntori and Asahi as we welcomed in Christmas in the "Land of the Morning Calm."
I smoked, drank, and gambled when I was in Korea. I didn’t smoke heavily until I came into the Corps, but did so in Korea. As for the drinking, I mentioned earlier about bringing some Suntori and Asahi beer with me from Japan. That was the extent of my drinking with the exception of our getting a small beer ration when we were in reserve. While in reserve is where we did our gambling, if you call poker or craps gambling. We did it primarily to pass time and not to get rich like they show in the movies. Prior to Korea, I did smoke a little, consumed beer at parties, and played poker and blackjack with friends. During my stay in Korea from December 1950 until June 1951, I had never heard of R&R. While there were USO shows in Korea, I was never in the "right place at the right time" to see them.
Fortunately, I had no problems with parasites on my body, but Lord knows I probably had them in my body due to the water we sometimes drank from streams and paddies.
My only contact with the natives (Korean people) was when we entered one of their villages, which didn’t happen too often. When we did come across them, we searched their living areas to see if they had weapons or were hiding anyone. While they appeared friendly, I never did trust them. We knew they had at one time or another fed and housed CCF forces. We saw a lot of women ranging in age from infants to quite elderly. More often than not, there was an elder or "Papasan" who greeted us. I entered one hut to look around and this family remained seated and just kept on eating their rice topped with what appeared to be berries or raisins-- until I noticed that the berries and raisins flew away. I don’t think anyone who served in Korea came away without some sort of prejudice. The natives, as well as our enemies, were referred to as "gooks," "slopes," and a myriad of other uncomplimentary names.
To be honest, I never thought Korea was worth fighting for. As an example, all too often the ROK Army just pulled out and left the battlefield, a case in point being the time of the CCF Spring Offensive in April 1951, when the entire ROK Army abandoned their position on our left flank and fled, leaving us in a precarious position until we could regroup. It appeared to us that they didn’t give a damn about their own country.
I met no high-ranking officials while in Korea. To me, the true heroes were not so much the ones that received medals for their actions (although they were well deserved), but the grunt alongside of me who day in and day out did what was expected of him. He may have bitched and groaned, which was standard procedure, but he nevertheless was a person you could count on when the shit hit the fan—which happened often.
The best friend I had in Korea was JD Hargrove from Texas. JD and I were in the same Fire Team and would dig-in together each night sharing the same two-man foxhole. We trusted each other implicitly as our lives depended on each other. We always had a 50-50 watch where one of us would try to get some sleep and the other would remain awake and on guard. If one of us had trouble staying awake then we’d switch off so one of us was always on the alert.
We just seemed to hit it off when we met and me being a Fire Team Leader and the "old man" at 24 years of age, I took a special interest in JD, who was just 19 years old. During our time together, JD was wounded on three separate occasions. In fact, the last time I saw JD in Korea was 28 May 1951. As we were assaulting a well-fortified CCF position, the Chinese were throwing and rolling hand grenades down the hillside. Two grenades went off near us and shrapnel hit JD. The last thing I heard JD say was, "E.B., I’m hit again." Fortunately, JD’s wounds were not life threatening, so I was able to patch him up with a compress bandage until a corpsman took over. The rest of our platoon secured the hill late in the afternoon, and that was the last time I saw JD until 09 August 2000 at the 1st Marine division Reunion in San Diego, over 49 years later. Several other members of our platoon who were together on 28 May 1951 met with JD at the reunion and we hugged, cried, and reminisced over years gone by. We are now in touch by phone and e-mail and plan to attend other 1st MarDiv reunions.
Officers and Citations
I had the privilege of serving with an umber of World War II Marines. Our Company Commander, Platoon Leader, and First Sergeant were all veterans who had fought in the Pacific campaigns and were well respected. Both the CO and Platoon Leader were awarded the Silver Star medal while in Korea. The First Marine Division received the Presidential Unit Citation for action against the enemy forces in Korea during the periods 21 to 26 April, 16 May to 30 June, and 11 to 25 September 1951.
I was awarded two Purple Heart medals for wounds received on 06 April 1951 and 02 June 1951. The only significance the medals have for me is that I served with brave men who also fought and bled for country and Corps. The first time I was wounded was on 6 April, during an assault on CCF forces on the East Central front. Our first platoon had advanced steadily during the morning hours until we came under heavy mortar and artillery fire, which brought us to a standstill. We waited until tanks that had been called upon for support came into view. After receiving the go ahead to advance, it seemed as though all hell broke loose. CCF mortars and artillery were brought to bear on our position. At the same time, our own tanks opened fire with their 90 mm guns. The next thing I can recall was flying through the air and landing against a tree that had toppled due to the heavy barrage.
Although I could still stand up and move about, it was like I was in a sound proof room. I couldn't hear a damn thing, but knew we were in one hell of a fight. My nose started to bleed as did my ears, and my eyes felt like they would pop out. Some fragments hit my left hand and I remember trying to find my rifle, which was down the hillside. Someone from my Fire Team (I think it was Larry Chino) had picked up my rifle and brought it to me. About the same time, a corpsman came by, propped me up against a tree, tagged me, and took off to help someone else who had been hit. To this day I can't honestly say if the blast concussion I received was from enemy or friendly fire, as our own tanks had rounds that hit trees around us.
The corpsman returned and had someone with him that took me to an area where I was later picked up by jeep and transported to a field hospital operated by the Army. While I did feel some pain, it was not so bad that I couldn't function. The scary part was having someone talk to me and I couldn't hear what they were saying. the ringing in my ears lasted for five or six days, and at times was quite painful whenever I laid down. It seems as though I spent most of my time sitting up during my stay at the hospital.
After a couple of days, the swelling around my eyes disappeared, but looked as though I had gone a couple of rounds with Joe Louis. The doctors and nurses at the field hospital were most caring and I'll always be grateful for their concern while in their care. I only wished I had sense enough to remember some of the doctors, nurses, and aides who looked after me.
I was conscious all the time after being wounded and remember bouncing around after being escorted to the jeep along with two other severely wounded Marines who were strapped to the back of the vehicle. It seemed we reached the field hospital in no time at all, but I have no idea just how long it actually took. I do remember having good food, a nice bed, and best of all, a hot shower. No one likes to leave their friends behind, but circumstances like being wounded leave little or no room for guilt when confronted with this reality.
Both my mother and wife were notified by telegram of my being wounded. Fortunately, my Platoon Leader, Lt. Gil Westa sent off a letter to both that my wounds were not life threatening and that they would hear from me shortly. As for others being taken care of at the field hospital, mostly they were Army personnel, myself, and two other Marines from a different platoon than mine. Both Marines had severe leg wounds and were eventually evacuated to Japan. After ten days, the doctors felt that I could return to my Company and old first squad, first platoon. Personally, I felt good enough to return and take over my Fire Team. Would I have preferred to be elsewhere? What do you think! When I returned to my Company, it was the 17th of April and we were preparing to head north for what soon would be one of the fiercest battles we would engage in involving the CCF Spring Offensive.
June 02 Wound
The weather had improved and was getting rather nice in late May and into June. We had experienced some very difficult fighting from mid April and all through May. We definitely had the Chinese on the run, and they were leaving their wounded and lots of equipment behind. On one occasion we overran an enemy ammunition supply and in the end took 25 Chinese prisoners. We captured thousands of rounds of small arms, mortar, artillery, and ammunition, as well as grenades and explosives. We went into the month of June 1951 feeling that we were going to push the CCF right back over the 38th parallel.
By now we were at Yanggu and overlooking the Hwachon Reservoir. We were to be relieved on 2 June by the 1st Marines and looked forward to going back in reserve. It had rained the day before (01 June) and we were airing out our sleeping bags and gear when all hell broke loose. The CCF had no doubt zeroed in on this hill top in months past, and their mortar fire was just deadly. Several of the people who were to relieve us from the 1st Marines were killed instantly. I found out later that eleven from my Company were seriously wounded.
As soon as the mortars came in, we sought what cover was available. I remember laying as flat as possible and went to reach for my pack board to place in front of me (like that was going to help). As I looked back, a Marine from the 1st was crouched down on all fours and half of his face was blown away by shrapnel. Not long after, a piece of shrapnel tore into my left arm at the elbow. The pain was intense. As I looked around, I didn't see my arm as it was knocked almost in back of me. I reached around and pulled it back and rolled over, placing my arm across my chest. After what seemed like a long, long time, I knew something had to be done to stop the bleeding. Two pack straps were attached to my pack board, one of which I used as a tourniquet. The mortars kept coming and were the large 120mm type, which made one hell of a noise. Not too longer after I was hit, a corpsman came by and released the tourniquet. He bandaged me as best he could, gave me a shot of morphine, tagged me, and left to help other wounded.
The mortar barrage lasted what seemed like an eternity. Their attack was so devastating and deadly that we were unable to mount our proposed attack on the enemy the following day. A total of thirty-six Marines were either killed or wounded on that 02 June 1951 attack. After I was wounded, I thought it was all over, but the shelling just kept going on and on. Later in the morning, I was being taken off the hill by stretcher and someone had placed an old shirt over my face. While going down the hill, someone asked who was hit. When they said it was Clark, they asked if he was dead. I pulled the shirt off my face so they could see I was okay.
Once down the hill, I was placed aboard a Jeep with three others who had also been wounded. We ended up at a field hospital where the doctors examined my arm and placed it in a cast of sorts. After two days at the field hospital, I was taken to Pusan and placed aboard the Hospital Ship Haven. On 05 June 1951, the doctors informed me that gangrene had set in and that they would have to amputate my arm just above the elbow. Two days later I was on my way to Hawaii via Wake and Midway Islands.
I really don't know what else the medics and doctors could have done to prevent gangrene setting in my arm. Within hours after being wounded and taken off the hill, I was taken by jeep with the three other Marines to a field hospital. They tried to see if there was some way to save my arm. I recall one of the doctors explaining to me the procedure where they would insert a rather large needle into the right side of my neck. They called it a ganglion stell block. When they inserted the needle into the right side of my neck, the fingers on my left hand shot straight out like I had touched a hot wire. They seemed excited at this outcome and then they proceeded to bandage and splint my arm. Once aboard the hospital ship Haven, the doctors discussed with me that the arm was not healing properly, that gangrene had set in, and that the arm would have to be removed. It was silly, but at the time I remember thinking no more playing baseball. Why that thought came to mind, I don't really know. I loved the game of baseball, but it certainly wasn't a career goal.
Naturally, I felt lousy that the arm would be gone, but felt relieved just to be alive. I wondered how my wife, mother, brother, sister and friends would react when they saw me, but there was not much I could do about that. Sure I felt sorry for myself, especially when I woke up after surgery and the arm was gone. At first I didn't even want to look over at where my arm should have been. One of the guys bunking above me said, "I'm glad they took that arm off. You were starting to stink up the place." Now that kind of sympathy is just what the doctor ordered. As I looked around the ward, I saw two beds down from me a Marine that had lost both legs and one arm. From that point on, I didn't feel overly sorry for myself.
The first time I saw my wife upon returning home, she greeted me with open arms and held me close as if to say, so you lost an arm. So what. We were caught up with each other and the loss didn't seem to enter into our time together. My reaction in returning to the USA was one of joy and happiness. So much had happened since leaving the US for Korea that I felt fortunate just to be alive and home with family and friends.
Once having two arms, then losing one, I believe it is the simple things you used to handle, you can no longer accomplish--like tying your shoes, playing catch, holding the faces of your loved ones in your hands. The most difficult aspect of having one artificial arm is the ability to have the arm function properly. Just learning to manipulate the plastic and aluminum arm, along with opening and closing the hook device, can be a sobering experience. Once that is overcome, it's just a matter of getting used to it--like having two left feet.
I spent several days at the Tripler Army Hospital on Oahu. To be perfectly honest and while I missed my friends, I was relieved to be out of Korea. As I mentioned previously, my platoon leader, Lt. Gil Westa, had informed my wife and mother by letter that while I had been seriously wounded, the wound was not life threatening and that I would be home soon. They were relieved after they received his messages.
There were hundreds of wounded at the field hospital and aboard the Haven. As I was feeling sorry for myself, all I had to do was look around me aboard the Haven and later at Oak Knoll Hospital to realize that many Marines were far worse off than I was. At Oak Knoll, the Marine in the bed next to me had lost both of his legs. another was missing an arm and leg. One Marine aboard the Haven had a promising football career at the University of California, but had lost both legs and part of one arm.
The only liberty we went on while in Oakland at Oak Knoll Hospital was to a couple of football games, USC versus Cal, and the University of Washington versus Cal. I really had no time to go "a little wild" when getting back to the States. The only time we went wild was on the amputee ward, giving the nurses such a bad time, but we loved them all dearly.
My wife Charlotte finally came down to Oak Knoll in July of 1951 and we found a rooming house to stay near the hospital so we could be together. I still had to go through physical and occupational therapy for several months, so it was nice we could be close to the hospital. We'd just go out to dinner and look around town. My family took the loss of my arm probably better than I did. As for those outside my family and especially when I went back to work wearing an artificial arm with a hook attached, there was some staring, etc. It's difficult to answer about how the loss of an arm changed my life, but I'd be a fool to say it didn't. You just have to feel that you must get on with your life and feeling sorry is an option you'd better soon discard. As for being bitter about having to go to Korea, not really. I must admit that while I was fortunate to have served with so many fine Marines, my bitterness now lies in the fact that so many of them did not come home and were able to raise families like I did. Bitter -- you damn well know it!!
In March when we were surrounded by the CCF was no doubt a time when we were in the most personal danger. However, at the time we were unaware of our situation, so I can’t really say how I felt at this time. To me we always appeared to be in danger. The first time I ever put a bayonet on my rifle in anticipation of an enemy charge was in my mind the most danger felt occasion.
I can’t honestly say that I was discouraged over how the war was progressing. All I knew about the war was what was going on in my little piece of real estate, and that I was with the best Marine Rifle Company in the 1st Marine Division.
The hardest thing about in Korea for me personally was not being able to see my wife and family.
I was given a medically retired discharge from Oak Knoll Naval Hospital on 31 October 1951. I then returned to school, attending an accounting/business school program. My formal education was limited. Other students in my classes were oblivious to the Korean War and what it meant to those involved.
I also worked. My first job upon returning was with Standard Stations, Inc. They were my employer when I was recalled. In fact, they subsidized my wages, sending a check each month to my wife. The check was the difference in my military pay and what I would have received at SSI. My main life's employment was with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. I retired after 27 years working on behalf of people with Developmental Disabilities. In retirement, I have worked for a 2nd District Congressman (John Miller). Now I am active in USMC-related activities. My children are Michael Leslie (47), Dennis Boyce (44) and Diane Marie Angus (37). I also have grandchildren Taylor and Spencer Clark, and Eilea and Daydra Angus.
I don't believe I had too much trouble adjusting to civilian life after leaving the Marine Corps. Now, if you were to ask my dear wife about that, she may have a different opinion. I don't care for people who always have excuses or overly complain when things don't go their way.
Certainly I changed after returning from Korea. Most of my friends did not go to Korea for one reason or another. In fact, one of my friends hadn't even realized I had gone to Korea and was wounded twice. He said that he wondered where I was keeping myself. So much for the awareness of the Korean War. This was true for most people.
I believe that the United States was right to enter the war. Someone had to step in and stop the communists from taking over running the South. Their expansionist goals could have eventually involved Japan, who they hate with a passion.
If the US government had given MacArthur the go ahead and the necessary tools to run an all out war, then he should have gone North. The politicians saw to it that the war was "not in the best interests of the United States" and hamstrung our ability to win. Going North, therefore, was a mistake. Let's face it. There is no substitute for victory! If an all out victory were possible, why kill off so many of our people for a stalemate?
The only good thing to come out of the Korean War is that we stopped communism and helped the South become an economic power. We have to maintain our troops in Korea. You can never trust a dictator and his policies. The North still wants to encompass the South.
The "Forgotten War" is now at last being remembered. However, for years after our victory in World War II, people just wanted to forget any unpleasantness, and "just get on with their lives." Korea? Where the hell is that, and who really cares what happens over there.
The stories regarding the shootings at Nogun-ri, while unfortunate, are part of the ugliness of war. In my opinion, those involved had no choice but to protect themselves, their buddies, and their perimeter.
I want some future reader of this memoir to know that Americans took a stand in the Far East and stopped communism in its tracks. History will one day show the world that communism, fascism in any form, must be eradicated if people are to remain free and independent. As Americans, we should all be proud of the sacrifices made in order to preserve democracy in South Korea. If there are any doubts, just ask the South Koreans.
As my children grew older, we sometimes spoke of the Korean War, but did not dwell on the subject. As a family, we have attended gatherings and reunions with my comrades from World War II and Korea. Naturally, the discussions relate to our experiences, etc. They have a good understanding of what we all went through as U.S. Marines.
I lost a number of close friends in Korea, but to be perfectly honest, I never really made attempts to look up their families. I did, however, in later years try to locate those I knew survived. Now at reunions we talk about how we located one another and reminisce about those who never came home. In past years I searched for buddies from Korea. We made contacts through the internet, our Old Breed News publication, and other friends. At our last reunion, 4-8 July 2001, we had ten members of our 1st platoon, including two Platoon Leaders. We attempt to attend each reunion of the 1st Marine Division. It is here that our squads, platoons, companies, and regiments gather together and share experiences. It is our lifeline.
It seems to me that the US government is doing a lousy job when it comes to locating those of our people (over 8,1000) listed as MIA. Even after World War II our government did not pursue our missing warriors. Same holds true with those listed as MIA from Vietnam. While many Korean War troops have been buried in North Korea, their government has thwarted attempts through neutral envoys to recover our people.
My time in Korea in a nutshell? "Hell on earth, in the Land of the Morning Calm."
Loyalty to Corps
It is my belief that the Marine Corps has helped shape my life, while both in the Corps and after my discharge. The values learned in the Corps will last a lifetime, as well as the countless friends met along the way. These values and these men are treasures that can never be bought, sold or taken away until we answer our final muster.
Once a Marine - Always a Marine. You bet it's true. Maybe this will better explain:
As I Remember...
We started gathering strength for our move on the Hwachon Valley on April 18th or 19th, 1951. The platoon did not know the intention--just another jump-off (possibly?). Suddenly on April 22 early in the morning, we assembled and started to move up the Hwachon Valley. We were in column march when the skipper of E/2/7 was waiting for us. Apparently he dropped out of the front of the column and waited to see the Lieutenant and myself as we marched on. He asked me if I had any back-up batteries and if I had any power left in my walkie-talkie. I said, "No batteries and very little power in battery cells." His order was to click off until reordered to do so. He told me I was not alone--all platoon walkie-talkies were without power. He said we could not turn back... continue on. Very unusual. Sometimes we would jump-off and there would be a supply truck waiting for us (batteries, c-rations, and ammunition). I had mentioned for days preceding this move that there were no spare batteries anywhere in the company, so we went on with no communications between the platoons.
After the march through the valley we started climbing. Late in the afternoon we encountered the enemy and had some casualties. The location of the enemy was in front of us. We looked over to the west and Able 1/7 was on another ridge moving towards the enemy. Able was in a fierce battle and took the ridge. Easy 2/7 laid down a cover fire. The hill was taken and darkness was coming on fast. Easy and Able knitted in for a bad night. The Lieutenant was not sure which way we should dig in--the east side or west side of the ridge. We talked and I asked him should I turn on platoon radio and ask the skipper for directional dig in? "Never mind. Keep the radio off. We'll need it tonight or tomorrow," was his reply. His order for me was to start digging in as it was getting darker.
In a short time the Lieutenant returned. His judgment was correct as the platoon had dug in correctly facing east. I had one hole dug and had started the other. He pitched in and helped me with my hole. He put the phone and outpost right below us. I remember admonishing the people in the outpost to stay on it so I wouldn't have to go out that night. The Lieutenant at night was always checking the outpost with his phone--no reply. I would have to go out and find out why.
There was a fierce fire fight all night--red flashes and explosions along the line. Metal was flying. In the dark of the night a black Marine came down the ridge seeking ammunition. We all gave him two clips. He returned back where he came from, thanking all of us in the 3rd. When he came at us, he was yelling, "Don't shoot!" Lucky for him we didn't. (Some of the boys were hair triggers.) In the late of the night the firing ended.
In the early morning April 23, 1951, a withdrawal was ordered. Lieutenant McPoland, myself, and a section .30 caliber light machine gun were ordered into the guard. A/1/7 and E/2/7 had a withdrawal through us. As the skipper went by he asked me if I still had my radio clicked off. "Aye-aye" was my reply. He said when the withdrawal was completed let him know by walkie-talkie. His runner and SCR300 were right next to me. I asked him if he wanted a test for my battery power being so close. His answer was, "Negative. Make the call when it counts." I also remember asking A/1/7 runner if they had any spare batteries. (None) I went to the highest point after the withdrawal, extended the aerial full measure, tuned on the radio. I spoke these words, "Withdrawal completed. Permission to withdraw. Easy 3 do you read?" Their reply, "Withdraw affirmative." My reply, "Shutting down. Out."
The Lieutenant pulled the machine gun (more important). He and I looked for any stragglers (none). Then he and I left. The runner follows the Lieutenant. Metal over the top as we left. I was the last one to leave the Hwachon. We caught up with the rest of the column and were now on a forced march leaving the Hwachon. We went all day (route step) April 23, 1951. Towards dusk we pulled up in front of a very high ridge, maybe 800 meters. We went up on the south side. At the top, 3rd platoon was to the right with 1st and 2nd at left. We dug in for the night. A quiet night.
The morning of April 24, 1951 dawned clear and sunny. The enemy was in front of us, rice paddies below. Lieutenant McPoland ordered me to put out the air panels in the last foxhole right flank. I went to that location, and set up for air strikes. As my head came up, I noticed there was no one on the right of us, just across the road. Something was wrong. I had a talk with the guys in the last foxhole. We were in trouble, we all agreed. Must tell the Lieutenant and returned to the 3rd C.P. I told him what I had seen. He became disturbed and asked me if there was any power left in my walkie-talkie. I was not sure and turned it on.... Only static. He ordered, "Extend aerial. Follow me!" Kept repeating "No one on the right" as we raced toward Easy C.P. The top of the ridge was our route. The enemy saw my aerial and brought fire upon us. There was an explosion about two feet behind me. I yelled, "Hit the deck!" Lieutenant McPoland was wounded. A miracle nothing hit me. The shrapnel must have curved around me.
We were lying there. He gave me his last order--being wounded he could not continue. I would have to do it. His order was that I must get to Easy C.P. and tell the skipper (no one on the right, enemy in front of us). He said goodbye, gave me the maps he carried, and made mention that he would work on it when he got down below. His very last order was to hold his maps for 30 days until he returned. He never came back. His last order was obeyed. (I held them for 30 days and then turned them over to the next Lieutenant 3rd platoon.) He started down the hill and told me to get going.
Like a bolt I ascended up to the Easy C.P. He was waiting for me, asked me what was wrong. "No one on the right, enemy in front, and Lieutenant wounded." He looked down the ridge. No one on the ridge across road on the right flank. He told me to get down and wait for more orders. I got down. Our snipers were busy on the hill. The C.O. came back shortly. His order for me was to return to 3rd C.O., tell the platoon sergeant we're pulling out, 3rd platoon first then 1st and 2nd will follow. He said stay on the friendly side of the ridge--no heroics. I took off from Easy C.P., touched our last foxhole on 3rd left flank. Stopped for a moment (they will fire on me before I am into the C.O. 3rd platoon.) Told last hole on left, "Start it rolling, I'm coming in." I heard it go down the line, then started my run to the C.P. I came in, "Don't shoot!" Their weapons were on me. I delivered the order that I had received from the skipper. They looked at me...impossible?! Repeated the order--we can't stay. They agreed. Platoon Sergeant started organizing the withdrawal. He looked at me, "If I am wrong, who knows what will happen..." I caught my breath while he organized the withdrawal. Left a note for the enemy, "If we wanted it we would have stayed--we'll be back." I took it personal. They were trying to kill me.
The withdrawal went as planned. A corsair came over the top and was shot down. As we were going down the platoon sergeant said, "Where are the panels?" Sometimes the Lieutenant would leave them until the last few moments when we pulled off a hill. I started to run for the air panels and they stopped me. It was much too dangerous. They said I "had done enough" that day.
We were the lost company on April 24, 1951. We were attached to 1/7, according to the story. They pulled out and we didn't get the word. After my run to the C.P. with my message, Skipper turned to raise on SCR300 2/7. No response. Finally 1/7 Colonel Davis heard us and asked what we were doing there. "Pull out immediately! Leave your KIA's and bring down your wounded." As we went down there was 4th of July multiple rocket fire! Into reserve that night I slept well. As the runner for the 3rd platoon April 24, 1951, I ran the line and the boys were in gear-clips and grenades on the edge of their foxholes. There was no thought of surrender....