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John P. Collins
"Since many of the Korean War memoirs are by soldiers in combat units, I wanted to give the reader an understanding of the role of support units, the importance of logistics, and the dedication of the unheralded truck drivers and other support people during the Korean War."
- John P. Collins
My name is John P. Collins. I was born on January 21, 1931 in Buffalo, New York, the son of John H. and Agnes M. Collins. My father was a research chemist without a college degree. He learned chemistry from reading books in the public library and his work experience at DuPont Chemical Company. With his innate ability he was able to have three patents registered in his name. He started with DuPont in Springfield, Massachusetts before I was born. After two years in a tuberculosis sanitarium (Trudeau Sanitarium in Saranac Lake, New York), he met my mother, who was a nurse. He had contracted the disease in his early twenties while an employee of DuPont. Their policy was to send employees for the cure, paid for by DuPont. He stayed about two years. I do not know how he contracted it. When he was a small boy he had a bad case of pneumonia and almost died. Scar tissue was in the lungs and perhaps that was the genesis of the disease. He was never physically strong and eventually died at age 84 of congestion in the lungs. In later years his sister Claire contacted tuberculosis as well. She was perhaps 50 yrs old at the time. She spent two years at the Boylston, Massachusetts sanitarium.
Dad was then transferred to the Buffalo, New York rayon plant. In 1939, just before the war, DuPont switched him to the field of nylon chemistry and he was transferred to the Seaford, Delaware plant for advanced training as a process control supervisor. He was one of the few white people at DuPont who had strong feelings about the blacks. He felt that they were equal to all of us. He was an early civil rights supporter.
During the war years, his department tested the nylon batches in the vats for the proper consistency regarding parachutes--tow lines for gliders, etc. In 1945 he applied for the plant manager's job but he was turned down because he did not have a college degree in chemistry. He then left DuPont and went into business as part owner and manager of a large taxi cab company in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. The company also had bus contracts for schools and a large car rental agency. The name of the company was the Standard Cab Company.
My mother was one of about 12 children. Her family lived on Irish Hill in Keene, New York. She was the third youngest of the clan and the only high school graduate. She had to walk close to ten miles round trip to high school. She then went to Ausable, New York for nursing training. She was not a Registered Nurse, she was a practical nurse. She had about one to two years of education in this field before she went to Trudeau Sanitarium where she met my father. Incidentally, she was ten years older than my dad. When they married he was 26 and she was 36. She was very sensitive about this issue, which is another story. At any rate, she gave up nursing altogether when she married, and never returned to it. After that she was a homemaker. I have one sister, Patricia, who is five years younger than me. She went to college, later married Dan Fisher, an engineer, and they have four adult boys and one grandchild.
I went to grade school at St. Paul's Parochial School in Kenmore, New York, and to public grade school in Salisbury, Maryland and Martinsville, Virginia. I was living at home when I attended high schools in Martinsville, Virginia and Blackstone, Massachusetts. I then attended St. John's Prep in Danvers, Massachusetts as a boarder. I ran cross country and track while I attended this school. I graduated from St. John's in 1949.
While attending Blackstone High School, I worked at a meat counter in a supermarket. I forget the name of it. It was not a large chain and it was back in the 1940's. I worked there during the school year and in the summer. I also worked as a mechanic's helper at the Standard Cab Company during two summers. I saved some of the money I earned in a savings account for college and some of it was my spending money to buy birthday and Christmas gifts for family, etc.
I was a Boy Scout in Martinsville. I was eligible to join when I turned 12, but my mother was a conservative Catholic who did not want me to join because Troop 61 was affiliated with a Protestant church. The meetings were held in the basement of the church and each meeting was opened with a "Protestant" prayer. After coaxing from one of my Catholic friends (Craig) and my father (who was more liberal), my mother finally relented. Thus passed a year and I had just turned 13 when I joined. Since my friends had moved up the rung of the scouting ladder, I felt I needed to catch up. I was highly motivated and worked very hard to achieve my Eagle Scout badge, which I received when I was 14. I still have the clipping, picture, and write-up that appeared in the local newspaper. I set a record in terms of the least amount of time to achieve Eagle in the State of Virginia. However, I did flunk one merit badge test (21 merit badges were needed for Eagle), which I passed on the second go around. It was Reptile Study. It is amazing because I probably remember more facts from that area of study than all the rest of the merit badges. Later in my career as an educator I always promoted the idea that education is a life-long affair and that independent study is the means to do it. You really do not need a teacher to learn if you have motivation--like my father as an independent learner.
Boy Scouts meant a lot to me personally because I was a year younger than my classmates and small for my age. Therefore I could not compete in school sports at the junior high and year one level of high school, although I did play touch football and some baseball. Little Leagues were just getting organized in the 1940s. I went out for a team and I waited in line for a uniform. I was last in line and guess what. They ran out of uniforms just as they got to me. Therefore I played sans uniform. I did not play much. I played right field--getting in during the ninth inning when the score was 20 to 1. I gave up the baseball so scouting and related activities were all I had outside of school. Martinsville was a small town of 14,000 situated in the southwest corner of Virginia close to North Carolina and Tennessee. There were lots of woods and I loved the outdoors. In conclusion, scouting was my life at the time. I also admired scout Don Fendler who was lost in the Maine woods sometime in the late 1930s. He was a city kid who survived in the woods. He is still alive, giving motivational talks to young people. He was about three to five years older than I.
World War II
No one in my family served in the military during World War II. As I mentioned earlier, during World War II my dad worked at DuPont in Martinsville. He was a chemist and supervisor in the plant which made nylon for parachutes and glider tow lines. DuPont required its supervisors and foremen to have victory gardens--each family was allotted about a half acre of land to grow vegetables and so forth. I took care of this garden as my dad had little time with his work. Although I did most of the work, my dad was dedicated to the idea of a victory garden. Our school in Martinsville had tin can drives and I worked collecting and bringing them to the distribution center. My dad was a great fan of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and felt that he was a great president, especially during war time. Dad felt that he was making a good patriotic effort in his work as a chemist. He was also very loyal to the various drives--tin cans, etc. He conserved gasoline for the troops. After he graduated from high school my father learned Morse Code and then became a radio operator on an oil freighter sailing the Great Lakes and down through the Panama Canal. He was signed on as a regular crew member. The name of the ship was the USS Grammar, as I remember. I have a photo of it somewhere. Also, I have his log as a radio operator. During the war, he listened to Morse Code messages on our radio and deciphered (nothing secret, of course) pretty routine messages that were sometimes war-related.
When I worked at the cab company as a teen, several of the cab drivers had served in the Army and Marines, and several were former paratroopers. These were tough guys, all with French ethnic backgrounds as Woonsocket was at the time predominately French--and still is. They had made combat jumps in Europe. They talked about their jump training, which was not the three weeks that I had when I joined the paratroopers some years later, but perhaps ten days or so. They talked about hooking up on the static line just before their jump. They made no bones about their fear, however. Some made night jumps. They talked about the cold weather. They also were proud of their airborne status, saying that it was better than the "straight legs" (the regular Army). They showed me patches, their wings, etc. Although they did not talk about combat much (I am sure it was traumatic for most of them), their stories made an impact on me. Hence, when I joined the military I joined the paratroopers.
After I graduated from high school I was accepted at the University of Notre Dame. My declared major was business administration. I had a vague goal of hooking up with a major company like my father had done at DuPont. I have a remembrance of going to the town hall in Blackstone and signing papers that declared I was a college student. I had a yellow deferment card. I stayed at University of Notre Dame for a year and continued some running while I was there, although I was not on the team. I was, however, on their boxing team and made it to the Bengal bouts, but caught the flu just before the fight and could not compete in the final bout.
I transferred to Boston University and completed a third semester before I joined the Army Airborne in January of 1951. I had seen movie reels during World War II of paratroopers making combat jumps. I liked the idea of the physical challenge. I had wanderlust and felt some guilt that men my age were serving their country and I wasn't. The GI Bill for education was appealing, as it would mean that I could finance my own college education after I returned from the Army. The paratrooper program was also appealing as I had heard so much about it from my cabbie friends during my summer employment. I wanted to become part of an elite group and the paratroops would confirm that status. The regular Army recruiter handled the airborne recruitment as well.
Initially I tried to enlist in the Marines. (I had heard that the Marines had jumpers as well. I believe it was only a small number, however.) But I had flat feet--I guess from so much cross country running in high school. Also, I flunked the eye exam. I had a hard time distinguishing shades of color, although I could make out some primary colors such as the hard reds, etc. By the time I took the Army physical I had learned to curl my feet so my flat feet were not easily observed by a physician who was doing many exams. I do not remember a color eye exam in the Army. There was just a traditional vision test. Passing the physical was the only requirement to join the Army. At the time I guess they needed only warm bodies. When recruits finally entered jump school after basic, the washout rate was fairly high, so that in a sense there was a built-in screening devise. Washouts went straight to Korea as straight legs. I guess for the Army it was a win-win situation. If we made jump school, fine. If not, then we filled the badly needed quotas of straight legs in Korea.
My good friend Norman Picard from Woonsocket, Rhode Island joined the Army Airborne with me and we went through basic training at Fort Bragg and jump school at Fort Benning together. When we joined we were satisfied that we would wind up in jump school, but there were no guarantees beyond that. It was strictly up to us in terms of our performance in jump school. Unlike me, Norman was a great athlete. He had quarterbacked his high school football team and was an all-state track star, especially in the pole vault. I believe he set a state record in high school. He was a great springboard diver. Gymnastics were his real forte. His older brother was a staff sergeant in the 82nd at Fort Bragg and therefore Norman had the motivation and innate skill to be a great paratrooper. He made it through jump school in a breeze while Yours Truly had to struggle.
My parents were very unhappy that I left college. Also, joining the Army Airborne deepened their unhappiness, as they felt that jumping out of airplanes was a high risk occupation. My sister also was not happy, and I am sure she had her moments of sadness. There was a five-year age difference between us and at that time this was a chasm. I did not confide in her on a daily basis. She reminded me that Dad and Mom were not happy with my decision, to which I paid little attention. Now my sister and I are very close.
I took a bus from Boston, Massachusetts to Fort Devens, Massachusetts for processing. My assignment to Fort Devens was titled, "Orders, EM Concerned dated 17 January 1951 issued by HQ, US Army and US Air Force, New England Recruiting District, Boston Army Base, Boston 10, Massachusetts." No one that I knew before enlistment traveled with me to the training camp. This was not the first time I had been away from home. I had been away to the University of Notre Dame for one year, and before that I had been a boarding student at St. John's Prep School in Danvers for two years.
At the time I joined the Army Airborne, I knew very little about the country of Korea itself--the terrain, people, etc. I was aware of some of the international political issues of the day, such as Dean Acheson and his famous speech about Formosa and Korea being outside the sphere of influence that would be protected by the United States. President Truman shortly thereafter acted swiftly to defend South Korea, albeit it was outside the "sphere of influence." I considered Korea as a real war. Early reports of the war about high casualty rate and the Chosin Reservoir assured me that certainly war was real. I understood that the 38th Parallel had been agreed upon as a demarcation line and that it was violated by the North Koreans and then the Chinese. I agreed with the philosophy of the time that the United States had to take a stand and back their agreements. I was fully supportive.
I realized that there was a chance that I might not return from war. My cab driver friends were models of patriotism. They admired me for leaving college and volunteering to go to war. (I went down to my father's office when on leave before going to Korea.) What I did not realize, however, was the travesty of being a wounded soldier--the loss of a limb or being badly burned by friendly fire, napalm, etc.--until I saw some cases. Having recently visited wounded soldiers from Iraq at the Landstuhl Hospital (my son is a full bird colonel and chief of staff of the hospital), I realize the problems of the badly wounded for the families.
While at Fort Devens Norman and I processed together, but he was in a different barracks. It was at Devens that I got an introduction to the open commodes. The toilets which, heretofore, had closing doors everywhere else I had been, were now completely open. This was a bit intimidating to me at first, and I quickly developed a case of constipation until I got used to the idea. My new friend Vincent Cawley was a street-wise kid from Boston and we became good friends, seeing each other throughout basic training. Although we were not assigned together in the same barracks, we were in the same company. On one occasion Vincent taught me an important lesson. We bunked together-–he on top and me on the bottom bunk. One evening when I was taking a shower, I innocently left my wallet on the bed. Lo and behold, when I returned it was gone. Vincent had taken it and given it to the barracks sergeant. Frustrated that I had my wallet stolen, I asked my comrades if they had seen it. Many of them had seen Vincent take it and knew what he was up to. After about a half an hour, the sergeant came out and gave me the wallet with the admonition that leaving a wallet on a bed was a very unwise thing to do. He used strong language to make his point, but I never forgot and never had my wallet stolen.
Another thing I learned at Fort Devens was to avoid kitchen police (KP) duty at all costs. Those assigned to this duty had to get up at 4:00 A.M. or earlier and report to the mess hall where we were usually met by an overweight mess sergeant who hated the world and especially new recruits. (This is all changed now in the modern army—no KP and I think the mess sergeants all love recruits--tongue in cheek, of course.) I seldom met a mess sergeant I liked, and got into a fight with one in Korea. However, I am sure there are many mess sergeants that are not overweight and who are really nice guys—I guess I just never met one. I usually wound up cleaning grease traps as one of my first chores on KP. This was a disgusting job as we had to pull up a large filter that was placed in the cement floor near the cooking area of the kitchen. We had to clean this filter and empty the smelly contents into a big tin container. Then we had to pull the liquid that was stored there up and out of the hole. We did this with a ladle-like tool and placed the liquid into a tin container. After cleaning the filter we had to hose down the hole with soap and water. The smell and odor during this operation was sickening. At least on one occasion I vomited during this operation. This filter and hole contained accumulated grease and food over a period of about a week of cooking. The cooks poured their grease and food particles from the pans into this hole. There were leavings from eggs and milk and other foods that had turned sour. The smell was overpowering. I don’t know why they were not cleaned on a daily basis. I am sure that in some mess halls that was the case. At Devens, I think they waited for someone like me to show up. I was very young looking for my age and barely weighed 135 pounds—perhaps seemingly vulnerable. Later I will explain how I avoided this chore on the troop ship to Japan.
My processing at Fort Devens took place during the month of January 1951. The base was bitterly cold and there was much snowfall. We were all enlisted into shoveling walkways and other areas. The Korean War was in full swing and we were all viewed as cannon fodder or quick replacements for the many casualties. After my second stint with KP, I came down with a terrible cold which turned into the flu. I couldn’t move out of my bunk at reveille because I had a headache, backache, and a high fever. My friend Vincent was very convincing in describing my condition at roll call. The barracks sergeant looked at me suspiciously and said I had to go on sick call. I really hoped that they would come with a stretcher and take me to the hospital.
At this point my view of army life was 180 degrees away from what it was two weeks earlier. The Sergeant told me to get up and get dressed and he would show me where the dispensary was. I stumbled out of the door wishing there was some way I could sign out of this man’s army. The Sergeant said the dispensary was about a half-mile down the road–some rights—some lefts, who knows? I mumbled an insincere thank you and headed to the dispensary. After quite an effort and a few queries, I found a barracks that was the dispensary, but there was a line waiting outside to get in. I couldn’t believe that I was going to have to wait in this line to get some help. As I mentioned, it was bitterly cold. To add insult to injury, I overheard recruits ahead of me joking about their sick call just to get out of the day’s routine.
About an hour later I made it to the desk where a medic or clerk asked me some questions. Someone else stuck a thermometer into my mouth. A clerk filled out a form which I had to sign, and I was moved along to a row of soldiers who were seated waiting for some medical attention. I didn’t pay much attention, but there was some sort of process to separate the phonies from the sick. A number of soldiers, including me, were coughing and sneezing while on the bench. When I finally got to a doctor, I received a decent checkup and immediately was taken by a medic to an ambulance or van with two other soldiers. We were seated in the back in a type of bucket seat and whisked off to a small hospital. I was asked to change into a johnnie for a further checkup. I had a real bad case of the flu.
I had had something similar at Notre Dame and was hospitalized for a week the previous winter. At Fort Devens I was placed in a bed and given medication, as my temperature rose to about 105—just like the previous year. I had a lot of congestion and I felt like a truck had hit me. I must have inherited a propensity for lung congestion like my father. I kept thinking maybe they would put on my records "no more KP". My friends Norm and Vincent visited me and Vincent told me that he would not let anybody take my bottom bunk and that I could have it until we shipped out. A great friend, indeed.
When I got out of the hospital I was assigned light duty and did some more processing. Shortly thereafter we were bussed to Boston where we boarded a train to Fayetteville, North Carolina. The train was part civilian and part army. There was a load of us from Fort Devens and we took up eight to ten cars. We were wearing those old brown overcoats and had our duffel bags. The duffel bags were kept in a separate car and we had large white tags on them for identification purposes. The trip to Fayetteville was uneventful except I wished I was sitting up front with the civilians. So far my army experience was a big zero for me. The train stopped somewhere near Fayetteville in the middle of the night. I don’t remember all the connections or whether it was actually Fayetteville or some nearby city with a major rail stop. At any rate, we got on to a bus and headed to Fort Bragg.
Basic Training at Ft. Bragg
Home of the 82nd Airborne
I was assigned to the 3rd Platoon, Fourth Training Company, Provisional Training Regiment, 82nd Airborne, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. One day while we were out learning our right foot from the left, Norman was leading his company with snappy drills. He was barking out orders like a seasoned trooper—he never ceased to amaze me. In between cadences Norman yelled at me, “Hi Ace, how are you doing? (Ace was my nickname that I acquired as a teenager hanging around the corners in Blackstone, Massachusetts and Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Both towns were adjacent to each other, so I had friends in both areas.) I did not dare say anything as we had a sergeant that was leading our group and he did not look too kindly at Norman for this non-military behavior-that is, yelling across companies while marching. Norm was a natural leader and he was given other leadership positions as we progressed through the training programs at Fort Bragg and Fort Benning. We shipped out together, but were not together on the train. However, he went through the troop train and found me sitting with my new-found friend, Vincent Cawley from Rosindale (Boston).
At Fort Bragg we underwent basic infantry training of very high caliber. It was led by paratroopers from the 82nd, 504th, and 505th Regiments. Many of them had made combat jumps in Europe and were really seasoned veteran soldiers. They instilled in us the airborne spirit, although about half of our company did not go on to jump school. They were draftees—some from Oklahoma, for some reason. They were college graduates and teachers older than some of us from Devens. They were probably more sensible as well. "Who would want to jump out of an airplane?" was their plaintive cry. The focus by the cadre was to develop a first-rate infantry soldier with very little emphasis on airborne per se. However, the cadre made a point that most of us would not make airborne—we were too soft, did not have the courage, etc. I guess it was negative psychology. Remember, this was 1951 and not the modern army of 2006.
On the first day, we were assigned barracks. There was some processing, shots, medical checks, dental checks, etc. We arrived at the barracks in the middle of the night, where we discovered that we had a typical barracks with two floors and bunk beds. There was a latrine with gang showers. There were two private rooms for cadre. Since there was no central heating or air conditioning, the barracks were very hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Upon arrival at the barracks we saw bunk beds with rolled-up mattresses. We all crashed onto the mattresses, but shortly a happy-faced corporal came running through the barracks with piles of sheets and pillowcases in his hand with the admonition, “Make your bunks, Cruits” (short for recruits). This was about 2 A.M. So there I went, laying a sheet over the bed with the happy corporal at my side making sure I tucked the ends in properly. I must have looked helpless (plus I was still on penicillin), because he proceeded to help me, mumbling something like, "The army takes anybody these days." Hello, Fort Bragg. All I needed now was for someone to drag me to KP to clean a grease trap. I think if that had happened I would have gone AWOL ASAP. My friend Vince Cawley was assigned to another platoon and barracks, so I rarely saw him again except when we were doing exercises as a company.
By name I can remember two instructors. Sergeant Harris was an American Indian who had served in World War II and made two combat jumps in Europe. He had joined the army at a young age (either 15 or 16) by submitting a doctored birth certificate. He was prone to lecturing us about our softness and the probability of our not making the grade at jump school. Overall I liked and respected him, but there were days when I wished I had not met up with him. There was Sergeant Franders, for whom I had tremendous respect. He was quiet and laid back, but tough as nails. He had made four combat jumps in World War II. I believe one was in the African campaign. Franders was in his early thirties, but looked 45 or 50. His face was sort of pock-marked and reddened. However, he was a very fair NCO and his word was golden. There were several other sergeants who had served in World War II, but I cannot recall their names—only their faces. One training officer was a 1st Lieutenant (I cannot remember his name) who had just returned from combat in Korea. I am going to call this Lieutenant by a fictitious name to save confusion since I mention him on a number of occasions in my narrative. I will call him Lt. John Bales. He was tough and at times unreasonable. I will tell a couple of stories about him as I go along. I eventually came to appreciate the cadre, especially Sergeant Franders and Sergeant Harris, who were demanding and perhaps unreasonable at times. (This was my perception. I am sure their actions were justified from their point of view.) They were preparing us for combat and they took their job seriously. They were the best of the best in my overall assessment.
Our company commander was a captain who was charged with theft while he served in Korea. He sold army overcoats to Korean civilians. He was relieved of command of our training unit and court marshaled. Our mail clerk was a corporal from Saranac Lake, New York who knew my first cousin, Francis Buckley. Francis was a great high school athlete and received a football scholarship to Notre Dame. He left Notre Dame like I did and joined the navy during World War II. There is a whole story about him, but it is not relevant to my memoir.
Even though the Korean War was in progress, our basic training was not accelerated to the best of my knowledge. The 16 weeks was required at Fort Bragg, but perhaps other training sites had different programs. We learned everything about our M-1 rifle--how to take it apart and how to clean it. We learned how to fire .30 and .50 caliber machines guns, the Browning automatic weapon, the mortar, the hand grenade, carbine, the .45 revolver, the burp gun, and the bazooka. We had to qualify on all of the weapons. As part of our rifle training, one of the duties was to work the pits to record the shots on target by firing recruits. These were trenches and we had to hold a signal of sorts to let the recruit know his score. Just for the record, I fired in the marksman category, which was the lowest category. My qualification score was indicated by Special Orders 217 dated April 1951 issued from HQ 82nd Airborne. The next category was sharpshooter, then expert. Some of my southern colleagues fired expert as they had been raised with firearms. This was the first time on weapons for me. Later in my army career, when I shipped to Japan before being assigned duty in Korea, I fired expert. I had been to the firing range while assigned to the 508 Regimental Combat Team and evidently improved my proficiency--or else the soldiers in the pit wanted to improve my self-confidence by recording a false score. Who knows? At any rate, I felt better about my capability with the M-1.
We had extensive bayonet drills, learned hand-to-hand fighting, and practiced basic marching drills and tactical drills working as a platoon in simulated warfare situations. We learned how to go under barbed wire with a live machine gun firing overhead. There was physical fitness training, long hikes with full packs, forced marching drills with full pack, simulated night warfare, going through swamps with full pack and keeping rifle high and out of the water, and how to keep our cool while watching water moccasins swim by us. With physical training we had to complete a PT fitness test which was comprised of a one-mile run, squat jumps, pushups, chinning, and sit-ups. I forget the actual number of each--probably 50-75 times for each exercise. I found everything to be easy except the pushups. We went on bivouacs and we learned how to pitch tents and where to pitch them to keep clear of an area where it might get swamped by runoff water. We studied basic first aid, experienced sleeping on the ground with and without air mattresses, and learned how to watch out for black widow spiders, rattlesnakes, copperheads, and water moccasins. We also learned basic cooking skills and we watched films about various weapons, hygiene, venereal disease, and the use of condoms.
A word on bayonet training. I will focus on one aspect, which was the intense bayonet training given by a Chinese-American captain who was an expert on the topic. He was a Korean War veteran (he was a training officer and not part of our company) and stressed the need to know the bayonet since there was quite a bit of hand-to-hand combat, especially in the early stages of the war. He worked with us on a one-to-one basis. He worked with me showing me the various moves. On one occasion he accidentally hit my jaw with the butt of his rifle. (At least I would like to think it was accidental.) It hurt for awhile and several weeks later I had pain in my lower four teeth. I went to the dentist, who said an infection had started in my lower jaw. The four lower teeth had to be removed and be replaced with a permanent gold bridge, which I still have to this day. This happened at the end of my basic training, therefore my orders to jump school were delayed by two weeks.
The only Korean combat veteran in our training program was Lieutenant Bales, who I referred to previously. During morning report at 6:00 A.M., we were given general briefings on major aspects of the war, usually by Lieutenant Bales. The big moment for me was one very rainy day when we were at the machine gun range. MacArthur was going to make a speech to Congress that day, so the cadre brought out big speakers that were set all along the firing line. We stopped our firing drills and the cadre asked us to be at ease and listen to MacArthur’s speech (made after he was fired by President Truman). We had our rain ponchos on and the rain was dripping down our faces. We all listened attentively and it was obvious that the cadre had great respect for the General. I will never forget the memorable lines that have oft been repeated, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” Following the speech and after we marched back to our barracks in the rain, we were given the rest of the day off. It was about a five-mile hike and when we got back to the barracks we all crashed onto our bunks.
Our days were very much regimented. We were awakened in the morning by one of the NCOs blowing a whistle and yelling short, obscene rhymes. Meals were served three times a day in the mess hall. If we were in the field, we were given rations. We were always fed pretty well. Of course, it was typical institutional food and was cause for constant complaining and griping. Personal hygiene was stressed. "Keep your body clean." "Take at least one shower a day and sometimes two." Dental hygiene was stressed. We had short talks or films on the subject.
We were awakened in the middle of the night perhaps once a week to fall out for an inspection or take night hikes. At least on one occasion we had to bring machine gun barrels into the barracks. These gun barrels were encased in heavy grease. We were told to place the greasy gun barrels on the barracks floor and clean them until they were shiny. Grease, of course, was all over the floor and our next task was to clean the floors. At first we were given toothbrushes to clean the floor. After about an hour we were given suitable brushes to finish the job. This happened at about 1:00 A.M. We were told the floor had to be completely clean by reveille. We completed the task on time and there were many machine gun barrels ready for firing as a result of our work. As I indicated earlier, the instructors were very strict and demanding, without any let-up over the 16 weeks. I do not remember any corporal punishment, but there were plenty of harsh tongue lashings.
There were two occasions that I was personally disciplined. The first was one morning when I fell out for roll call and my shirt collar was up around my neck and not flat out. That day we were marching out to the machine gun range five miles away from our barracks. "Collins, is there something wrong with your army dress this morning?” asked Sergeant Franders. “I don’t know, Sergeant.” He said, “You don’t know.” A soldier next to me mumbled, “Your collar is up.” I proceeded to put it down. “My collar is up, Sergeant.” He said, "Collins, after chow we are going out to the machine gun range and you are going to double time around the company with your rifle over your head all the way yelling to the company, “I am sorry my collar was up this morning.” At breakfast I got a lot of sympathy, and some soldiers even volunteered to take some of my turns. I told them I would make it okay as I was in really good shape. So it was, and we marched out to the range.
I started my double time with rifle in the air and yelling the words as I circled the company. The only thing that really bothered me was the embarrassment of it all. I felt like a real jerk and I thought the punishment did not fit the crime. This was one of the rare times that I felt that Sergeant Franders was not being fair. Perhaps he was trying to give a message to the other cadre to toughen up and press hard on the recruits. I never was very strong in the arms and keeping the rifle over my head was tiring. Every once in awhile Sergeant Franders told me to fall in ranks behind the company and rest a bit. Then he would tell me to start again. “Collins, are you getting tired?" Franders kept saying. I wanted to turn the tables on him, so I kept saying no. Franders was obviously irritated. He did not expect a lowly recruit to be in such good shape. My friend Vincent Cawley was in the company formation in another platoon. He was near the end of the formation and he kept making all kinds of snide remarks. “Collins, I hope you wise up after this exhibition.” (Sometimes Cawley had a tendency to make comments that were not the most flattering.) However, after the first couple miles he began to get worried and said on one of my rounds he would take my place. “Just fall in my place in the formation and I will replace you.” He did not care what Franders would say or do, and I am sure he would have done it if I relented. My determined spirit took over, however, and I said to myself, "I can take anything these guys dish out." In fact, I started picking up the pace during the last couple miles, much to the surprise of all the NCOs and Lieutenant Bales. Actually, when we reached the range, I was still circling the company.
When we stopped to get organized for firing, the whole company broke into a cheer and applause, which was quickly quashed by Franders. He announced that if there were any other such outbreaks, the whole company would double time home with rifles over their heads. Needless to say, that was the end of that. However, Sergeant Franders did mumble to me, “Good job, Collins. I didn’t think you would make it." I had gone without water and in those days the Army took the position that depriving soldiers of water was good discipline. I suppose I shouldn’t say Army, because I don’t know what their official position was. I know it was the practice of this particular training cadre.
A few years later, in 1956, Sergeant Matthew McKeon from Worcester, Massachusetts, a training NCO of the Marines, lost several Marines with a rather stupid night maneuver in the swamps, along with depriving the recruits of water. Training methods changed after that incident. One of the other sergeants (I forget his name so I will call him Sergeant Wellstone for ease of the narrative) came up to me and said something to the effect that I might be a little heady about my recent feat. “So you think you can run, Collins?” “Yes, Sergeant, I think I am in pretty good shape.” He said, “Well, Collins, I am challenging you to a five-mile run next Sunday morning at 8 A.M. at the training run course.” I replied, “Okay, Sergeant. I will see you there.” The sergeant and I met as scheduled with plenty of spectators, perhaps half the company. I had just garnered plenty of supporters by successfully completing my disciplinary run. Sergeant Wellstone was plenty macho, but he was a really nice guy and he was fairly young. He was not a veteran of either the Korean War or World War II, but he was obviously pretty confident of his physical fitness. But then again, so was I.
It was a course frequently used for training runs and I had used it before, so we were both familiar with the terrain. In fact, it was not unlike cross country courses I had run in high school, although with not as many hills. We had no running shoes and wore combat boots, fatigues, and a tee shirt. Sergeant Wellstone had gathered some other cadre and some recruits from his barracks to do the run with us. Sergeant Wellstone explained the course, which crossed the entire training area and wound out towards the machine gun range. We then had to double back to our starting place. Off we went with cheering recruits and cadre, including Sergeants Franders and Harris. Sergeant Wellstone looked like an athlete in contrast to myself. I was skinny and not very muscular. Sergeant Wellstone yelled so all could hear, “Collins, I am going to kick your ass."
It was a pretty good race for the first two miles or so, but I gradually broke away from Sergeant Wellstone, who said, “Hey, Collins. Where are you going?” The distance between a hard-breathing sergeant and me gradually widened. Then I really started moving because I wanted not only to beat this guy, but to beat him badly. At about mile four I could no longer see the sergeant as I looked around. I completed the run as cheering recruits and cadre embraced me and shook my hand. I hastened off to the barracks for a shower because I wanted to add insult to injury by showering and jumping into my bunk before he arrived over the finish line. An obviously tired and heavily-sweating Sergeant Wellstone appeared at my bunk side and said, “Collins, you are a rabbit. Where did you learn to run like that?” I explained that I ran in high school, albeit I had been an average runner. I usually placed in most meets, although I never won. In sum, it was a week of infamy for me--my feats of making the disciplinary run and also badly beating my new macho sergeant friend.
I must confess that there was a second time that I was disciplined, this time for falling asleep during a teaching session. We were out in the field and we were all sitting down listening to a 2nd Lieutenant give a lecture on the mortar. I was leaning against a tree and I fell asleep. One of the cadre gave me a nudge and the 2nd Lieutenant came over to me and said, “Collins, you are going to teach the mortar to all of us tomorrow." He tossed me the manual and I studied about three hours that evening. I also got up early the next morning and studied some more. In a rote sort of way I learned much of the material. When we returned to the field the next day, the Lieutenant asked me to stand and lecture the troops on what I had learned. I did pretty well and responded intelligently to questions from the recruits as well as the cadre and the Lieutenant. When we did performance tests on the mortar, I did well because I had a leg up from knowing much of the training manual. That teaching lesson was later one of the factors that led me to a professional career in the field of education. Hence, I was able to turn two disciplinary measures into positive actions which enhanced my image with my fellow recruits.
Actually, I never saw anyone else run around a marching company with rifle overhead. There were a few recruits that were sent for extra duty for not having a clean rifle or failing to assemble a disassembled rifle in the required time--which may have been about five minutes, but I forget. The extra duty was spending time cleaning the barracks floor with a toothbrush. I had heard stories about recruits being dragged to a shower by cadre and scrubbed with brushes, but I never actually saw it. I am sure there were many disciplinary measures which I was not privy to or have forgotten. I know that there were times when we were disciplined as a whole barracks for not keeping the barracks as clean as the cadre had expected. The discipline was usually an extra march during the night or extra physical training. It seems like we were doing pushups all the time or extra squat jumps for one thing or another.
I can only remember one soldier from Oklahoma who did not make basic training with us. He was a young man who was overweight, very awkward, and not able to assemble or disassemble his rifle properly. He was taken out of the company and put into a special group with the same problems. He finished basic over a longer span of time. There were no black recruits because the total integration of the armed forces did not occur until later in 1951 by an executive order from President Truman. I conjecture that there were units that anticipated the order and were probably doing gradual integration.
Church was offered and is a special story, indeed. Lieutenant Bales disliked religion as he was a self-proclaimed atheist. At the beginning of our training he said, “Under army regulation such and such I am required to march you to the church and the religious service of your choice. This requirement is for three weeks only and by God (ironic because he said he was an atheist), if I catch any of you going to church after that I will personally whip your ass." He prided himself on being a tough guy. (I will recount a classic event involving him and Norm Picard later in the sequence of events.) Well, “by God,” he did march us to church for three weeks. As I remember it, there were two chapels in the same area with staggered services for Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. There was also a PX in the area, so when we marched over as a mixed religious group we could hang out at the PX/coffee shop until our respective service started. The Catholic service was early, so we fell out and I could go to the service without hanging around. Actually, this was the only time we could get close to a PX for about eight weeks because we were restricted to the Company area at all times except for church service. Obviously some or many guys got in formation just to hang out at the PX/coffee shop. However, there were a good number of guys from the Midwest and Oklahoma that were devout Christians and Baptists. Some of these guys were sent from that area to Fort Bragg because they intended to go airborne. I assume if they were regular infantry they would have had their training at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma or Fort Riley, Kansas. As I said earlier, however, a number of these guys were college graduates and were going into teaching. Others were part-way through college and were either drafted or enlisted and opted for airborne because of the possibility of staying stateside rather than going to Korea right away. Not a bad idea when you think about it.
I continued to go to church beyond the three weeks, even though I was going to get my ass whipped. I really didn’t think an officer was going to whip an enlisted man’s ass if he was caught going to church. Besides, this was a good chance to stand up for my faith--something I had remembered when I was confirmed in Roanoke, Virginia many years before. The guys went to their Protestant church service, but I seemed to be the only recruit on my floor of the barracks that went to the Catholic services. Sure enough, one Sunday when I was returning from church I came up against the infamous Lieutenant Bales. I had to head out to church in the opposite direction and return the same way to elude this atheist predator. Of course, he was on to the wily ways of “cruits”, and I happened onto him about the fifth or sixth week of training. However, I had a little guile. I always bought a candy bar with a bag or a cup of coke, so I was armed when I hit the company area. “Soldier, where have you been?” yelled the atheist. “I was just coming back from the PX,” replied the Catholic. (I figured the off-limits PX was a much more formidable excuse than church.) “What’s your name, “Cruit?” “Collins, Sir. John P. (I stated my service number, RA-----, because I figured this would really impress him.) All right, Collins. I am putting your name on a report list to Sergeant Flanders. “Do you know the PX is off limits, Collins?” “Yes Sir, I do.” “Well, at least you’re honest.” “Yes Sir.” “Don’t yes Sir me anymore, Collins, and get your ass back to the barracks.” “Yes S....” I didn’t finish, of course. Later Sergeant Flanders nailed me and told me that, if I was going to sneak off to the PX, not to get caught by that __. “Okay, Sarge.” I guess there was no love lost between the two of them. I continued to go to church and became more and more adept at leaving and returning to the barracks area. Eventually I found an earlier Mass at 6:30 A.M., when nobody was awake on Sunday morning--especially my good sergeants who were sleeping off a drunk from a big Saturday night in town.
The terrain at Fort Bragg was pretty flat. The soil was a reddish hue from iron deposits, evidently. Near the camp there were thick forests which were ideal for training. As I mentioned earlier, we had three poisonous snakes in the area: the rattlesnake, the copperhead, and the water moccasin. We had our share of black widow spiders, as well as chiggers which got under the skin and caused a rash. There were also ticks which could cause Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. There were always rumors of recruits getting bitten by snakes or spiders, but I never knew anyone in my barracks that had the experience.
As to having "fun" during this training period, I remember two such situations. I suppose one would have to say that going on pass was fun, which it was because we had a chance to relax with our friends over a beer. Relative to our off duty recreation there were two occasions that I remember going to Fayetteville on a pass. These were six-hour passes, which meant we had to be back in the barracks by midnight. When we came back we checked into company headquarters and signed in with the duty officer.
One time I went to town with some of my barracks buddies. I don’t remember the drinking age, but it did not make any difference anyway. We were all under 21 and there was no problem ordering alcohol. As we frequented the many bars, there was the usual lineup of prostitutes actively soliciting the recruits. We all had seen our standard venereal disease film and subsequent lecture about condoms. Some of my friends decided to indulge after a few beers, and so they went their way. Many of the ladies looked pretty hung over and one wondered how many hundreds of sexual encounters they had had over the months. Several beers later, some of us returned to the base early so as not to be checked in late and suffer the consequences. In the bars there were always the standard fare of brawls and macho activities--like arm wrestling, which I avoided like the plague as I was sporting only 135 pounds soaking wet, as they say. Some soldiers had been badly beaten up in some of these encounters.
The other was a situation which I enjoyed because it involved the “hard ass” Lieutenant Bales. During a morning report, we received one of the famous epistles from Lieutenant Bales. “If you guys got problems--go see the chaplain" (religion again). "The chaplain will punch your TS card. You know what a TS card is?” A soldier answered, “Yes Sir. A TS card is a tough shit card.” “Give that soldier a cigar,” bellowed Bales. “You see, what you do is take the TS card to the chaplain who is located over there" (he pointed in the direction of the church). "And after you tell him your troubles he will punch your card and then you bring it back to ole Lieutenant Bales for a signature. And then when you bring it to me for a signature, I will kick your ass all around this company area. Anybody want to go to the chaplain to get their card punched? What? No takers? I heard that there are some pretty big bellyachers around here. If I hear any of that shit you will get the end of my boot in your ass. Get it, Cruits?” “Yes Sir,” we all answered in unison.
Lieutenant Bales thought he was one tough cookie. I told my friend Norm Picard about him when he came over to see me one Sunday afternoon. Norman had a legendary reputation back in Woonsocket as an athlete and a tough street fighter. Norman’s brother was a Sergeant First Class with either the 504 or the 505 airborne companies at Fort Bragg, so Norman wasn’t about to be pushed around by anyone. I forget the exact time frame, but it was near the end of our training and we were all on friendlier terms with our NCOs and Sergeant Bales. Norman had a quick wit and a sense of humor which would disarm anybody. A bunch of us were standing around on one of these Sunday afternoons and Lieutenant Bales was very relaxed and informal. Norman (who was from another company and not under the authority of Lieutenant Bales) started a conversation with Bales about training methods. Norm mentioned his Executive Officer, who Bales knew. In his casual and non-threatening way, Norm said something to the effect that he heard that he (Bales) was a tough guy. “Damned right! Sometimes I just like to kick ass, but I never get any takers.” “You are on, my friend,” said Norm.
Lieutenant Bales told Norm that he would meet him at 3:00 P.M. at the nearby base gym, and to put on gym clothes and wear sneakers. Well, Norm didn’t really have any gym clothes, so when we went back to his barracks he put on a pair of fatigues, as we were hanging out in class A uniform which was the dress on Sunday. Norm had an old pair of tennis shoes in his foot locker, so he made a quick change into his fatigues. We had some time to kill so Norm and I went to the PX for a Coke and a snack. Norm asked me about Lieutenant Bales, as he didn’t know him except through my somewhat negative reports. He didn’t think Bales would pick up on the challenge since it would be an officer/enlisted man kind of thing, which rarely happened in those days (or even today).
When we got to the gym Bales was waiting inside this wrestling pen--something like a boxing ring, only it had mats on the flooring of it. Bales yelled at us to come over. Norm had this big grin on his face like this was a challenge he really relished. I knew Norm from way back as a street-wise and tough kid. Norm was short--about 5 foot 7 inches or 5 foot 8 inches, but he was very powerful, especially in the arms and wrists. Only Norm could get away with challenging an officer to a duel or fight or whatever you want to call it. Norm was always very cocky, and he was eager to take on the fearless and tough guy Bales. “I can’t wait to get my hands on him,” said Norm as we sauntered towards the area.
Bales explained to Norm that he was a judo expert and, in fact, that was one of the skill areas that he taught the recruits. Well, to make a long story short, both Norm and Lieutenant Bales got into this pen-like area and started sparing around. Lieutenant Bales had some fancy moves and within a few seconds had flipped an unknowing Norm to the mat. Getting up with a vengeance, Norm started stalking Bales and before I knew it, he had gotten behind a bewildered Bales and tripped him to the mat. Norm started bending one arm to a breaking point when Bales yelled, “Okay, okay. I quit.” Norm let him go and walked away. Bales was visibly shaken and surprised at Norm’s quickness and power. “Where did you learn to fight?” asked Bales. Norm replied that he was always on the small side and when he got beat up at school a couple times his older brother, who was a paratrooper there at the base, showed him the ropes. When Norm mentioned his brother’s outfit, Bales asked him a couple questions about him. Bales extended his hand to Norm and offered to teach him some judo. Norm politely said, “Lieutenant Bales, I don’t think I need to know any judo.” Bales said something like, "Well, you never know." We all parted friends and now I had a leg up. I figured that Bales probably wouldn’t come down on my butt because this was an embarrassing event for him. I quietly passed the word about the incident and some of my barracks buddies wanted to meet Norm the next time he came around. Nothing really changed with Bales. He was still a tough cookie during the remainder of training cycle. However, I didn’t see him hanging around the barracks yard anymore on Sundays.
During a two or three-week period of my training at Fort Bragg, I developed some blood in my stools and had some very difficult bowel movements. It was a case of nerves and maybe exhaustion from the very physical training we were going through. I believe we had some of the best training cadre, as they were all from the elite 82nd Airborne and not just ordinary infantry cadre. I was worried about my physical condition and wrote home about it. I couldn’t call my folks because there were no ready phones except one at the PX which was always in use. Besides, we weren’t allowed there anyway during the first eight weeks of training. Again I went on sick call, and was assured that my rectum was bleeding because of hard stools. I received some army laxatives and after a week or so it cleared up. I was concerned about it because this was my first encounter with the problem. I was always worried about my physical conditioning and my ability to qualify for jump school.
Near the end of basic training the airborne candidates had a special PT test with a minimum score to qualify for airborne. I forget the scoring requirements and minimum and maximum scores. I do remember the various tests, however. There were pushups, chin-ups, squat jumps, sit-ups, and a two-mile run. I did very well with the tests, although I forget my score. I aced the two-mile run with a perfect score, as I could run two miles easily in 12-13 minutes. Sit-ups and squat jumps were probably close to a perfect score, as I found them to be fairly easy. I always had trouble with push-ups and chin ups. I remember practicing the chin-ups and since I was only 135 pounds, I remember doing about seven or eight. I believe a perfect score was ten. We had to do the chin-ups with palms away from us as opposed to the traditional way of palms facing. The pushups were always hard for me because I did not have a lot of muscle or arm strength. However, I did okay through much practice. My total score was high, but I do not remember the scoring detail.
There was a graduation ceremony on the parade ground when this phase of our training was complete. The typical hurry up and wait routine was part of our long day. We got up around 5 A.M., polished boots (I understand that there is now a new army boot that does not require polishing--what a shame), and cleaned the barracks, etc. We assembled on the parade ground and waited perhaps two hours before we started marching past the review stand with the commanding general of the base, together with an entourage of his senior officers watching.
I felt very good about our training and I was in the best physical shape of my life. I felt that I had learned a tremendous amount of knowledge about the military in a very short period of time. I will narrate an incident that occurred in the field to make my point. Our training at Ft. Bragg was very strenuous-–very physical and, of course, with an emphasis on infantryman tactics. There was a full-scale war going on in Korea and our NCOs were very diligent and relentless in their efforts to show us how to stay alive in combat. We went through many field exercises in which we simulated going through rifle and machine gun fire en route to take a small hill or meadow. I remember Sergeant Franders screaming at us one day when we went through a meadow without sending soldiers to cover our flanks in an open field. Sergeant Franders screamed at us, “You are all dead-dead-dead.” I never forgot that and vowed that if I ever got into combat, that mistake would never happen. I learned my infantryman lessons well and I think I would have been a good dogface, given the chance for combat.
For me personally, the hardest thing about the training at Fort Bragg had been learning to live in a barracks with all kinds of men who had different value systems. I am not judgmental about the relative merits of the value systems. In the long run, the differences were a good thing because I learned to adjust to situations more easily in later life. The physical training was hard, but I was in good shape, so I rather enjoyed it. I was preparing myself for physical regimens of jump school by my own off-duty distance running.
I was a different person, indeed, when I left Fort Bragg than when I arrived. I was confident, physically fit, and proud of my new-found status as a graduate of a demanding basic training program at Fort Bragg, the home of the 82nd Airborne. I was happy to be a graduate infantryman. Growing up I had read the Ernie Pyle columns about World War II. He did a lot to bring the infantryman and the enlisted man to the forefront of the American people. I was, therefore, proud to be one of them. I hoped that after jump school I would be assigned to an airborne unit that was going to Korea. I did not go home on leave. As mentioned earlier, I was detained after basic training to complete the dental work on my lower bridge. After the oral surgery I was put behind my basic training company by two weeks. During the off hours from the dental work, I was assigned as the company runner and did other clerical duties from the company commander’s office.
I shipped to Fort Benning by rail with other paratroop aspirants who had graduated the week I finished dental surgery. I was eager to begin jump school and I had no second thoughts about my decision. We had only a brief orientation near the end of basic training about the nature of jump school--a talk and a brief film. Of course, during basic training there was an on-going dialogue with the cadre about jump school and experiences of combat jumps by those who served in the European theater during World War II.
At Fort Benning we were located at Sand Hill fairly close to the jump school itself. We were quartered in typical two-level Army barracks. I was assigned to a holding company until the new classes were formed. I figured I would have KP, but I found out that the only KP assignments were given to the airborne flunk-outs and drop-outs.
I was in the holding company for about two weeks, during which I had numerous PT sessions and company runs. We had to take another PT test, which I aced again, and a physical examination by a doctor. Actually, I forget whether the physical was at Fort Bragg or at Fort Benning. Holding companies were a real no man’s land because we didn't know anybody and we were trying to duck various details and stay out of view of the non-coms. I wound up at the PX or library to stay out of view. There were no passes to town and I did not have much money anyway. However, when I was in the holding company, my friend Norm Picard searched for me through the company rosters. He was starting his first week of the three-week jump school. When he found me we had a great reunion and he gave me the lowdown on his first week. The PT was very trying and a number of soldiers dropped out of the program because of the strenuous runs and constant regimen of pushups, squat jumps, etc. However, he was doing very well as he had great athletic ability.
About this same time we saw Arthur Provost, who was a sergeant and a cadre at the jump school. Arthur was about Norm’s age--about two years older than me. He had been ahead of me at Blackstone High School. Norm knew him from the YMCA days in Woonsocket. Arthur gave us a line of BS about his accomplishments in the Army to date, and Norm took him down a peg or two only as Norm could. Arthur gave us war stories about the jump school and how many soldiers were flunking out. In those days the school was difficult. Arthur said that in recent weeks only one out of three soldiers survived the training. Arthur made a bet with Norm that he would flunk out, and there was a lot of macho raving back and forth between them. I didn’t say much as, after hearing all the stories, I thought surely I would never survive. I think Arthur believed I was going to flunk out for sure and didn’t bother to bet with me. He wished me luck, but I could tell he thought he was going to see me on KP after my first week. When we left Arthur, Norm blasted him and said we would show that so and so. “Imagine that, Ace. One of our Woonsocket buddies telling us we that we probably won’t make it, rather than giving us the encouragement we need.”
I entered my first week and it was hard--very hard. However, I excelled in the company runs. In fact, I held up a bird colonel who was with us on the runs. The officers went through the training with the enlisted men and no distinction was made whatsoever, except the cadre would say to a lagging officer, “Give me 20 pushups, Sir.” The poor colonel was from the Pentagon and not in very good shape. We were in the second to last row of company runs every day, and he would put his arm under mine for support. The cadre didn’t spot us, or if they did, they didn’t say anything. Imagine that. A private helping a full bird colonel with the runs. I didn’t see the colonel after about four days, so I assume he dropped out of the program.
In our barracks there was a big, tough soldier who was probably a couple years older than me. Although I remember his last name, I will substitute the fictitious name Tom Walsh to save embarrassment to him and his family. Tom Walsh was from Pennsylvania. He had played high school football and was All State as a tackle. He was subsequently awarded a scholarship to Penn State. For some reason he left college (probably like me) and didn’t want to wait for graduation before becoming part of the war in Korea. He was big--about 6 foot, 3 inches, and he weighed 235 or 240 pounds. He was all muscle; he was mean looking; and certainly no one in our barracks crossed him. The Sergeant made him barracks commander, just as Norm Picard had been at Fort Devens and also later with the 508 Regimental Combat Team. However, Tom Walsh was not pugnacious and he was a good barracks leader who commanded respect from everyone.
During the first week of jump school, we practiced parachute landing falls or PLFs from a mock door which was contained in a 20-30 foot wooden structure. The length of the structure was enough to hold about 12-15 soldiers or roughly a stick of soldiers. A "stick" was the term used to identify a row of soldiers on one side of an aircraft preparing for a jump into a drop zone or a DZ. There were shorter wooden structures as well that had sand to break the impact of the fall. This latter structure was used first before hitting real ground with the first longer mock structure. Cadre would, of course, bark out the mistakes that we made. We practiced the PLFs until we could do them in our sleep. Each soldier wore fatigues--a helmet complete with chin strap and a pack containing an emergency parachute. I am not sure whether the pack actually contained an emergency chute or was stuffed with other material to simulate an emergency chute. The PLF drills were essential because when we hit the ground after a jump, we had to know how to roll upon impact. If not done properly, one could break a leg or arm or suffer a back injury. I believe it was here that we were introduced to the jump commands at least in a general way. I will list the commands as best I remember them when I get to the actual jumping from the aircraft. Although we were introduced to the 34-foot tower during the first week, it was a larger part of the program during the first part of week two. The 34-foot tower had five landings, including the top landing, and there were four sets of wooden stairs spiraling to the top landing.
The second week we had more physical fitness, five-mile runs, extensive PT, and short lectures and films about technicalities of the program. Work on the 34-foot tower was more intensive and we knew that we had to qualify to continue the program. The 34-foot tower was the “pons asinorum” of the three-week jump school program. If we survived the first week of intense PT, the 34-foot tower would then separate the men from the boys, as the cadre would say. Norm Picard told me how easy it was for him to master the 34-foot tower. He was extremely good at gymnastics, and I guess he easily transferred his skills to the tower. In fact, he only needed three or four jumps to qualify, as we had to have three to four satisfactory jumps out of perhaps ten attempts. A satisfactory jump was a function of proper position with head and eyes facing straight ahead and not down as we stood at the door of the tower. Arms and hands had to be properly placed on the frontal reserve chute, and the knees had to be slightly bent with feet together. All of Norm’s jumps were excellent or superior. Norm’s performance through jump school was so good that he was asked to stay on as a cadre after some more advanced training. He refused, however, opting to be assigned to a regular airborne unit which was to be the 508 RCT.
I had to struggle, however. I forget how many unsatisfactory jumps we could get before we were mustered out of the program--perhaps five or six. My first couple of jumps were unsatisfactory. At the top of the 34-foot tower we stood in the door of the tower just like an airplane and jumped out. The cadre put a harness around us. When we left the tower door, our head had to be bent down so as not to suffer a neck fracture. During the free-fall at a certain point--probably halfway down, we were pulled up. Then we slid down the pull-up wire and we were un-harnessed on a mound of dirt that was about 40 feet away from our pull-up point. After the harness was taken off by a cadre, we double-timed to a spot in front of the tower, sat down on the ground, crossed our legs, and folded our arms just so. In some cases we were asked to stand on the mound where the soldiers landed to assist with the un-harnessing. If sitting, we then watched the soldiers do their jumps. Some soldiers got to the top of the tower and refused to jump. They were really scared and the thought of jumping off the tower in a free fall with the hope that they would get pulled up was too much for some soldiers. I used to watch a good many soldiers freeze--probably one out three or four.
When we entered our second week of training we were told that we had to master the 34-foot tower or wash out. Unfortunately, our barracks leader Tom Walsh was one of them. When he got to the top of the tower he cried like a baby--choking on sobs. It was a sad sight to see. He then got humiliated when he was called chickenshit by the cadre. He was sworn at, slapped, and literally kicked down the stairs. He was then put in a truck with the other quitters and taken to a quitter’s barracks. There was another name for the barracks, but it escapes me. The soldiers in the quitter's barracks performed KP constantly for about a month until they got their orders to be shipped to the front lines in Korea, as most had the infantryman MOS having completed basic and/or advanced infantry training. I felt bad for Walsh, and often have wondered what became of him. I told Norman the story and he in turn told stories about seemingly rugged soldiers not being able to jump or getting too many unsatisfactory jumps. I am sure that Walsh and others had another dimension of courage that I perhaps did not have. I am sure most of the “quitters” excelled in other aspects of military life, but just were not cut out for the airborne. I persevered and made it through the second week with my three to four required satisfactory jumps. In fact, I liked the tower, as I knew it was getting me ready for the final phase of my training, which was jumping from the C-46 or C- 47 aircraft.
Week Two was highlighted by the 250-foot tower, which was relatively easy. We were taken up 250 feet with a giant lift. At the top we could see all of Columbus, Georgia. A cadre asked through a megaphone if we were ready. “Yup." The parachute was already inflated and we had to use our risers to slip into the landing area. There were, perhaps, two or three of these exercises and we had to do a parachute landing fall even though we could land on our feet without any problem. I suppose there would have been more, but it was a time-consuming operation with the lift that had to take three to four soldiers to the top before release. I believe there were two of these towers in 1951, if memory serves me right.
The ability to shift direction with the parachute was a function of the risers. Learning to use the risers was a subject of demonstration by cadre in the “harness area.” There were exercises whereby we had to sit in a harness with the risers hooked to a round steel ring that could move in many different directions. All of this was located in a large hanger-like building with no walls. It had a roof and floor only, with wooden pillars holding up the roof. As I remember it, there were probably 20-30 soldiers in a harness--all responding to the commands of the cadre. On command we pulled a certain pair of risers down and that determined our direction. For example, if I pulled the front two of four risers, that tipped the front part of the chute forward and forced air into a smaller area of the chute and moved me forward. The back two risers did the opposite. To move laterally, say to the left, we crossed our right arm over in front and pulled on the front left riser while pulling the back left riser with our left hand. Air then spilled out of the left part of the chute and moved us to the left. The process of moving the risers in a certain direction was called slipping.
Another exercise was learning how to collapse our chute when we hit the ground. If we did not collapse it in a hurry we could be dragged along the ground by the ground wind. Therefore, we had a demonstration with an open chute held by several cadre. Afterwards we were hooked to the chute and we had to pull very hard on the bottom shroud lines. In this way we could collapse the chute, unhook from it, and fold it. We practiced several times because performing this exercise could save one from serious injury and abrasions. We had the 34-foot tower, parachute landing fall practice, 250-foot tower, slipping/direction exercises in the harness, collapsing the chute--all of which gave us the basics we needed to parachute safely from an aircraft.
Our physical training was very demanding. During one hot June day in 1951, our company was notified that we were going to be the demonstration unit for an inspection/observation team from West Point. We were notified the day before the demonstration and told that we had better show our stuff. The morning of the demonstration was very hot. We did our five-mile run and then went to the field for our usual PT regimen. The visiting team was supposed to be there at 8:00 sharp, but they were not there for some reason. We then did our normal PT, which lasted about 45 minutes--squat jumps, pushups, chin ups, sit-ups, running through a small obstacle course, etc. Just as we finished our routine, the West Point team showed up. Guess what. We had to go through our whole routine of exercises for another 45 minutes. Our cadre actually wasn’t too happy to have to repeat the drill for the brass, but we all gave it our best effort. I remember that this was very grueling and I was exhausted afterwards.
Those were the days when water was not distributed frequently, as going without water was supposed to make us tough. A number of soldiers dropped and the medical wagons and crews were called in. It wasn’t until about an hour later when we were to resume our training that we were allowed to have water. A big water truck with metal drinking flasks (which we all shared) arrived. There was a frantic effort to get the flasks, so after everyone took their share of the water there was a big mud puddle around the truck due to spillage. I am sure that this kind of thing would not happen today, as my sons Patrick and Jack have stated that water is a priority today for the troops.
The next phase of the training was the actual jumps from either a C-46 or C-47. As I remember, the
difference between the two aircraft was that the C-46 had two exit doors and the C-47 (or perhaps it was the
reverse) had only one, which meant the one stick had to circle around the back of the aircraft to get to the open
Once airborne, there was a severe back blast from the propellers of the plane. That is why it was a must to hold our head firmly down and clutch tightly onto our spare chute hooked around the front of our waist. The main chute was 28 panels or sections, and the reserve chute was 24 panels. After we cleared the propeller blast, we then felt the opening jerk of our main parachute. We counted 1000--2000--3000 slowly as we jumped from the plane, because after 3000 we should feel the main chute opening. If we didn’t feel it, we had to pull the ring of our reserve chute. We were taught that we had to help feed the chute away from us so that it would not tangle with our main chute if it was opening late. If both chutes got tangled, then we would not have enough open panels of parachute to glide us safely down. Fortunately, I never had to open my reserve chute, but I was ready and able if my main chute did not open.
All of the four day jumps were on perfect weather days with sunshine and no severe wind conditions. As trainees, we were not required to jump during severe wind days. I forget the cutoff, but it seems to me that any wind beyond ten miles per hour was not allowable for training jumps. During the night jump we were guided by floodlights on the drop zone or DZ. After we collapsed our chute, we went to an assembly area and usually double-timed to waiting 2 1/2 ton trucks which returned us to the main base.
I will never forget my first jump when the chute opened on schedule and I actually was moving up higher in the air by air drafts. In other words, we could be going downward and all of a sudden we moved up with a draft. We had to be careful not to tangle with another jumper, and I actually guided my chute away from other jumpers during my practice jumps. The training with the risers in the hanger was very important. When I landed I always performed my parachute landing falls in an excellent manner. I then pulled the risers of the chute towards me to collapse the chute. Once the chute was collapsed, I folded it with harness laying on top, and then a cadre secured it for pickup by a truck after everyone landed safely.
I remember two soldiers not hooking up on the plane on two separate occasions. If we saw a soldier not responding to the call to hook up, we had to immediately drive it out of our mind, otherwise it could influence us to follow suit. It could cause us to say to ourselves, “What am I doing jumping out of an airplane at 1200 feet? Will my chute open?” Most of them did open, but there are some that malfunctioned. I did not ever see the body of a soldier whose chute failed or tangled with the reserve chute. I am glad I did not. Later when I got assigned to the 508 Regimental Combat Team, there was a lieutenant who committed suicide during a night jump by unhooking his static line and free falling without chute to the ground 1200 feet below. During our training we did not learn how to pack a parachute, as that was a separate skill learned by some graduates who went on to be permanent parachute packers.
I completed my required jumps and qualified for my parachute badge, of which I was very proud. There was a ceremony at the Fort Benning parade grounds one hot afternoon in June 1951. I still have my class book, and in my class picture there is another soldier who made the Army a career. His name was Master Sergeant Raymond Congelli, who later was assigned as a cadre at Providence College with the Army ROTC. When my son Jack was in the ROTC program, he met MSgt. Raymond Congelli. Jackie took my class book to school and showed Congelli. They had a great discussion about jump school, which probably was part of the motivation for my son to go to jump school as well. Sergeant Congelli remembered Norm Picard because they both played on the base football team when we were later assigned to the 508 RCT. Ah yes, great memories. Of course, both Picard and I stuck it to Arthur Provost because we both graduated from jump school. Arthur graciously bought us both a beer at the base NCO club.
After graduation from jump school I was assigned to the 508 Regimental Combat Team at Fort Benning, Georgia. I joined the 508 about June 16, 1951 after applying to the Rangers. Because of a presidential order, the Rangers as we knew them were reorganized. Whole companies of Rangers in Korea were being wiped out because they were asked to plug holes in the battle lines instead of performing the specialized jobs that they were trained to do. At the time, it cost about $500,000 to train a company of Rangers. I have a copy of my Special Orders Number 115, dated May 16, 1951 and issued from Headquarters 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The orders essentially stated that when I successfully completed airborne school at Fort Benning, I was to report to the CO of the 508th Airborne Infantry at Fort Benning. As I reviewed some of my old orders, it became evident that I was granted a ten-day leave after completing jump school. Special Order Number 37, issued on June 14,1951 from Headquarters 508th Airborne Infantry, stated that I, along with about 70 other soldiers from 508 Service Company, was to be given ten days leave effective June 16, 1951. (The leave and the assignment were the same day, evidently.) I do not remember much from my leave except that I went home to my family and went out for a few beers with my old buddies from Blackstone, Massachusetts. I was very proud of my newly-won wings and was asked many questions about jump school, including whether I would be going to Korea.
My friend Norman Picard had preceded me on leave, as he graduated from jump school two weeks earlier than I did. The Korean War was in full swing, but I assured my family that I would not be going to Korea soon. I told them that it was my understanding that the 508 was just reactivated and it would take several months for it to be up to full speed. In my heart, however, I was hoping that going to Korea would be sooner than later. Being young of age and having no idea of the horrors of war, I just plain did not know any better.
The 508 was a reactivated unit after being put in moth balls at the end of World War II. It was under the command of Colonel Joseph P. Cleland, who stayed for about a year before being assigned to the 40th Infantry Division in Korea with the promotion to Brigadier General. He was later promoted to Major General in July of 1952. He retired in 1954 with the rank of Lieutenant General and had the distinction of reviewing the 77th Special Forces' unveiling of their new green beret (source: History of 77th Special Forces). The 508 had a great record in the European Theater during the World War II and I was excited about being assigned to this outfit. During World War II, the 508 had participated in combat jumps with Operation Overlord on June 6, 1944 and Operation Market Basket over Holland on September 17, 1944. After being reactivated on April 16, 1951 at Ft. Bragg, the 508 subsequently moved to Fort Benning for the intake of the recent jump school graduates to bring the unit up to speed.
In December of 1951, the 508 or the Red Devils moved to Camp Rucker, Alabama, where they participated in field maneuvers against the 47th Infantry Division. Later, Exercise Long Horn was an expansive drop operation for the 508 on April 8, 1952. In it, 3,800 highly trained troopers squared off with the 82nd Airborne. The Red Devils participated in a large airborne drop “despite a forecast of high winds” which turned out to be 20 miles per hour--five miles over the maximum allowed on training jumps. During this precarious drop, one trooper was killed and 221 were injured. During 1952-1953, the ranks of the 508th were depleted. Many of its troopers were sent to Korea as replacements and many joined the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team which made two combat jumps in Korea. The 508 continued their training off the Japanese island of Kyushu during 1955-1956. “They walked, rode, trained and jumped into training areas regardless of the weather.”
Perhaps the most significant exercise undertaken by the Red Devils in 1955 was participation in Operation Firm Link, a joint SEATO exercise conducted near Bangkok, Thailand. On March, 27, 1957, the 508th Airborne Infantry Regiment was deactivated at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. Later, elements of the 508 were integrated into the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which was newly “reactivated on June 12, 2000 at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy, where it serves as European Command’s only conventional airborne strategic response force for the European Theater.” Elements of the 508 were part of the 173rd Brigade as they made “the second deployment in three years to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom VI. The 508th spearheaded the deployment in February of 2005 by deploying forces along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in Regional Command East.” (Sources for information are: Regimental Histrory-508th Airborne Infantry Regiment 1951-1957 and 173rd Airborne Brigade-History.) I have included this brief history of the 508 RCT because of my immense pride in the unit, albeit I was a member for only a short time because of an injury incurred during a regimental jump. More about that later.
We were proud of the red devil patch on our fatigues and a 508 RCT insignia on our dress uniform. Below is a brief description of our insignia and coat of arms, taken from the 508 Airborne Chapter History:
My primary assignment was rifleman, with that corresponding MOS, even though I was assigned to Service Company. The assignment was pretty routine as we fell out in the morning and did PT, then assembled for field problems. Because our site for these problems was about 10-12 miles away, we rode trucks out to the area. On several occasions, however, we had to march back to our barracks with full pack in the July-August heat without too much water. As I mentioned before, water was scarce and in those days this was a form of discipline. In retrospect, it was a pretty stupid idea. A good share of the soldiers did not make it back, fainted, and had to be brought back via field ambulance. Luckily, I was able to survive these marches through sheer determination. I was not very heavy in those days. I was 5'9" and weighed about 135 pounds. I did some running around the base to stay in tip top shape.
There were always rumors that we were going to be shipped out to Korea and there were also rumors that we may go to Vietnam, believe or not. Many people forget our commitment to the French in Vietnam. “In 1950, Truman authorized $10 million in aid to the French, sending 123 non-combat troops to help with supplies. In 1951, the amount escalated to $150 million. By 1953, the amount had risen to $1 billion (one third of U.S. foreign aid and 80 percent of the French cost)." (Source: Wikipedia)
Within the 508th we had a lot of "esprit de corps" and I was proud to be part of such an elite group of young soldiers. When the 508th was reactivated, a good number of experienced troopers came from the 504th and 505th stationed at Ft. Bragg. We had our share of freshly-minted West Pointers as well. I can remember a young West Point second lieutenant taking us out on a field problem in a heavily wooded area. The second in command of our platoon that day was a very experienced sergeant first class. Well, the sergeant just let this lieutenant go and he gave him plenty of rope. The lieutenant pretended to know what he was doing. “This way troopers, follow me.” The lieutenant looked at his compass and barked out something about an azimuth and a grid. Anyway, we went in one direction and then went in another. If we had been in actual combat, we would have been dead ducks. After about 45 minutes, the lieutenant finally turned to the sergeant and said, “Sergeant, what do you think?” The sergeant answered in a rather bored manner while looking at his compass, “We want to head northeast, catch that stream we saw a while back, and follow it to the clearing, Lieutenant.” The lieutenant was a heavy set man with a big jaw bone and a red face. He looked like he might have been a line backer for the football team. His red face got redder and I really felt sorry for him. He had just graduated from West Point, which would have made him about 21 or 22 years old--not much older than I was. I felt like saying something to him like, “Oh well, Lieutenant. Live and learn.” But I knew that it was stockade material to say that, so I just kept my mouth shut. I am sure he was a very able young guy who just got flustered and confused during his first time out with real troops.
My first experience with going to town was right after I was assigned to the 508th. I innocently wore my uniform and went to town one Sunday afternoon with a friend to see a movie. My uniform had the Red Devil patch on the front pocket. It was a devil with a machine gun coming down in a parachute. My friend and I went to the ticket office to buy a ticket for the movie. We had our uniforms on because we were in the first week or two of our assignment to the 508th and had not yet bought any civvies. The ticket lady would not sell us a ticket. When I asked her why, she responded, “Well, you are with the Red Devils and we Baptists here in Columbus do not approve of the devil in any form or fashion.” I forget which patches and insignias were placed on the fatigues and the dress uniform. If I remember correctly, the red devil and parachute were on the fatigues and perhaps a 508th insignia was on the dress uniform. Anyway, I was dumbfounded with this response and asked to see the manager. We found out that he also supported his ticket lady. My friend and I walked away disgusted, as we really wanted to see this movie--the title of which I have now forgotten. We headed back to the base because there was absolutely nothing else to do. We figured we would get the same treatment in a restaurant. This was not the first such incident and I know the 508th command had quite a few discussions with local officials about this problem.
My friend Norm Picard was located in Fox Company and I was in Service Company. One Saturday afternoon I went over to his barracks because we had said earlier that we would go to town Saturday afternoon. Lo and behold, when I got there Norm was shouting orders to the troops about cleaning the barracks. “Get this brush and scrub the floor, Soldier. Get a broom and sweep out the NCO quarters and then mop it.” It was déjà vu all over again because, as you remember, Norm had done the same thing in his barracks during basic training. I was amazed because he was a private E-2 like everyone else. I said to Norm, “What’s going on?” He replied, “Well, Ace. The Sergeant put me in charge of barracks because he was called away for some reason by the battalion brass. He put me in charge and told me to make sure the barracks were spic and span when he returned.” Of course, Saturday morning was the time when all the barracks had to be cleaned. Norm and his crew were just finishing up so I waited for about ten minutes as he kept barking orders like he was a seasoned NCO. I just shook my head as we boarded the bus for downtown Columbus. We made the rounds to the various bars and met some soldiers we both knew. There were probably five of us altogether. We had our civvies on (by this time I had purchased slacks and a couple shirts and “loafers”), as there were always some straight legs (non-jumpers in other army units) who wanted to pick fights with paratroopers and show everyone how tough they were. This way we were reasonably assured that we could stay out of trouble.
Norm was drinking some fancy rum drink with fruit hanging off of it. I stuck with draft beer as I wanted to stay sober and out of trouble, especially on a Saturday afternoon and night. At one point in our travels we saw a long line of soldiers who were waiting in a line that was about an eighth of a mile long. It wound around the corner and eventually led to a cafe-like building. Inside the building was a long bar, tables, and pretty young ladies. The line, however, was actually leading to a brothel upstairs. I was somewhat repulsed at such raw animal-like behavior on the part of humans. Now I was no saint and had the same sex drives all young men have, but this was a big turnoff for me. This was not the first time I had encountered prostitution, as I had seen it during my Woonsocket days when the Navy literally invaded the city in the 1940’s. In fact, Woonsocket had its own reputation as a sin city with its numerous speakeasies and “ladies of the night” readily available to errant seamen. As a young minor, I was served alcohol and saw all this first hand. Woonsocket was briefly mentioned as a sin city by James Michener in his book, Tales of the South Pacific.
The above mentioned situation was actually located in Phoenix City, Alabama, which bordered Columbus, Georgia. It was the sin city of the United States at the time. Later on it was cleaned up and there was a movie made about the cleanup. Also, there were terrible racial atrocities committed there. The head of a young black girl was thrown onto the lawn of a Negro sympathizer once. There were a number of exposé’s about this sin city. I remember seeing a Life magazine article about Phoenix City probably several months later. It told about the rampant prostitution and spread of venereal disease. Life had a cover picture of the same long winding line in front of the café/ brothel that we walked by when we were on in the city on a pass. When I saw the picture of the winding line on the cover of Life, I wondered what these soldiers thought when they saw their faces on the cover. What did their parents, girl friends, or perhaps wives, think back home? The soldiers made no attempt to cover their faces. There were some smirks, as well as dumb looks. One of the things the Army really emphasized through lectures and graphic films was the danger of venereal disease. Those graphic pictures went through my mind as I watched these GI’s. I was amazed at the sheer stupidity of human beings lined up for an eighth of mile, waiting for their pound of flesh. Imagine perhaps a hundred GI’s having sex with the same girls on that hot Saturday afternoon and evening. There were probably ten girls and several hundred soldiers passing through these prostitution portals. Norm and I and our friends went to a few more bars and then went back to the barracks.
On another occasion, I went to Columbus one night with a friend from my company to see a movie. Again, of course, we were in our civvies. After the movies we stopped at a bar for a couple of drinks. By that time it was about 10:30 P.M., and check-in time was 12:00 A.M. We got on a crowded bus and headed back to the base. On the bus were several black soldiers mixed among the many white soldiers. President Truman had issued an order in early 1951 to end segregation in the armed forces. During this night in July of 1951, many black soldiers still took a bus back to the barracks that had all black soldiers because the reality of desegregation had not taken hold yet for many southern white soldiers. On this bus perhaps a handful of black soldiers were aboard. It was a crowded bus and there was a lone black soldier standing amongst many white soldiers who were mostly in civvies. All were holding on to the overhead bar to help steady themselves as the bus stopped and then lurched ahead. Gradually the white soldiers--most of them 17 to 20, realized that a black soldier was standing next to them.
The uniformed black soldier had on his gold second lieutenant bars and probably had just graduated from the OCS program. He was staring straight out the side window, as he realized that he was gradually being noticed by these ruffians. The white soldiers got progressively more daring as they uttered obscenities at the black lieutenant. The soldier just kept staring straight ahead. I was seated near the back of the bus with my friend, and we just looked at this scene with quiet sadness. My friend was from California. I had lived in the south, although I had moved back north prior to my enlistment. The bus was jammed and there were drunken soldiers standing in the aisle looking and laughing at this very sad demonstration of sub-human behavior. At one point a white soldier took off the hat of the black officer, spat in it, and then placed it back on his head, hoping to get a reaction. But the black officer just kept staring ahead stoically as the white soldiers ridiculed him. It reminded me of the soldiers abusing Christ and crowning him with thorns prior to his crucifixion. The ridicule continued and I wondered if this stoic and self-disciplined black officer was going to retaliate. He was very muscular and strong, and probably could have banged the heads of these nitwits without a problem. I remained silent--a bit ashamed of myself for not standing up for this abused human being. I rationalized that if there was a fight on the bus and the black soldier was in the middle of it, he may get court marshaled and lose his commission. I did vow to myself that if the black officer retaliated, I would stand up and help him defend himself. It did not happen and after a while the officer got off the bus at one of the stops amidst ridicule. Hopefully it was his real stop at the officer’s quarters and not just a way to get away from these troublesome white soldiers. I often wonder what happened to that stoic, but very wise soldier. Did he have to lead white soldiers into battle in Korea? If so, what was he thinking? It was, indeed, a very bad psychological experience for me--one that I have mentioned to people and some family members over the years.
Another interesting fact about Phoenix City, Alabama was that there were more churches per capita in Phoenix than any other city in America at the time. Of course, this was mentioned in the many publications about the city when it was in the national spotlight. The churches were supported by the hypocritical businessmen who ran the brothels and related activities. It was a good investment to keep the ordinary citizens in line with beautiful and posh church structures through healthy donations to the weekly collections. I believe it was Tolstoy who said, ”Religion is the narcotic of the masses.”
One day I was asked to report to the company commander, which had me a bit worried. What had I done? The CC asked me if I would like to work in the regimental motor pool as a dispatcher. I had no idea what was involved and asked if I could go to the motor pool and find out more about the job. The CC was very obliging, as he could have ordered me to take the job and told me to just shut up. I found my way down to the motor pool where there were hundreds of vehicles and large Quonset-like buildings where the vehicle repairs took place. There was a small office that had two side windows much like the toll road booths where tickets takers and sometimes ticket givers serviced the motorists. Through these windows, I was to later learn, was where vehicle drivers received and returned their paper work for trips. I went inside the building and a young-looking sergeant first class was doing paper work. He took several phone calls while I was there. Sergeant Chester (this is a fictional designation as I cannot recall his name) and I were to become good partners for awhile. I learned that he had completed three years of college at the University of Arizona and was, in fact, awaiting word about assignment to Officer Candidate School. He also was taking extension courses through the Army to try and complete his college degree. He explained that there was a lot of down time on the job that permitted one to study and read. He helped me enroll in an Army extension course. The University of Maryland was the college which sponsored the courses.
When I agreed to do the job, I immediately filled out the necessary paperwork for my first and last course through the Army Extension School. It was a course in English composition that I thoroughly enjoyed. I wound up with a straight A when I finally completed the course later in the hospital. The course was demanding, as we had to write about ten compositions which were sent to the University of Maryland to be corrected by a professor. The corrections were very detailed and I learned quite a bit through that experience. Much of the time on the job I was working on the course while my colleagues were beating the bushes doing infantry drills. Sergeant Chester and I rotated shifts. He was very reasonable, as he could have just said he wanted the prime shift of 6-2 and I was to take the 2-10. But he rotated it, which made it a pretty good Army job. Upon our first meeting, he gave me an overview of the situation--the various dispatch forms, all vehicles had to be approved by the company commanders, etc. At the battalion staff level, all vehicles had to be approved by the battalion commander, who at the time was usually a Lieutenant Colonel. After 10:00 P.M., the paperwork for vehicles was processed at the main gate to the battalion area. Sergeant Chester explained to me that we were pretty autonomous and that this was one of those Army gravy jobs. I took the job, but I had some misgivings that I was going to lose my edge as an infantry soldier. Sergeant Chester explained that I would still do monthly jumps and other jumps that were required for regimental activities.
My monthly pay now reflected the extra $50.00 a month for airborne status. The officers received $100.00 extra. There were also requirements for the maintenance of infantry skills--much like the Marines where every Marine is basically an infantry soldier. My colleagues in the barracks wanted to know how I rated such a cushy job and I really had no explanation. I was kind of small and skinny at the time (130 pounds) and, maybe like Audie Murphy, I did not look like a real tough soldier. Who knows? Then again, perhaps it was my one and a half years of college credits. I had no rank. I was still a Private E-2, unlike my colleague Sergeant Chester. I told my friend Norman Picard about my new position and he told his buddies about his friend Ace, who had this great regimental-wide job--a big job for a Private E-2. My predecessor was a corporal who had moved on to OCS like Sergeant Chester was about to attend.
A note has to be made here that the 508th RCT was still building its ranks and the number and usage of vehicles was not at regimental strength yet. Otherwise, there certainly would have been need for more than two motor pool dispatchers. Although there was good down time on the job, there were some very busy times, and sometimes Sergeant Chester and I had to overlap for a while to process the paperwork and respond to all the requests by the brass. All of my telephone calls were to and from officers usually, except for an occasional top sergeant. I got to know the power structure of the regiment very well.
At this point I have to narrate a very funny incident that happened after several weeks on the job. My friend Norman separated his shoulder one day out in the field. I mentioned before that he was an excellent athlete and he was very good at gymnastics. One day during a break in the field maneuvers, Norman decided he was going to show off for his buddies. He did several overhead/overhand springs and threw out his shoulder. He went to the hospital and got his shoulder placed in a cast. He then was granted a leave of absence from his company to go home for about three or four weeks. As I remember, this was a medical leave and not deducted from his annual leave time of 30 days a year--or maybe it was in combination with it. Norman called me from the hospital and told me that he had arranged a flight on an Air Force shuttle going into Westover Field. (Only Norman could do this.) He said he was coming down to the motor pool the next day to hook a ride on one of our vehicles out to the airbase. I told him that I would do my best to identify vehicles heading that way and request permission for him to tag along. Norm showed up and the only vehicle going that way was a one-star general from another Army division who secured permission from our regimental commander to get a jeep complete with driver to go to the airbase for a flight to D.C. I told Norm that this jeep with the general was all I had for this time frame and that he probably ought to request a taxi. He said in his usual confident, cocky way, "Ace, don’t worry about it. I will ask the general if I can go along with him."
We were both private E-2’s--bucking for a dishonorable discharge making such a request, as I saw it. I told him that he would have to ask because I felt it would be quite presumptuous for me to do so. Of course, it was the same for him. The general came by sitting square in the middle of the upraised back seat of the jeep. A sergeant was driving and he looked like he would breathe fire because such an idiotic request was made of him and, especially, the general. Nope. Norm did not ask the sergeant. He went right up to the general, saluted, and said, “Sir, I wonder if I could hook a ride to the airbase with you because I am going home on a sick leave. As you can see, my shoulder is pretty racked up.” The general replied, “Why, of course, Private Picard." (We had our name patches on over our pocket flap.) He said, "Let me help you right up and you can join me.” Norm got up with an assist from the general and sat right beside him on the upraised back seat. The sergeant driving the jeep gave me a scowl that could kill. He grabbed his trip ticket and roared off. I thought both Norm and the general were going to be rocked off their seats with the fast getaway. He gave Norm a nice slap on the back as they both were laughing while the jeep sped away. Later when I saw Norm, I asked him about the general. He said that he was a great guy as he had been a private at one time and came up through the ranks during World War II.
I enjoyed my service as a motor pool dispatcher, but it was to be relatively short-lived. Sergeant Chester got his orders for OCS and I hated to see him leave. Although he totally outranked me, we became good friends and we worked well together as fellow dispatchers. A new sergeant came in to replace Sergeant Chester. His name was Sergeant Evans (also a fictitious name, as I do not recall his real name). One evening about 6:00 P.M. just before he left for OCS, Sergeant Chester asked me if I wanted to take a ride on his motorcycle and go into Columbus for a parting drink as he was leaving the next week. It was a Friday night, which was party night for everyone. Sergeant Evans was working the evening shift so I was able to get away. Sergeant Chester kept his motorcycle at the motor pool (special privilege, I guess), and I met him there. He told me to get on the back seat and we roared away.
Sergeant Chester was rather a mild young guy, but when he got on the motorcycle he was a virtual wild man. We sped down the highway hitting 100 miles per hour. I was yelling all the way that I wanted to get off. He either didn’t hear me or he ignored my futile pleas. We arrived at Columbus and he got off the cycle laughing at my apparent fright. We entered a bar where he bought me a couple drinks. He lauded my work as a dispatcher, which made me feel pretty good. I bought him a goodbye drink and we talked a while. He wanted to finish OCS and go to Korea in an airborne unit, probably the 187th that was over there and that later accepted soldiers from the 508th as replacements. I liked Sergeant Chester as he was a reasonable young man. Except for the motorcycle binge, he seemed like a well-balanced guy. After our drinks he asked if I wanted to ride back and I declined, saying that I wanted to hit a couple bars and relax, then take the bus back. He understood, of course, and we parted ways. He said he would return for a visit when he had his bars and when he did, he expected me to salute him. I assured him that I would, just out of respect for his completion of the demanding course. He gunned away on his cycle and I never saw him again. I wonder what happened to Sergeant Chester?
Everything after that night and up to August 17, 1951 was pretty routine. Sergeant Evans was doing nicely and he also was a low key kind of guy. He was appreciative of the fact that I showed him the ropes. He took interest in my writing correspondence course and I showed him several of my essays, which he admired since writing was not one of his strong points. He was a career soldier four or five years older than Sergeant Chester. He liked to party and he asked me to cover for him several times when he was hung over. He was very good about filling in for me to make up the time.
On August 17, 1951 I was scheduled to do a regimental jump. This was a big event because the whole 508th Regimental Combat Team had to be in the air with chutes at the same time over a perhaps 30-minute time period. I went out to the airfield in a truck--one that I had scheduled. In fact, I set up the schedule sheets for all of the regimental trucks for the day. I checked out my rifle from the quartermaster and placed it in the canvas bag. I had to break it down into three parts. Each part fit into a slot in the bag. The bag had to be tied to our belt just before we boarded the plane. We went through an infantry exercise after folding our chutes up. I got a briefing with the other soldiers in my company about the exercise. I boarded the plane and when we were approaching the drop zone, I hooked up with the other troopers. I was in the middle of the stick and went out the door at about 1200 feet. It was a beautiful August day and I breathed a sigh of relief when my chute opened. It seemed nice to be floating in the air again. The big difference this time from other jumps, however, was that there were parachutes all over the place. I could see soldiers on the field scrambling to stay clear of approaching chutists.
About 100 feet from the ground I could feel my chute literally collapsing. At about 75 feet, it completely collapsed and I fell free for perhaps 50 feet before I hit the ground. I knew I was in trouble and worried about a broken neck or back as I headed toward ground zero. I hit the ground with a thud, but I did my parachute landing fall expertly. I believe this saved me from more serious injury. There was a slight ground wind and I struggled to pull the risers toward me to effect the chute collapsing routine. I knew I had a bad shoulder injury, as I could only pull the risers with one hand. I was getting dragged by the wind because I could not collapse the chute with one hand. I saw a medic running toward me and he pulled the risers and collapsed and folded the chute quickly. Just then a helmet fell from the air and missed my head by less than a foot. The medic was close too and he almost got hit as well. Some soldier evidently failed to tie his chin strap properly and off it went. An ambulance was nearby because there were generally many injuries during such a large jump, caused by tangled chutes and collapsing chutes. I was told later that when there are so many parachutes in the air, temporary air vacuums occur, causing collapsed chutes. I was taken to the base hospital where I was diagnosed with a severely separated shoulder. It was very painful and I was given pain killers for relief. There were a number of troopers with broken backs, arms, and legs that day, and the ward was full of 508th soldiers.
The next day the doctors worked on the shoulder, manipulating it, etc. I was anesthetized a couple of times as the doctors worked on it. I also had daily physical therapy. It was amazing to me how many soldiers got discharged because of their back injuries. I learned that the doctors at that time could not tell whether a soldier was faking pain or not. If a soldier wanted to get discharged with a back injury, he could.
I called Mom and Dad and told them about the injury. They were naturally upset and wanted to know if I was going to be discharged as a result of the injury. I said no, but that I expected to go home soon on a medical leave. Within a few days I was put into a shoulder cast and driven out to the airbase. I got a plane hop to Westover, Massachusetts, where my parents met me. Mom and Dad were glad to see me. I had a 30-day leave. Norman Picard was on the last leg of his 30-day leave and we hooked up one day and drove to Boston. Both of us were in a cast--mine for my right shoulder and Norm’s for his left shoulder. He drove his father’s car with his right arm and I shifted with my free left hand. In those days cars had the steering wheel shift. We drove to Boston to hang out and go to a movie. Norm and I walked across Boston Common onto Boylston Street because Norm wanted to check out a camera in a nearby shop on that street. Near the camera store was also the Dugout, which was the bar where the Red Sox players hung out. It was about 11:00 A.M. and as we entered the store, guess who we saw coming out looking intently at a camera he had just purchased or had repaired? Ted Williams! Norm, of course, recognized him at once. “Hey, Ted,” Norm said with his usual cockiness. Ted looked up. “I’m Norm Picard and this is my friend Ace Collins. We are two injured paratroopers, home on leave. Will you sign our casts?” The slugger said, “Of course." He signed them both and said, “Good luck, fellas." Off he went toward the Dugout. It must have been a no game day or else an evening game.
Another day Norm and I drove to Glastonbury, Connecticut to visit Paul Kennedy. He was a character--quiet with a dry sense of humor. He was shorter than I was and about the same weight--a robust 135 pounds. He loved the paratroopers and that’s all we talked about--the troopers. He was really up on World War II and the paratroopers. We went to one of the local beer joints for a couple hours and then headed home.
While I was home I told Mom and Dad that I didn’t know what my Army status was going to be after the crack-up. It was probable that I would be severed from the troopers because of the bad shoulder injury. I had a good time with my parents and sister. They were then living on the corner of Homecrest Avenue and Buxton Street in Slatersville, Rhode Island, as they had moved from Blackstone, Massachusetts in March of 1951. My dad had contracted to build a house from scratch. He had a general contractor by the name of Brunelle. (Although I remember the real name, I am using a fictitious name to protect his family.) Dad was a stickler for detail, and as a result he found fault with Brunelle’s supervision of the contract. Accordingly, he fired Brunelle and took over the general contracting duties himself, supervising all of the sub-contractors. It was time-consuming, but he was determined to do it well. Dad took his lunch hour from Standard Cab and talked to the subs that were on the job. My sister Patricia was in Burriville High School at the time, as she was about 15 years old. She was always very quiet and she was concerned about my so-called career in the Army. My leave was during the latter part of August through about the middle of September 1951 at the height of the Korean War. During June of 1951, there was fierce fighting around the Punchbowl. Peace talks at Kaesong began in July. In August and September there was the Battle of Bloody Ridge and the Battle for Heartbreak Ridge. In November peace talks continued at Panmunjom and there was an exchange of POW lists in December of 1951.
I have a few memories of my hospital stay at Fort Benning that I will share with you. Norm Picard and I were assigned to the hospital for observation and later for physical therapy. The nature of our shoulder injuries prevented us from returning to our units, so we were both in the hospital for about six months. My injury occurred on August 17, 1951 and I went home on leave for a month until September 20. I was at the hospital until January 1952 and Norm was there almost the whole time I was there. He got discharged from the hospital a couple weeks ahead of me.
Norm and I hung out together at the hospital, going from the cafeteria to the recreation rooms and joining other soldiers in a big common room for bullshit sessions. We all wore GI issue pajamas most of the time, with a deep red bathrobe. We met some characters along the way. There were soldiers injured from parachute jumps. Some were Rangers who had bad back injuries mainly from night jumps into so-called unknown cleared drop zones where they hit tree stumps. I mentioned before that I had been accepted into the Rangers in July of 1951, but they were disbanded by President Truman because whole Ranger companies were being wiped out in Korea. Later a modified plan was to place some Rangers with every army regiment for reconnaissance work. I made many friends during my hospital stay. I had my own friends in the ward and then I met Norm’s friends from his ward.
While I was at the hospital my former basic training head cadre, Sergeant Franders, was hospitalized. He had transferred to the 508th from the 504th or 505th, as the 508th was newly activated and they needed experienced non-coms. He was experienced as he had made four combat jumps during World War II. He was bed-ridden, but I really don’t know the nature of his medical problem. He had been hit several times during World War II and was highly decorated. Sergeant Franders was a hero of mine. He was laid back but very tough. He was happy to see me and I introduced Norm to him. He smiled because Norm was up to his old tricks--horsing around and making wisecracks. Norm said, “You don’t look too sick to me. Let’s get up and at 'em.” Only Norm could get away with it. Sergeant Franders thanked us for the visit and he asked me to buy some cigarettes for him. He offered some money, which I refused. He was thankful for a small favor and I guess he wondered how I could be so helpful to him after he put me through the hoops during basic. But he was always fair-minded, which I respected along with his extensive combat experience.
Norm was really a clip around the hospital. A couple of times he took me in tow right to the front of the chow line at the hospital amidst the jeers of our comrades waiting in line. However, no one challenged him as Norm had this supreme self-confidence and moxie that allowed him to get away with it. After a couple of times I told him I would take my proper place in line. One day we were eating breakfast in the hospital cafeteria and there were two soldiers sitting across from us wearing blue bathrobes with red sleeves and a red sash. They had been wounded in Korea and were recovering. All of their limbs were intact, however, and I suspect they were suffering from battle fatigue as well. We were served grits and eggs on our plates. I had a habit of pouring a little milk on my grits, which was not the real southern way of eating grits—mixing the grits with eggs and eating it that way. Norm was doing it the mixing way, as were our two comrades across from us. They were both in their mid twenties and were from Mississippi. One soldier said to me in a thick southern drawl, “You are supposed to mix your grits with your eggs and not put milk on them like Quaker Oats.” Norman leaped across the table, grabbed the guy by his bathrobe collar, and yelled, “Hey, ------. You eat your grits the way you want to and my friend Ace will eat them the way he wants to.” To my surprise, both guys were really shook up. The one guy said, “Okay, okay, okay. It was just a suggestion.” Norm yelled back, “We don’t need any suggestions from creeps like you.” The whole cafeteria stopped dead and everyone looked over at our table. An orderly came over and asked if everything was okay. Norman said, “Yeah everything is fine. Now beat it.” Only Norman Picard could get away with it. I mumbled a thank you to Norm and ate away. We finished our breakfast and left the soldier wondering why he had opened up his mouth in the first place.
Fort Sheridan/Fort Riley
It was somewhere around January of 1952 when I got my orders to ship out of the hospital. My assignment was indicated on Special Orders 23, dated 28 January 1952 issued from HQ The Infantry Center, Ft. Benning, GA. I was given a Profile Three on my shoulder, which meant I could not go back to the troopers, nor could I qualify for combat. I was destined for logistical support work. Accordingly, I was assigned to Ft. Sheridan, located on Lake Michigan. I was close to Chicago, and when I arrived and processed I was issued a very heavy-duty brown army overcoat with gold buttons. This coat was a lifesaver because while I was at Ft. Sheridan it was freezing cold with the raw wind off of Lake Michigan. (Remember, this was January.) The barracks were decent and warm, but boy, when we went outside it was raw. This cold weather got me ready for my later assignment to Korea, where it was as cold or colder. (I am talking about sub-zero temperatures with wind chill factors of 10 to 25 below.)
I made it into Chicago, the so called "Windy City." I had to go alone because I did not know anybody and it was difficult to make friends in a holding company with the rapid turnover of troops. There were some soldiers returning from the Korean War who were waiting to get their new assignment or get discharged. When I went to Chicago, it was by transit train. I always headed towards Madison Avenue where the good restaurants were located. I went to a German restaurant--of which there were plenty, and got sauerkraut, a big sausage, dark bread, and dark beer.
A high point of my stay at Fort Sheridan was a visit to the University of Notre Dame, where I had been a student in 1949-1950. I had a long weekend pass and I took the train from Chicago to South Bend and then a bus up to the school. I went back to Farley Hall late Saturday morning and found some of my old friends--Jim Blackburn, Jim Brodeur, the Kelley brothers, and even bumped into my old roommate Aldolpho Calero, who later became an international figure as the leader of the rebels in Nicaragua. The guys were happy to see me and I was treated like a war hero of sorts. They were impressed with my completion of jump school. They took me over to the cafeteria where I had one of those great lunches. They said they wanted to go to town later to celebrate and I was all for that. Since it was early afternoon and I realized they had studies to catch up on, I said I would meet them back at Farley Hall after I walked around the campus. I remember going to the library and wondering why I had left Notre Dame in the first place, but I had to dismiss it all because the reality was that I was in the army and was probably going to Korea soon. My friends and I got together later and went into South Bend for dinner and a few drinks.
I didn’t stay long at Fort Sheridan and I was subsequently shipped to Fort Riley, Kansas, 10th Infantry Division. My assignment was indicated by Special Orders 58 dated 8 March 1952, issued from HQ, Fort Sheridan, Illinois. I went by rail with orders in hand, checked into the base, and got assigned quarters. My assignment to the motor pool was indicated by Special Orders 67 dated 20 March 1952, issued by HQ, 10th Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kansas. I found that while I was at the hospital my MOS got changed from rifleman to truck driver. This was because I had been assigned to the motor pool as a dispatcher. I learned that if I had stayed on the dispatcher’s job for over six months, I would have gotten a dispatcher-clerk MOS. But as it was, I was now a truck driver without a portfolio. At Fort Riley, another holding company that I was temporarily assigned to was the motor pool. Since I did not have an official license as an army truck driver, I had to take some training on heavy duty vehicles to learn the rudiments of the equipment. I qualified on several heavy vehicles and received my certification in good order.
The barracks to which I was assigned had a good number of Korean War vets who spent most of their evenings and most of the day getting drunk. I made friends with a young corporal, Dave, who had returned from Korea and was permanently assigned to the motor pool. I went into Kansas City, Kansas, with him several times and had a couple beers while he told me of some of his experiences. He had been assigned to a truck company on the 38th parallel on the eastern coast of Korea, which was where I was later assigned. He had been a team leader of sorts in heading up convoys of trucks carrying munitions, diesel, and gasoline.
I have a couple of stories to relay to you about my time at Fort Riley. I got there in March and stayed until May of 1952. Within the first couple of nights that I was assigned to a barrack there were a group of Korean War vets who hung out together. They got pretty loud and boisterous at times and there wasn’t much we could do about it because the sergeant in charge of the barracks joined in with them most of the time. One night I was trying to get to sleep and a very loud and tough looking sergeant came over to my bed and dumped me out on the floor. Well, this was really funny to everyone there except me, of course. I found out that this was a rite of passage for new soldiers who came in and were not Korean War vets. I took it in stride and that’s how I met my new friend Dave, who was one of the quieter and more rational of the Korean War vets. He told me the next day not to take it seriously, as everyone got dumped who had not served time in Korea. The next day I was formally introduced to the guy that dumped me, Evan Brown. He was really a tough looking customer, but he apologized for the dumping and assured me that if I returned from Korea alive I could also be a dumper. I told him, with tongue in cheek, that I was looking forward to the honor. My friend Dave told me that Evan got a Bronze Star during the battle at the Chosin Reservoir. To make conversation with my newfound friend Evan, I asked him about the Bronze Star. He said, “Oh, it was nothing. They were handing them out to everyone, and all that I did was to carry a mortar base on my back out of the battlefield in retreat.” Weapons were scarce and anyone who had moxie enough and the brute strength to carry a mortar base during the freezing weather in December 1950 at the Chosin Reservoir deserved a Bronze Star. It was hard to know whether he was serious or just wanted to downplay the medal. At any rate, I had sense enough to let it go and be about my business. Evan turned out to be a good guy and actually bunked next to me from that point on.
At Fort Riley I spent time at the base library reading journals and some novels and biography. The 1st Sergeant used to go to the library with his family, and I guess I impressed him with my scholarly bent. He said if I wanted to stay at Fort Riley he would send me to some advanced transportation school. But I quickly said, 'Thanks, but no thanks.' I wanted out of Fort Riley, as it was literally the armpit of the country. It was hot in the summer and very boring. Although I am no saint, it seemed like drinking and sex were the main occupations. I wanted to move on. If I was going to spend two more years in the army, I certainly did not want it to be at Fort Riley.
One Sunday afternoon I went to Manhattan, Kansas, which is where the OCS school was located. I had heard about a restaurant that served super steaks. Remember, this was the cattle center of country--if not the world. Yes, I had a great steak, plus potatoes with gravy and great green beans, along with a couple of beers. I was alone, as there were times I just wanted to be by myself and my inner thoughts. The steak dinner cost $1.75. Being a big-time spender, I left $3.00 for a cute little waitress who probably thought I was an OCS candidate.
Upon the recommendation of the 1st Sergeant I went into the personnel office to get a read on my status. I had been at Fort Riley for about six weeks and I wanted out-–anywhere, even Korea. Usually in a holding company a solider can stay as long as six months if the base requires certain personnel. I was assigned to motor pool duty as a dispatcher. I had a lot of experience and the 1st Sergeant liked my work, but he realized I wanted out because it was a real dead-end for me. The only joy I had was actually going to the library and reading journals. At personnel they told me that, if I waited out the normal course of things, I would probably be shipped to either Alaska or Germany. If I wanted out ASAP, the assignment would definitely be Korea. I said I would take the Korea assignment and asked them to please cut my orders ASAP. They did as I asked, and within ten days I had orders in my hands. I was to report to Camp Stoneman, Pittsburg, California, as indicated by Special Orders 122 dated 23 May 1952, issued by HQ, 10th Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kansas.
I was given a leave to go home and plenty of travel time to the west coast. The orders allowed me to take a train from Kansas City to Worcester and from Worcester to Seattle, Washington. I actually had built up quite a bit of leave time, as my previous trips home were medical leave for my shoulder injury. I had three weeks to visit my old buddies, who were duly impressed that I was going to Korea. Only one of my friends, Charlie, had been to Korea. He was with the Marines and made one of the early helicopter raids on enemy outposts. He had returned home complete with his uniform, battle stars, etc. He had made a big hit with the ladies, but he was scorned by his so-called "friends” because they thought he was one big show-off. None of them, of course, had been to Korea. Most of my Blackstone friends wound up in the service, but none served in Korea. My cousin Owen went into the Air Force, where he got his GED. Gilbert Beane and Jack Flynn (now both deceased) went into the Air Force, too. Jack served in the Military Police and Gilbert was an airplane mechanic. Jack Reiley and Jimmy Johnson served in the Air Force in Africa. Red Walsh served in the Navy submarine corps. Oddly enough, the great Blackstone athlete Chuck Ginty (also now deceased) could not pass a military physical. Two of my Woonsocket friends served in Korea at the same time I did. Donny Flynn (now deceased) made Sergeant in the Military Police and later was deputy commander of the Rhode Island State Police at the rank of major-–all sans a college education. My good friend Ricky Rouette, the younger brother of Norm Rouette who served in the Navy, also served in Korea. Ricky was to make corporal like me. He was a good friend and we got together in Korea on a couple of occasions as he was stationed not too far from me. Ricky later wound up in New Mexico after marrying a girl from that area. Jack Dalton and Jack Wheeler served in the Navy.
Unfortunately, on my leave I got into one of my few automobile accidents. I was drinking with friend Joe O’Hare, who also was in the army, and my cousin Owen. I was driving my dad’s black Buick and a car sideswiped us as I went sailing through a stop sign. The car was badly damaged but all of us were injury-free. The police called my dad and the car was towed to Standard Cab, as other wrecks had been towed over the years. I was not charged by the police since there were no sobriety tests in those days. I told the police I was heading to Korea, and they knew my dad--which was helpful, of course. My parents were upset, but lo and behold, the following night my dad let me take another car borrowed from Standard Cab. My sister was wild and my mother mildly disagreed with the decision. I can remember overhearing my father explain his case to my mother. “Agnes, let's give Jack a break. He is young and he is heading to Korea. We may never see him again.” Of course, the war headlines highlighted the many casualties, and my parents thought in their heart I might be one of them someday. The next night when I had the car I had no drinks and I went to a quiet movie with Cousin Owen.
When my leave ended I was at the Worcester train station wearing civilian clothes and carrying my duffle bag. I had a wonderful train trip across the United States through the Rockies. When we stopped at St. Helena, Montana for awhile, I could get off. I did not have a train ride like that again until June of 2003, when I went through the Canadian Rockies on a train from Calgary to Vancouver by way of Jasper. I was proud that I was in the army and going to Korea to fight for this great country.
Off to Korea
I finally arrived at Camp Stoneman on June 28, 1952. When I got there I was assigned to a holding company again, but not for long. We had a great steak dinner (I would have another one just like it when I returned from Korea). We had to put our civvies in a bag that was later trashed. I was issued new GI clothing and put on a troop ship that had 4,500-5,000 soldiers on it heading to Yokohama, Japan. I often wondered how many casualties were suffered in Korea from this troop ship—luckily I was not one of them. I was assigned to an upper bunk in a god-forsaken hole at the bottom of the ship. I remember the war stories I heard from my new-found buddies on the ship about KP. They said, "Once you are tagged, you are on KP for the whole trip." I said to myself right away that if the kitchen crew wanted me for KP, they would have to find me. I quickly discovered the KP system. If we were in our bunk after 6 A.M., we were a goner. Some big mess sergeant would come by the bunks and order our butts to the mess hall. I got out of my bunk every morning about 5:30 A.M., and went up on deck for the day. I did not return until about 9:00 P.M., except to occasionally come down and check my area because my duffle bag was locked to the pole holding the bunks. My bunk buddies all got snagged for KP, therefore I never let on to anyone about the trade secrets. Several times I heard from some guys in the hole, “Does anyone know where Private Collins is?” Of course, I never told anyone my last name—I really stayed anonymous. I took the tag off my duffle bag and stuffed it inside, and wore fatigue shirts that had no name tags. I spent the whole day on deck reading and sometimes playing a game of hearts with new-found deck friends. I suspect most of my deck friends were escaping KP too, but we were all smart enough to keep our mouths shut lest someone would pass the word to a mess sergeant.
The voyage was about 12-13 days, and when we hit the meridian, we encountered a series of severe typhoons. The storms were so severe that many of us got seasick. On top of that, earlier we all got sick from the so-called captain’s dinner which was, in fact, a turkey dinner that had been placed on greasy trays. The captain’s dinner and the storms made for a miserable trip indeed. It was so bad that we had to use the decks as toilets because the bathroom toilets were all clogged up. The routine was that toilet paper rolls were tossed to us and then the maritime seamen would hose down the decks. We would shift from port side to starboard side throughout the day, and sometimes at night, as the seamen cleaned up after us. The seamen had powerful hoses which were very effective in cleaning the decks. When we shifted to one side of the deck, of course the ship would list to that side, which scared us a bit. However, we were assured by the seamen that we would not capsize. We were also issued pills which were the equivalent of Imodium to check our dysentery. So much for the captain’s dinner. Whenever I went on a cruise in recent years and heard that it was the night for the captain’s dinner, a shiver went up my spine. I checked the silverware to make sure it was not greasy.
One of my better escapes was to a high point on the bow of the ship. It was a small space hidden from view because it was surrounded on both sides by lifeboats. It was located, I guess you would say, around the so-called forecastle of the ship just below the pilot’s station. I went up there every day, and usually I was joined by another soldier, a sergeant who was about five years older than me. He was voluntarily returning to Korea on his second tour. He was quiet and, like me, he liked to read. The sergeant was more or less the chief occupier of that space. I was the only allowed intruder into the area if he was there. We respected each other’s space, and appreciated the quiet time for reading. Any minute I thought he was going to ask me why I wasn’t on KP, but he didn’t. I am sure he did not really care.
Although quiet, he sometimes talked about his time at the Chosin Reservoir with the 7th Infantry Division in November-December 1950. Just to give you a sense of the time period, I was going to Korea in May of 1952. The sergeant talked about the cold, about the Chinese overrunning his position, and about the severe mortar bombardments. Another time he talked about bulldozers covering the dead Americans during hasty retreats. He said that, coming back from Korea the first time, one of his buddies jumped over the ship at night and, of course, was lost forever in the choppy, murky sea. He had nightmares about that incident. He said the soldier overboard had a severe form of battle fatigue which was not easily diagnosed in those days.
Mostly, however, we were quiet and one time he remarked that it was hard for him to understand why I dropped out of Notre Dame to be heading into what he called "a certain hell." I explained that it was something I had to do, but that I really was looking forward to the day when I could return to college on the GI Bill--hopefully to some college close to my home. I told him this time I wanted to be a commuter and enjoy Mom’s home cooking. He chuckled, and when we were close to landing at Yokohama he wished me well. He also said to be sure to watch my backside. I don’t know whatever happened to him, but I sure hope he made it back from his second tour okay.
One final incident before we landed happened about three days from Japan when we sighted a Japanese fishing boat. The boat came aside of us and the fishermen brought one of their crewmen up onboard in a makeshift cot of sorts. I later found out that he had an acute case of appendicitis and was operated on by one of the Army doctors aboard ship. It was successful and he was later put ashore when we landed.
We finally landed in Yokohoma. I had successfully eluded all work details while aboard, and had quite a bit of reading time. One of my bunk mates who had served some KP time would say, “Hey Collins. The Sarge is looking for you.” I would say, “Okay. Where is he and I will go see him.” If I had said I was trying to elude the good sergeant, I am sure my bunk mate would have passed the word that this soldier was shirking his KP duty (which, of course, I was). My weak rationalization for my action was that I volunteered for the Army and Korea, and I would be serving plenty of time day and night over an 18-month period in Korea--so there. As it turned out, that’s pretty much what happened.
When we landed in Yokohama we were herded into trucks and transported to the barracks that would be our temporary home for several days. We were issued more equipment, including a helmet, rain gear, etc., but no weapon--not yet. We went out to the firing range one day with a temporary issue of an M-1 for firing practice. We actually went out for a couple days and practiced firing on the targets. I surprised myself and started firing in the expert category, whereas, before in the States, my scores had all been in the marksman category. I felt good about the accomplishment but I wondered whether I did that well or not. Perhaps it was some GI in the pits trying to make me feel good before I got into combat. I don’t think so, however, because going to Korea and probably combat was a very serious affair and soldiers wouldn’t tamper with that.
After more processing and confirming next of kin with accurate addresses and phone numbers, we were then put into large troop-carrying aircraft and flown to Pusan, where we boarded trains heading north. I arrived in Korea during the hot summer month of July 1952 and the only thing I knew was that I was assigned to a transportation company. I knew that because I had a copy of my orders--Special Orders #186, dated 28 July 1952 and from Headquarters, 351st Transportation Highway Group, APO 301. They indicated I would have non-combatant status. I had mixed feelings about it because I sort of wanted to be in a combat unit. But then again, I said, "I have time. Let’s see what this new assignment is all about."
The troop train was loaded with soldiers, and some got off along the way. The train chugged along at a slow speed and it took about three days before we reached the final destination. We were given box lunches and stopped at various stations for a real bathroom break as the train facilities were always crowded. We kept going north and there was a soldier from the transportation corps who checked our orders and alerted us to our destination. Much to my surprise, my destination was the very last stop of the train. Trucks were waiting—everything was well organized. The infantry guys got into a truck and were taken to the front lines. My assigned base was located at Sokcho-ri, which was on the northeastern shore of Korea just at or below the 38th parallel. On the map it is a little south of Wonsan, which was getting shelled every night by the big 16-inch guns on battle wagons and cruisers off shore.
A couple of days later I was issued a second set of orders--Special Orders #148 dated 31 July 1952, from the 70th Transportation Truck Battalion. On my orders were other members assigned to the 513th Truck Company. Their names were Ernest Davenport, Raymond Hawkins, John L. Long, Richard Malden, Amos Byrd, and Gerald Vigil.
I was at first assigned as a co-driver with a small, wiry Japanese-Hawaiian soldier named Richard Ishi. I was assigned the night shift and Ishi was the day driver. Richard Ishi was a good instructor. As co-driver, I went out with him for several runs until I learned the ropes. He was a really good guy and we became fast friends. He was part of a group of Japanese-Hawaiians in the unit and I bonded with all of them. There was Joseph Tsusaka and Hano-Hano, who was about three/fourths Hawaiian and one/quarter Japanese. These were very loyal guys and really good friends to have, as there were some pretty tough hombres in the company.
The mission of the 513th was the transporting of diesel oil, gasoline, weapons, and artillery shells to the front lines, and 500 pound bombs to nearby airfields. This was a day and night operation and since I was new to the outfit I was immediately assigned to drive a 2 1/2-ton truck to the beach where an LST was docked. These LSTs came from Japan and sometimes Pusan, where they were loaded. Unloading the LSTs was a 24-hour, seven days a week task. On the docks at the beaches, Korean women unloaded the large drums of diesel oil and gasoline. (Most able bodied men were serving in the South Korean army.) These women were treated like slaves by the Korean (ROK) army soldiers. If they were not working fast enough, they were goaded and beaten with leather straps or in some cases pushed to the ground and then beaten by the ROK soldiers. We had military police who were assigned to the port, but they just looked on, as they were of a mind that the women laborers were under the jurisdiction of the ROK soldiers.
As indicated in the history section of my narrative, the LSTs brought gasoline, diesel fuel, ammunition, bombs, artillery shells, clothing, food, and other miscellaneous supplies. Our job was to drive a truckload of fuel or armament to the front lines where there was a large storage depot. The trucks were then unloaded at the storage depot close to the front. We could see the light flashes of the artillery weapons and hear thunder, especially during the night runs. Sometimes these trips took several hours, depending on traffic and weather conditions. Other times the trips were to supply storage areas that were closer. The trips were always done in a convoy of trucks. Some of the trucks had mounted thirty or fifty caliber machine guns. In case we were attacked by roving bands of guerrilla forces, we were issued a carbine which we always kept in a rifle sheaf or holder in the front seat. However, we seldom ran into the guerrilla situations except when we were temporarily deployed to the Taejon area. Guerrillas were situated there because the Inchon Landing had isolated many North Korean or Chinese troops considerably south of the 38th Parallel.
After I learned the ropes I was assigned my own vehicle, which Richard Ishi and I shared. He drove days and I drove nights for quite awhile. Because I served as a dispatcher in the motor pool at Fort Benning while I was with the 508 Regimental Combat Team, I automatically got this MOS when I later went to driving school at Fort Riley, Kansas. I lost my infantryman MOS when I got hurt, or perhaps it became a secondary MOS not to be utilized while I had the profile three status with my injured shoulder.
Richard Ishi was my instructor for the rough terrain and hill driving. There were times when we trucked 500-pound bombs to airfields or artillery shells to the front lines. One had to be very careful and thoughtful when driving the terrain with such precarious loads. The 500-pound bombs were hauled to our own airfield in Socho-ri (K-50). Sometimes we went on temporary duty (TDY) to such airfields as Kangnung (K-18), Chunchon (K-47), the two airfields in Taegu (K-37 and K-5), and Pyongyang (K-12).
Richard also showed me how to fly the gears. This meant that we did not double clutch when we were shifting. In other words, when we went from one gear to another we engaged the clutch, took the shift out of a lower gear, and then disengaged the clutch by putting it in neutral. We then engaged the clutch again to put it in the higher gear. A really experienced driver could modify the whole process by taking the shift and flying it into the higher gear by a quick engagement/disengagement of the clutch only one time. It took some practice to do it smoothly without clashing the gears, and in the beginning I clashed them. Richard told me to be sure to do it only when I was away from the loading dock or the front line loading dock. The motor pool officers and non-coms discouraged the practice because there was so much clashing of gears as one was learning. As I understood it, however, once we learned to do it smoothly there was no damage to the transmission. The truck made a nice sound on the road as we went from one gear to the next, and once I learned I was flying the gears all the time. I wish I could explain the sound, as it was really cool and it took the monotony out of long hours of driving. There was a lot of kidding about guys who missed a gear and made the clashing sound. I must say, I really became an expert. When Richard was driving a night shift for some reason (perhaps a driver was sick or something), he would say to his friends, “Jack can really make that truck sing–wow.”
513th Truck Company - A History
I am going to take a pause in my narrative to present a brief history of the 513th Trucking Company. This overview will provide the reader some context for my personal experiences within the 513th later in the narrative. Unlike the 508th Regimental Combat Team, my former unit, the history of the 513th is virtually unknown and not readily accessible as is the 508th, which has a web site and numerous references on the internet, as well as books written about it. I am indebted to the United States Army Transportation Museum located at Fort Eustis, Virginia. Also, records from the United States Archives and Records Administration (NARA) are source material for my account. My son, Col. John P. Collins of the United States Army Medical Corps, was instrumental in obtaining a document from the Museum titled, Statement of Service, 513th Transportation Company. My son also assisted me in accessing the records from NARA. In turn, John was assisted by Dr. John Greenwood, the historian of the Army Surgeon General Office. My thanks to both of them.
I dedicate this section to the many soldiers who served in the rear echelons primarily as non-combatants (although at times the “non-combants” were fired upon by the enemy in the course of their duties). Since many of the Korean War memoirs are by soldiers in combat units, I wanted to give the reader an understanding of the role of support units, the importance of logistics, and the dedication of the unheralded truck drivers and other support people during the Korean War. In regards to the importance of logistics during war, General Dwight D. Eisenhower stated, “You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics.” Carl Von Clauswitz stated, “There is nothing more common than to find consideration of supply affecting the strategic lines of a campaign and a war.”
This historical narrative is enhanced by facts and figures obtained from the National Archives. Further, the overview information from United States Army Transportation Museum located at Fort Eustis, Virginia, is helpful in providing context. A later section of my memoir will be personal remembrances and anecdotes which will personalize the daily life of the truckers who were responsible for getting troops, ammunition, food, and petroleum to the front line troops.
In the beginning of the narrative the monthly reports are more lengthy than later reports. I wanted the reader to gain a good understanding of the trucking operation and then the later shorter versions will be more understandable. A document published by the Fort Eustis Transportation Museum titled, “The History of the Transportation Corps" presents an overview of the Transportation Corps from its inception on July 31, 1942 by Executive Order 9082. Although the Transportation Corps was formally recognized in 1942, there is a long history of the role of transportation going back to the Revolutionary War when “General George Washington appointed the first Wagon Master.” The document describes the role of the Transportation Corps in all the various wars, including the Korean War. It is stated in the document, “During the Korean Conflict, the Transportation Corps kept the U.N. Forces supplied through three brutal winters. By the time the armistice was signed, the Transportation Corps had moved more than 3 million soldiers and 7 million tons of cargo." As an active unit of the Transportation Corps, the 513th Transportation Company distinguished itself through World War II and the Korean War. I am proud that I was a member of the 513th during my 18-month tour in Korea.
The following information is taken from the aforementioned document titled, Statement of Service, 513th Transportation Company. On April 15, 1944, the 513th was constituted, but it was originally designated as the 3824th Quartermaster Truck Company. It was activated on June 7, 1944 in Italy. On August 1, 1946, the 3824 Quartermaster Truck Company was re-designated as the 3824th Transportation Truck Company. On March 25, 1947, the 3824th Transportation Truck Company was re-designated as the 513th Transportation Corps Truck Company. It was again re-designated on July 10, 1947, and this time it was known as the 513th Transportation Truck Company. It was re-designated on April 26, 1954 as the 513th Transportation Company.
Statement of Service
The 513th Transportation Company was inactivated on November 5, 1955 in Korea. It was again activated on June 1, 1959 in Germany. Campaign Participation Credit includes World War II citations in Italy, Rone-Arno and Po Valley. The Korean War citations are many: Chinese Communist Forces’ (CCF) Intervention; First United Nations (UN) Counteroffensive; CCF Spring Offensive; UN Summer-Fall Offensive; Second Korean Winter, Korean, Summer-Fall, 1952; Third Korean Winter, and Korean Summer, 1953 Campaigns. Also the 513th Transportation Truck Company received the following Decorations: Presidential Unit Citation (Navy), Streamer embroidered Hwachon Reservoir; Navy Unit Commendation, Streamer embroidered Panmunjom; Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, Streamer embroidered Korea, 1950-1952; Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, Streamer embroidered Korea, 1952-1953.
The company was pretty much on the move in Korea until January 1952. Thereafter the unit was permanently located at Sokcho-ri, a base within a half-mile or so from the coast of the Sea of Japan on the northeastern side of Korea. The base was located on the 38th parallel and the most northern seacoast location of any base. Occasionally parts of our company were deployed temporarily (TDY) to other locations for short-term hauling operations.
The following information is taken from NARA documents. These documents include daily reports, summary reports, and command reports of the 513th Transportation Truck Company. In some cases I will present detailed daily reports to allow the reader to gain an insight into the operation. In other cases I will present summary and command reports to get an overview of a time period. It is noted that my summary and command report presentation does not contain every item. I attempted to include items that would give the reader a flavor of the operation. From report to report there is a repetition of items which I did not include. An example of such items would be the request for personnel, the shortage of a wrecker, the need for typewriters for report writing in the supply and maintenance areas, etc. The NARA documents are incomplete as some months are missing. However, overall the reader should obtain an understanding of the role of the 513th as it provided direct support for combat units.
As one reads the following accounts, it is well to keep in mind the impact of climate and terrain on the trucking and logistical supply efforts of the United Nations Command. Selected writings from Charles Shrader are relevant:
In September, 1950 the 513th Truck Company was located at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, supporting the Artillery Center and School. The 513th was assigned to the Fourth Army and attached to the 53rd Transportation Truck Battalion. Upon receiving orders to deploy for overseas movement, the 513th was assigned to the Sixth Army with station at Fort Lawton, Washington. The unit departed Fort Sill, Oklahoma, by troop train on September 20, 1950 and had the following personnel: 4 officers, 1 warrant officer, and 126 enlisted men. The route of the troop train after departing Fort Sill, Oklahoma, was through the following cities and states: Texline, Texas, Rawlins, Wyoming, Umatilla, Oregon, and arrived at Fort Lawton, Washington, on September 23, 1950.Total distance traveled was 2636 miles.
The period of September 24-29, 1950 was a time for further orientation and preparation for overseas movement. The 513th was relieved of its assignment from the Sixth Army and given the code name "Evil" on September 29. On September 30, 1950, the unit departed Fort Lawton on the troop ship, USS General MB Stewart at the Port of Seattle. The 513th was at sea for 15 days, as it landed at Yokohama, Japan on October 15, 1950. NARA does not have a document explaining how the 513th got to Korea or where their port of entry was located. I would conjecture that the port of entry was Wonsan, which was secured by the United Nations Command at that time. It is a port city on the northeast side of Korea located about 110 miles north of the 38th parallel.
Deployed to Korea
As indicated in the following report, the 513th was in support of the Changjin (Chosin) Reservoir Campaign (October-December, 1950). In a report issued in November 1950, Captain Clarence F. Thomas, Commanding Officer stated:
The next report from Captain Clarence Thomas is from Chechon, South Korea, and is dated April 1, 1951. I would conjecture that the 513th was deployed to this area following the Chosin Reservoir Campaign. This was the time and location just following Operation Killer, which had as its objective “to destroy Communists forces east of the Han River and south of Line Arizona, which ran generally eastward from near Chipyong-ni, across IX and X Corps fronts to the boundary between the U.S. X and ROKA III Corps. The April 1 report stated that the “[513th] with 43 operational vehicles was in support of 7th Infantry Division and 4 trucks were reserved for X Corps.”
According to the report, trucks on April 1 hauled a total 175 tons of personnel, individual equipment, and petroleum for a total of 5583 miles. During the day on April 2, a truck overturned and a soldier suffered a skull fracture. Through the April 1951 period, the daily reports were about the same. On April 7, 1951, a soldier was accidentally shot and killed at Chechon, Korea. On April 9, another soldier was reported killed in a truck accident at Hoensong. On April 10, the trucks were hauling ammunition and shells in addition to personnel, equipment and petroleum. Each day it was reported that a number of vehicles were "dead-lined" or unable to operate because of maintenance problems. For example, on April 14, there were 16 dead-lined vehicles.
On April 23, 1951, the 513th was relieved from the 7th Division and moved from Chechon, Korea, to Hongchon, Korea, in direct support of the 8th Army. During this time period and location, the activity in the area around Hongchon, Wonju, and Chipyong-ni was known as "the fight for the Central Corridor." The so-called “front lines” in the eastern sector moved northward from the Wonju and Hongchon area to the Hwachon and Yanggu line of defense. The time period was late February to late April 1951. The April 24 report indicated that personnel, individual clothing, petroleum, etc. was hauled for the day. The 45 operational trucks traveled 3660 miles and hauled 137 tons. A summary report for April dated May 17, 1951 filed by Captain Clarence Thomas is as follows:
At this point in the historical narrative it is instructive to introduce a document titled, "Part II, Transportation Corps, Critical Transportation." The document is part of a series of documents entitled, "Combat Support in Korea" by John G. Westover. The information from this document is relevant to the time period and the critical Wonju Railhead operation. It is also noted from other documents that the 513th was attached to the 52d Transportation Truck Battalion. Later in 1952-1953, it was attached to the 70th Transportation Battalion in Sokcho-ri, Korea. However, throughout its stay in Korea, it is interesting to note that the 513th, like other truck companies, had a number of temporary attachments, depending on the need and proximity to a particular combat unit. I quote from the aforementioned document:
A summary report filed by Captain Clarence Thomas on June 4, 1951 from Wonju for the month of May indicated the following information:
Daily reports for the month of May, 1951 contained the usual information relative to tonnage and class of supplies. The following is noted in the reports:
It is noted that the Chinese First and Second Spring Offensive was during this time period. A Command Report filed by Captain Clarence Thomas from Wonju on July 5, 1951 for the month of June noted the following:
It is noted that during the month of June 1951, the 513th was hauling all types of supplies mostly ammunition and petroleum. The trucks would return to Wonju from Hongchon with empty shell casings brass and empty drums. On several days trucks were dispatched to Taegu to haul troops. It is also noted that trucks would leave at all hours during the day. Return times was usually before 2200 hours, although some vehicles were returning later. In some cases, check in time was 0400-0600 hours.
A Command Report filed by Captain Clarence Thomas from Wonju in August for the month of July noted the following:
Daily reports for the month of July indicates the truck runs were from Wonju to Hongchon with food, petroleum and ammunition. It was an around-the-clock operation as trucks were leaving at all times day and night. Some trips were to Taegu hauling troops. Ammunition was hauled to Umyang-ni, Korea. One truck accident was reported on July 22. Another accident on July 23. Accident reported on July 27.
A Command Report for August, 1951 filed in September, by Captain Clarence Thomas includes the following:
Daily reports indicated that most runs were from Wonju to Hongchon and the class of supplies was the same as previous reports. Also, it was a day and night operation as many trucks were leaving after midnight. Again ammunition was being transported, in many cases, to Umyang-ni, Korea. Several accidents were reported. On August 18, five trucks returned to Wonju with salvage equipment. A Command Report for September 1951 was filed in October by Captain Clarence Thomas. The following is noted:
It is noted that in the daily reports trucks were traveling between Wonju and Hongchon hauling the same class of supplies as noted in previous reports. Cargo was shipped also from Wonju to Umyang-ni. A Command Report by Captain Clarence Thomas filed in November 1951 for the month of October notes the following:
Every command report usually noted that there was a shortage of at least officer and several enlisted men. The daily logs for the month indicated that there were trips from Wonju to Umyang-ni. A Command Report filed by the new commanding officer, Captain George H. Hodges, from Wonju was filed in December for the month of November 1951.
Daily reports for this same time period indicate that cargo, mostly ammunition, was being hauled from Wonju to Umyang-ni, Pungi, Ascom City and Chunchon.
The next Command Report from Captain George Hodges was in January 1952 for the month of December 1951. Since the 513th Truck company had moved from Wonju, this report was from Sokcho-ri, which is located on the northeast coast of Korea on the 38th parallel. Highlights of the report include:
It is noted on the daily report of December 12 that at 1900 hours a windstorm came at a high rate of speed. The necessary precautions went into place: trucks and jeeps were pulled up to quarters to tie them down and all stoves were cut off to prevent the loss of tents due to fires. A total of ten tents were lost in the storm. They were damaged beyond the repair facilities of this unit. The next day, living quarters that were destroyed by the storm were restored. Also, some cargo was shipped to Chunchon and K-18 airfield. A Command Report was filed by the new commanding officer, Lt. Harry Lewis. The report from Sokcho-ri was filed in February 1952 for the month of January:
The following information is noted in the daily logs for the month of January. The cargo was food, individual equipment, fuel, construction material and ammunition. The 513th continued to be under the overall command of the 2d Logistical Command. Some cargo destination included Supply Depots northward, Kingnong, Kongnong, 529th Quartermaster Petrol Company, 1st Marine Base, and 1st Amphibious Truck Company. In the port area there were several piers where the LSTs landed: Piers Able, Baker, Charlie, and Duck Beach.
A Command Report filed in March 1952 for February by the new commanding officer, Lt. Thomas Ryan, indicated the following:
A daily report for February 5, 1952 indicated that 16 trucks hauled construction materials (Class-IV including fortification and barrier materials) to X Corps Engineers Supply Depot. A Command Report filed in April 1952 for the month of March was submitted by Lt. Thomas Ryan:
A command Report was filed in May, 1952 for the month of April by Lt. Ryan from Sokcho-ri:
Daily reports for April indicated that the 513th hauled ammunition to Ammunition Supply Point (ASP) 62 and miscellaneous supplies to Chuminjin. A command report was filed by Lt. Thomas Ryan in June 1952 for the month of May from Sokcho-ri:
Daily reports for the month of May indicated the following: There were a number of days that the 513th hauled ammunition to the 69th Ordnance. A command report was filed by Captain Ryan in July 1952 for the month of June from Sokcho-ri:
Daily reports for June indicated that cargo was hauled to these following points as well as the usual destinations: Kangsong, 69th Ordnance, 69th Transportation Truck Battalion, Sachang, Ammunition Supply Points, #35, #33, #35, #62, and #60B.
A command Report was filed in August 1952 for the month of July by Captain Ryan from Sokcho-ri:
Daily reports for July indicated that cargo was hauled to these following points as well as the usual destinations: 69th Ordnance, Chuminjin, Wonju, Yanggu, Kangnung, Ammunition Supply Point (ASP) #33 and #35, Air Transport Command, S-4. A command Report was filed in September 1952 for the month of August by Captain Ryan from Sokcho-ri.
Daily reports for August indicated that cargo was hauled to these following locations as well as the usual destinations: Wonju, Chuminjin Ammunition Supply Point (ASP) #33, ASP #62, Air Transport Command (ATC). The unit had a successful fire drill as well. Lt. Clarence Banning was the Acting Commander for 10 days while Captain Ryan was on leave.
Throughout its stay in Sokcho-ri, the 513th remained attached to the 70th Battalion and directly responsible to the 2nd Logistical Command for many of its assignments. This fact was noted by the company commanders in their reports. I was not able to find any official records from NARA beyond August 1952. I was assigned to the 513th in July 1952. The unit remained in Sokcho-ri during the term of my service, July 1952-December 1953. According to the summary report from United States Army Transportation Museum located at Fort Eustis, Virginia, the 513th was eventually relocated to Yongdongpo, still attached to the 70th Battalion. The 513th was inactivated in 1955 and the 70th Battalion replaced the 513th with the 49th Truck Company in 1956.
Lt. Lee Philmon was motor pool officer in the 513th during part of my term of service with the unit. Lieutenant Philmon gave testimony to Richard Killblane of the United States Army Transportation Museum located at Fort Eustis, Virginia on July 2, 2003 about his experiences with truck companies during the Korean War, including his time with the 513th.The following are selected statements of that report. It is instructive since the 513th was part of the Wonju Railhead Operation during the 1951 time period. Later Lieutenant Philmon was assigned to the 513th in Sockcho-ri while I was a member of the unit.
I am happy to report that I have been in contact (thanks to Lynnita Brown of the Korean War Educator) with Lee Philmon recently over the phone and through e-mails. We have exchanged photos and memories. We had a number of movie celebrities visit the Sokcho-ri area for performances. We both have photos of Debbie Reynolds, Walter Pidgeon, etc. Lee was assigned the “task” of escorting Piper Laurie around while she visited our base. He shared with me an excellent photo of both of them in the Company area. Lieutenant Philmon retired from the Army as a Major and resides in Stockbridge, Georgia.
Members of the 513th
The company was completely integrated with perhaps an equal mix of black soldiers and white, with a few Hispanic, some pure Hawaiian soldiers, as well as a mix of Japanese/Hawaiian. Members of the 513th who served with me during my tour or some part of my include the following. (Not listed are the soldiers who arrived with me on Special Orders 148.) In some cases the names may be misspelled, but I am sure that if anyone of the mentioned reads this account he will recognize himself. They are listed by their highest held rank, although some were later "busted" back to Private for some infraction of army regulations.
There are others, of course, but at this point I do not recall their names. I can visualize their faces or perhaps see them in a photo, but cannot connect a name.
My Tour in Korea - Vignettes
The following vignettes are presented in an attempt to portray the culture of a truck company during the Korean War. As indicated in the history section, the combat troops depended on the logistics and supplies to carry out their mission. Life in a trucking company permanently located was mostly boring and without the challenging, sometimes dramatic, as well as dreadful events of a combat unit. Mostly it was a day-by-day operation characterized by set routines. Used in tandem with the history of 513th presented previously, the vignettes will help my readers to better understand the life of the men who supplied the guns and butter to the front line troops.
When I first arrived at the 513th we were living in tents. The tents were of various sizes but most of us lived in rather large tents that housed perhaps eight to ten men. Living conditions were primitive and all slept on regular army cots. Water was available for washing, etcetera. There was the big mess tent where we had our meals and we even had a so-called “beer tent” where one could socialize during off hours. For a period of time I was assigned the task of being a bar tender.
After several months it was decided that, because of the permanency of our situation, we would build Quonset huts for a much improved living situation. Sgt. First Class Clemens was assigned the task of supervising the construction project and he, indeed, was an excellent construction man, as well as an able supervisor. We unloaded the construction materials from the LSTs and Sergeant Clemens had the materials laid out in a way that they were easily accessible and materials were proximate to one another according to their place on the plans. All of us were recruited for this project, and those of us who had the night shift were required to work after perhaps five to six hours of sleep. Clemens was easy to work with--capable, jovial, intelligent, and understanding if the night shift slowed one down.
When completed, the Quonset huts seemed like a drastic change from our lives in “tent city.” Each Quonset had a diesel fuel heating unit that was serviced daily by a soldier or soldiers with special training that was assigned to the task. Everything had to be cleaned thoroughly and inspected by a non-commissioned officer. I can remember sleeping during the day after a night shift and being disturbed by the clamor and clatter of the soldier cleaning the heating unit. There were incidents of fires and explosions with these units in Korea, but I do not recall any in our unit.
The capacity of the Quonsets was approximately 20-25 soldiers with bunks spaced apart from one another by 18 inches to 24 inches. Living was tight and we hoped that we were not sleeping next to a soldier who “honked his horn” during the night. Each Quonset had a squad leader in charge, usually with the rank of Corporal. The officers had their own smaller unit. The sergeants had their own units as well; however, I remember Sergeant Miller wanted to bunk with us.
Corporal Porter was our squad leader and supervised the cleaning operations, usually on a Saturday morning. He also asked some us to sweep up during the week, depending on current conditions. Life was routine as the day and night shifts operated pretty much like ships passing in the night, so to speak. Each soldier had a footlocker of sorts, plus a duffle bag. Both were locked and we kept our valuables in the footlocker, as it was not likely to be carted off somewhere. Usually there were always several soldiers in the huts, so it was virtually impossible for someone to break off a footlocker lock.
When food packages arrived, it was prudent to keep the contents of the packages in the footlocker for security reasons. However, most soldiers were very generous with their packages and it would not take long for the food to disappear. One soldier in particular, Frank Aluto, received many packages--perhaps two a week, and he was generous, indeed. His mother cooked sausages and made cookies and bread. I was privileged to be his friend and the constant sharer of his food packages. My mother was very good at sending things to me as well, and she sent brownies which were a big hit with my friends.
Overall, life in the huts was calm, with occasional incidents of alcohol abuse by a soldier or soldiers. Access to beer was common as the army supplied just about all of it and we could pick up a can or cans from the mess hall at will. During the time of my army life I did not drink coffee, so a can of beer was common fare with my meals. In fact, it was so common that I continued the practice when I returned home and commuted to college. My mom cooked breakfast in the morning and instead of coffee I would open a cold Budweiser. The practice tapered off after a while because my college classmates could smell it and thought I was an alcoholic. The particulars of that situation will have to wait until a post-army autobiography can be written.
Hard liquor was not readily available in Korea so unfortunately some soldiers purchased homemade hard liquor or wine from the locals in Soch-ri. Many times this alcohol caused severe illness or, in some cases, blindness. Some soldiers did, however, find hard liquor—whiskey, brandy, etc, made in the U.S. The sources were unknown to me as hard liquor was not my thing. I remember soldiers sitting around in the hut swapping off a bottle of states liquor and offering me a swig. Besides the fact that it did not appeal to me, there was, in my mind, the problem of so many different soldiers drinking from the same bottle. No thanks. Probably the only real problems in the huts were the occasional gathering of soldiers around whiskey and sometimes getting a bit rowdy. In our hut, Corporal Porter was pretty good about controlling these situations but occasionally, if he was not there, things got out of hand. I noticed it only when I was changed to the day shift and tried to get to sleep at night. To me, one of the bonuses of the night shift was that sleeping conditions were usually pretty good during the day.
I suppose I would be remiss if I did not mention the “ladies of the night” that clustered around our unit and who came from the town of Sokcho-ri or nearby shacks. We were fenced in so soldiers had to go outside the area to their “moose” for a bit of recreation. Stories of recent sorties and favorite girls were the common banter among the soldiers. In some cases soldiers went to town where ladies were readily available for the right price. There were a few incidents where soldiers took up with married or engaged Korean women, not prostitutes, and these soldiers were sometimes found dead or badly maimed. Of course, all of this activity had its consequences with the various forms of venereal disease, and soldiers had to given the proper drug treatment to cure it. Unfortunately, there were a number of soldiers who combined the bad Korean alcohol with infected women and the consequences are beyond the scope of this narrative. I understand some soldiers with incurable venereal disease were sent to Japan and isolated for long lengths of time. I have not researched this situation and therefore do not have any facts to present other than hearsay. Anyway, these are the grim facts of war that seldom find their way into published reports of the Korean War--or any war, for that fact.
The other big activity included card playing and some gambling, but the latter was limited as no one had spare cash on army pay. Occasionally large cartons of books arrived in the hut, and this certainly was a happy occasion for me. I always liked to read, and non-fiction was readily available--although I liked good fiction as well. Luckily most of the non-fiction usually stayed in the boxes and I built a mini-library beside my bunk. The shelves were the cartons. In fact, I still have two books that I brought home from Korea: Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain and Sign of Jonas by Thomas Merton that had just been published in 1953. The books were compliments of the Red Cross and perhaps other service organizations, the names of which I do not recall. Another book sent to me by my cousin Helen was The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk. I hope I still have it, but I don’t remembering seeing it lately. Books are my life and I have an extensive library which provides me countless hours of pleasure during my retirement and sunset years.
On one occasion Richard Ishi and I were assigned a two-truck mission hauling 500-pound bombs to Kangnung (K-18). It was a several-hour drive because of the bad roads. Richard, although normally a day driver, was selected for the mission and he selected me to accompany him in a second truck. After unloading our cargo at the air base, we headed back to the base after midnight. It was not in the winter, so it was perhaps Spring or Fall. Suddenly my truck just gave out. For some reason the engine shut off and glided to a stop. We were in the middle of a very small village of sorts with a number of huts with the usual straw roofs. After checking the engine, Richard determined that the truck was immobile and would need to be hauled away to the maintenance depot. Richard, although not a mechanic, was pretty good at diagnosing engine problems. He determined that it was not a fan belt, which could be easily remedied because we had spares. As drivers, we could make minor repairs and had some spare parts, together with the appropriate wrenches to loosen the bolt to take off and replace a fan belt, for example. Richard said that he would proceed on back to the base and send out a wrecker, which was common procedure in many cases. The trucks were well-worn, and when they broke down it was usually time for the wrecker. One of our directives as drivers was that we were not to abandon our trucks unless forced by the enemy. As indicated in the history section, we did not carry radios. Accordingly, Richard said that I was to remain behind and to be sure my carbine was loaded. An abandoned truck was open game for South Korean civilians to take and later sell in the black market. There were no known guerillas in the area, as we were fairly close to the coast line and not in the interior where there were some pockets of them left. Richard left and I waited several hours until daybreak for assistance. Once in a while an adult male came out of a shack and viewed the truck. After seeing me standing guard with a carbine, he quickly retreated back into his humble abode. A wrecker finally arrived with two army personnel and proceeded to hook up my truck to their vehicle. I then jumped into the spacious cab of the tow truck and proceeded back to the base. It was a long night, as I kept wondering if any South Korean men would try to commandeer my truck. Luckily everything went well and I arrived at the base and had breakfast.
In another night run with a three-truck convoy loaded with bombs, we were heading to Chunchon (K-47) airfield. I was driving the last truck and again the weather was decent, not in the dead of winter. As I proceeded down a windy steep hill my brakes gave out and I surely thought that this was my last trip. However, my training came to the fore and I was able to downshift the truck to the lowest gear and together with the emergency hand brake bring it to a stop along a flat section of the rough road. I was lucky as there was considerable tonnage and I was fearful during the ordeal that the truck was going to go off the road and tip over. Although the bombs were not yet detonated, anything could happen if a bomb or bombs were caught in a fire. The two lead trucks saw that I was disabled and after a short discussion it was determined that I was to stay with the truck until a wrecker came. Again the carbine was at my side and I don’t remember anyone coming by during the whole period of time. My colleagues had radioed from Chunchon for a wrecker to come down from our base in Socho-ri.
In April of 1953 I was re-assigned from the motor pool to the supply unit of the company. The man in charge was Sergeant Buell, a heavy set man who was perhaps in his late twenties. Sergeant Buell had attended the University of Minnesota before joining the army. He was a jovial man and very competent with his job as supply sergeant. He had attended a quartermaster school either in Japan or Pusan before joining the company. With Buell was another soldier who assisted him as well—Corporal Fred Stobbs. I will write more about my duties as the assistant to Sergeant Buell in another vignette, but first I want to set the context for this segment of my narrative.
Near the end of my tour, in August of 1953, I was ordered to take a truck to Taegu, a location southwest of us, for some weapons which had not arrived through the usual shipment by LST at our port of Soch-ri. These weapons were a high priority requested by the 5th Regimental combat Team. I was assigned a driver for the trip--a soldier by the name of PFC LaVerne Yost. It was a three-day trip since the bad roads and the traffic of other convoys moving north forced us to pull over on the road to allow their passage. We were on TDY on Special Orders Number 6-27 dated 12 August 1953. In the Taejon and Taego areas there were reported stories of bands of guerrillas like I previously mentioned. I had first-hand experience with a previous convoy in the Taegu-Taejon area, so we both had ready carbines as long stretches of the road were without any U.S. Army presence. Sergeant Buell had also issued me a sidearm--a .45 caliber revolver.
The trip was going well and our speed was perhaps 30 miles per hour, which was almost a maximum speed on those terrible roads. We were winding down a hilly side of the road when the truck went out of control after hitting a bump. Both Yost and I went careening off the side of the hill. In those days we did not have seat belts, so luckily both of us were able to jump clear of the rolling truck which turned over several times. The truck did not catch fire and Yost and I sat in place for a few minutes surveying the wreck. I proceeded to thank God for escaping unharmed except for a few minor bruises. Luckily another convoy of trucks was passing north and ultimately we hitched rides back to our base. I relayed the story of our accident to the officer in charge of this convoy. He radioed the report back to our company commander.
Unfortunately, this is not the end of the story as, after filing my official report with the company commander, I had to wait several weeks just before the time of my rotation for clearance of any negligence either on my part or the driver, Yost. The wrecked truck was eventually brought back to some base in the Taejon area and inspected by the Inspector General’s office. It was found that gears had been worn down in the steering column, which explained Yost’s story that the steering wheel had a lot of play just before he lost control of the truck. An official letter of clearance was sent to our company commander and Sergeant Buell, absolving Yost and me of any negligence. If either one of us had been found negligent, we would have been assessed monetary damages and been forced to pay through deductions of our pay over the next several months. This assessment was a concern to me as I was saving most of my small army pay for planned college attendance after my discharge. I realized I would need money beyond the anticipated GI Bill to pay my college and living expenses. When the official letter came through, both Sergeant Buell, Yost, and I had a mini-celebration in the supply Quonset.
Jake Judy - A Profile
This is a short profile of one of the nicest human beings I have ever met. Jake was a corporal and assistant to Sergeant Buell before I replaced him in April of 1953. He was the son of a barber somewhere in Ohio. Before I replaced Jake, we had been friends for several months after meeting at the mess hall. He was blond, fair-skinned, and probably was about 5’8” tall. Happily, he appears in several of my photographs. He was quiet of demeanor and I never heard him utter a curse word or say a bad thing about anyone. He did his job well and was idolized by his boss, Sergeant Buell. He was pure of heart, keeping his vow to a girlfriend back home. Since we all led, on the whole, a rather monotonous and boring life during our tour of duty in Korea, there is not much to relate about our relationship. Jake was a breath of fresh air in our company, respected by all for his determination to live an exemplary life in an environment that was not conducive to goodness. Our conversations were mostly about our desires and dreams after the army. Jake was hoping for marriage to his girlfriend, from whom he received many letters. He also had hopes of college and a decent job. Unfortunately, several months after he returned home Jake’s father wrote me a letter saying that Jake was very ill from a form of leukemia. Later I received the dreaded letter that, indeed, Jake had passed away. Certainly Jake was the classic case or axiom that “only the good die young.” Both Sergeant Buell and I mourned his loss, and Jake has been in my prayers and thoughts all of these years. I am sure that God embraced Jake when he died and brought him home immediately to everlasting peace and joy.
Trip to Pusan
In May of 1953 I was selected to take a trip to Pusan on an LST to bring some new trucks for the company back to Socho-ri. Older trucks that had served their country well were placed on the LST destined for some sort of graveyard in Pusan. I was assigned under Special Order Number 31 dated 13 May 1953. Since I have the photographs of most of my comrades on the LST, I can recall their names. From the supply unit there was Cpl. Fred Stobbs and Jake Judy. Evidently Sergeant Buell stayed behind to hold down the fort. Others included Corporal Mossberger, who was our company clerk and in charge of the necessary paperwork. The other two soldiers included in the trip were Palacino and Higgins. Lt. Isadore Kwait was the officer in charge of the operation.
The trip went without incident and it was certainly a welcome change from our routine. I had backed up to many LSTs in my day to load equipment, supplies, ammunition, shells, bombs, etc., and it was a bit of a thrill to finally take a trip on one. As I remember it, the voyage was four or five days round trip. We quartered and had most of our meals on the LST, even when it docked in Pusan. We did, however, walk the streets of Pusan, hit a couple of Grade A restaurants, and have a steak and beer. We all stayed together, as roving bands of young children 8 to 15 years old would pounce on servicemen and grab valuables or knife them. These kids were rendered parentless through the battles at the Pusan triangle and were surviving day by day.
We unloaded the trucks and after a day we drove some new trucks and a couple jeeps aboard. We did not hit any rough water either to or from Pusan. Needless to say, getting away from the hum drum of the company was a pleasure and those of us who made the trip were the envy of those left behind.
On several occasions we were privileged to have visits by well-known movie stars who were flown in from Pusan or Japan. My photos indicate that we were entertained by Debbie Reynolds, Piper Laurie, and Walter Pidgeon. There were lesser lights, of course, but I do not have names. Soldiers from surrounding units were present for the shows they gave, as well as large contingents of combat troops situated a little northwest of us. Many of them were from the Punchbowl area.
My friend and one of my former bosses, Lt. Lee Philmon, had the distinct pleasure of chaperoning Piper Laurie on one of two occasions that Piper honored us with a USO show. On either the first or last occasion she was being lowered down from a chopper into a small boat off shore when she accidentally fell into the water. The fall occasioned a leg fracture and she appeared on stage with a leg cast. How is that for dedication to the troops? In my recent correspondence with Retired Major Lee Philmon, he shared with me some pictures of Piper Laurie and informed me that he was on “special assignment” at the time to make sure she got from one place to another safely. Lee Philmon was a freshly-minted second lieutenant when he arrived at the 513th sometime after January 1953. In my history section I have additional information about him and his very fine service as an officer in our company.
TDYs to Taegu, Taejon, Chonju area/Guerrilla Activity
On a number of occasions our company or several trucks with our company traveled to the Taegu Taejon and Chonju Triangle area to assist with transportation of various supplies such as clothing, weapons, and ammunition, but mostly servicing airfields in the area and hauling 500-pound bombs. The work was routine and mostly non-descript except on one occasion when our convoy of trucks, consisting of the 513th and other trucking companies, was ambushed by a small contingent of guerrillas. Most of our TDYs to this area were in the late summer of 1952 just after I arrived in the company. Because parts of this territory had known guerrilla activity, a number of the trucks had mounted .30 and .50 caliber machine guns. I was involved in only one incident, a night truck run, and the gunfire from the attackers was light and sporadic with no casualties. Several of the trucks with mounted weapons fired into the areas where guerrillas were firing from. After about a half hour we were given orders to proceed. By March of 1952 most of the known guerrilla activity was eliminated through Operation Ratkiller, but our experience demonstrated that there were still some small units located in the hills in the Taegu, Taejon, Chonju Triangle area.
Attempted Transfer to a Combat Unit
Early in my tenure serving in the 513th I applied for a transfer to the Second Infantry Division. My transfer request was dated August 23, 1952, and sent through the commanding officer of the 70th Transportation Truck Battalion. Under my physical condition, a physical profile was listed as 131111. This reflected my previous shoulder problem. At the time of the request, 2nd Lt. Clarence Banning stated that our company was over-strength, so I thought my chances might be good. However, within a short period of time my request was returned not approved. I had to assume the problem was my profile three status.
In March of 1953 I applied for another transfer to a combat unit. I was fed up with the complete boredom of my life in a trucking company. It was the same thing day in and day out. A sergeant had just transferred into our unit from the 5th Regimental Combat Team, as he had been wounded and declared a profile three medically. When I wrote my letter to Lt. Frederick A. Corbin (later Captain Corbin), the Commanding Officer of the 513, I designated the 5th Regimental Combat Team as my preferred unit of transfer. Since I had served with the 508th Regimental combat team at Fort Benning as a paratrooper, I felt that the 5th Regimental Combat team was a good fit. On my request form I listed my primary MOS as 4745 (infantry) and MOS 4345 as a secondary occupational specialty. There was only one problem, and that was my profile three status from my previous shoulder injury sustained while I did a regimental jump at Fort Benning. I requested a waiver on the condition, but it was granted on a temporary basis only. The waiver was issued to me on March 20, 1953 from the Headquarters, 6th Surgical Army Hospital, APO 301. I was to report again to the nearest Army Medical Installation in six months for another evaluation. The temporary waiver was signed by Walter F. Durden, Medical Officer.
As mentioned, in my request for transfer I had noted that my primary MOS was that of an infantryman. Lieutenant Corbin gave me a good recommendation, but he stated in his letter that the “513th is under-strength at the present time.” His letter was combined with my letter of request and addressed to Commanding Officer, Port Operations Detachment, 8206th Army Unit, APO 59. My request was in accordance with SR 615-220-7 and Cir 12, Hq KComZ, 1952. Lieutenant Corbin recommended approval of my request, listing both my character and efficiency as excellent. Since my profile three had been waived temporarily, my physical condition was listed as good. The request was approved by 2nd Lt. Ferdinand L. Vogt, who was the Assistant Adjutant at Headquarters, Port Operations Detachment, 8206th Army Unit, APO 59. However, my second request was rejected or returned without action. It was signed by Cpt. F. H. Brown. So much for transfer requests.
Assignment to the Supply Unit
In April 1953 I was reassigned to the supply unit of the company. Jake Judy was rotating back to the States soon and I was assigned before he left so I could learn the ropes. Fred Stobbs was also rotating within a month or so and I learned his duties as well. In effect, because of personnel shortages, I was the sole replacement for both men. High priority was given to truck drivers, and freeing up an extra man for driving was critical because we were always short on personnel, equipment, and supplies. One of the critical skills for the job was typing. When I interviewed with Sergeant Buell, he said he would teach me. As it turned out, Sergeant Buell had taught himself, and that’s pretty much what I did. I was very determined to master the skill as I did not want to blow the opportunity for a nice assignment during the rest of my tour of duty. Although I was transferred from night driving to the day shift, I was really tired of driving duty. It was monotonous day in and day out—dusty, bumpy roads in the summer, and bitterly cold in the winter. It wasn’t long before I was able to type reasonably well, albeit it was by the hunt and peck method. It was a great skill which was very useful later in life with the advent of the computer age and the keyboard.
Sergeant Buell was a great boss and never harassed me for anything. He just wanted the job done in a competent way, which meant that the endless piles of paperwork had to be dispatched in a timely fashion. There were endless requisitions to be completed and reports to be sent to the company commandeer and higher command about our operation. There were status reports about vehicles that had to be filed daily about the maintenance issues--even routine oil changes and grease jobs. Jake Judy handled most of the supply issues and Fred Stobbs handled the vehicle maintenance issues. The motor pool sent up their reports and we incorporated them into our final report on the issues to the company commandeer and higher command. When you read the History of the 513th section of my narrative you saw the company commander reports on vehicles and equipment which emanated from the supply personnel. Fred Stobbs also handled the mini-PX store which we had within the supply area. Of course, it was limited, but we brought in a variety of merchandise from Pusan so the soldiers could send gifts home to family and girlfriends.
The big plus with this new assignment was that I could move my gear--footlocker, etcetera, into the supply tent and this became my new living quarters. It was only Sergeant Buell and me, so that certainly made for a good night’s sleep as the noise and commotion of the night shift of truck drivers was no longer a problem. For several months I had been on the night shift, so I also had been part of the commotion for day shift buddies who were trying to sleep.
On the workload side of things, Sergeant Buell and I did the work of three men when both Jake and Fred rotated. The job entailed many forms, and complete inventories of trucks, equipment, etcetera, were essential because it was possible for theft of trucks and equipment by soldiers who wanted to make money on the black market. I also had many daily interactions with officers who were looking for authorizations and the necessary paperwork to move trucks to other locations if our motor pool could not complete a major overall or repair job. Parts were always a problem as trucks could be dead-lined for days without the proper part or fitting. Tires were a problem, and many times tires were shifted from dead-lined trucks to trucks that were ready to go. Springs were a big headache because of the terrible road conditions, and radiator replacement was a constant. We were in charge of weapons as well. Our drivers were issued carbines for many of the truck runs--in some cases both an army .45 and a carbine. We had a small supply of the M-1 rifles and grenades in the supply unit, but they were never issued during my time in the supply unit.
All in all, Sergeant Buell and I were kept busy and we worked well together. I was supposed to attend a Quartermaster school in Pusan, but that never came about because of time constraints. Also, Sergeant Buell claimed I was learning all that I needed to know 'on the job'. I was awarded corporal stripes (Special Order Number 286 dated 25 October 1953), which I never would have earned as a driver. It was a good experience and I learned the world of paperwork that came in handy in my later civilian career. I gave up on my desire to serve in a combat unit and patiently waited for my rotation back home.
Naval Guns Blast Wonsan
During my tour with the 513th we were very close to Wonsan, a North Korean port on the coast facing the Sea of Japan. Wonsan was the port taken by X Corps in the Fall of 1950 through an amphibious assault. It was re-captured by the North Koreans and Chinese late in 1950. Since then Wonsan was under blockade by U.S. naval forces. This was the longest blockade of a port by the United States in any war and prevented the enemy from using it. There were times, especially at night, when we could see the light and hear the thunderous roar from the U.S. naval ships that were in the area. The battleship New Jersey, as well as many other naval ships, played prominent roles in the siege of Wonsan and other nearby northeastern towns.
Climate and Terrain
It has been said many times in the numerous books written about the Korean War that the conduct of mechanized warfare on the Korean peninsula was probably more difficult than that in any other part of the world. The severely cold winters and torrid hot summers caused many logistical problems for the troops. Especially hard hit were the trucking companies such as the 513th. I spent the winter of 1952-53 in Korea and can personally attest to the bitter cold. We had the sweeping cold winds from the sea to the east and freezing cold winds sweeping over the many hills and mountainous areas of our truck routes. I have many photos taken of myself in the army parka, trying to cope with the bitter cold. It was not unusual for a bitter cold day to reach temperatures of 20 to 30 degrees below zero, including the wind chill factor. Everything froze, especially grease in the vehicles. This caused mechanical failure. It was difficult to start the vehicles, although, in some cases, mechanics were able to insert electrical heating units into the radiators. Eventually vehicles were able to move and carry on the important transport of supplies to the troops in the forward positions.
Visit by Ricky Rouette
My friend Corporal Ricky Rouette visited me on one occasion while we were both in Korea. Ricky was an old Woonsocket friend and brother of my friend Norm Rouette. I don’t remember in what unit Ricky was serving, but it was in a supply unit south of us. He was on TDY for some reason and was able to drive up in a jeep. He spent several days with me and I introduced him to my friends in the unit. I have photos of him which are in the photo section of this memoir. He had the address of our friend Donald Flynn, also from Woonsocket. I was friendly with his brother Jack as well. Don was a supply sergeant in a unit attached to X Corps. I was able to get a three-day pass and we both drove to Donald’s unit. Donnie was happy to see us both and we had a great reunion. Both Ricky and I stayed with Donald for one evening and we reviewed old days in Woonsocket over several bottles of Japanese beer that Don was able to garner from somewhere. After discharge from the army, Ricky married and settled in Arizona. Donnie joined the Rhode Island State Police and attained the rank of major upon retirement. Unfortunately, Donnie passed away shortly after his retirement. He was in his late fifties, I believe.
P-51 Mustang Explodes in the Air
One day during the summer of 1952, a P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft kept circling our compound. It was low-flying and attempting to land in the nearby airfield. We could not understand why it kept circling. We did see one 500-pound bomb attached to one of the wings. After a few minutes there was an explosion and the plane blew apart. Evidently the bomb was detonated. A faulty mechanical problem caused the explosion. As bits of the plane fell into the sea, we saw a parachute and a limp body dangling from the chute. The body fell into the sea and a Navy rescue craft recovered the mangled body of a South Korean pilot. Beyond the fact that the dead pilot was trying to land his plane, we never learned any other facts related to the incident.
A MASH Unit
This is a short narrative that I must include in my story. On one of the occasions when I was driving a truck on a night run to a supply depot close to the front lines, I had occasion to visit a MASH unit. I broke a finger on my right hand while jumping off the back of truck after assisting the soldiers unload wooden rifle casings from the vehicle. My fourth finger had a ring and when I jumped off, I caught it on the siding and my whole body weight pulled down on the ring. At the time, I thought it was sprained, but it caused so much pain I got to the point that I didn’t think I could drive the three-hour ride back on bumpy roads without any lighting. I was directed to a nearby MASH unit where I waited for perhaps two hours before anyone could check the finger. A very attractive Korean nurse examined the finger and said in clear English that it was not a sprain but a broken finger. She quickly put a splint on the finger and sent me on my way.
While I was waiting, I saw 15 or 20 soldiers being brought in from the front lines. Their injuries were ghastly. I particularly remember one very young soldier who had lost his leg from a mortar blast. Other soldiers had head injuries, as well as a loss of limbs. Doctors worked frantically through the night to save lives and treat the injuries to the best of their ability under the difficult circumstances. Many years later I remember taking particular interest in the television program M*A*S*H, and I was reminded of that terrible night when I witnessed some of the many casualties of the war first-hand. The saving grace of M*A*S*H was the great sense of humor that pervaded the program, even though it portrayed the horrors of war. My oldest son Jack watched the program with me on many occasions as a young boy. He entered the military upon graduation from college and now serves in the Army Medical Corps. He is a full bird colonel and as I write this narrative he serves as the CEO of the army hospital at Fort Stewart, GA. Ironically, sometime in the 1980’s he participated in the deactivation of the MASH unit in Korea portrayed in the TV drama.
Rest and Recreation (R&R)
In May 1953 I was granted five days (exclusive of travel time) of R&R in Osaka, Japan. The Special Orders number was #134 and it was issued or cut from the 2nd Logistical Command dated 14 May 1953. Another member of my unit, Joseph Palacino, was also authorized the leave time. We traveled by truck and rail to Pusan, and then via a flight to Osaka. I was really looking forward to the leave as I had served in Korea over a year and was really tired of the boredom, dusty roads in the summer, and the chilling cold of the winter months. I took many photos during my leave time, and traveled to the cities of Nagasaki, Nara, Tokyo, and Osaka. Joseph went his separate way, as my inclination was to see as much of nearby Japan as I could. I really wanted to see Tokyo, even if it was only a brief visit. I was able to do the travel because our leave was extended by another five days due to inclement flying weather. The R&R officer in Osaka was, indeed, generous, because the inclement weather probably lasted no more than a day. Perhaps the extensions came in bundles of five days rather than a day at a time.
As I look over the photos, I realize that I was evidently impressed with Nara Park, as I have numerous photos of the park and diverse people walking around. For example, I was startled to see numerous veterans of World War II with one and two missing legs. I took one photo of a situation that was a watershed moment for me. The scene and subsequent photo was of a Japanese teacher short of stature who was reading to two students who were on his right and left. The students were of the same height as the teacher. Suddenly it dawned on me what I wanted to do with my life after I got discharged. I wanted to go back to college and eventually become a teacher. Another series of scenes that made an impact on me were the many Japanese people who were walking around with scars from the severe burns that they had suffered during the atomic bomb attacks on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Eventually my ten days of R&R ended, but I felt that I had made the best use of the time with extensive travel by trains and buses.
While serving in Korea amidst the day-by-day/night-by-night boredom, I read quite a bit on off-duty hours. Another thing I was able to do was take pictures with an old Brownie camera that I brought from home. I was interested in my immediate surroundings which were, of course, the trucking company and its personnel. I took pictures of many of my friends. I was able to go to the town of Socho-ri and its beaches and port. When I was driving I usually took my camera with me and snapped photos along the way. I have numerous pictures of Korean people, especially the children. Many of the women doing the wash were launderers for the troops in the company and I took pictures of them. Throughout my tour I sent film home and my dad developed it and placed the photographs in an album for me. Through the years the albums became worn, so two years ago I transferred the photos to newer albums. Just recently I began to digitalize the photos and place them on computer disks. My narrative on this website has close to 200 photos that I hope will graphically depict my story.
Finally the day arrived when I received my orders to return to the States for separation from the Army. It was a long time in coming. The Special Orders Number 305 was dated 16 November 1953 issued from Headquarters 226th Ordnance Base Depot APO 59. John L. Long was also listed on the orders. He came into Korea and the 513th on the same set of orders that I had. I was sent by truck and rail to Pusan and then flown to Yokohama where I disembarked on a troop ship. By Special Orders #274 dated 5 December 1953, it was indicated that I was to board the USNS Marine Phoenix and arrive at Fort Lawton, Washington for processing. I arrived in the Fort Lawton area sometime around December 12 and was flown to Boston and then bussed to Fort Devens.
The only incident of note during this long road home was when I arrived at Fort Lawton. I was waiting in the rain (with poncho) for the much-celebrated steak dinner all Korean veterans were to receive when they arrived in the States. It was going to be a long wait, perhaps an hour. Suddenly my name was called over a bull horn and I was asked to step ahead of the line. The reason stated by a smiling sergeant was that my father and mother were at the front of the line waiting to greet me. I said to myself, wow! What a long trip they took to see me when they were to see me anyway at Fort Devens inside of 48 hours. It turned out that it was another John Collins from North Carolina. I was somewhat disappointed, but the smiling sergeant said that I could stay at the head of the line. A consolation prize was a steak dinner one hour earlier than I had expected. My Massachusetts, Special Orders Number 28. for discharge was dated 11 December 1953 issued from Headquarters 1173d Area Service Unit, Personnel Center, Fort Devens. I was discharged from the United States Army on December 14, 1953.
Military Decorations and Awards
After my discharge from the United States Army in December 1953, I was accepted at Providence College for the second semester as a transfer student from the University of Notre Dame. I received my B.A. in History in 1957 and was awarded an M.A. degree in History from Boston College in 1958. In 1961 I received a Master of Education degree from Bridgewater State College. I enrolled in the Ph.D. program at Boston College and was awarded a doctoral fellowship for my sabbatical year of 1971-1972. I received the degree in 1973.
I started teaching in the Boston School System in 1957 and served as a teacher and administrator at various levels of both private and public education in a number of different school districts. During the last 22 years of my career, I served as a school superintendent in two different districts. Upon my retirement in 1994, I served on the faculties of three different colleges through 2008. My last college assignment was as a professor traveling to eight different countries, teaching graduate courses.
I was married in 1958 and unfortunately my wife Pauline died of cancer in 1979. I have four adult children: John, who is a Colonel in the Medical Corps; Patrick, a former Marine Captain who served in the first Gulf War and now is a school business director; Mary, a special education teacher; and Erin, a contract reading teacher. In the grandchild department I have seven: Shawna, Patrick, Megan, Haley, Paulina, Holly and Teddy. Having now completely retired from the education field, I write and publish in the field of literature/religion. Indeed, life has been good to me after my memorable years in the Army and service in Korea.
In this final section I am indebted to Lynnita Brown, Korean War Educator, who noted that a previous draft was rather sparse and I needed to expand it. Subsequently, Lynnita sent me some excellent questions to prime the pump. As I reflected, I realized over these many years since I served in Korea (57 years), I never committed to writing how my Korean War experiences affected my life. Perhaps a busy life was my excuse. At any rate, when I left Korea, I was hell-bent on playing catch-up–-enrolling in college and getting on with my life. There was one thing after another. Getting married. Raising a family. Being very busy in my total dedication to the field of education. And my more recent writing and publishing in the field of religion/literature. The task of writing this narrative over the past three years (on and off due to other pressures) has given me new insights as I reflected on experiences that were in my distant past. I was gifted with, somewhat, a decent long term memory, and my extensive photo albums were a good lever in helping me write the memoir. So here goes.
One of the reasons I left college and joined the army was my early teen experiences talking to the taxi drivers who worked for my dad. Their extensive World War II experiences made quite an impression on me, and as I progressed in my college studies I was experiencing some guilt feelings about not serving in the military while many not so fortunate young men and women were serving their country and being ushered into battle after the United States entered the war in June of 1950. My father and mother wanted very much for me to finish college, and I suppose they hoped that hostilities would be over by then. Of course, they were right, as I would have graduated in May of 1953 and the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953. I had other concerns as well. I wanted to be independent and have the ability to pay for my own college education. I soon learned that the GI Bill was extended to cover Korean War vets.
As I mentioned in my narrative, the United States Marine Corps was my first choice, but flat feet and vision problems prevented me from entering that branch of service. I craved military action and very much wanted to take a respite from academic studies. Therefore, the Army Airborne or paratroopers was my next choice. The rest is history and covered extensively in my narrative.
The airborne experiences of my three-year army career were definitely the high water mark. My basic training with the 82nd Airborne was, indeed, challenging and I really enjoyed my jump school experience at Fort Benning. I was proud to have been assigned to the 508 Regimental Combat Team and enjoyed my advanced infantry training before being assigned to the motor pool as a regimental transportation dispatcher. My basic training with the 82nd and advanced training with the 508th developed a sense of self-discipline that I heretofore lacked and certainly helped me endure the long, dreary, arduous months in Korea. If I had not gotten injured, I would have probably requested to be re-assigned to an infantry company rather than the Service Company. The 508th had a glorious history during World War II, and the fact that it was re-activated was highly motivational for me. Had I not been injured, I probably would have been deployed to Korea as replacement for troopers of the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team--which was not uncommon for troopers of the 508th. The later deployment of the 508th to Japan and Thailand occurred after my enlistment term.
I am happy to report that Rodger G. Jacobson from Hazel Green, Wisconsin, a fellow trooper from Service Company, has contacted me about some of the activities of the 508th reunions. I recently signed the guest book for the 508th. Roger said that he will be contacting troopers from Service Company to give them my e-mail address. Over the years Rodger has successfully contacted over 4,000 Red Devils and has them entered in his database. He and his wife have hosted mini Red Devil reunions all over the USA, including two in Springfield, Massachusetts. He tells me that the largest contingent of Red Devils is from Texas, Louisiana, and New England. Rodger also hooked me up with my long-lost friend Norman Picard, who called me on July 23, 2006 to tell me that he is alive and well. Norm and I got together in late August 2006 for a mini reunion. Thank you, Rodger, for the contact and the welcome information.
After leaving the 508th, my motivation for the army went rapidly downhill. Temporary assignments to Fort Sheridan and Fort Riley were a total waste of my time. The only way I could survive the army for the next 20-plus months was to be deployed to Alaska or Germany. The wait time was too much for me so I opted for Korea, hoping to shake my Profile 3 status and join an infantry combat unit. My two unsuccessful attempts to do so are described in the narrative. My motivation to join a combat unit was an attempt to fulfill a very youthful desire for action and a temporary breather from the academic life that I intended to resume after the army. At no time during my army experience did I entertain any desire for an army career. For a brief moment I thought about joining the ROTC unit at Providence College, but decided I had enough of the army for one lifetime.
When I joined the 513th Transportation Truck Company, I had no idea of its past history. In recent years, after considerable research, I learned that it also had distinguished itself in World War II with many citations as well as those won during the Korean War. Although in my narrative I complain of many boring days-weeks-months in Korea, I am proud of the 513th and the very fine contributions it made to the logistical support of the combat troops. In the History section of my narrative, I detail the many different hauling operations of the company during the Korean War. I am proud of the citations awarded to the company and my wonderful buddies who worked around the clock many times to supply the combat troops. My friends and comrades of the 513th went from day to day and night to night performing their tasks without fanfare or any special attention from anyone, including the “seemingly ungrateful civilian population.” Today I observe that the military receives the deserved attention from the civilian population one way or another. Airlines waive baggage fees, Hilton Head has many perks for military, and I could go on and on. Whatever the military receives today is certainly much deserved. I just wish the same attention and good will had been accorded to us during the Korean War. The Vietnam War veterans received the same shabby treatment. Dissent about the Korean War and Vietnam War is okay, but the dissent should be properly directed to the policy makers and not to the 20-year-old veteran who served his/her country for a few dollars a month and performed combat and non-combatant tasks to the best of their ability under trying circumstances.
One asks, ”Did Korea change you in any way?” The answer is a resounding “yes”. Outwardly I was still the same young looking guy when I returned to college. In fact, I looked younger than most of my classmates, even though I was three years older in most cases. I had friends at Providence College who were also veterans and we had a Veterans Club. I served as an officer for two years. Mostly, however, I hung out with several history, literature and philosophy majors, and I thoroughly enjoyed our cafeteria discussions. One of my close friends, Mario Dinunzio, is a professor of history at PC and still working, even though he is in his mid-seventies. I wanted to make up for lost time in the academic setting, so I tended to steer the conversation away from army experiences because I felt they were not particularly noteworthy and who cared about logistical support anyway. Once in a while some of my fellow non-veteran friends were anxious to hear about the airborne and particularly about jump school. Especially inquisitive were the ROTC students who were going to apply for jump school after their commissioning as officers. The change, therefore, was a seriousness of purpose which I did not have during pre-army collegiate experiences. I was now more interior and contemplative, and at one time entertained the idea of becoming a Trappist monk. Thomas Merton, a Trappist, has been a strong interest of mine during the last fifteen years of my life, and I have dedicated my time and energies to researching and publishing articles related to Merton and his literary connections. Serious discussion of this topic is outside the scope of my Korean War narrative. My parents and sister noted that I was more serious, and at times not speaking very much at all. I continued the voracious reading that consumed my off-duty hours in Korea. Overall, my adjustment back to the college life was without incident. I had a strong emotional balance and was able to put all my army experiences in perspective, even though my army career did not turn out as expected. Just another life experience.
As mentioned before, I was interested in the teaching field. After my degree from Providence College, I was accepted into the Masters of History program at Boston College. Later in my educational career, I was awarded a doctoral fellowship for my Ph.D. I realize I have mentioned this before, but the context of this academic work was perhaps the by-product of my deep interior nature and desire for the world of books and academia. Later in my career, I taught at a number of colleges and thoroughly enjoyed the friendships that the college setting afforded me. A far cry, indeed, from the dusty and icy roads of Korea.
My days in Korea also taught me to appreciate men who did not have the benefits of education beyond high schools and who, in many cases, had been high school dropouts. But these men, most still boys, had values of loyalty, dedication to task, and, in many cases, a love and yearning for family back home. Most were to return to routine jobs and an average living wage. From these friendships I learned that money should not be the all-consuming goal in one’s lifetime. There are other values that are important—primarily service to others. My career in education is testimony to this value, and I am proud to report that all of my children elected careers that are service oriented—education and military. Money was never an important goal in my life.
Writing this narrative has afforded me the opportunity over the past three years to share some experiences with my children. However, I was surprised at myself when I choked up recently while telling my daughter Mary (at Hilton Head in April of 2009) about my friendship with Jake Judy. Jake and I had planned to get together for a reunion when I returned from Korea. As recounted earlier, Jake went to his eternal reward shortly after his army discharge.
Speaking of reunions, several of us from the 513th did get together in New York City—3rd Avenue, where the Irish girls used to hang out. (I don’t know about now. I am sure it all changed.) The reunion was with Sergeant Buell, who planned to return to the University of Minnesota; Cpl. Fred Stobbs, who lived in New York City and was attending Hofstra College; and PFC Nolan, who was returning to a pre-military job. We had a rowdy time and it was my last big blast for a long time. As reported earlier, the only person I have contacted lately was Lt. Lee Philmon, a career officer who was discharged as a major. My account of that communication can be found in the narrative.
I will attempt to weigh in on some of the broader issues related to the Korean War with the following statements. First of all, one of the most surprising things to me about the war was the 23 American prisoners of war who elected to stay in North Korea after the armistice. One of the young men was from Providence, Rhode Island. Since I was attending Providence College, the defection of this prisoner was of interest to me. Although I have not followed closely the life of these defectors, I am aware that some of them evidently returned back to the States. Some day I would be interested in learning more about them and reasons why they chose to stay.
Missing in Action (MIA) soldiers has been a constant problem and concern for the United States. My understanding is that to date there are close to 3,000 American soldiers still not accounted for by the Defense Department. There is always the question of how many of the MIA’s were transported to the Soviet Union. Several research projects in the early 1990’s were inconclusive on this issue. I certainly have empathy for those families and relatives who have never learned the fate of their loved ones.
The Korean War has been nicknamed the Forgotten War as it was sandwiched in between the infamous World War II and the Vietnam War. Although the Korean War was a relatively short war (three years) compared to the Vietnam War (nine years), the percentage of casualties on a yearly basis was much higher. I present this comparison only to point out that the Korean War lasted about a third of the time period of the Vietnam War, but the death rate was almost double that of the Vietnam War on a yearly basis. This is not intended to detract from the terrible loss of the military serving in Vietnam, but rather to highlight the intensity of the Korean War, albeit it was a relatively short war. The same comparisons, of course, could be made with the current Iraq War which has lasted much longer than the Korean War with far fewer casualties (thankfully). However, the great strides with battlefield medical techniques has lessened considerably the death rate in the Iraq War. Although scholars and journalists have written extensively about the Korean War, there have been very few cinematic representations or television dramas depicting the war. The exception, of course, is M*A*S*H, which had a long run, but was intended to bring into focus the Vietnam War with its many scenes of wounded soldiers undergoing surgery. The movies that have been produced about the Korean War have been so poor that they have just added fuel to the fire regarding the negative image of “Korea, The Forgotten War.”
In my experience, discussions of the Korean War inevitably bring up the two unforgettable events of the conflict. That is, the brilliant stroke of genius by General Douglas MacArthur at Inchon, which turned the tide of the war by cutting vital supply lines to the North Korean army located at the Pusan Perimeter. On the other hand, the brilliance of this bold move was overshadowed by MacArthur’s gross incompetence in allowing his army to be ambushed by North Koreans and Chinese as he raced to the Yalu River. Much has been written about the lack of important intelligence gathering and MacArthur’s inability to have first-hand contact with the troops before and during the march to the North. According to historians, MacArthur had a field day with the ambiguous orders from his superiors in Washington regarding the crossing of the 38th Parallel. As he was heading to the inevitable ambush by the North Koreans and Chinese around the Yalu River, he also failed to clothe his troops with the proper winter gear--which is a basic tenant in Generalship 101. Although I certainly do not support General MacArthur in this bold and insubordinate move, I do understand his reasoning--supported by the majority of his commanders, that you have to keep the enemy on the run before they regroup. Hence, moving forward north cautiously made some sense. In the book, The Coldest Winter, author David Halberstam states, “Of the American military miscalculations of the twentieth century, Douglas MacArthur’s decision to send his troops all the way to the Yalu stands alone.” Halberstam also quotes General Matthew Ridgeway, who defined the strategy as “reckless.” Therefore, in my humble view, this costly military blunder by General MacArthur was a pivotal point in the outcome of the war. Perhaps a more deliberate and well-planned advance would have brought the United Nations forces and the United States military further north so they could settle in for the winter and resume a strong spring offensive that may have gained much more territory before the evitable armistice and stalemate. It certainly would have had a great psychological advantage and prevented the huge embarrassment by the military in the eyes of the American public.
Regarding the entry of the United States into the Korean War, I have always held the view that the defense of South Korea was certainly within the “sphere of influence” by the United States because of the occupation of Japan by the United States military. A united Korea under the dictatorship of North Korea certainly would have emboldened China to enact a quick takeover of Taiwan (Formosa, and perhaps would have threatened the eventual sovereignty of Japan. In retrospect, however, since my recent visit to Taiwan, I am suspect that an eventual takeover will happen anyway, contrary to popular belief otherwise.
As the years passed, I read more history and understood that there were other agendas at work regarding the Korean War. President Truman had worked to make huge cuts in defense spending, as he was a president who wanted to have a “balanced budget” and was wary of the military brass and their grandiose ideas about new weapons and build-up of their armed forces. However, the pressures on Truman were great for increased military spending, and as the North Koreans started their march into South Korea during the summer of 1950, the stage was set for the “Hawks” to promote their agenda. Hence, the Korean War was formula perfect in starting back up the military machine that had dominated the American economy during the mid-1940’s with World War II. Of course, as one reads American history, it is apparent that the military weapons industry is a major force in maintaining and building our economy. General Dwight Eisenhower stated in his infamous Farewell Address, January 17, 1961 that we must guard against the "grave implications . . . . of the military-industrial complex.” Therefore, I have tempered my original view of defending South Korea as part of the “sphere of influence” with the realities of the complex economic/political forces at work around a seemingly simplistic decision to send troops to Korea. Of course, history tells us of the same complexities affecting President Franklin Roosevelt at the time of Pearl Harbor. There has been much debate around how much knowledge Roosevelt and his advisors had about the attack because the Japanese ‘Purple Codes’ had been cracked months before. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, giving President Lyndon the power to conduct military operations in Southeast Asia without declaring war, has long been declared a ‘deliberate attempt to mislead the American people.' Recognizing that our entry into the Korean War may have had agendas other than simply defending the sovereignty of South Korea, one has to acknowledge the huge strides that South Korea has made with developing their economy and the formulation of a democratic form of government. South Korea is a major player in the international scene—all of which would not have happened under the dictatorship of North Korea. The de factor dictatorship of Kim Jong-il in North Korea and his constant threats regarding nuclear weapons is a strong rationale for keeping American troops in South Korea.
I receive permanent disability payments from the Veterans Administration related to my shoulder injury that incurred during the 508 Regimental jump on August 17, 1951. Through the years I have had some severe pain related to the injury, but the VA has been very good to me. The disability payments from the VA have also enabled me to get a slight tax break on my local tax bill as well. I have a primary care physician with the VA and receive my medications though them. At my age, I have had some other medical problems. I give the VA high marks for their attention to these problems. In July of 2009, I will undergo a hip replacement. I am not looking forward to it, but it must be done according to the x-rays and MRI’s. Overall, however, I am in excellent physical shape and I exercise at least one hour daily-sometimes more. This is perhaps a throw-back to my army airborne days and the emphasis on physical fitness.
My army experiences in an nutshell goes something like this: My first eight or nine months in the army were pretty much what I had hoped for--intensive basic and advanced infantry training, along with my jump school experience at Fort Benning. After my injury, the time in the hospital and my experiences at Fort Sheridan and Fort Riley were less than satisfactory and far below my expectations. The request for deployment to Korea for my remaining months was an attempt to salvage my army duty and regain a sense of mission that I had acquired in the 508th. Although my transfers to combat units were rejected, I reconciled my desire for mission with the fact that I was serving an important logistical function along with my friends in the 513th Transportation Truck Company –a company with many citations both in World War II and the Korean War. My friends were great human beings and I am proud to have served with them. This memoir is an attempt to portray the life and culture of a support unit truthfully--without drama, glamour, and fanfare.
Since leaving Korea I have had the following opportunities to return to the country. When my son Jack was stationed in South Korea with the Army Medical Corps during the middle 1980's, he invited me to come over and participate in a ceremony sponsored by the South Korean government honoring Korean War veterans. Also, with the International Education Program I was offered a chance to teach a graduate program for South Korean teachers. On both occasions I politely declined. I had vowed never to return to the country as I took the rail south to Pusan on my way home late in 1953.
I end the memoir with this final reflection. The countless long hours on the road hauling supplies to the front lines or to air bases instilled within me a deep sense of interior reflection about ‘who I am and where I am going’. After these many years, I am still ‘on the road’--searching, never quite arriving. I am sure of one thing, however. Someday I will arrive home.