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Frank Paul Czyscon

Clayville, NY-
Korean War Veteran of the United States Marine Corps

"The Marine Corps had told us, "Kill or be killed."  We had to be strong or we would flip out.  I was scared as hell and I did a lot of praying."

- Frank Paul Czyscon

 


[The following memoir is the result of an interview with Frank Czyscon, conducted by a series of correspondences by U.S. mail. Frank was a veteran of the Inchon Landing, liberation of Seoul, and the Chosin Reservoir campaign, serving with F-2-1.  Due to the fact that Frank died before this memoir made its appearance on the KWE, some facts were added and confirmed through articles written by fellow F-2-1 veteran, John C. Everts of Staten Island, NY.]]

Memoir Contents:


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Pre-Military

My name is Frank Paul Czyscon, born March 21, 1929, in Frankfort, New York, a son of Steve and Katherine Rusin Czyszczon.  (I later shortened my name to Czyscon.)  My father worked in a foundry where they melted down steel and made iron products, and also in the rail yard.  Mother stayed home and was a housewife.  My brothers John and Stanley were older than me, and so were my sisters Rose and Stella.  I also had two sisters Frances and Mary who were younger than me.

I went to school at West Frankfort School in Frankfort, New York.  I finished 8th grade in 1945 and never went to high school.  I worked on the farm during summer vacation from school, and then I worked in the same foundry as my father did.

World War II was going on when I was in grade school.  My brother John was with the 11th Airborne in the Pacific.  When the war was going on, we school students were told to save tin cans, metal, glass, tires, papers, and bacon grease.

When I was old enough, I entered the Marine Corps.  I wanted to travel and have some adventure, but most of all, I didn't want to be drafted.  I could have joined some other branch of the service, but I wanted to be a Marine because of the pride and discipline associated with them.  I joined on January 12, 1948, and when I did, my parents were proud of me, although they were worried about me at the same time.


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Boot Camp

I left New York and traveled to Parris Island, South Carolina, on the train.  Nobody I knew made the trip with me to the training base.  Parris Island was flat.  The wooden barracks were all in a line, and in front of the barracks was the parade grounds.  Behind the barracks was a swamp, and there were sand fleas and sand crabs.  Parris Island is on the coast of South Carolina, so there was sand and swamp.  The parade grounds were about three miles or so of all blacktop.

The first moments after I arrived to Parris Island, I was afraid.  It was a different world.  My Drill Instructor was all over us, shouting at us.  Everything we did was double-time (in a hurry).  Then we got a haircut--or I should say, a shave or a skinhead.  After that, we were taken to the quartermaster where we were issued our clothes.  That all happened on my first day there.

My senior DI was S/Sgt. G.E. Flock.  The junior DI was Sgt. E.A. Grygo.  These DIs might have been Marines about when World War II ended since I was at P.I. in 1948.  If anything S/Sgt. Flock could have been, but I don't think so.  He never wore any ribbons.

Boot camp was eight weeks back then.  Classroom instruction included films on combat, the rifle range, and the obstacle course, which was like combat training.  Then we did the real thing in the field.  I learned to work together with my fellow Marines as a team or a unit called a platoon.  We were awakened by the DI turning the lights on at 5:00 a.m. or 0500.  Meals were eggs any way they served them, toast, and S.O.S. (hamburger in beef gravy known as "shit on a shingle").  Many Marines didn't like S.O.S., but it was put over a slice or two of toast.  Then we had cold cuts, some cereals, and fruit such as apples and oranges.  We had milk and coffee to drink.  For other meals we had pork chops or chicken.  I would say the food was fair, but they fed us so that we would not put on weight--like a diet of all protein.  They fed us what our bodies needed to be healthy.

The DIs marched us to the base hospital every so often for hygiene.  The same went for visits to the dentist.  Free time was spent writing a letter home, keeping clothes neat and clean, cleaning our rifle, and sometimes we went to the movies on base.  Every Friday we cleaned the barracks.  At 10 p.m. it was lights out and no talking.  Now and then we were awakened in the middle of the night for a fire drill, and we had to take turns standing fire watch in our barracks four hours at night.  Sunday we all went to church.  We were marched to church and the DIs stayed out of sight during the services.

Our DIs were strict.  There was no smoking and we were to call anybody above a PFC, "Sir."  We did everything in a military way--walking, standing, or sitting.  If we screwed up, the DI made us put our hands straight out in front of us, then he put our M-1 rifle across our hands.  The M-1 was 9.5 pounds.  We had to hold our rifle on our hands for five minutes.  Or sometimes they filled our backpacks with sand.  They must have weighed 40 pounds.  If someone got caught smoking, the DI called him up in front of our platoon and made him sit on two locker boxes, one on top of the other. The DI then put three or four cigarettes in the mouth of the person who had been caught smoking, lit them up, and told him to puff as fast as he could.  Then the DI put a bucket over his head, then a pillow case over the bucket, and let him puff away for three or so minutes.  When he took the bucket off the boot's head, he was so sick he would never look at a cigarette again.  All this was discipline.

Discipline was both individual and as a group.  If one person messed up, the whole platoon could be punished because of that one.  That's because we were to work together as a unit.  We were to always help our buddy out if he could not learn.  If we as a platoon fouled up, we had to drill longer or we had a field day in the barracks, which was only a way to keep our barracks clean.  We scrubbed the wooden floor so hard that we could eat off of it.   We also cleaned windows, walls, doors, bathrooms, and bunks.  This was all discipline.  We didn't have any fun.  The only "fun" was movies and writing a letter home.

During boot camp, we went to the rifle range to fire our weapons.  We had to make marksman, sharpshooter, or expert.  In the classroom, they showed us films about beach landing in war, the firepower of machineguns, firepower of the rifle, and hand grenades.

When I first got to boot camp, I didn't know if I could stand the training and the strict discipline of the Marine Corps, but I made it.  One kid named Mullen couldn't cope with the training, so he tried to escape Parris Island.  They got him at the main gate.  He was put in the brig for 30 days and was only given bread and water.  Then they gave him a dishonorable discharge.

I was one who always did what I was told to do.  I was always afraid, so I did it the Marine Corps way.  It was hard to learn, but later when I went to war, I was one of the lucky ones, thanks to my DIs.  I tried to do everything I had learned in boot camp while I was in Korea.  (Yes, I always dug a deep foxhole!)  I came to appreciate my DIs.  They made a man out of a boy.  I was not sorry I had joined the Marine Corps because I knew that if I lived my life, I could always be proud of the Marine Corps and what it did for me.  The saying "Once a Marine, always a Marine" is true.

When boot camp was over, we had a graduation ceremony.  We had a parade and all the parents were there along with people that wanted to watch.  It was so beautiful to watch.  We had so much pride in ourselves, plus we had made it and we were proud that we were Marines.  I guess it was the greatest thing in my life.  I was as proud as a peacock.  People had a lot of respect for Marines.  I'm still proud.  When I left boot camp, I not only felt proud, it was the fact that I could face the world with self-discipline.

After boot camp I went home for 14 days.  When I got home everyone was proud that I had made it.  Everyone wished me the best.  I went to visit my friends and family, then I enjoyed the party--wine, women, booze.  I always wore my uniform.  I was proud of it and everyone said how nice I looked as a Marine.  Everyone hated to see me leave when the 14 days were over.


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First Duties

I traveled on a train to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina where I reported for advanced training.  I was put in "A" Company, 21st Marines, which was a rifle platoon.  We received infantry training for combat.  We went out in the field, learned scouting, went on compass marches, and went to the rifle range playing war games.  My platoon sergeant was S/Sgt. "Smitty" Smith.  My officer in charge was 1st Lieutenant Solze.

We got up at 5:30 a.m., shaved, washed up, made up our bunks, and cleaned up the barracks.  Then we fell out for chow.  When we came back from chow we had personal inspection as a group.  Then we changed our clothes and put on our work clothes.  We went out in the field or went on work details.  It was pretty much the same as boot camp in that I learned to cope with infantry training so that when we went to combat, we were trained.  I appreciated the combat training and it stuck with me to this day.  We never had cold weather training, but I learned fast at the Frozen Chosin in Korea.

I went home on leave sometimes, including at Christmas.  We had liberty on the weekends, but had to stay close to the base.  I was at Camp Lejeune for 19 months, although we did go to Veaques, Puerto Rico for combat training at one point in time.  It was like the real thing, but the bullets were blank so no one would get hurt.  We were watched in whatever we were best in.  I happened to be good in firing the rifle so they put me in the infantry.

I was always neat and always squared away, so I was sent to Marine Barracks at 8th and I in Washington DC.  There I was put in a ceremony company.  We had to go to Arlington Cemetery for burials and to stand guard duty.  I stayed in that company from November of 1948 to July of 1949.


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Shipped to Inchon


USS Missouri in Inchon Harbor giving fire support around 2:30-3:00 a.m.
(Click picture for a larger view)

When the Korean War broke out, I never kept up on the news about the war, but I knew I would have to go.  I had always wondered what war was all about.  At the time, I was 19 years old and had no fear.  We left Camp Lejeune and went cross country to California by train.  My parents were worried about me not coming back, but the Lord watched over me all the time I was in Korea.

We left some time in July or August of 1950 from Camp Pendleton, California, and headed to Kobe, Japan.  We went on a troop ship that was big.  It looked like the Queen Mary and the name of it was the USS General Collins.  It held Marines who made up the 1st Marine Division.  I think they also had cargo down in the bottom of the ship such as sea bags and supplies that we needed.

I had never been on a big ship like that before, but I never got sea sick.  Some of the other Marines got sick, however.  They looked pale in the face and would not eat too much chow because it never stayed down.  I always had sea legs.  We hit some rough weather, but the ship was big and heavy so it didn't bounce around too much.  I did not know anyone else on the ship until later when we were formed into a unit.  We entertained ourselves by writing letters home and talking to each other about what was in store for us in the future.  We also kept our weapons clean and played cards.

While I was still at Camp Pendleton, I had been assigned to Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment, 2nd squad, 1st Platoon, 1st Marine Division. F-2-1 had 30 days of combat training there, and then more training when we got to Japan.  We trained at Camp Otsu.  With all of that training, I felt like a veteran already.  The training was hard, but it helped me--along with God above.  I was scared about the possibility of losing my life, so I learned fast.

We boarded an LST and made a straight shot to Inchon, Korea, to be a part of the Inchon Landing on September 15, 1950.  The ships in the harbor were LSTs, rocket ships, destroyers, light and heavy cruisers, and heavy battle ships.  I would say there was at least a dozen ships around us, but there were more that I didn't see way out in the harbor.  I heard bombs going off, rockets going off, the engines of the planes, guns of battleships going off, and then I heard the amtracs getting ready to land.

We stayed topside onboard our LST (landing support troops) until they got the units in order by assigning them an amtrac number and the wave we were supposed to be in.  The amtracs were below deck in the LST, so we had to go below deck and climb aboard our assigned amtrac.  They took us off the LST in units.  The best I remember, just before that we stood around with full battle gear (packs and rifles).  They told us what the enemy would look like, the way they fought, their tactics, and how to take prisoners and what to do with them.  In the distance I saw a beach with a concrete breakwater wall and trees that had been stripped of their branches.  There was black smoke from burning objects.  Our Corsairs were dropping bombs, firing rockets, and dropping fire bombs.

I don't recall any other units making the Inchon Landing other than our Marine units, which consisted of the 5th, 7th, and 1st Regiments of the 1st Marine Division.  The tide had to be right so we could land on the beach.  I was in the fourth wave.  When we landed, there was a light rain late in the afternoon or early evening.  Our unit met only light resistance at that time.  There was some automatic weapon and rifle fire.  We took the beach and then moved inland. By then it was getting dark.  Off at a distance, I could hear automatic fire.  I carried a Browning Automatic Rifle or BAR, plus four hand grenades.  That weapon had a lot of firepower, and I liked it.  I got three North Koreans on my second day in Korea.  I didn't see any of our Marines dead, although I saw some of them wounded.  It wasn't a nice sight.  The Marine Corps had told us, "Kill or be killed."  We had to be strong or we would flip out.  I was scared as hell and I did a lot of praying.

We kept moving in the rain to get to where we had to be in order to make the attack the next morning.  Although it had started to get dark soon after we landed, we moved as a column during the night until we finally stopped.  Then they told us to dig a foxhole because we didn't know how long we would hold up there. Shortly after that, we moved out to attack the North Koreans.

I recall one humorous thing that happened while we were at Inchon.  They told us that the trail was land-mined ahead, so they took us up the trail about a mile or two with our amtrac.  When we got there, they passed the word, "over the side of the amtrac", so I jumped over the side.  My other buddy looked down on the ground, saw what looked like a grassy soft spot, and jumped down.  He jumped right into a cesspool of human waste.  The worst of the story is that John Everts didn't have time to wash up.  No one wanted him as a foxhole buddy because he smelled so bad.  A few days later, he got hit at Yongdong-po by a little piece of shrapnel.  He went back to a field hospital where he took a shower.  He later joined our company again on the front line.  Years later, he published a story about this incident in the Chosin Few Digest.

A S _ _ _bird's Story

The Chosin Few News Digest/Magazine
May/June 1990


John Everts, 1993

"It has come to my attention that there are still members of 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines who recall the story of a Jarhead who, upon landing at Inchon, could state literally that the first step he took on Korean soil was one that had him "step in s_ _ _!"  Well, let me put that to rest right now.  It was not his first step but his second step that caused him grief.  I know because I was that "lunkhead."  Here is the true story.

When we landed at Inchon on the beach (that was the first step on Korean soil), we came across an Amtrac whose driver couldn't find the platoon he was supposed to take inland so we boarded, and he proceeded inland via a road which eventually turned into a cow path and he could go no further.  It was now quite dark--remember we landed at dusk--and the platoon began to disembark.  As I peered down from the top of the Amtrac (maybe 8 feet above the ground), I saw two dark rectangular patches that I thought could be grassy areas.  Alongside the Amtrac comes along a "Buck" Sergeant (I think his name might have been Dugan), and he hollers up to me, "It's OK.  Jump!"  Whom am I to disobey orders?  So, I jump, landing square up, failing to take into account the heavy pack on my back.  Sure enough, it pulls me over--into an open cesspool--Korean type!  While the platoon is standing around laughing, I'm trying to climb out but the sides are slippery with s _ _ _ ... no can do!  Finally, someone hands down his M-1 and pulls me out.  Ten minutes later I tilt my head and s _ _ _ comes running out of my helmet!  My foxhole "buddy" says, "No two-man foxhole.  You're on your own!"  For six days, fighting by day and digging by night, I'm a stinking mess.  Finally, God is merciful and at Yongdong-po, I suffer a superficial mortar wound to that part of my anatomy that sticks up highest when I'm hugging the ground--you got it, my a_ _!  It was enough to get me back to the field hospital at Inchon for a week--where I was finally able to bathe and change my clothes.  When I took the cartridge belt off, I was still wet around the waist with the original s_ _ _!

The reason I am (at this late stage in the game) putting it down in writing is because, at the second reunion down in Orlando, I ran into a 2nd Battalion man who said, "Hey, do you remember that Jarhead who, when he first landed at Inchon, he stepped in s _ _ _?"  No, sir.  In truth it was his second step that did him in!"


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On to Seoul

The second day in Korea was my "baptism of fire."  I was shot at by snipers in the rice paddies as we were advancing.  We moved toward Seoul, Korea, on foot, attacking the enemy.  The fighting was heavy and at one point the North Koreans almost broke our lines.  We threw everything we had at them--mortars, artillery, rockets, machinegun fire, and then we called back to the naval ships in the harbor to see if the battleships could give us support.  We were about 26 miles away from them, but the battleship USS Missouri fired her 16-inch guns at the North Koreans and saved the breakthrough.

After that we moved forward, attacking small towns and villages on foot.  There were mountains, hills, flat ground, and rice paddies in Korea.  The enemy hid in the rice paddies, in bunkers, and in trenches.  Most of the time we were on the move, but at night we holed up in foxholes.  There was also vegetation such as trees, tall grass, and bushes to give us cover.  Sometimes we had our Marine tanks supporting us.  Most of the fighting was done in daylight, but sometimes the fighting started early in the morning at daybreak.  We also had sniper fire, but it didn't last long because we pinpointed the sniper's position and our automatic weapons knocked them out.  Sometimes the Marine tanks did the job.

War was always serious to me and I prayed to God that I wouldn't be killed or wounded.  When we set up behind our lines, it was a little better.  We could relax a little.  But I knew that we had to go back on line, so I tried to find out where we were moving to, who was going to be in the attack on the front line, etc.  All of these things kept me going, plus talking to our World War II combat veteran Marines.  The veterans of World War II helped me a lot and taught me a few things I didn't know about combat.  They always said, "Czyscon, if you can hear the shells, don't worry.  It's the ones that you don't hear that will get you, so it will be fast."  The veterans also always checked the foxholes to make sure they were deep enough.  I learned fast.  The names of some of the World War II vets were Captain Groff, Lieutenant McQuany, Sergeant Roland, Sergeant Mann, and Sergeant Smith.  They were all leaders of either companies, platoons, or squads.  These men were always cool and didn't get all excited in battles.  But these Marines have all passed away now.

As we traveled, I saw little kids with a scared look on their faces.  If we had candy or something on us, we gave it to the kids.  It was a sorry sight to see these kids or even the older people.  We couldn't blame them for the war, and they suffered as much as we did.  The civilians sometimes got in the way of the battle.  No one wanted to hurt them, but sometimes they just got in the way of the air strikes or guns from our tanks.  In the country, I didn't see any kids.  They might have hid so we could not see them.  I did see old people sitting in their huts as we moved through with our units.  I saw the huts or houses they lived in.  Most of them were made of clay, with few windows.  The roof was made out of rice stalks.  It was like straw.  These rice stalks were woven and laid on top of the hut.  The inside was one big room--a sleeping area and sitting area.  It was simple living.  I didn't see why we were fighting in Korea.  They told us it was to stop the spread of Communism, but I didn't think it was worth fighting for because that's all it was--a country that was poor and backward with a vast land of rice paddies and mountains.

The first time I saw the enemy, they were dead.  They looked like they were about 15 to 18 years old.  Their officers looked a little older.  About three or four days after landing in Korea, our platoon captured some enemy prisoners of war about the time we liberated Seoul.  We had a Korean along with our unit, so he asked the prisoners questions such as what unit they belonged to, how many of them there were, what they were doing there, and how, when, and to where their unit had moved.  I don't recall anyone in my outfit that was taken prisoner.  I guess we were lucky.  But there was talk around our unit that they would never capture us alive if they tried to take us prisoner.

In the city of Seoul, Korea, I saw tanks firing, Marine Corps tanks helping us, buildings burning, smoke all over, enemy machinegun fire, and enemy mortars coming in on us.  I also saw our Marine Corsair planes bombing the enemy.  It was big confusion.  I was scared--and I mean scared.  But I talked to Marines who had been in World War II.  They kept me going.  They kept my morale up.  And again I prayed to the Lord that he would spare me another day--that I wouldn't be killed or wounded.  Going through Seoul, the enemy was inside the buildings so it was house to house combat, as well as street fighting.  With the buildings burning, the smoke got all over our eyes, causing them to burn and making it hard to breathe.  But we kept advancing, thanks to our leaders of Fox Company.

Captain Groff was in charge of my company.  My platoon leader was 1st Lt. Thomas McQuany.  Captain Groff was a veteran of World War II, fighting the Japs.  So was McQuany.  But Captain Groff was a little like John Wayne.  He was a tough Marine.  God bless these two Marines.  They are no longer with us. We had some of the best officers in the Marine Corps.  They knew how to handle the Marines in combat.  They were experts.  Groff died in 1960 and McQuany died in 1993.

The enemy was armed with a burp gun (.25 caliber automatic weapon).  Others had bolt-action rifles.  Some had hand grenades.  I guess that whatever weapon the enemy could find was what they used on us.  Some weapons were effective.  Our unit suffered heavy losses at the town of Yongdong-po, where the street fighting was real bad.  We were on the attack, but the North Korean enemy was all over in old buildings.  They had automatic rifle fire and they were dug in to stay.  But we had our tanks, which helped out a lot.  Three North Korean 120mm mortars landed near our tanks, trying to knock them out.  Instead, it wiped out my whole squad, except me.  There were 13 men in my squad and 12 got wounded.  I didn't know all of the guys, but I knew some.  John Everts, Szabo and Schneider got hit with shrapnel when the mortars landed and exploded.  After that, I got up and moved out of there.  My whole outfit was disorganized for that afternoon.  Everybody wounded was screaming for corpsmen to help the wounded and the dead.  I got back to my unit late that afternoon or evening about 7 p.m.  That day, believe me, I thought I would be dead.  But the Great Lord spared me.  Thank the Lord.  There were other times when we had heavy losses in battles, but I don't recall the places or towns.

I learned some things "on the job" in Korea that I hadn't learned in boot camp or infantry training.  I learned not to dig a foxhole under a tree or around trees because when the enemy mortars or shells hit a tree, they exploded.  I also learned to stay away from our tanks when they were stopped and firing in a heated battle.  The enemy wanted to knock them out so they sent in mortars or artillery.  If we were close to them we could get wounded or killed.  That is what happened to my squad at Yongdong-po.

My company was very mobile.  We were always on the move or on the attack, but then we had to take a break so we set up behind the lines and rest.  Sometimes it was anywhere from three days to a week.   Our orders were to cut off the North Koreans coming up from the south, but they retreated so fast that we couldn't cut them off.  We returned to Inchon, where we boarded ships that took us to Wonsan on the east coast in North Korea.


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Chosin Reservoir

I would say that we arrived in Wonsan around November 20, 1950.  Some of our Marine units were already there when we arrived, so we made the landing without opposition.  We moved inland and set up in a rice paddy.  It was cold--I would say it was like 25 or 30 degrees above zero--and the wind was blowing.  As the days went by, it kept getting colder, but there was no snow yet.  We moved in open trucks.  We met some enemy resistance, but it wasn't bad.  It was minor.  At one time the enemy ambushed us, firing bullets that splintered when they hit.  They called them "dumb-dumb bullets."

We didn't meet any civilians.  What we saw was mountains, big canyons, and drop-offs on our left that were like 1000 feet.  It was a winding road and I noticed a hydro plant for making electricity at the bottom of the canyon.  We got to the place where we were going to set up for the 1st Regiment.  We were in reserve and the 5th and 7th Marine Regiments were above us.  It was a flat piece of ground like a plateau, but all around us were mountains.  There weren't too many villages around close to us.  Once in a while we saw a hut with a straw roof and clay siding.  We saw those when we went on patrol.

We didn't know the Chinese troops were there until one morning--it had to be around November 30 or December 1--at daybreak.   Our machine gunners opened up and shot four Chinese in a four-man patrol.  Our machine gunner killed them.  There wasn't much to the fighting.  It was short and we didn't have any casualties.  The Chinese patrol wanted to feel us out to see where we were at.  This was the first time that I had seen any Chinese.  They were dressed in padded clothes that were an olive-colored green.  They wore fur-lined caps.  They carried U.S.-made .45 caliber Tommy guns or submachine guns.  The Chinese were good fighters, but only in a large force.  It was like they were on dope.

After the generals found out that we were being surrounded by the Chinese, we got the order to withdraw. It made me feel good to know that we were getting out of that lousy part of that country after losing all of our troops up there and suffering like we did.  It was unreal. We got the word that the 5th and 7th Marine Regiments were going to pass through our lines and then the 1st Regiment would bring up the rear guard. (The 5th and 7th Regiments were right on the front line where fighting was the heaviest.)  Behind us were some of our tanks to protect us.  Behind our tanks was a mass of civilians trying to escape along with our troops.  We moved out around 4 p.m. and walked.

We had to fight our way out the way we came in.  We were outnumbered by the Chinese and we had to deal with the cold weather.  By that time the weather was like 30 to 45 degrees below zero with a wind.  The Chinese were tough fighters because they attacked in large masses or droves, almost like the Japs in "banzi" attacks.  The North Koreans were not as tough fighters, but don't get me wrong--they still fought hard to kill us.  They were always dug in in bunkers, pill boxes or trenches, and even dressed as civilians with a radio hidden on their body, directing mortars and even artillery fire on us.

I didn't personally see any Army units while I was in the Chosin Reservoir area.  We had to get the 1st Marine Division out of there.  Going north we had to set up on line with the Army on the left to fill in on the front line and to hold the line.  Maybe the Army gave us artillery support too, because they were set up behind us.

The temperature was 30 degrees below zero.  With the wind chill factor, it was 45 degrees below zero.  The snow was a dry snow about two to three feet deep.  I had to keep my blood moving, so I kept moving around, even if we were stopped, so as to not get frostbite.  The cold weather didn't affect my mental state, but then I was 19 years old.  The cold had a lot of effect on the Marines with regards to frostbite.  We were uncomfortable and we didn't know how long we would have to be there.   We were hungry and tired.  When our bodies were cold, we didn't feel like moving, but we had to so we wouldn't get frostbite.

We had heavy, lined parkas with a hood.  They went down to about 12 inches above our boots.  These were worn over our field jacket.  Our long mittens were made out of leather with nylon on the upper part.  They also had liners in them. Our head gear was a fur cap with ear flaps, as well as our helmets.  We kept pretty warm since we also wore boondockers, leggings, our light dungaree trousers and field jacket, and cap.  From what I recall, the enemy wore uniforms sometimes, but other times just plain clothes.  Or, if they wore uniforms, they were light clothes that were an olive drab color.  They wore trousers, shirt, jacket, and a cap. Their shoes were light, like sneakers.  I guess they wore anything they could get their hands on.  At the Chosin, they wore padded clothes, trousers, jacket, and fur-lined caps with ear flaps, but they still wore the sneakers.

Our vehicles would not start, so we had to heat them up with torches.  Not only were our vehicles sluggish, so were our weapons.  The water-cooled machineguns sometimes froze and wouldn't fire.  We had a light coat of oil on our weapons, but they worked sluggish or slow in the cold weather.  The oil got stiff and cold, so the automatic weapons wouldn't fire freely and sometimes jammed.  We had to be sure to keep our weapon snow free and clean.  Our rifle was our life.

Our "C" rations were so cold and frozen that we had to dig them out of the can when our unit was on the move.  If it was stationary for the time being, we could build a fire and heat the C-rations.  All of our supplies were airlifted to us.  The supplies dropped to our unit by flying boxcars were C-rations, clothes, and ammunition.  We used all of the supplies that were dropped to us, even though some were damaged in the drop.

We had a lot of air support from our Marine Air Wing and our Corsairs.  Once in a while there was air support from the Air Force with their F-80 jets, too.  I don't know how the weather affected the planes, but I would think they would have been sluggish, too.  The Corsairs were better because they were slower in a dive and got close to the ground.  We had artillery support from the 11th Marines artillery.  The tanks were with us for support, but they had to start them up every now and then to keep them warm and running.

We slept in pup tents--two halves put together to make a two-man tent.  Sometimes we found some lumber such as doors from an old shack or building around where we were.  We set them up for protection from the cold.  We also had our sleeping bags.  We had to keep going all night long so we could get out of the mountains.  We were on a one-lane road or trail with mountains on both sides, so the Chinese could look right down on us.  Sometimes we had to fight our way out, but we had to keep moving in order to get the hell out of there.

I don't remember seeing any roadblocks, but there was a lot of sniper fire from the mountains.  We did not have any hand-to-hand combat.  At one time a bridge was taken out, so we had to hold up until the engineers replaced the spans.  That's when we had flying boxcars drop supplies to us.  I think if we had had more planes, around the clock bombing, and B-52s to pinpoint the Chinese movements in North Korea, there might have been a different outcome at the Chosin.

General Chesty Puller was in charge of our 1st Marine Regiment.  He led us out of there without being wiped out or captured.  He said that we were not retreating.  We were attacking in another direction because we had to fight our way out of the Chosin.  I consider the time I was in the Chosin Reservoir as the time in Korea when I was in the most personal danger.  I didn't know if I was going to be killed, wounded, frozen, or captured by the Chinese enemy.  China had a big army and the Chinese had us outnumbered.  Our supplies had to be air-dropped to us, and we had to put up with sub-zero weather.  At the time, no one told us how bad the situation was, so I didn't know just how bad things were until we left the Chosin and they later told us.  It was scary.  Maybe it was better that I did not know how bad things actually were when we were in the Chosin.


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After Chosin

Everybody was glad to see us come out of Chosin.  When we got to Hungnam, Fox Company stayed together and was told to board ship.  When we got on, we ate chow.  After that, the kitchen was open 24 hours so we could have coffee or sandwiches.  It felt so good to get real food.  From Hungnam we were moved down to the seaport of Pusan.  We spent one night there to rest and then we moved on to Masan, where we rested for about two weeks or so.  It might have been less than that.  After that, we fought up the central front of Korea.

In the spring below the 38th parallel, the weather turned wet and cool, with temperatures like 45 to 60 degrees.  In the summer it was warm, hot, and dry with temperatures ranging from 50 to 65 degrees.  It was awful dusty there on the dirt roads when we were on the attack.  In the fall it was cold and dry, with temperatures dropping again to 45 and 35 degrees.

During the time I was in Korea after we got back from the Chosin Reservoir, my clothes consisted of work shoes or "boondockers", leggings around our shoes to support our ankles, olive-colored dungarees, dungaree jacket, and baseball-like cap.  Then I had a heavy field jacket over my light dungaree jacket.

The Army troops were miles away from us, but sometimes they relieved us on the front line.  Some of the outfits were the 27th Army of the 1st Cavalry Division and the 25th Army Division.  We got along okay with the Army, but we always worried about them holding the line when the battle started.  I saw some of the South Korean military, too--either the ROKs or South Korean Marines.  They were off to our flanks, and sometimes if we took a town or village, they occupied it after we left.

We had tank support a lot when we were going through towns and villages and when the enemy was dug in to fight to the last guy.  Our tanks had all machineguns--.30 caliber, .50 caliber, plus the big 90mm gun.  They took us through the towns and villages in a short time.  They had good firepower.  Nothing could stop them--except sometimes land mines.

When we dug in at night for periods of time, we had flares set up in front of us.  If the enemy attacked us, the flares went off and lit the area in front of us so we could see them.  Our mortars were also set up to protect us, and even our machine gunners.

If we had some extra time, I cleaned my rifle, made sure I had clean, dry clothes, made sure I had enough ammo for my rifle, and made sure I had C-rations. We tried to wash and shave as much as we could, but sometimes we could not.  When we set up behind our lines, we could shower, wash and shave.  Sometimes the civilians gave us a haircut and did our laundry in exchange for candy bars, cigarettes, or a bar of soap or two.  We tried to change clothes every week or so, but we changed our socks whenever they were damp.

We ate C-rations on the front line, but if we were set up in the rear we had our mess hall set up, so we had good food--powdered eggs, powdered milk, oatmeal or dry cereals, an orange or an apple, and coffee.  I sure missed steak, chicken, potatoes, vegetables, and ham from the states.  The best meal I had while I was in Korea was Thanksgiving dinner 1950 outside of Wonsan, Korea.  We had a turkey dinner with all the trimmings before we moved out to the mountains in the Chosin Reservoir.  I guess all this food came off our ships and was then trucked to us in the rice paddies.  We were told not to eat any native food because, if we did, we could get sick and have to go to the John all the time.  The same went for drinking water, although we had chlorine pills to put in our drinking water to make it safe to drink.

We did get mail from home, but only when we held up for a while or if we set up behind our lines for a rest.  And we didn't get it regularly.  But my folks and my sisters wrote me a lot.  My sisters sent me packages, too.  Sometimes the packages were mangled or damaged.  In them were cookies, crackers, candy bars, and dried fruit that wouldn't spoil.  I never asked for anything special.  Others got the same things in their packages from home--cookies and stuff that wouldn't spoil.

I spent some holidays in Korea (Thanksgiving and Christmas), and I also spent my 20th birthday in Korea.  My birthday was in March and at that time I think we were fighting the central front up the center of Korea after we left Pusan, Korea.  There were USO shows, but I didn't see any of them because they were way back in the rear of our front lines so the people in the show wouldn't get hurt or killed.  There were no USO shows or "celebrations" of holidays or birthdays for me.  I was worried about losing my life or getting wounded, so I did a lot of praying instead of celebrating.  If we were set up behind our lines for a while, we had church services on a Sunday, or whenever they told us we would have them.  To me, those services were a great part of my life while fighting the war.  I also prayed in the foxhole.

I spent a lot of time in foxholes.  They were about four-foot deep, three-foot wide, and about five-foot long.  In the foxhole we always had a little ledge or spot to sit on while on watch at night.  The foxhole was pretty safe from incoming mortars or artillery.  We used the foxhole for one night and then the next morning we moved out in the attack.  A foxhole was nothing but dirt and maybe some stone.  It took hard labor to dig it, but I was used to hard work.  If it rained, we put our pup tent over the foxhole and that kept us pretty dry.  I was never in a bunker.  Bunkers were for a long period of time, like weeks or months, but the foxhole was used for just a night or two.  Trenches were dug in the ground about five foot deep or more.  They were about three foot wide and connected bunker to bunker, depending on how far apart they were.  They were used to get from one bunker to another without being exposed to the enemy.


Frank Czyscon during R&R at Masan, Korea, age 19 years
(Click picture for a larger view)

At one time, we were on line for about 30 days to hold the line.  Before this the unit that was on line took heavy losses, so they had to get replacements in and went to the rear.  After being on line for so many days, we went on R&R (in Korea, not Japan) for about a week or maybe ten days.  We were beat.  I don't recall the name of the town or village where we rested, but they did have squad tents set up so we could sleep on cots.  It felt so good!  They even gave us three cans of beer for each Marine.  That made us feel better. I really enjoyed those three cans of beer.  We ate good, too.  It was like being in the USA. I wasn't a gambler, so I didn't gamble during R&R, but I was a smoker and drinker before and during my time in Korea.  They gave us cigarettes in our C-rations.  Only once in a while did we get beer.

For me, one of the hardest things about being in Korea was always being dirty.  Because we were always ready to move out, we were dirty and unshaven.  While in Reserve, we were able to shower, clean up, and get ready to keep going on.  The natives came around and I got a haircut and my clothes washed.  This only happened when we were set up for R&R.  After R&R was over, I knew we would have to go on the front line again, but at least I was all rested up.  I wanted to know what unit was leading the attack, but sometimes no one knew.  The officers knew, but they wouldn't tell us.


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Foxhole Buddy


Gordon McLemore (left) and Frank Czyscon (right), Masan, Korea
(Click picture for a larger view)

I never looked anybody up right after I came home from Korea.  They were from all over different states, so I never knew their home address at that time.  Most of the Marines in my outfit got wounded, but I keep in contact with them as much as I can.

My foxhole buddy was Gordon McLemore.  He was a good friend, and he was very dependable at night to stand watch in the foxhole with me.  We stood two-hour watches so one of us could sleep two hours.  We always were close and hung around together always.  He made it back and lives in Madison, Mississippi.  I wrote him four letters, but he did not answer them.  I don't know why.  I wish he would answer my letters.

KWE Note:

In 2005, Lynnita Brown of the Korean War Educator had a telephone conversation with Sharlene McLemore, widow of Gordon McLemore.  There were reasons why Gordon did not respond to Frank's letters.  He died of congestive heart failure on January 4, 2002.  Ironically, Gordon never should have been in Korea in the first place.  Sharlene said that while on a Mediterranean cruise prior to the outbreak of the Korean War, Gordon became very ill and was diagnosed as having a heart condition.  He was pronounced "fit" by a stateside doctor and was then sent to Korea.  He suffered a heart attack at the age of 49 and recovered from it, but continued to have heart problems that eventually led to his death.

Sharlene McLemore said that her husband never fully recovered from his Korean War experiences.  His family told her that after he returned from the war, there were nights when he sat straight up in bed screaming.  He would not discuss the war with anyone, only briefly talking about it in 1996 when he was asked to represent the State of Mississippi for the dedication of the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C.  He wrote the following for the Mississippi Legionnaire magazine, page 23, January/February 1996:

Vet remembers what makes old men cry

I was honored to have been picked and I am glad that I went.  We were treated with dignity, respect, and honor everywhere we went in Washington--even the cab drivers were courteous.

One of the highlights was the formal reception given by the National Commander for the 100 selected American Legion representatives, Department representatives, and Korean dignitaries.

On Thursday afternoon the dedication of the Memorial took place.  Vice President Al Gore, President Bill Clinton, and the President of South Korea spoke, giving their thanks and appreciation for what the United States had done for a country that we didn't even know and never heard of before.

On Friday morning my wife, Sharlene, and I went back to the Memorial where we could get a close-up view of the statues.  This was the most moving experience of the trip.  You could see the sadness on the faces of the men that were there.  They were remembering what happened 45 years ago--realizing probably for the first time the hell they went through, the cold weather, the fear of what could happen and remembering what DID happen.

As I stood by one of the statues for my wife to take a picture of me, I placed my hand on the shoulder of the statue and looked into its face and I saw the expression that I saw 45 years ago on the faces of fellow comrades.  Tears came into my eyes, and my hand and arm began to tremble; for a few seconds I was back in Korea on the front line, a scared young man 21 years old, letting myself remember for the first time since the war what it was all about.  I had shut out of my life most of the events that occurred during my war days.

I thank God and the American Legion for bringing these experiences back into my life, because these things should never be forgotten.  Freedom is not free.

Gordon McLemore (USMC F/2/1)

Mrs. McLemore said that when she and her husband were in the throngs of people at the Memorial dedication, she noticed a young Korean woman.  Gordon was recovering from surgery, so Sharlene rolled him around the DC mall in a wheelchair.  While she and Gordon were waiting at a bus stop to return to the hotel, that same Korean woman came up to Gordon and thanked him for what he had done for her country.  It was a special, emotional moment for Gordon that Sharlene will never forget.

Frank Czyscon called his old foxhole buddy on the telephone, but Gordon was in such excruciating pain toward the end of his life that renewed memories about his horrible experience in Korea were more than he could handle emotionally, not to mention the fact that cancer in his throat made it too difficult for Gordon to carry on a spoken conversation.  Sharlene remembers that Frank Czyscon thought the world of his foxhole buddy from the Korean War.  The decades that had passed since Frank and Gordon returned from Korea did not lessen Frank's emotional ties to a fellow survivor of Frozen Chosin.


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Going Home

I didn't know when I was going to be rotated out, but it was supposed to be after six months there in Korea.  When we got replacements, we got only two or three replacements per company, which was very little.  Sometimes they were wounded before they even reached our company.  After 11 months there in HELL, my replacement got there.  Then I knew the Lord was on my side.  Amen!  I couldn't wait to get home so I could enjoy myself and try to forget that ordeal.

My last few hours with the company, I was happy I was going home.  All my buddies wished me luck and a safe trip back home.  In the back of my mind, I thought of my buddies I was leaving behind, hoping they would be as lucky as me.  I still think of all of my Marine buddies after all these years.  A Marine is not just a Marine.  He is part of a band of brothers--the few and proud.

I don't recall how I got from my company to the ship, but my guess would be that it was by truck to the seaport.  I got cleaned up, got fresh clothes, and handed in my BAR.  Then I knew I was on my way to the good USA.  It was around August 11, 1951.  I saw very few replacement troops as I was leaving Korea, but when I did see some of them, I told them to use the Marine Corps training they had learned in boot camp, keep their butt down, do what they told them to do, and pray.

I was a Corporal when I left Korea on the USS General Walker.  We didn't have any duty on the ship, but we had to keep clean and neat and look like Marines that just came back from a war.  Most of the Marines wrote letters home, played cards and dice, and told each other what they were going to do when they got home on leave.  The weather was pretty good.  Oh, we might have had a couple of bad days on the ocean, and some Marines did get seasick, but the ship was heavy so it rode smooth over the water and I never got seasick. In August, the days were warm and calm, but windy.  We made a straight shot to the States.  I think it took about 10 to 13 days.

We arrived at San Francisco under the Golden Gate Bridge.  What a beautiful sight to see.  Everyone was so happy.  It's hard to explain.  I know that I myself had tears in my eyes then, and right now I still have tears in my eyes writing this.  I never thought I would see that bridge again.  I thank the Lord that he was watching over me during the Korean War.  There were a lot of people on the dock that day when we arrived.  I think there was a Marine Corps band there.  That cheered us up.  They played the Marine Corps Hymn and some other songs and marches.  It was a great day for me.

We were processed off the ship by name, company, battalion, and regiment.  I was so happy I could have kissed the ground I was standing on to be alive and not even wounded.  I visited with all my Marine buddies and we all told our experiences in Korea.  Some Marines lived within a few miles of their home.  They went on liberty, but they had to be back at a certain time.  Others had to stay close by to get their leave papers processed so they could go home.  We packed our sea bags, and got ready to go home sweet home for thirty days.  I guess I was in San Francisco for two or three days.  My home was in New York State, 2800 miles away.

I finished my four years of duty at Quantico, Virginia.  I had about two months to do.  My duty was as a Military Police.  I brought back Marines who were absent without leave.  I didn't notice too many Marines who had returned from Korea going wild, but now and then some Marine did go wild and got drunk.  I was a Marine that tried like hell to stay out of trouble and get that Good Conduct medal along with honorable discharge.  It meant a lot to me to have a good record when I left the Marine Corps.  I didn't try to re-enlist.  I had had enough of the Corps.  I had served my time of four years with 11 months combat.  The combat in Korea is what turned me away from re-enlisting.  I was discharged from the Marine Corps on January 14, 1952.

I'm sure that my training served me well in Korea.  First, they made us fit and in shape.  Then they taught us to be riflemen--kill or be killed--as well as how to live in dirt, eat C-rations, live in the field with what we had on us, and obey orders.  I had a lot of respect for my officers because they went through World War II so they were experts in combat.  God Bless Them wherever they may be today April 18, 2000.  I still think of them every day.  I hope there's a Marine Corps in the heavens above because someday I hope to be there in Marine Corps "Boot Camp Heaven."  Semper Fi.

While I was in Korea, the 1st Marine Division received a citation or a ribbon for the liberation of Seoul, Korea.  When we captured Seoul, we got that citation.  I don't recall the date.  I think it was around September 20, 1950.  I received the Korean War Citation with four stars--one for each landing I made, plus one star for the Chosin.  Then I got the United Nations citation and our Presidential Unit Citation with one star on it, as well as the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation.  I also got the Good Conduct Medal.  I have always been proud of these ribbons.


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Final Reflections

When I got out of the Corps, I got in the Ironworkers Union, and was an ironworker climbing steel and working erecting steel.  I was a hard worker, so it was easy for me to get a job.  I was adjusted to civilian life within two days after being out of the Marine Corps.  I said to myself, "I won't be shot at again.  Amen."  I married a beautiful girl by the name of Mary E. Extrand on November 16, 1957.  We never had children.  I retired in October of 1988 after 35 years as an ironworker.

I'm not one to travel, so I don't want to revisit Korea.  I saw Korea in bad times and that's what I'll remember about Korea.  Now I am enjoying my retirement, although I lost my beloved wife Mary in 1997.  I take care of my home, visit with my friends, and most of all I have to go to the gravesite at the cemetery every other day and spend some time with my beloved Mary, God Bless Her.  She was a great person.  She was the only woman I ever loved.

I never went to school after I got out of the Marine Corps.  When I was in the public, I saw young males walking the streets, malls, and shopping centers.  They could care less what was going on in the good USA.  They could care less about protecting the USA. They were draft dodgers who thought that freedom is free.  They didn't know anything about World War II or Korea, and had no respect for servicemen.  I think this USA is in trouble.  No one cares anymore.  But you, I, and all the servicemen know that freedom is not free.  God Bless America.  I respect all servicemen that risked their lives in combat because I myself witnessed it.

Korea changed me, but I don't think others noticed.  I guess I was the same  guy as I always was, except I knew more about war and what it is all about.  Korea made me value my life more than ever, plus I knew I'd done my little bit to protect my flag for freedom and democracy, along with all services that fought the Forgotten War.  President Truman called it a "police action."  That is one reason I hated President Truman and always will--because of that statement.  I'll never forget, but I'll forgive.  He couldn't even shine General MacArthur's shoes.  General MacArthur was smart.  He knew what he was doing.  But he had to worry about a third world war when the Chinese entered North Korea.  That's why President Truman couldn't see eye to eye with MacArthur.

The Korean War is called the Forgotten War because no one cared about it except the boys or men fighting there.  Then we say we won the battle, but lost the war.  When we got home, there was no big blowout.  Everyone kept quiet.  None of the veterans complained.  People never knew where Korea was on the map.  Now we still have our troops in South Korea.  It's another country we have to take care of and be a peace keeper.  I don't see any good coming out of the Korean War except for big business and politicians who have a business there, but I guess the United States should still have troops there so that North Korea won't pull another invasion like they did in 1950.  You can't trust them.  They haven't returned all of our MIAs yet.  I think they could do a little better job than they're doing to locate these missing veterans.  There are still a lot of them missing.  But again, the politicians aren't doing their job.  Or maybe they don't care.  Or maybe Korea is using this as a bargain point for whatever they want from the USA.

I keep looking for Marines from the Korean War.  I have found Sam Lamb (West Virginia), John Babyak (Ohio), Donald Kohler (Pennsylvania), Charlie Mueller (Virginia), Cliff Richardson (Oregon), Francis O'Conner (Massachusetts), and Milton Schneider (Ohio).  Milton took a hit from a 120mm Korean mortar.  He got 40 pieces of shrapnel to his body.  One piece is pressing on his spinal cord, so it's hard for him to write because of his nerve on the spinal cord.

I have told my friends and other veterans about how I froze my butt at the Chosin, with weather anywhere from a calm 30 degrees below to a windy 40 or 45 degrees below zero.  I told them what a rotten place it was--a rainy, muddy, dirty, dusty, smelly place.  Plus, the people were backward.  But look what the USA did for them.  I still think that the South Koreans don't want us there.  I might be wrong.  Oh well.  The American politicians will louse it up.

World War II veterans had to fight the Germans and the Japs.  It was a bigger war, therefore, our World War II veterans should have been respected more.  But I say Korean War vets should have gotten a little more respect than they got, too. I'm proud that I was in Korea as a Marine to fight a war for our flag and all it stands for, but like I said before, it was a rotten war, police action, or a forgotten war--whatever people called it.  What I learned there, I will never forget.  Amen.  I want the people of the next generation to understand from reading my memoirs that freedom is not free.  You have to protect it.  God Bless ALL of our veterans in all the wars in the past--World War I, World War II, and even before World War I.  Protect your freedom as we did in the Korean War. 

As for my service in the Marine Corps, that eagle, globe, and anchor is not given to just anybody.  You have to earn it in boot camp.  Then you can be proud of it and treasure it.  That's why every Marine who hears the Marine Corps Hymn played stands at attention with tears in his eyes.

 

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