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William J. "Bill" Dillon Jr.
"Being back in the real world was wonderful. Hot water, electricity, switches that turned lights on and off. Flush toilets. Then back to hell on the lines. It was like putting a steak in front of a large dog and then taking it away."
- Bill Dillon
I grew up in a tough section of South Brooklyn in the 1930s and early 1940s. Another fellow by the name of Joe O’Conner and I never could see eye to eye about a lot of things, so we used to smack each other around so to speak. It was just one of those things where we just couldn’t get along, and we remained enemies throughout our boyhood life. Years went by and in 1951, I was drafted into the Army and finished my basic training in Fort Dix, New Jersey.
Just before I shipped out to Korea, I married the girl of my dreams. We spent our wedding night in a New York City hotel. The next morning I caught the bus back to Fort Dix, but my bride had to take the subway back to her parents’ house in the Bronx. It was very embarrassing for her to be carrying her bag down the street the day after she was married. Neighbors did not know about our situation. A week later, we took a seven-day honeymoon at the Williams Lake Resort in Rosendale, New York. My bride spent a lot of time crying. Two weeks later, I shipped out to Korea.
Most books about the Korean War are written about the first two years of the war, leaving the impression that the fighting had all but ended in 1951. I can testify that the war was far from being over in 1951. This story is about my time in Korea and the last two years of the war, 1952-53.
My name is Bill Dillon. I was born on June 3, 1930, in Brooklyn, New York. I was named after my father, William J. Dillon Sr. I would never recommend this for anyone to do because our mail was always getting mixed up. Later when I was taking care of him in his old age, I had to move his bank account out of my bank and get a separate drug store for our prescriptions because of the mix up. My mother was Margaret Rose Dugan Dillon. Both of my parents were born in the States. My father's mother came from Germany. I never knew his father. My mother's mother and father were born here too, I believe, because I don't remember any kind of an accent. They were Irish descent.
I spent my childhood in a mostly Irish neighborhood in Brooklyn. My father was the main bread winner in our family. My mother ran the house and worked very hard bringing up us four kids. I had a brother who was five years younger than me and two older sisters, one three years and the other five years older than me. I don't ever remember being close to anybody in my family. My father spent a lot of time away on his job. (He was gone weeks at a time.) My mother favored her girls and my brother was five years younger than I was. I don't ever remember depending on anyone for advice. I had to figure out any problems for myself.
My mother cooked everything from scratch. In those days there were no frozen foods, washing machines, dryers, oil or gas furnaces, etc. My father worked all through the Great Depression so we were considered among the lucky ones. But we knew we weren't rich. Only one quart of milk a day for six people told us that. Bread and butter was our dessert most of the time, unless there was any extra money. Then my mother was able to bake a cake.
I worked when I was in grammar school. I was 11 years old when I got my first job chopping wood, shoveling coal and ashes, and running errands for $1.00 a week. I got $2 a week working in a grocery store, 50 cents a day in a printing shop, $12 a week in another grocery store, and $4 a day working in a cafeteria. I collected newspapers and junk that I sold to a junk yard. I worked in a hotel restaurant for $24 a week, and got $1.35 per hour for shoveling dead rats out of the holds of ships (my mother made me quit that job). I carried cases of beer and soda up five and six flights of stairs for $15 a week. By the time I was 18, I remember having 18 jobs after school and during vacations. It made me mad when I saw the other kids going to the beach. I don't remember a summer vacation that I didn't have to work.
I never belonged to Boy Scouts, but I was able to finish out my cousin's year at the YMCA. He didn't like it so he let me finish. It was a lot of fun. They had an indoor pool. Then it all ended when his membership card expired at the end of the year.
I was a rowdy and misbehaved kid that was always getting into trouble. I got into fights almost every day after school. Even in Kindergarten, if the teacher left the room for a few minutes I went all through her desk drawers. I didn't take anything--I guess I was just curious. I really don't know why I did a lot of the crazy things I did, but when I look back, I think I definitely needed some kind of help. Today they have that, but back then a good beating was the answer. I went to Catholic grade school where I got my share of beatings from the nuns, mostly because of behavior problems. Then if I complained to my mother when I got home, I got another beating because my mother always sided with the nuns. I guess she figured that if they beat me, then I must have deserved it, so I got another beating. My father never hit me. It was my mother who laid the law down. I got so used to getting hit that it no longer bothered me.
When I was a kid in Catholic school, I sat in the last row of the classroom. I made the mistake of writing my name on the desk. Sister Bonaventure came up behind me and after seeing it, she pounced on me with both closed fists and gave me what seemed like an eternity of a beating. She stood behind me swinging as hard as she could at both sides of my face. I could feel my head rock back and forth with each punch. I think it was one of the worst beatings I ever took in my life and I was not able to defend myself. My biggest and worst fear was to give her the satisfaction of seeing me cry. Thankfully I didn't. I met her some years later as I was coming home from work. I wanted to rip the veil from her head, but I didn't. I wanted to lie and tell her that I didn't write my name on my desk--that someone else did. But I didn't. I guess I just shook my head in disgust and passed her by.
Another nun, Sister Teresa Carmel, claimed to be an ex-policewoman. She grabbed a redheaded kid named William Chapman, and rammed his head against the blackboard, knocking him unconscious. Another time Carmel, with a big sadistic grin on her face, slowly came down the aisle toward Billy Hix as he was trying to recite his lesson. She was taping a big oak stick in her hand, ready to use it on him. Billy was so scared he wet himself. Carmel made him stand in his puddle and marched all of the girls in front of him screaming what a pig and filthy slob he was. She yelled, "Look at what he did on the floor!" He was so ashamed and embarrassed. Later he told me that he knew the lesson, but she made him so scared he couldn't think or remember anything.
I didn't take crap from anyone. I was so used to a beating, I wasn't afraid to fight anyone, regardless of their size. Because of my size, I got into a lot of fights, and I became very good at it. I even had my share of bouts in the ring. I guess I liked it because it gave me a chance to work my frustrations out. I even had a saying, "If you hit me, I'm going to hit you back. I don't care how big you are!" Many of them were just trying to put the bull on me. I was a skinny little guy, but I was scrappy.
Back in those days, there was a lot of discrimination among the Italians and Irish. As I said, I lived in a mostly Irish neighborhood. Joe O'Conner was Irish living in an Italian neighborhood. I called him out in a fist fight almost every night. Looking back now, I realize that this was my entire fault. (Pretty stupid, I know.) I hung out with a tough bunch of thugs. If we couldn't find anyone to fight, then we fought each other. I fought Joe because I thought he loved Italians. When Joe and I met in Korea and we became good friends, we were sitting around one night and he asked me, "Bill, did you ever get married?" (I was afraid that was going to come up some day.) I answered, "Yes, I did." Then Joe asked, "Who did you marry?" I answered, "You don’t know her. She is from the Bronx." Then he asked, "What’s her name?" I answered, "June." He asked, "June who?" I answered, "June Dillon." "No," he asked again, "I meant her maiden name?" I answered in a very low voice, "June Albanese." Joe asked, "Is that Italian???" And like a little puppy that had just had an accident on the floor, I answered, "Yes." I thought we were going to get into it all over again like when we were kids. He called me everything because that is what we were fighting about all those years ago when we were kids. I met June in the School of Industrial Arts. She graduated, but I did not. I had only one and a half years of school, then I quit. I was smart, but belligerent. I hated school, although I liked all of the teachers but one.
I was only 11 years old when World War II broke out. My mother sent me to the candy store every morning to pick up the Daily Newspaper. It was only two cents then. I saw the headlines the next day on December 8, 1941, reporting that the Japs had bombed Pearl Harbor. No one close to me served in the war except some distance cousins and an uncle. One of my cousins got the Purple Heart in the Battle of the Bulge. The others served in the rear echelon. I don't remember the school doing anything for the war effort. All I remember was buying ten cent defense stamps whenever I could. When I was able to buy my first $18.75 war bond, I gave it to my mother. I had to turn all of my money in to her when I was a kid. I was too young to go into the military at that time. John Wayne was my idol. I wanted to be just like him with all those war movies. Now I can't stand the hump. I remember the block parties we had when World War II ended. It was wonderful. The streets were lit up with people singing and dancing. The men had barrels of beer set up in their front areas, or front yards as some call it.
I quit school at the age of 16 and got an office job working on export custom declarations, bills of lading, etc. I guess I was pretty smart and learned fast. It was at this office that a fellow with a very heavy Spanish accent showed me how to play chess. He wasn't very tactful at the way he taught me. He would stand up behind the desk and say out loud for everyone to hear, "Now I weeeelll slice you to lil-dle pieceeesss weeeed my knightssss." You can imagine how I began to feel with this jerk carrying on the way he did. He loved it when fellow workers gathered around and observed the game. After losing my first 20 or 30 games (he had no mercy on me), I decided to buy a book on the strategy of chess. The next 20 or 30 games I won! He really wasn't that good at chess. I studied more about chess and started playing stiffer competition, mostly on our lunch hour at work. It was then that I started looking for more competitive players because my games were getting better. I found various chess clubs, most of which were in New York. My love for chess is still with me, which I will explain later in this memoir.
I joined the State Guard when I was 14 years old. I lied about my age, saying that I was 17. When they federalized it to the National Guard, I joined it. But I quit that when Korea started up in 1950. I had a good idea of what the military was all about, and I wasn't interested in going into the Army. But then they drafted me a year later in 1951. Try to keep one thing in mind. I was a 17-year old kid when I made the mistake of quitting the National Guard. What a mistake that was for me in more ways than one. That outfit went to Germany. But I believe I made up for it when I paid my dues in Korea.
Leaving the States headed for Japan, everybody was seasick. I was on the verge of it but I didn't actually get sick. I remember looking out from the doorway at the high seas. Our ship looked like a little cork in a huge mountain of water. The waves looked like they were 40 feet high. I was too stupid to be afraid. I figured the captain and his crew were professionals and they knew what they were doing. It took us 30 days to get to Japan from the States because we stopped at Puerto Rico, Columbia, South America, Panama, Hawaii, and then Japan. We were impressed with the Puerto Ricans sitting on the deck, sharpening their big knives. We said, "Boy, are we glad those guys are on our side! Look at those big knives they have!" We were like a bunch of gullible little kids going over. I heard our guys had to keep bailing them out once they were on the lines. I think the enemy knew when they were there because they broke through their lines quite often. Those big knives were of no help.
On the dock at Pusan, Korea, the 8th Army band was waiting for us and played, "If I Knew You Were Coming, I'd Have Baked a Cake." After arriving in Korea, I was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division, 15th Regiment, Mike Company. I remember waiting with a few other new men on the side of a hill outside a bunker for our orders. The sound of war and artillery was not that far away. There were two helicopters there, and they were loading both dead and wounded on them. They were those small birds that carried two stretchers outside of them on each side like those seen on the television show M*A*S*H. It was then that I wondered whose place I would take—that of one of the dead or one of the wounded.
This is when I realized that this was the first time in my life that I wouldn’t be able to quit. As a kid I quit everything, including school, hobbies, games, and one job after the other if I didn’t like them. Imagine me going up to my commanding officer and saying, "I quit!" He would have had my butt thrown in the stockade or even shot for desertion seeing we were at war.
Arch Enemy to Buddy
I remember leaving that location on a Jeep or truck—I forget which, then going on up to the lines. I was assigned to an 81mm mortar company. The tanks were behind us and we were being used as artillery. Lieutenant Drake was in charge, and he told me to report to Corporal O’Conner’s bunker. It never even dawned on me that I might know the guy. We were dumbfounded to find ourselves facing each other—old arch enemies from Brooklyn, Joe O’Conner and Bill Dillon, standing face to face in a small bunker on the side of a hill 10,000 miles from the good old USA.
I remember Joe saying, "Well, Bill. For a change we will be fighting on the same side." After a while we became very good friends, and since we were wearing the same uniform, we ate and slept in the same bunker and fought a war together, spending many weeks and having narrow escapes together. I remember saying to Joe quite a few times, "Joe, I don’t think I’m going to make it." I just had a funny feeling that I was never going to see my bride again. But Joe always reassured me by saying, "Not me! I’m going home!" But as it was, it didn’t turn out that way.
On the last day of Joe’s life, we were hit by a very heavy artillery barrage. It was one of those bad days. Joe was Forward Observer for our mortars. We took turns doing that job. Pfc. Rutledge had just came down from the outpost—Little Nori, as it was called. Our Fire Direction Control, where our mortars were located, couldn’t get through to the outpost Joe was on. It was 500 yards in front of the MLR (front lines), and the enemy had cut the phone lines with their artillery fire. I was told to take two men and trace and repair the lines from the FDC up to the outpost where Joe was. On our way up there, we were under constant artillery and mortar fire from the enemy.
We knew we were under gook surveillance by one of their FO’s, but we just couldn’t locate and kill the bastard. We found and repaired eight breaks in the wire. At this time we had no way of knowing if we had fixed all of the breaks, so we continued on our way up to the outpost still under heavy enemy fire. Our only casualty so far was one guy who sprained an ankle diving into a shell hole. When we finally got to the outpost where Joe was, they were taking on a tremendous pounding from enemy artillery fire, as well as from a 76mm gun mounted on top of a Russian-built tank. The shelling was so intense that the bunker they were in started caving in on them. They did their best to stay under the protective cover, but to no avail. The South Korean with them got hit and the 2nd Lieutenant FO for the artillery was helping him out. The radio man, PFC Wright, was next man out and Joe was the last. Just then another round came in, exploding and killing Joe instantly. It took me a long time to get over Joe’s death. Perhaps I never did. He was only 18 and I was 22. I saw a lot of death and wounded, but Joe’s always stayed with me the most.
This was nothing like the Korea that was portrayed on the M*A*S*H television show. I never saw anyone with a still or guys running around in dresses. Instead, I remember the hideous, graphic details of war--such as the condition of the bodies of our men when we found them. The enemy had tortured and mutilated their bodies before they killed them. Their favorite torture was to wire the hands of American soldiers behind their backs, remove their privates, then stuff them down their throats to silence their screams.
John Wayne never showed this part of war. In fact, John Wayne never made a movie about the Korean War. A lot of Korean War veterans I know don’t have too much love for him because of it. He could have helped make our war as popular as World War II instead of the Forgotten War it is. At the time, I thought maybe he was too old, but he managed to come back, make one about the Green Berets twenty years later, and retire with $800 million bucks in his pocket.
Not only did the foot soldier in Korea have to contend with the combat part of it, but also the personal hygiene. I went three months without a shower and with no change of clothing, including underwear. When we were finally trucked back to the rear for a shower, everybody stripped to their underwear. We were all yellow in front and brown in back. Being back in the real world was wonderful. Hot water, electricity, switches that turned lights on and off. Flush toilets. Then back to hell on the lines. It was like putting a steak in front of a large dog and then taking it away. I wonder how today’s army with females would make out with this problem? Same way we did, I guess. For the longest time after I returned to the States, I took four showers a day. I just couldn't get used to the idea that my body was clean. Thankfully I am back down to only one shower a day now.
After months of being in trenches and foxholes similar to World War I, we moved into another position that another outfit had just moved out of. This sector was a real mud hole. The first night we were there, we blew the candle out when it was time to sack out. Then out of the darkness came the rats. The loud squealing they made caused me to think I was in the middle of an Alfred Hitchcock horror movie. I tried to think of myself as a pretty gutsy guy, but I was scared shitless of those hairy-tailed monsters. I could feel those big hairy rodents rubbing against my back as they scurried back and forth, and it gave me chills to no end.
I was in the bunker on a top bunk made out of a couple of boards. I hung my head face down over the edge so the rats couldn’t get at my face. I sometimes slept with my mouth open, and to a rat this was just another hole. One time I woke up choking on one of those damned things. Another time, a guy woke up screaming when a rat ate a hole through his sleeping bag. It took six of us to hold him down and get him out of his sack. Amazingly enough, the rat never bit him. The rat was pounded to death with fists and pistol butts. It made one hell of a mess in his sleeping bag.
We weren't allowed to poison the rats because they carried mites. If the rats died, the mites could possibly leave the rats' bodies and climb on us. If the mites should happen to bite a human, then we could have gotten hemorrhagic fever--a very fatal disease. There was a good chance that we would have died from it. So instead, we just sat in our bunkers at night with no candle light on. Then some of us would suddenly turn our flashlights on while the rest of us shot the rats. Then we burned the rats' bodies, which also killed the mites.
I wrote home and told my wife about the rats in our bunker. (That's about all--I told her nothing about the other stuff because I didn't want her to worry.) One day at mail call I got a package in the mail. As usual, everybody gathered around me waiting to get a piece of whatever was in the package. We always shared everything. Everyone was all excited because they were expecting a piece of candy, cake, etc. It took me a while to get through the wrapping, adding to the excitement and anticipation of the unveiling. Finally after I got the precious commodity unwrapped, it turned out to be two cans of rat poison! Of course, we were all disappointed and the guys really gave it to me. "His wife sent him rat poison!!" I really got pretty mad and carried on like a little kid about it. One of the men in my squad got me on the side and gave me a good piece of his mind. He said, "You know, Dillon, your wife thought she was doing you a big favor by sending you that package to help you get rid of the rats. And you have the nerve to carry on the way you are." He gave it to me good and I took it because I knew he was right. (By the way, he was a school teacher in civilian life.) Of course, I was like a little dog with his tail between his legs by the time he got finished with me. If I met him today I would thank him for talking some sense into me. I wrote home and thanked my beautiful bride.
One day we thought that it was going to be a quiet day with no incoming mail (artillery and mortars). Instead, something really big came in. It had a fuse delay. It dug itself deep into the ground before it blew. When it exploded, it seemed like it took half of Korea hundreds of feet into the air. Rocks and boulders of all sizes flew sky high. I remember when they came down all around me with the sound of the large boulders pounding hard into the ground. I can still hear those heavy thud sounds the boulders made just inches from where I went into a fetus position. God was with me at that moment--I know he was. The round upset a rat’s nest, causing them to scoot in panic in every different direction. Although the shelling continued, men turned their weapons, rifles, pistols, grenades on the rats that had terrorized them at night. They were more intent on killing rats than they were for their own safety. All we could think of was that those terrorizing creatures of the night that made our very existence so miserable were finally getting a dose of their own medicine.
Life on the Front Line
The bunker that we were in was built of logs and dirt dug into the side of a hill. When the heavy monsoon rains came, it became one big mudslide and began to slump and cave in on us. We had to dismantle it and start rebuilding all over again, keeping a sharp ear open for incoming rounds of artillery and snipers. We didn’t worry about the ones that had a whistle. It was the ones with the loud "swoosh!"--or worse, the ones we didn’t hear at all. Snipers came without warning! While we were rebuilding the bunker, a huge ten-foot snake came slithering out from between some logs. Apparently it had been living with us for more than two weeks and we never knew it was there. It had two large bulges in its body. They were rats that it had swallowed whole. The rats in Korea were as big as cats.
A new man was assigned to our bunker. We all thought he was just blowing off some steam when he kept saying he wanted to win some medals. His first time out with us on a company-sized raid, we found ourselves greatly outnumbered and losing many men. The order was to pick up the wounded and fall back. My friend got hit. Another man was carrying him when a North Korean climbed out of a hole and started aiming his burp gun at them. I was so thankful I didn’t panic and miss. I was able to nail the bastard before he was able to fire his weapon. Only one guy charged forward. It was the new guy. He got his medals all right. He got the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart on his pine box, and then he got shipped home. It was the first and only time I have ever seen a real hero. The rest of us were just trying to stay alive.
On the subject of sanitary conditions, we made a homemade toilet from a wooden box, cut a hole in it by tracing a steel helmet, then cutting it out, then placing it over a freshly dug hole. After one of our guys caught a bullet from a sniper, we quickly abandoned that idea. Besides, it was a favorite target of the enemy. Their FO’s and snipers liked to zero in on catching a guy with his pants down. Then we just looked for a place away from the bunker and, like a cat, dug a hole and covered it.
The gooks did all kinds of weird things on the lines. They called out to one another at night imitating chickens and roosters, as if the Americans were gullible enough to think there were chickens up there. They also came up to the barbed wire carrying lanterns, trying to attract fire. We obliged a few of them and shot the bastards. What a mistake that was. All hell broke loose. They sent a barrage of mortar fire our way. Next time remember the golden rule: Use a grenade at night. It leaves no flashes for them to see.
Every time the line companies went out on patrol, we moved up a 100 yards or so to replace them while they were out of their trenches. This was before I became gunner or assistant gunner (who remained with the mortar in case the line troops needed fire power from us). The only ones that remained behind were the gunners and their assistant gunners. I remember getting into the line company's trenches just before dusk. The reason for that was to give us enough time to study the terrain before it got dark. It was scary at times, especially if we didn’t have a buddy with us watching our back. Not having a buddy to watch over us made it extra dangerous, because now we had unnecessary movement of our head to check what was in front, at the sides, and behind us. I almost shot my sergeant once when he was ducking down coming out of the shadows of the trenches. I removed my steel helmet and just wore a soft cap so I could hear better. We had to memorize every rock, bush and hole, and know exactly how everything should look once darkness set in. If a bush or a rock was not in the same position, then it was time to start throwing grenades because it was the enemy trying their very best to send us home in a body bag. Our motto was, "Whatever I can’t see, can’t see me." There was no such thing back then as night-seeing devices.
When I think back, we must have been in incredible physical condition, because all I weighed was 125 pounds. We had to carry our mortars on our backs better than five miles over treacherous mountains. I carried a 45-pouind base plate, plus other gear. The gunner carried the barrel and the assistant gunner carried the bipod. The rest of the squad carried the ammo. We carried this in weather of 100 degrees or more. Our water ran out and our thirst was almost unbearable.
Once in a while we went back to the rear, kicked in a door or two, and stole some rations. I remember stealing a case of chicken noodle soup and a roll of tar paper to help keep the water from leaking into our bunkers. The MPs gave chase whenever they saw us, and we raced like hell to get up to Camouflage Hill--a hill with a large camouflage curtain and a big sign that read: "From this point on you are under enemy observation." That camouflaged area with its big warning sign was very intimidating to anyone that wasn't familiar with the area. The MPs stopped there and didn't dare go any further because they knew they were on our turf now. I have to admit that we did taunt them a little by calling out to them, "You chicken-shit bastards come on over to our territory." I think we got to a point of no fear after a while. I have to admit it felt good being able to hold all of the cards for a change.
Another time we went back to Seoul because the only uniform I had to my name was the one I was wearing, including underwear. It was torn, filthy, and it stunk. I went to the black market where they were selling American-made uniforms. I paid $20 for a green fatigue shirt and pants. I thought of where I had just come from--good men fighting for their very lives and some of these S.O.B.'s in the rear that called themselves soldiers were lining their pockets selling uniforms that were supposed to be delivered to front line troops. I was packing my .45 and came very close to using it on a few of them that day.
I remember one very funny story. When we were back in a blocking position a couple of hundred yards behind the mortar positions, we had a brand new black captain who had just shipped over from the States. Integration was just starting in the military. He was a little guy, so he stood up on the hood of a Jeep to gave us one of his famous pep talks. "All right men. I don’t want you to shoot until you see the whites of their eyes." (I think he had watched too many of those John Wayne war movies.) Just then, a couple of enemy artillery rounds came in. The only one who took a dive off and then flew under the Jeep was the captain. The rest of us never moved because we knew that the incoming rounds that had a whistle were at least 500 yards away. Everyone knew that but our fearless leader. His nice, brand-new clean uniform got all messed up with mud. But the part that really got us was he just got up, brushed himself off, climbed back up on the Jeep, and continued with his bullshit sermon with no sign of embarrassment. Everyone called him Mickey Mouse after that. I felt sorry for the couple of good black men who were there. They were embarrassed for him, as they were excellent combat men.
After spending six months dodging bullets and shrapnel on the lines with the 3rd Infantry Division, they transferred a few of us to the 1st Cavalry Division, 5th Regiment, Mike Company in Japan. I felt like I had died and gone to Heaven! Nice clean, dry, heated barracks. Clean white sheets on soft mattresses. Clean blankets on real cots. Electricity with lights. Great hot food. Hot showers. And, best of all, out of harm's way and no longer a target for the enemy. Unfortunately, it didn't last long.
We were in Japan for only 30 days when President Truman had a falling out with the South Korean President Syngman Rhee. Rhee freed 40,000 North Korean prisoners on Ko-je Island. We were ordered to return to Korea to round them all up and put them back into their compounds. That was when they realized that we were not playing games and they fell in line. They were the worst of the POWs because they wanted to go back to communism. The ones in Pusan weren’t in any hurry to go back to it.
Another outfit that was there before us already did most of the rounding up of prisoners for us. We formed skirmish lines and combed the mountains. There was a real big guy that came running down from the hills and said there were three North Koreans with a weapon on the other side of the hill. He was scared as all hell, and he was shaking and sweating. I didn’t say anything. I was pretty quiet back in those days. I just took my carbine from my shoulder, cocked it, went over the hill, and took care of things. I couldn’t stand the thought of the gooks thinking we were afraid of them. I was always a skinny little gibe, and this was my big chance to prove to everybody that I was just as big as they were. I killed the first guy holding the weapon. When the second guy tried to pick the weapon up, I pumped a few into him. When the third guy didn’t move, I did him too because I knew that if I gave him the chance, he would do me in. Guys that hesitate don’t make it home. How did I feel after that? Better them than me. I think the only time we felt bad about doing something like that was when we came across some 10 and 12-year olds who would not stop firing their weapons at us. We had to kill them. It took me a long time after that to think of kids as being just children, including my own kids after I got home.
After we finished that job, instead of going back to Japan, we were ordered to remain in Korea—a big disappointment for all of us. We spent some time back up on the lines, and then we spent the remainder of our time in Korea in Pusan. I was finally able to leave when I had enough points. If I remember correctly, we needed 36 points to go home. On the day it was time for me to leave my unit, a truck picked me up to take me to the rear. I don't know where I was on the first stop back, but I remember sitting in a tent and running into a guy I knew from basic training. He had done his time in Korea back in the rear. I must have made some impression on him. I couldn't talk. I guess I had my mind set on dying over there, and I just didn't believe that I was now going home. I was scared that another barrage was going to get me before I could get out of there.
I remember that when we came down off the lines, we were just standing around in formation watching this other band of brothers coming down from the lines too. One of our guys called out to the other guys, "Did you fellows see any action up at the front lines?" They answered back with a deep mar-chow hot-chow voice, "Yeah! And it was rough!" Our guy kept calling out, "Oh, that's terrible!" And he kept it up. It was very funny at the time because our guy had a great sense of humor which kept us laughing when we needed it the most.
As part of the standard procedure to process out, we had to line up in front of these rear echelon bastards standing behind a long counter, strip to the bone, and surrender all of our weapons. We were all very bitter with these sons of bitches who had it so good in the rear. There was a lot of yelling from our guys. Even the officers didn't dare mess with us. I was not happy when they took my weapons away. I guess I felt kind of weak without them because they had been my protectors all the time I was in Korea. I felt like I had just lost my best friends. I felt empty and naked without them. I get pissed every time I think back to that particular time. I had a beautiful personal boot knife that one of those bastards took home with him.
I left Korea in July or August of 1953, holding the rank of Corporal. I went home on a ship, but I can't remember the name or how long the trip took. It was maybe two weeks. We had absolutely no duty on the ship. They left us alone. I remember that one guy still had a burp gun bullet in his arm and it looked like it was all infected. We were surprised that he didn't have that taken care of sooner. He wasn't the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, you might say. There were a lot of guys on the ship that I didn't know, but one guy that I did know. For some reason I was his idol. He said he liked me because I looked like I didn't have a worry in the world. He worried about everything. The order came down for all enlisted men to tuck their shirts in their pants. I did just the opposite. I purposely left my shirt out. I don't know what kind of a belligerent look I must have had on my face, but none of the officers said anything to me. I guess I was one wise-ass, but I just didn't care about anything or anybody. I just wanted to go home.
I remember back when we left the States heading for Japan when we first went over to Korea, there were some tough looking Marine MP's patrolling the decks and giving all of us scared green troops a hard time. Going home there was a big different because we weren't scared green kids anymore. Maybe that's the reason they didn't have those Marine MPs on the return trip. I believe our guys would have thrown them overboard. We left Inchon, Korea, first stopping in Japan and then sailing on to the States. This is where a lot of tempers flew from our guys. Nobody cared. I guess we were all thinking, "What else can they do to us?"
We watched a movie at night. Seeing mainland USA was an emotional time for me. I started to shake all over again. I must have been scared, because why would I shake like that? I never knew the answer to that, but I felt better after I heard a couple of other guys say they had experienced the same thing. We disembarked at Seattle, Washington, where there were long lines for everything. I was so excited about being back in the States that I didn't pay any attention to what we were supposed to do after we got home. I seem to recall that we were supposed to mail a post card or something, but I still don't remember that clearly. I know that some clown--a master sergeant from an armory National Guard, wanted me to report to his stupid little outfit down in New York City. I was living in the Bronx at the time. After much chatter back and forth, he asked me, "Don't you want to do something for your country?" I told that asshole to look at my records, then call me back and say that to me again. I never heard from the creep after that.
After processing in, I believe we got on a train. I am not sure, because I think I was just plain numb and I was a complete blank until we got to New Brunswick, New Jersey. Funny, but I just don't remember if we were held over in Brunswick or if they just let us go home. I was discharged in September of 1953 and did not even consider re-enlisting. (I was prepared to go to jail before I would let anyone take me back into the military again). I remember being in a total daydream for months after being home. Then one day as I was walking up the stairs to my apartment, the most wonderful feeling came over me. My mind suddenly cleared for a few moments. I was able to think with a clear head for a few seconds. It was a wonderful feeling. Then I went right back into my daydream again.
I had to be very careful after I got home from Korea because I had a bad temper if somebody pushed my button the wrong way. Once coming home from work late at night in Harlem, a black guy stepped out in front of my car trying to flag me down. Then I noticed a few more of them standing in a doorway waiting for me to stop. Instead of stopping, I floored it and tried to nail the bastard. I even turned the car around and went up on the sidewalk. (The car I was driving was an old 1949 Lincoln. It was like a tank.) I was trying to kill the lot of them. They dove all over the place. If I had had a gun, I would have killed the lot of them. I guess I was one not to be toyed with after coming back from where I had been for the past eighteen months.
I remember being very quiet, especially around my wife and females. I wasn’t used to seeing members of the opposite sex again. My wife was annoyed with me because I was able to speak to men okay, but not to women. I became an introvert and kept to myself. My wife was afraid to sleep with me because of all the screaming I did in my sleep. Then it was back to being very quiet again when I was awake.
We lived in an apartment with no air conditioning. Our windows were wide open. Years later, my wife told me that she had to explain to the neighbors about my screaming in my sleep because they were ready to call the police. I didn’t remember a thing when I woke up. I believe that may have been the combat part of it, because the nightmares I had about choking on a rat started later. For years my wife was petrified every time I woke up screaming, choking and gagging, and trying to dislodge the rat in my nightmares from my throat. I gave her my Purple Heart because she deserved it more than I did. She was as much a part of this as I was because I put her through a living hell at night. A combat veteran and his family are married to his experiences for life. There is never a day that goes by that most of us don't think about them.
Back in Korea, guys thought I had nerves of steel. But once I was back in the States and home safe in my bed, I turned into a chickened little coward. To this day I still can't explain it. My wife, God bless her soul, begged me to go for help. But I was too embarrassed to go to a shrink. I would much rather go to a doctor with a broken arm then let people think I was a nut. I realize now that it was a pretty stupid way of thinking.
Before I went into the service, I never drank. But after I got home, I damn near became an alcoholic and it nearly cost me my marriage. I lost all ambition because I thought I was going to die young. I took a course on TV repair, but after I heard the TV tube could be explosive, I shied away. I even went to school for air-conditioning, but the high side of it also made me shy away from it. Incidentally, I paid for my own schooling. I was so bitter after I got home, I didn't want anything from the Federal Government--which I realize now was a mistake. I never talked about my tour of duty in Korea. I couldn’t even say the word Korea. I always referred to it as the Far East. But now in my twilight years, I am shooting off my big mouth and writing this memoir. Once in a while I still dream about it. Many times I woke my wife. At least the nightmares have now stopped.
I remember that every Fourth of July was a living nightmare for me with the fireworks shooting off. And when I walked down a street, I always stayed close to the buildings. I dreaded coming to a wide open intersection. I would run across the street still thinking a barrage of fire would catch me out in the open. I waited close to a building for the light to change. My wife begged me to go for help at the time. Only now do I realize how right she was. In my mind I was okay and thought that in time it would pass, but it didn't for many years to come after I got home. By then I was too embarrassed to go for help. Thinking back now, I ask myself, "Was I a coward?" I don't remember being a coward in Korea.
I used to watch the M*A*S*H television show until someone asked me if I had my own still when I was in Korea. I think if I met Radar with his little Teddy Bear and that obnoxious Klinger wearing that freaking dress, no telling what I would have done since I was a different person at that time than I am now. The war-time Korea portrayed in the M*A*S*H was nothing like the real war-time Korea. The weather was cold like I had never seen, with no place to go to warm up but the trenches and rice paddies. Even the bunkers were cold. We never had the right clothing for that kind of weather. The summers were over 100 degrees in the shade, if we could find any. There were no shade trees anywhere near the front lines. They were all shot off due to the artillery fire.
The Combat Infantryman's Badge is awarded to infantry soldiers after spending 30 consecutive days in a combat area. Thirty years later, I wore my CIB at different veterans' dances and functions. Some non-combat veterans often said they would give anything to be able to say that they had that award. I remember saying to one guy, "I would gladly give it to you, but you would have to take the memories that go with it." I would give anything not to have had the experience of being in combat in Korea. I sincerely wish I could be telling you about the good times I had in Germany instead. A lot of good men died in Korea, and my generation was too quick to sweep it under the carpet. I hope that our kids will help get it into the history books so that those men did not die in vain.
Some years after I was home from Korea, I was standing outside a store waiting for my wife while she was shopping inside. I noticed an Oriental fellow standing by his van smoking a cigarette. On the side of his van was painted, "South Korean Baptist Church." Just as an excuse to strike up a conversation, I walked over to him and said, "I was in your country a very long time ago." He asked me if it was during the war and I said yes. I told him that I had served in the infantry during the fighting. Without saying another word, he went over to his van, opened the door, and said something to someone inside. I couldn't see who was inside the van because it had those sun screens on the windows. That is when seven or eight Koreans came out of the van. You can well imagine how nervous I became. I didn't know what was going to happen next. I thought I was in for a beating or something. To my surprise, they lined up in a single file, came up to me, shook my hand, and said, "Thank you for our freedom." I was so overwhelmed and surprised I started to get a little teary-eyes. I thought then that my own countrymen had never said or done anything like that to thank me.
I did not receive my Purple Heart until 50 years after the war was over. The year was 2000 and I was at the VA hospital in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. I was getting a physical when I asked the nurse if I could get a pair of hearing aids. The original ones that I bought with my own money were getting old. At that time, an injury had to be service-related for the government to pay for it. I told her that my hearing loss was service-related, and showed her the paperwork that I received from the MASH doctor in Korea. I told her what happened--how I got knocked on my ass by a barrage of artillery fire, and that when I got to my feet, my ears were ringing and bleeding. I couldn't hear a thing for a while. My hearing returned, but I had a loud ringing in my head. I thought that it would pass in time, but it didn't. The ringing got worse. It got so that it was louder than I could hear people speak. I lived with this problem for almost six months before I finally went to the MASH doctor. He said it would pass with time. He was right. It finally stopped ringing, but my hearing was not what it used to be.
The nurse at the VA hospital looked at the paper from the MASH unit and gave me the address of the Military Corrections board. I sent them the paper and after many months of investigation, they corrected my records. I got my free hearing aids and they sent me a Purple Heart. I was going to send the medal back, but my brother-in-law (a former Marine) and my foxhole buddy Don Booth talked me into keeping it. I guess I was pissed off because it took 50 years for someone to realize the mistake. Incidentally, Don Booth was one of the bravest men I ever had the honor of serving with in Korea. He should have gotten a Purple Heart too, but when things started to happen, half the time we couldn't find an officer around to witness a wound. Doc, the medic who treated Don, failed to record his injury in his little book. When the lead was flying and explosions were going off all around us, who had the time to think of those things? Don now lives in Akron, Ohio. I still keep in touch with him. I also keep in touch with my foxhole buddy Ed MacDonald from Rhode Island. He was awarded the Bronze Star for heroism in Korea.
I lived on Long Island most of my life, worked as a fire safety inspector in nuclear power plant, then retired in Lancaster, PA. My wife June, to whom this memoir is dedicated, gave birth to four children: Michael, Deborah, Patricia, and Thomas. Michael died at birth. My beautiful bride of 53 years died in January 2005. I only wish that I could have gone with her.
Back when I was age 17, I couldn't hit or catch a ball to save myself, so I got involved with chess. After I retired and we moved to Lancaster in 1994, I decided to teach kids chess in six libraries and three schools on a volunteer basis. I played at various chess tournaments and several chess clubs with a rating of 1800 (considered pretty good). My whole thought was to try and help kids from getting into trouble as I did when I was their age. It went over pretty good and there were feature stories about me teaching the kids in several newspapers. I have now taught more than 700 children in our local schools and libraries how to play chess.
It began when I went to our local library (it was a very small library upstairs over the firehouse) and met Kim, a young lady volunteer. I was surprised to hear her say that they did not have any books on chess. She told me how her six-year old daughter wanted to learn how to play the game, but neither Kim nor her husband knew how to play chess. I said, "Let's make a deal! You order a couple of chess books, then bring your daughter in with three other kids and I'll teach them how to play the game." I was surprised when she called a week later and told me that she had the four kids and eight more on a waiting list. And that's how it all got started. People came in to see what I was doing and the waiting list started to get longer. They gave me a large room, a little at a time I acquired 13 chess sets, and eventually I was teaching 26 kids at a time. Word got around and five other libraries requested my services, including a sports arena. I only did one month with them because the room they gave me was out of public view and I couldn't get a female to be present (I'm no fool). The U.S. Chess Federation got wind of what I was doing and sent me extra chess sets, along with chess rulers, key chains, pencils, etc., with their logo on it. I gave them out as prizes. I also bought gold medals with my own money and made up special chess certificates. A class was two hours a week for one month. At the end of each session, I asked the library director, as well as the parents, to come to a presentation. I showed the movie, "Searching for Bobby Fisher," and asked the library director to present each child with a chess certificate that I had made with my computer. Two kids received gold medals and became my assistant chess instructors at the next chess session. I did not look for the smartest kids--I looked for enthusiasm in a kid. The smart ones are always the center of attention. Give me the kid that tries. I asked the library directors to have cookies, cake, punch, soda, etc. for the presentation night. It was very rewarding when a kid asked me for a hug.
I quit competitive chess at the clubs so I could devote more time to the kids. I made a large chess demonstration board that I brought with me. I had more fun teaching kids chess than I ever did at chess tournaments. I had one brother and sister come back four times to my sessions because they had so much fun. A police detective called me and asked if he could help me. He read about me in one of the newspapers. I immediately jumped at the opportunity and told him, "Yes!" I told him that I am not a chess club. I just teach the basics to kids just to get them started in chess and hopefully to keep them out of trouble. I explained that when I finished the 26 kids I was teaching at the time, I had to leave and head on up to the next library where 26 more kids were waiting for me. He did a great job and ended up with 80 kids in his chess club. They were even bussing kids in from another town. I sent him my graduates and he sent me the kids who wanted to learn the game. I was able to get the parents in different libraries to start chess clubs in their libraries. Even today I hear kids yelling out to me, "Mr. Bill! Do you remember me?"
I tell my kids, "I am not here to teach you anything. I am here to show you how to have a lot of fun. I don't believe in the heavy stuff like advanced chess. I will teach the algebraic notation." I tell them that that term scares me too, but all it is is simple chess jive--how to read and write chess so they can go to the library and look at books and magazines on the subject, or play other kids on the computer who might even be in another country. I try to show children that chess is more than just a game. It teaches them to be honest by not touching the pieces if their chess friend has to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. It also teaches them to have courage and not get cold feet if their opponent is a grown-up or if they are smarter than they are or if they dress better than they do. I tell them, "Just don't let anybody scare you once you get them on the other side of the chess board." Later in their games I encourage them not to touch a piece until they are ready to move it. It teaches them to think before they move. I also encourage them by telling them that if they can't become a sports jock (as I couldn't), then they can become a chess jock. I talk to kids at their level, not mine. At one of the libraries, some mothers volunteered to help me with the kids. One mother must have thought that she was a teacher or something, because she walked up and down the aisles with her hands on her hips, observing the kids like she was a truant officer. I could see that she was making the kids nervous, so I got her on the side and asked her to please take care of the cookies, soda, etc.
Personally, I have found that when I sit down and play chess with someone, they can spill their whole personality across that chess board before me. I love to get the wise guys that try to act so smart when they first sit down with their hot-cho-macho ways, trying to imitate me. I guess I don't sound as smart as they do, but then I get a kick out of watching them squirm in their seats after a few moves. It's a mind game. I've been playing 60 years now, although I no longer play competitive chess. I play by myself with two chess computers. On one of them, I only play the top level (it has 72 levels). I also have a couple of games going with friends and relatives by e-mail.
While involved with teaching chess to kids, I also started writing this memoir in 2003. One of the strangest things happened to me after I finished it and allowed my family and friends to read it. My nightmares stopped! I know it sounds crazy, but it's true. I guess I was like a little kid confessing his sins to a priest. I am not a hero. Our mothers, sisters and wives are heroes. They risk their lives giving birth to babies. What courage that must take! Anyone can pull a trigger and take a life, but we guys can’t give life as women do. They are the ones who deserve the medals, not us. This country is caught up with medals and heroes. I am a survivor, not a hero.
Military Order Of The Purple Heart Korea - Charlie Showalter (right) Commander Of Chapter #107, Bill Dillon (left) Finance Officer Presenting $3000.00 in Checks To Barbara Kohr (left) And Katy Trosle (right) VA Hospice at the VA Hospital In Lebanon PA. 2006
I found the other picture when we were closing down our MOPH Chapter 107 in Lancaster PA. we donated what ever money we had left to Hospice in Lebanon PA. $1500.00 twice a total of $3000.00.
Charlie died a few months ago. He was on a cruiser during WW2. They were attacked by 12 Japanese suicide planes. They were able to shoot down 6 of them but the other 6 hit the ship. Charlie was burned more then half of his body.
What he thought was water turned out to be diesel fuel. Charlie was running when he slid in the oil then it ignited. He had many skin grafts and his face and hands are still scared.
He still has no eye brows or lashes nor hair. I have a newspaper picture and story of the ship returning from the battle. 40 or 50 men were killed the ship looked like an air craft carrier the whole top was flat.