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LeRoy Will Eaton
Terre Haute, IN
"By the time I left the Pusan Perimeter, I had learned one lesson very well. War is not like the movies. In movies guns never overheat. Ammunition never runs out."
- LeRoy Eaton
My name is LeRoy Will Eaton, and I was born May 25, 1931, on a farm near Overton, Nebraska in Douglas County. My parents were William Adelbert Eaton and Blanche Francis Warta, who were married in Holyoke, Colorado, on August 22, 1930. Dad was a farmer on a rented farm. During the parts of the season where there was not much to do on the farm, he worked at odd farming jobs, usually in the hay or sugar beet harvest. They usually fell between regular farm work. During his last year of life, he spent the summer working for REA installing a power line. His job was to dig the holes for the power poles. Mother only worked outside of the home once and it was at one of the war plants making ammunition for World War II. She did many odd household jobs for people to make money for a living. When on the farm, she raised livestock and chickens. She sold eggs to a man who came once a week to pick them up.
I have three younger brothers, Zane, Benjamine, and Jackie Lee. There are about two years between us. Three of us served in the United States Army and the youngest in the Navy. Between us, we have nineteen years of military service to our country. Four of those years were wartime years.
I went to the sixth grade at a small country school called "Cracker Box School" in Dawson County, Nebraska, Lincoln Township. I went to District 116 in Buffalo County the seventh and eighth grades. I started high school at Litchfield and went through the eleventh grade. Then I transferred to Sumner High school and graduated in May of 1948.
After school and summer jobs that I held while in school were many and varied--usually with no monetary benefit to me or my brothers, but mother used the money to keep the family together. Usually it was local farm work on the surrounding farms. It consisted of anything the farmer needed from cleaning barns to killing rats, which were plentiful. The farmer got a good deal at five cents per rat. The work necessary to find and kill a rat was worth more than the five cent reward. Another time mother sent me to help another farmer several miles from home. It was haying season and my job was to drive the stacker team. One man brought the hay to the stacker and placed it on the lift. Then I drove the team of horses out as the stacker lifted the hay to the top of the stack where it dumped. It was not very exciting work, and since the two farmers were bachelors, the food wasn't all that great either. Between my freshman and sophomore year, mother farmed me out again, this time to a dry cleaning business. The work was hard and as I remember the ten dollars per week barely paid for my room.
One summer I went to summer school at the University of Nebraska School of Agriculture. I won a scholarship to go by writing a short story about why I should attend. The summer between my junior and senior year was spent helping mother with the garden and not much else.
I was in both grade and high school during World War II. We did not follow much news of the war, as we did not have a radio, but my family collected tin foil and other material needed for the war effort. Three of my uncles were in World War II. One, Eman Warta, served in the infantry and served the length of the war. The second uncle, Jake Warta, was in an anti-aircraft unit. They were both in the European theater and at least once were able to get together on a short leave. My other uncle, Joseph Warta, served in the Navy Seabees after graduating from high school.
I worked at a lot of different jobs after high school. I could not get a permanent job as I was too young. There were so many jobs for so short a time I cannot remember them all. Two I remember were "blocking and thinning" sugar beets and picking tomatoes. During those days, it was anything to make money. I do remember one or two days helping trim trees for a contractor. The military seemed to be a way of surviving until the age of 21. I did not have the money to go on to school, although mother had paid $100 to an electronics school that I was looking into.
The Army had a recruiting office close to where I was located at the time. I went in and talked to them and they asked me to sign up if I could get permission from my mother. Mother was a bit upset, but then the family situation was such that if I could not find a permanent place of employment, then the Army was the place to go. I joined on August 18, 1948, at Grand Island, Nebraska. No friends joined up when I did, mostly I suppose because I was away from home when I enlisted. I did later see where two brothers I was in school with visited a military recreation area a month before I did.
The Army sent me to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. I spent one night in Grand Island, then went to Chicago where they added some more to the train and sent us on. The trip was just a normal trip and I do not remember much about it. It was in August and it was hot.
Fort Knox was in a very pretty part of Kentucky. We got off the bus, and as I remember it, we went directly to the company we were assigned to. They introduced us to the staff, and we were then assigned bunks. Mine was an upper bunk. The next few days were filled with getting our uniforms and all the other things we would need. I remember being confused and I remember pulling a lot of KP—but then all the new men did.
Basic training was 12 weeks. I know this because I left home on August 18, 1948 and returned for a week on November 24. I do not remember much of the camp itself, because I did not stray far from where our company area was. I cannot remember the order of our daily schedule, but there was close order drill and physical training. We did a lot of running and the army dozen. We also took a lot of tests in the beginning. I think they were testing for job skills. I only remember one proficiency test, and it was for Morse Code radio operators. I flunked. The other tests were for other educational things, and as I recall, I was in the upper fourth of the group.
The classroom training was in classes like map reading and the proper military ethics. We saw educational films, and the one that stands out most is the one about venereal disease. Sometimes I can close my eyes and picture the girl that sat on the bar stool when the soldier started drinking and the one he thought he left with. It was the same one, but she just looked like a very attractive young woman. We did see some combat films from World War II as well, and they showed some films of gas and the use of a gas mask.
Our instructors were mostly instructors who were in the Regular Army and were veterans of World War II, were very strict. As best I remember, they were firm but fair. They were very good about taking us aside and instructing us personally, such as the proper position of the uniform brass. They made sure we knew the proper way to make up a bunk and where everything went in our footlocker. They made us complete required tasks before going on to the next phase of the program. To my knowledge, the instructors in the unit I was in did not use corporal punishment. At the time, I did not really appreciate our instructors. There were some instructors who, during breaks or after a class, talked to us about combat and the different things we should know. It was only when we went to Korea that I really appreciated the things those instructors told us.
I can’t say for sure that I was ever disciplined personally for not doing something the right way. I do remember being told when I did not present my rifle for inspection correctly. The right and left foot caused me some problems, too. I had to carry a rock in my right pocket for a day or two until I got it right. One man had to carry a broom for about a week for some infraction.
I remember that there was a lights out rule, but do not remember what the time was. I also don’t remember the time we got up each morning, but my best thought is that it was around 5 o’clock. We were awakened by a drill instructor blowing a whistle as he walked down the room making sure we were all awake. The meals were all at a certain time and we could not be late except on weekends when there was more time to eat. I cannot remember how long, but we only had a set amount of time to eat and leave to begin our training each day. I don’t remember much about what we were served, but I do remember that it was good. I remember the mutton they served, as well as the famous SOS (chipped beef on toast, called shit on a shingle by the guys). They did serve some things I didn’t like--eggs for one. We usually had eggs at home more than I liked, so at the time, I didn’t like them. It was only after being in Japan for several months and after the Company got a new cook that I started to eat them again. He could fix the eggs so they tasted very good.
There were showers in the barracks and we were told as to what the drill instructors wanted us to do. There were also hygiene classes where we were told what was expected of us along those lines. We were taught to take care of the barracks and we had inspections often until they did not turn up any discrepancies. Then they were usually every Saturday morning and then we had the rest of the day and Sunday to ourselves. Church was offered and the first month it was even mandatory to march to the church of our choice. After that, it was our choice whether we wanted to go to church or not, although they did encourage church attendance. Most of us went, and drill instructors did not breathe down our necks when we did. In our free time we were allowed to go to the Post Exchange and recreation rooms. There was a nice recreation club as I remember. One weekend I went on pass to Louisville. I don’t remember any real "fun" in basic. All I remember is trying to do the best I could.
For the most part, I do not remember much what training we received, except for physical fitness and the close order drill. Most of us had problems with the left and right foot. I do remember one of the classes on marksmanship. An M1 rifle was placed on a stand with the instructor holding a movable bull’s eye. The student looked through the sights and told the instructor which way to move the bull’s eye until he had the perfect sight picture. The instructor then marked the paper through a hole in the center of the bull’s eye. Every three times they looked at the marks and told us how we were doing. My groups were very close together. I did not do as well as I had hoped on the firing range, however. The recoil of the rifle bothered me. At that time we fired from ten firing positions from 100 to 1000 yards. At each firing position we fired from the standing, kneeling, sitting, and prone positions.
At the time I entered the Army, it was more "do as we say and you will be all right" as opposed to group punishment for one individual’s wrongdoing. I do not remember in my platoon anyone who was disciplined as an individual. The first few barracks inspections were not as good as they should be and the platoon was required to do them over. One time I got in trouble for not writing my mother while I was in basics. She got upset and sent a letter to my Company Commander, then he got upset when he got her letter. My punishment was to write a letter once a week, stamp it, and give it to the First Sergeant. He then mailed it after he checked my name off of a list he had. Probably there were others who had forgotten to write home.
I recall only one recruit not making it out of basic training. He passed almost every test given and was slated to go to Officer’s Candidate School, but he could not pass the physical tests required to pass basic training. He had to be put in the next class and go through basic training again.
During basics, I was never sorry I had joined the Army. At that time, what else would be better? When our basic training was over, there was a formation that all graduates were required to attend. It amounted to a few speeches and the training companies marched in review. At the time I left basics, I felt well-prepared for combat. But when we later went to Korea and landed on the beach, there were many things I wished that I knew. They were learned the hard way.
Trip to Japan
From Ft. Knox, I returned home for a seven-day leave, and took with me a more reserved attitude. My home near Kearney, Nebraska was on the way to my next assignment in Seattle, Washington. An uncle took me to Kearney. I had to wear a uniform because all my other clothes had been sent back home. The only thing I did on leave was to attend a high school football game. No one commented on my uniform.
After the seven days, I went by train to Seattle, Washington, and directly into a replacement center for shipment to Japan. During basic training, one of the recruits was a veteran of World War II who had been a civilian long enough to require retraining again. He told us once never to volunteer for anything except when in a replacement center. He told us to volunteer for anything they might ask for. When I arrived in Seattle and at the first assembly, they asked for a number of volunteers. The volunteer's duty was to maintain the fire in the barracks furnace for hot water and heat. One person was assigned to each barracks. The job consisted of maintaining the fire, as well as resupplying the coal used each day. Keeping the room was a very simple matter. Since one person could maintain several barracks, we could leave on liberty almost whenever we wished as long as someone watched the fire in the barracks we were assigned to. Those of us assigned the fire duty traded the days and nights we wished to go to town. This duty kept us out of all the menial tasks that replacements were usually assigned to, such as KP (kitchen police) and the constant clean up of the base.
There were one or two weeks of orientation in Seattle, and then it was on to Japan. We didn’t have any advanced infantry training that I remember before leaving the States. I left the USA on December 9, 1948. The ship that took me to the Far East was a troop transport named the US General E.T. Collins. I don’t remember how many men it could hold, but it was a large ship and it was loaded with as many of us as they could get on. I did not know anyone there. There were no men from my training company that I saw or knew about. I did not see anyone other than Army personnel on the ship, and I did not see cargo loaded or removed. It was the first time that I had seen the ocean or a ship. And, yes, I got sick right off. I soon found that staying out on the deck when possible helped make the sea sickness not as bad. There were several sick. After a few days one could move around and not be as sick as long as we did not run across someone who was seasick. If we did, our own seasickness would begin again.
The weather, although not perfect, was not stormy. The trip took from December 6 until we arrived in Japan on December 24. Our only entertainment on the ship was sleeping and reading. They also had some sort of initiation on the day we crossed the international dateline. Each of us got a small silk handkerchief. Nothing else eventful happened on the trip.
There were different times for the various sections on the ship to eat. We had to stand at a long table about chest high and wide enough for two trays. When the sea was not calm, the only way to eat was to hold the table with one hand and have your thumb over the edge holding the tray.
Duty in Japan
The ship made a straight shot to Japan, with no stopovers anyplace. We disembarked at Yokuska. I remember the stink and the hustle and bustle of the people. It was a surprise, as the Japanese culture was quite different from ours. It was not unusual to see a nude woman taking a bath in a ditch alongside the road. I do not remember any younger people that did this. Most people I met during my stay there were very nice and treated us well. I only saw a few bombed out buildings in Japan. The Japanese were very quick to clean up and repair the damaged buildings from World War II. Travel by train was free and they had a special car on each train for GI’s. Travel on trolley cars was also free if you were in uniform. I traveled quite a bit, but was too young and foolish to really see Japan.
We lived in wooden barracks about like those in Basic. We were TDY (temporary duty) three or four times for three or four months, and while away we lived in Quonset huts. The duty was to guard warehouses and military bases. One duty was to guard the wharf where incoming military supplies were unloaded from ships and stored. It may have been Tokyo or near there, because I remember going to Tokyo on pass and visiting some movie theaters that had vaudeville acts between the movies and during intermission. One time we were TDY near Yokohama. The duty was very nice, but the work shifts were not too good. Usually we worked two hours on and two hours off twice, then four on and for off twice, then got two days off. We also worked some different shifts, too.
They sent me to several schools on radio communications. My job was to be a company radio operator. I usually received my training in a wooden building with enough room to handle the number of men that were there. The field work was always at the base using telephone poles already there. Our instructors were non coms and officers who were from the regimental headquarters company.
The training was an ongoing thing and took about two weeks. Then every two weeks there was a class on radio or wire communications. Most were not mandatory for the company radio and wire people. The mandatory classes and exercises were usually carried out when we were in the field on maneuvers. In my case I asked for and received permission to attend almost all of them. A large percentage of them were for the battalion and regimental communications group.
For radio communications, we were taught radio procedures and the equipment. Once the procedures were known, we were taught simple repair, which for us consisted of replacing the battery or cleaning the battery terminals. Wire communication training consisted of how to install and maintain a wire telephone line. There was lots of emphasis on making splices. The test was to make a splice in a single pair line, then pull on the wire until it broke. If the splice and not the wire broke, we had to do it over again. Most proficiency tests were hands on in the field. An example would be in operating procedure--when to listen, what abbreviations to use, and the phonetic alphabet.
The radios were the walkie talkie and the SCR 300. Each company was assigned four walkie talkies and one SCR 300. The SCR 300 was the company commander’s link to battalion headquarters. I do not remember the number on the telephones. The company had five, I think. One went to Battalion Headquarters and the other four to each of the company platoons. The equipment was fairly effective, as in most cases it worked. The problem areas were the batteries that had a high rate of failure. Telephones worked all the time. It was the wire that gave problems. Usually there was not time to put the line in properly and it would just lie on the ground. Vehicles and other traffic sure played hob with it.
There was nothing that I recall being taught in Japan that didn’t prove valuable in Korea. I would like to thank those who did the teaching some day. They saved my crew a lot of work by teaching us to do the job (properly) once. I guess the training was never completed. My particular job was to be the company commander’s radio operator using the SCR 300. My task was to have the radio available for him whenever he needed it. It was usually located at the company headquarters. When we were in the field moving, it was my job to stay with him. I always tried to spend as much time with the regimental headquarters group as I could. They were the ones to maintain the wire lines between the Regimental and Battalion headquarters. They usually did a lot of pole climbing and splicing and the learning experience was very good.
The one thing that sticks in my mind while serving in Japan was a trip to the top of Mount Fuji. Our training area was at or near the base of the mountain. The opportunity came one weekend to climb Mt. Fuji. As the company radio operator, I was chosen to go along with the radio. I do not remember the names of those who climbed with me. We rode mules up about half way and spent the night in a building. We climbed on foot the next day. It was a winding path with people going up and coming down. About two thirds of the way up, an American civilian fell and broke his arm. He had to finish walking down, but as I remember, the ambulance was waiting for him. At least I reported the accident. Our group was the last one to make the top that day. In order to get down in time to catch the truck that was picking us up, we did not go down the path, but went down the side. It was like running in very loose gravel. The slope was so steep that it was hard to keep upright, and we fell down many, many times. A sixty-pound radio didn’t help, either. I still have the stamped paper signifying my arrival at the top of Mount Fugi.
Another time at another duty station, I was on guard duty when a Japanese building across the street caught on fire. I was so shook that I could not tell the Sergeant of the Guard where it was. I did manage to tell him my post number, and they responded with US fire trucks about the same time the Japanese fire fighters arrived. The building was completely destroyed before either group had a fire hose on it.
It is hard to define any "easy duty station" that I had while I was in Japan. It seemed we always were going on assignments or training somewhere. When we were at our main base, it was about like a civilian job. We got up about 5 a.m., did our training and exercising, then at 5 p.m. we were free to do whatever we wanted. Bed check was at midnight, and while we lived close to a fair-sized town, it was difficult to get into town and back, so it was usually weekends before we went on pass. Bed check was still midnight on weekends, but we were told that if we had a written slip saying that another unit would put us up for the night, we could be gone from our barracks so long as we were where we said we were in the other unit. I only went once to another unit, and they were right. The Charge of Quarters (CQ) came around at midnight and checked to see if we were there.
The last few months before Korea, we lived in a very nice building that was about five miles from Camp McGill. The First Cavalry Division was originally a horse cavalry. When I was in the Division in Japan, they still used the old terms such as troop. I was in "A" Troop of the First Battalion in the Fifth Regiment. Since it was now an Infantry Division, the training was infantry tactics and physical training. In 1950, before the start of the Korean War, we received air transport training and amphibious training.
The amphibious training was completed on our base. We were in amphibious training for about six weeks. They had mock ships and landing craft set up, and for physical training we ran from one mock up to another and went into the mock landing craft, climbing the landing net to the deck of a mock ship. On the next mock up, we would go up the stairs to the deck of the mock up and climb down the landing net. Sometimes during the day we went o a training area on a beach. Then we loaded into a landing craft, rode out to a ship, climbed up the net into the ship, and went down stairs to the bottom of the boat. Then we climbed the stairs on the other side of the ship, went over the side, and down the net to a landing craft.
The final part of the training was to assault a beach. We were loaded onto a troop ship and transported overnight to Chigasaki, Japan, and then made an amphibious landing on the beach. The weather was warm, but as a hurricane was coming, the sea was rough. They had to disembark us farther out to sea than they would have liked. Then we circled for about thirty minutes and started for the beach. After landing and making the assault, the regiment spent the night on the beach, then loaded into trucks for the trip back to our base. This landing operation took place in late June 1950.
War Breaks Out
When the war broke out, I knew nothing of Korea. I only knew what I saw in the news reels at the movies. I do not remember any radio broadcasts. There must have been something in the Stars and Stripes, but I can’t remember. The other guys and I did not talk much about it, we just went when we were called to go there. There were quite a few men who were sent to Korea to fill one of the divisions already there, but they were all non-commissioned officers.
No sane person wants to go to war. But the war happened and we were in Japan, so it was our job to go to Korea. That was pretty much how we felt. I think the Company got closer together and a little more reserved. We knew what was expected of us, and hoped that we were able to give what was asked. Most of us went to Korea for "Honor and Country." Those that were drafted probably had different thoughts. I grew up to believe that a person who fails or refuses his country is called a traitor. I still believe it. A person who willingly avoids his country’s service is a draft dodger that should be marked so all of his life. Most others at that time thought like I did. They went to Korea to do as their country asked without complaining.
We were not told how long the war would be, but most of us thought that it would be a very short war. When we were alerted, we were moved back to the main camp, and then cleaned and inventoried our equipment. We also took our footlockers with all our excess clothing and personal things to a storage facility. Many wrote letters home, but the most of us went about the day doing what we always did. I seem to remember that the company got films about the Pacific war during World War II and showed them just about every night. In retrospect, perhaps they were trying to give us an idea of what to expect. The North Koreans were more like the Japanese with respect to human life. They did atrocious things to military personnel and civilians alike.
The whole unit except for one enlisted man, Private Murphy, shipped out, so there were no replacements when we left. I only remember the Company Commander had his wife, and I do not know what they did to prepare. I know she visited those of the company who were wounded and sent back to a hospital in Japan. The enlisted man left behind was in his fifties and had fought in World War II in the Pacific. If memory serves me correctly, he had won nine Purple Hearts. Some of the things we knew about war before we were in it came from him.
The only thing I did to prepare for Korea was to make sure the insurance was taken care of and had most of my pay sent home. There were no friends to say goodbye to because we were all going except one. I often wonder what he thought when the trucks taking us to the ship pulled out. At the time, the term we used about the hostilities going on in Korea was "a police action." The Korean "war" came a bit later.
Arrival in Korea
We arrived at Pohang-dong, South Korea in the morning on July 18, and unloaded in the afternoon. I remember helping get the ammunition from below deck to the deck level before we disembarked. Just like Japan, Korea stunk. The buildings were about the same as Japan, too, probably because Japan occupied Korea at one time. We unloaded from the troop ship into landing craft. They took us to shore and we unloaded onto a ship dock. There were no Korean civilians around. We stood in company formation until everyone was on shore, and then we marched a few miles inland to a small town.
I was still in Company A and had been for about a year and a half before we went to war, and I had the same duty I had in Japan. I was the company radio operator, carrying the company radio for the company commander. Since most of us had been in the company for a fairly long time, each knew his task. I was in headquarters platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment of the First Cavalry Division. In the next two days, I saw natives, but those of us in Company "A" did not have contact with any of them to my knowledge. The most contact we had was just watching them move down the road towards the rear. We bivouacked outside of town that night, and we were very edgy. Sometime after midnight, someone started shooting. I was lying beside my foxhole and just rolled in. The sky was alight with tracers. After what seemed like hours, but in actuality was only a few minutes, someone got the random firing stopped. No one was hurt.
It was hot, and I don’t remember any rain for the first month or so we were there. After the first two or three weeks we were in the Pusan Perimeter, the heat really did not bother us much as we were in defensive positions. I was armed with an M1 Garand rifle at the time, but usually I carried an M1 Carbine. The carbine was much lighter and easier to carry than the M1. Only a few times did I personally have to return fire when laying communications lines. Since our unit had a long, flat valley stretching in front of us, the NKA could not get close enough to do damage with small arms fire. It was the scream of an incoming shell that usually made one take cover.
Both wire and radio communications took place in the Pusan Perimeter. My job was to set up the company communications network. It consisted of laying a wire telephone line to each of the company's platoons. After they were installed, each platoon had a walkie talkie for backup and for use when we were moving. At the company headquarters, the telephone network had to be checked every hour and we had one line to Battalion headquarters. The company radio was manned at all times in communications with Battalion, and usually there was a once-an-hour commo check.
I do not remember anything breaking down or any shortages of communications equipment. What we asked for was usually provided as quickly as transportation could provide. Most of the time the terrain was terrible and it made laying the wire lines quite a job. The heat slowed one down. One knew what task that needed to be completed. Bullets flying around just made it a little more difficult. Vigilance protected us. When away from company headquarters, we were protected from most weapons fire by terrain most times.
New to Combat
It seems to me that it was just four or five days that we saw the enemy without engaging them. Those days are a little hazy. I do not remember our officers telling us anything until the briefing after we arrived in Korea. There they told us some things that later turned out to be untrue, including, "The North Koreans are not well-trained," "They are armed with axes and pitch forks," "They have no motivation and will run given the chance." They told us other things too, but my memory is cloudy on this. I would like to believe that they were telling the truth as they knew it, but we soon discovered that the North Koreans were exceptionally well-trained and equipped.
In the beginning, the North Korean mortar gunners could fire two rounds from their mortar tubes and the third would hit the target they were aiming at. The circumstances in which we first discovered this were lousy. Later as the war wore on, their fire became less effective. I cannot say that about the Chinese. They were very well trained.
Our weapons were old and inadequate. The 2.5 rocket launcher was a joke. It was not until the 3.5 rocket launcher came in from the States that we finally had an effective weapon that would penetrate the armor of the Russian T34 tanks. During the second action we faced in the days just after our arrival in Korea, I heard that "A" Company could only use the back blast from the 2.5's to deter the North Korean Army. Supplies were also in short supply the first few weeks, but then it was better as things began moving. We did not have tank support until a week or so after we settled on the final Pusan Perimeter line.
Leadership at the battalion and regimental level did not seem to be as good as it should have been. In retrospect, perhaps this perception of officers was not a valid one. At one time our battalion officers said there would be no battle field fatigue. Shortly after that, he was going around talking like Donald Duck until they took him away. It did not affect anyone else as I recall. In retrospect, there was a lot of confusion in those first few days. We were told not to retreat from our positions in the Pusan Perimeter. That order was never fully communicated as I recall. The North Koreans did march through our lines once in a column of fours that extended forever. American soldiers did the best they could with what they had.
The Third Battalion was made up of a National Guard unit that came from the States to bring the Fifth Regiment up to full strength. We went to Korea with two battalions in the regiment instead of the three we should have. If blame is to be made, I would blame the Commander in Chief Harry Truman and his administration for gross negligence in allowing the military to fall into such a condition.
I served with some old salts from World War II when I first got to Korea (including both "A" Company Commander and the First Sergeant). They were not much help in getting those of us who had never been in war before acclimated to combat. Most were sent to Korea with the first batch of replacements. Most of us learned the trade of war "on the job." We learned that the only protection we had was the hole that we dug. The only protection came from the company's integrity.
Last Week of July
It may have been only our eighth day in Korea (July 25) when Company "A" engaged the enemy. The North Korean Army (NKA) were trying to drive American forces from the peninsula. I believe the battle was close to Chongju.
On July 24, we were trucked to the bottom of a long slope. When I jumped from the truck, the radio I had strapped to my back hit me and I was unable to carry it. My back was still hurting, but I was relieved of the sixty pound radio and was able to carry ammunition for those who needed it. My task was to stay at the rear and come up with the re-supply troops the next day. Our only meal was served on the 24th about dark. I remember not having any mess gear and that I had to eat out of my helmet. It was a good meal as I remember. I also remember that, on this day, one enlisted man, PFC George E. Smith, was killed in action.
The supply guys showed up the next morning and we started up the slope. All that was left of "A" Company was coming down the hill. The group that I was with fired covering fire for them as they came down. We learned that nine soldiers were killed on July 25, among them my friend Private James Driggers Jr. Of the nine killed that day, several besides James were also my friends. The story the survivors told was that the company on the left of "A" did not fire their weapons and left the position without equipment and ammunition. Those that were left in "A" Company retreated when they ran out of ammo.
It seems like we walked a long way the next day or so towards the south. We fought the next battle a few days later. "A" Company was on the front of a long ridge facing down the slope. There were several fingers running out from the slope. I remember a briefing by someone from either Battalion or Regimental Headquarters advising that the Air Force had destroyed any enemy in the town a short distance away.
The NKA attacked the next morning about an hour or two before sunrise. "A" Company retreated over the slope. The NKA had overrun the Weapons Company and "A" Company had to retreat over the hill under fire from our own heavy machine guns. During this action, my M1 malfunctioned and would not eject the spent shell automatically. In order to shoot at the enemy, I had to fire a round and then manually remove the empty casing by forcing the gas chamber rod back. The one hand grenade I threw did not explode. A few minutes later, I heard the First Sergeant, MSgt Fred E. Evenson, call, asking who was there. He said he heard firing and that the company was falling back across the top of the ridge. I was told that the weapons platoon was using the back blast from the 2.5 inch rocket launcher to stop the enemy. No member of the weapons company returned to the company after the withdrawal.
There were five KIAs and among them was John H. Garvin, Jr. John and I had been on the company track team at Camp McGill field less than two months before. We participated in the regimental and division track meet in Tokyo on May 29, 1950. The competition was held yearly, and those winning were placed on the Fifth Regiment team and then competed in the First Cavalry Division track meet held at Camp Drake near Tokyo. "A" Company won the meet with 53 points, with the runner up company being the 16th Reconnaissance Company of the Fifth Cavalry Regiment. [KWE Note: The high men in each event are listed in the Addendum of this memoir.] I placed fifth in the First Cavalry Division track meet held at Camp Drake on June 7 through June 9, 1950. Those from Company A were: Cpl. Doyle Gilbert, Pvt. LeRoy W. Eaton, Pfc. Frank Russell, Cpl. Virgil M. Martinell, Cpl. Virgil Kiser, Pfc. Laverne Gruber, Pvt. Charles F. Glenn, Pvt. John H. Garvin. On July 25, 1950, Russell, Gruber, Garvin, and Glenn were killed in the Pusan Perimeter stand.
As we fell back, we were hampered by the Weapons company's water-cooled thirty caliber machine guns. The NKA had overrun their position and were firing them along the top of the ridge. We moved about two or three miles after crossing the ridge. At one point small mortar shells were landing in the rice paddy. We were limited to a path of about thirty inches wide on the dike separating two rice paddies. Shortly thereafter my malfunctioning rifle found a home in the mud. During the next few days, "A" Company moved south.
After I hurt my back, I requested to be assigned to a rifle platoon. On the morning of August 1, the company was strafed by four night fighter aircraft. After our first two or three weeks in Korea, fire support was very good, but this particular time battalion had forgotten to put out the air recognition panels. Those were strips of colored material made out of something that looked like plastic. They were laid out in various standard arrangements set by the Air Force to identify Allied units. They were usually put out when a unit stopped moving. This time, because our battalion had moved at night to a new position, our battalion commander did not notify anyone. (That was the story I was told.) The planes made four passes before the air recognition panels were displayed. I remember laying in my foxhole wishing it was deeper and seeing the tracers ricochet off the ground and curve back up into the air. I don't think anyone was hurt from "A" Company in this strafing.
At one point on the way south, I saw a railroad bridge across a river destroyed. Engineers blew it the first time, but it still stood. Then a couple of Air Force bombers came in and dropped a center section of the bridge into the water. This bridge was, I believe, in Waegwan.
There was no tank support for the first two or three weeks in Korea. The first tanks to support us moved in behind us and during the next fire fight they fired over our positions. Very scary. The tanks did have a lot of fun though. They chased the enemy until they nearly ran out of fuel. It was the Air Force that saved the day. One day I counted over a hundred NKA tanks in one hour's driving.
The only death I had seen before coming to Korea was family who died from natural causes. After I got to Korea, the first dead enemy I saw was in the Naktong River in front of our positions. They had attacked in force at night and came across the river in a column of fours. When our weapons failed to work due to overheating, the order was given to fall back. The company returned to the river positions the next morning. Some of the NKA did get past us and were pursued by the reserve battalion. That afternoon, the NKA that were left made an attempt to get back across the river through "A" Company. The attempt was a failure. It was somewhere around this time that those survivors in "A" Company were awarded the coveted Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
My foxhole was about ten feet from the river on the bank of the Naktong. The foxhole was about five feet wide, five feet deep, and three feet wide. The day time was pretty nice when the weather was good. The nights were usually quiet with periods of sheer terror. As best I remember the area across the river was fairly flat for about a mile. We usually slept most of the day and were awake most of the night. Our front had about a mile or so of level ground that would have made a frontal assault in the daytime very difficult. We did have a few patrols and a tank or two make some attempts, but I do not remember anything major happening in the daytime. The nights were the time the enemy tried to overrun the company's position. Their attacks were usually accompanied by bugles and whistles. When the flares started going off, everything we looked at was trying to kill us. There was not much we could do when the signal indicating the final protective line fire came. All we could do was fire in our assigned zone and hope someone else was watching the front of our position.
The Naktong looked just like an American river. We did swim in it a time or two, but mostly we slept through the day time, as the attacks usually came in the morning. The order was "stand or die -- there will be no retreat." When we were in the Pusan Perimeter, we were in several skirmishes. I was never close enough to the enemy for hand to hand combat, and I do not remember ever having to put the bayonet on my rifle in a fire fight. The closest I came to the enemy in a fire fight was when the NKA came across the Naktong in great numbers, breaking through about two foxholes to my left. It was about 50 to 100 yards away. They concentrated in one spot and those of us near enough firing the final protective line fired until the weapons malfunction from overheating. One fifty caliber machine gun was destroyed with a thermite grenade to keep it from enemy hands. "A" Company did not rest while in the Pusan Perimeter. Every available soldier was on the line and only support personnel were behind the line.
To my dismay, I cannot remember my company commander’s name. He was a World War II captain who went back to his permanent rank of Sergeant First Class. In World War II, he had received a battlefield commission and rose to the rank of Lieutenant. During the Spring of 1950, his commission was reactivated. He was promoted to his battlefield commission and assigned to "A" Company, Fifth Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. He was a fair and very good commander. I think that a battlefield commission speaks for itself. In retrospect it was his leadership that brought some of the company out of very difficult circumstances.
In the Pusan Perimeter, artillery guns of every caliber were hub to hub as far as one could see, and fired continuously. After my transfer to Regimental Headquarters, there were times at night when we found ourselves a few feet from where we had laid down to sleep from the ground shaking. Tanks and anti-aircraft guns were also used as fire support, although we had no tank support for the first several days. During that time our only anti-tank weapon was the 2.5 bazooka. It was worthless against anything larger than a jeep. When the tanks finally came, they had a field day. They chased the Korean tanks until they were very close to running out of fuel. The tanks had moved in behind us during the night. When the morning attack came and they opened fire, it was a sight to see. Expecting light infantry, the NKA were surprised and the attack failed.
Both the North Koreans and the Chinese that I saw in Korea were mostly from twenty to about thirty years of age. I do not remember seeing any who were very old. I don’t think that the North Koreans were as good at fighting as the Americans. Their tactics were like the Russians at the time—mass frontal attacks with very little regard for the life of the infantryman. In some areas we could see the advance prior to the attack. They came in columns four abreast, walked over the dead, and still kept coming. The only way to stop them was by massive firepower. To the NKA and the Chinese, life was worthless. The American way of fighting was to maneuver and conserve the soldiers’ strength and lives.
The armament of the enemy consisted mostly of a Chinese-made sub machine gun that could fire a high cyclic rate of fire. They were not accurate, but they were very good for the type of fighting that they did. They had machine guns and I remember seeing one shoulder-fired .50 caliber anti-tank rifle. Most of the weapons they used were 7.62mm caliber. They used a knee mortar similar to the Japanese mortar in World War II. It was a small caliber mortar shell that was dropped into a tube supported on a person's knee and adjusted by swinging the tube in the direction of the target. I do not know the caliber, but it would have been either a 20 or a 40mm shell. They also had 120mm mortars. During the fighting in the Pusan Perimeter, they were very accurate with them. As the war progressed, their mortars and artillery firing became less accurate. Attrition of the gunners finally gave us a break, and mortar fire was less of a problem.
Our units all took casualties. Some were due to poor training. While I cannot remember the soldier's name, I do remember a replacement coming in one day who, a few days later, took a walk in front of the battle line and tripped a flare. The flare hit him under his arm and broke it in two places. One of my friends lost a leg in battle. He came by on a stretcher on a jeep, his one leg dangling and the other missing below the knee. He was happy though, and was waving his two good hands. He was from West Virginia and played the guitar professionally before joining the Army. I did not look him up after I got back, and through the years I have forgotten his name. I have often wondered about him, but since that day have no knowledge of him. I heard of soldiers I knew getting killed, but I did not see any of them when the casualty happened.
No South Korean non-military personnel were attached to our unit that I recall in the Pusan Perimeter. Our contact with the natives was minimal. We talked to the civilians a lot sometimes in the regular line of our work, but none of them worked for us except for one time when we hired a Korean man to carry several rolls of wire up to the top of a long pass. We were assigned to install the wire line on our side south of the pass. The pass was one way and traffic allowed to go one way for four hours, then the other way for four hours. As best I recall, we were at that spot for a couple of weeks.
The first couple of weeks, civilian Korean refugees were everywhere—usually on the road almost blocking us--all trying to get south out of harm's way. So were we. As I recall, the NKA infiltrated the lines through these lines. I do not know where they went except towards the south. The refugees were not unlike Americans. They had families and homes and didn’t want to lose them. They were not panic-stricken. They just were moving en masse to the south, causing a lot of confusion especially when we were going north and they were going south. The roads were almost impassable. Some of them could speak Japanese, but we did not have a chance to talk with many. Most carried their belongings on their backs. They used a devise that looked like an A-frame. There were some straps that they used to attach it to their shoulders.
After the first few months and in North Korea, the opportunity to intermingle with civilians came about. Sometimes we used their houses for shelter and sometimes just to talk to them. Most as I recall could speak Japanese which most of us could at least communicate in. Korea was occupied by Japan before and during World War II. Most Koreans did not speak well of the Japanese.
As for the South Korean soldiers, most that we saw were not very good fighters. Many times we were positioned behind them to keep them in place. The wire crews were always away from the company either repairing or installing lines. We only showed up at the company to eat and sometimes sleep.
During the months ahead in Korea, there were troops of other nationalities serving with or alongside of my company, too. Brits and Turks come to mind. I remember an Asian unit, too. I think it was Cambodian. They were all good fighters. There were also some P51s that flew over us occasionally from Australia. Other than being good soldiers, the ground troops were the same as the American forces. The Australian pilots were fun to watch coming back from a mission because they did slow rolls and other acrobatics when they returned.
Three Months to Mend
After about a month in the rifle squad, the First Sergeant came and asked me to take over the company communication's squad. I was there about two weeks when my appetite left me and I started losing weight. The company commander sent me to the medic's three times. They always sent me back. I had no fever and I had no blood leaking out. By this time my weight had dropped from 165 pounds to around 95 pounds. The company commander then sent me back with a note saying he did not want to see me back until I was well. In one way I was lucky. As the company commander's radio operator, I was close to him and he could see the results of whatever it was that made me sick. Others were not so lucky. They went to Japan with various ailments. Yellow jaundice was one of them.
They kept me in the hospital for a week, then sent me to regimental headquarters as a cook's helper, which also included delivering food to "A" Company. After a week of pills and good food, things began to improve, but it took about three months to get back to 150 pounds. They never did find out exactly what my ailment was. I suppose it was from eating fruit from the trees. While not plentiful, there were apple trees scattered around the area and the men in my company all ate them. The loss of appetite came back once again after I was back in the States and stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado. Fortunately, I could eat ice cream and after about a month the problem went away.
I left as cook's helper and was sent back to "A" Company. The day I returned to the company, I received a promotion. It was August 20, 1950. Two years and two days after enlisting on August 18, 1948, I received a promotion from PFC to Sergeant (E-5). A day or two later I received orders shipping me to HQ Company as a Wire Chief. My assumption is that the training I received and asked for in Japan had prepared me for the assignment and HQ Company had a need for a trained crew chief. I was very happy, and I liked the job as communications chief. Although I liked the job of being an infantry soldier, I was not stuck in a foxhole like I had been until asked to take over the company communications. Being wire chief was safer, more technical, and I was the lead person on a crew of four. I did not replace anyone that I know of, so when I arrived at HQ Company, a new crew was assembled for me. I cannot recall asking or being told why I was sent there except for the assignment.
My personal belief is that it was a fluke I was promoted to Sergeant. I believe that the rank should have been Corporal as the Company Commander told me. I do not think the position called for a higher rank. Since I was trained as a Communications Chief and the job responsibility included wire, when Regiment needed a sergeant with an MOS of Commo Chief, they saw they had one and transferred me. While my training as a rifleman had been almost entirely on-the-job, I used every skill I had learned in training and learned more on the job in Korea as a radio operator and wire crew chief.
Wire Crew Chief
About two weeks before the move north out of the Pusan Perimeter, I was transferred to Headquarters Company of the Fifth Regiment as a wire crew chief. This was around the first of September or perhaps later. I was assigned a jeep and driver and two wiremen. Our task was to lay a wire line from Regimental Headquarters to Battalion Headquarters, and then maintain it. It was usually between one and ten miles distance, but at times it was a much longer distance. I was responsible for the three men assigned to me and the equipment we used. I was given a driver, jeep, two men and the wire tools needed for the work and was told what our job would be. It remained the same for as long as I was in Korea.
I do not remember the names of my crew members. There was a corporal and two PFCs. One of the PFCs was the driver and all I can remember is that they were from the East. The driver was a coalminer before he joined the army. The corporal was of the Mormon faith and was in the Army to fulfill an obligation to a will. His grandfather had left him a large estate with the stipulation that he save so much money in three years. His only choice was the army. It would be my assumption that they all made it out of Korea. We were together for almost ten months and only lost one person for a few days to a wound.
Our movements were usually with the Battalion, then we had to find out where the Regimental Headquarters were and install the line. HQ Company was behind a hill a few miles from the front. The Pusan Perimeter artillery units were lined up in a dry river bed as far as you could see each way. They were constantly firing all the time. Many times we woke up and they would be a few feet from our tent. The ground constantly vibrated from every caliber of artillery piece the division had.
There were many tasks I completed myself because I had a personal rule: never send someone to do something I was afraid to do myself. For example, there was a ninety-foot pole that we had to climb. The four of us looked at the pole and no one wanted to climb it. I made the climb and sliced the wire myself for the stated reasons. Another time, a pole on a hill had to be climbed. It hung out over a valley, and was about two hundred feet in the air. If the pole broke, it would be a long way down. The pole did snap when I came down, but the crew managed to hold onto it until I could get off.
Each battalion was supported by one wire crew from Regimental Headquarters. Mine was assigned to the First Battalion. Whenever they stopped, we immediately tried to locate the Headquarters Company and install the wire line.
I had learned one lesson very well by the time I left the Pusan Perimeter. War is not like the movies. In movies guns never overheat. Ammunition never runs out. Twice in Korea my weapon ceased to fire because it was overheated. The first time was in the Pusan Perimeter when the North Korean Army (NKA) marched through us. We fired the final protective line of fire until weapons began to fail. Weapons overheated because they were fired too many times. Machine guns were the worst, especially the light air-cooled .30 caliber. Unless there was a spare barrel and the time to change and adjust the head space when it quit, it quit until it cooled down. Only once did I have the experience of running out of ammunition, and it was sort of a fluke. Several of us escorted prisoners to Pusan, and on the way back to our units we test-fired our weapons. Later that day we went through an ambush site that had recently been cleared. Had we had to fight, it would have lasted a short while in their favor as we had little ammunition to start with and used some of that test-firing our weapons.
By this time, we were adequately supplied. When we moved north, we did not lay any lines that I can remember until we were in North Korea due to the constant movement. After leaving the Pusan Perimeter, my unit went as far north as the Yalu, then to Seoul, and back to about the 38th parallel. I remember being at Seoul, Waegwon, Pyongyang, and Chipyong-ni. Sleep was hard to find time for and usually it was for a very short time.
After the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter occurred, I do not remember many halts until we were south of Seoul. There, it was a time to refit and reorganize, and I remember that we were on line behind a ROK unit. They were the front line defense and we were in support. The regiment then continued to move north, although the speed at which we moved escapes me. Sometimes we moved very quickly and others we moved only a few miles every few days. We moved north to Pyongyang with not many stops between. At Pyongyang, the 5th Regiment stopped and rested for several days. After finding our battalion, we installed the wire line. The task remained the same at each stop; it was the scope of the task that changed. My preference was to put it overhead whenever possible. It took us almost a day to install the line. The wire telephone line that we installed was usually a much heavier gauge wire than was used by the communication folks in an infantry company.
For the rest of the two weeks, we rested and cleaned equipment and clothing. We could not leave the compound without a reason. The other crews were busy as their lines were cut fairly often. Wire laying on the ground was easy prey to a civilian in need of a piece of wire for any purpose. Then it was north again until the regiment arrived just short of the Yalu River. My best recollection is that it took us about three or four weeks. At various places roadblocks had to be eliminated. We traveled in convoy, stopping at various places for sometimes a day or so to rest and for equipment maintenance. We usually slept on the ground as there were not many buildings around for shelter. There were a few times we took shelter in some of the local inhabitants' houses. There were not many people living in the war zone. Their houses had dirt floors. Usually they had a thatched roof and the floor was hollow. The Koreans build fires in a spot where the heat would go under the floor and heat the house.
When we finally stopped, we were not in a town, but were located in a hilly area. I was told the Yalu could be seen from the top of a ridge about a mile from where we stood, but I never went to see. I remember traveling at night and having to wait until morning to look for regimental headquarters so we could install the line. By the time we got there, the regiment was moving again so we did not lay a wire line. It was my assumption that all the other units were traveling like we were.
The weather was cold and rainy. In the summer we had worn regular fatigue clothing, but in the winter, our cold weather gear was artic boots with the felt liner and we usually had two or three pairs of socks on too. We wore the regular long johns that the Army used at that time with a regular fatigue uniform over them. In addition, we wore a sweater and parka. Sometimes a parka was not good to wear out working and we would wear a heavy sweater under our field jacket. Some wore a pullover wool cap and some wore the wool mask. I preferred the wool cap as it was much easier to wear. Being in the outdoor environment, nothing could adequately keep us warm. Very seldom did we find an abandoned building to use. If one was available, it was only for a night or two and usually crowded. We moved too often to really keep warm. It was, "Do the best you can." I had frost bite twice on both feet. I can't fault the boots as it happened in Germany later, too.
My crew went to scout a route to lay a line to the 1st Battalion when the road caved and our jeep slipped off the road almost into the river. It was raining that day. We cut a pole and propped the jeep up so it would not slide into the river, and started walking in the rain. After about five miles we found a group of men from our company in an abandoned barn. The jeeps they were driving had stalled because they were wet. A driver and I, with one of the other crew chiefs, worked on a jeep until we finally got it running. Then we started towards our company. The jeep stopped several times and we arrived at our company about 0100 hours. Our bedrolls were supposed to be there, but they were not. After a very cold night, one of the service group drivers took us in a wrecker to get our jeep. We picked up my men at the barn they were located at and went to the jeep. The wrecker let out the cable on the winch and hooked it to the front of our jeep. The men cut the bank away with shovels so the jeep would slide down without turning over. Then the wrecker driver winched it across the river and we returned to Headquarters company for something to eat.
It was here or another location nearby that we observed Thanksgiving day. The meal was the traditional turkey and dressing with all the trimmings. At this time I took the opportunity to visit "A" Company. There were not many of those that came from Japan with the company there. The next day or so our platoon leader and the Recon platoon leader flipped coins to see which of the two roads their respective platoons would take south from our position near the Yalu River. By this time, the Chinese were coming across the Yalu, although I did not see any Chinese at this time. The only person to survive from the Recon platoon was the driver of the last vehicle. The Chinese had set an ambush up on the road they took. The last vehicle in the column was the only one that was able to escape the entrapment of the roadblock. It was at this point we were in an area waiting to proceed when personnel from the 23rd Infantry Regiment went through our unit. They came in groups, some with weapons and some without weapons. They straggled by for about twelve hours. There were lots of walking wounded in the groups. All we could do was help them get to the aid station.
A large number of guys from Company A were killed. Among them were the following:
When the trip south started, it was faster than the advance north. Everyone was moving south, including the Korean Army. Rifle companies were engaged in delaying actions as we moved. We were in reserve only a short time when we got the order to move toward Chipyong-ni. The weather was cold and there was snow on the ground. The best I can remember, the temperature was between ten and thirty degrees. When we went in, we were told that we were rescuing a unit that was surrounded by the Chinese. The unit that was surrounded at Chipyong-ni was not from our unit. L Company of the Fifth Regiment was mounted on tanks to break through the encirclement. Most of them were shot off the tanks. The tanks did break through the encirclement and the Chinese withdrew.
Mostly radio communications were used until the battle was over, then the wire lines were installed and communications were handled by telephone. I was not involved in the fighting. My crew followed the First Battalion, entering Chipyong-ni after the rifle companies had already cleared it. Our job was to install and maintain the telephone lines from regimental headquarters to the first battalion headquarters. Many times this meant moving with the first battalion to their new location, then start installing the telephone line back to regiment. Our work took us into areas that were supposedly free of enemy, but there were many times when we were in danger from snipers and artillery. Our biggest problem was that there were too many places to watch for something bad to happen. There were only three of us plus the driver on the wire crew, and many times we worked alone without others near. We often came upon a road block, but fortunately for us, we were never the first there and the road was generally clear when we went through. Once the line was installed, we usually stayed at Regimental Headquarters and maintained the line when necessary.
I was able to look at the battlefield because we were laying wire lines near it. We did not have the time to talk to the soldiers who had been surrounded, but one thing was very apparent. The air-dropped supplies were damaged upon landing. We heard of some mortar shells that had exploded in the tubes when firing. I saw one machine gun position that had two double apron barbed wire fence obstacles in front of it. The Chinese had come in a column of fours and the column walked over the fences on the bodies of dead. I saw a ten-foot high pile of dead enemy bodies. The machine gun position had dead bodies all around it. One could see where the gunner had pulled the bodies away from in front of his position in order to fire over them.
I cannot say which was worst--the fighting in the Pusan Perimeter or at Chipyong-ni, but I do not remember seeing dead Americans until after the battle of Chipyong-ni was over. I later read an article that mentioned the number of casualties at Chipyong-ni. However, I was standing along the road trying to find a way to install a communication line when many standard 6x6 trucks came by. They were loaded with dead Americans. I did not think of counting the trucks, but it seems to me that there were more than twenty. The soldiers were stacked like cord wood. They were all stiff like they were frozen. I don't think that the numbers of casualties mentioned in that article added up to the number of dead I saw in those trucks. I remember thinking, "Thank God this battle is over," because it could just as easily have been me in one of those trucks carrying dead GI's.
That was the day I went from being a happy-go-lucky soldier with no worries or fears, to one with lots of fears. I really think it was the day I grew up, with still three months to my 21st birthday. A young 20-year old does not think of death. It always happens to someone else. The fear I had that day was death and what it might mean to my mother and brothers. From that day on, fear was always in the back of my mind. We had a job to do that had to be done. Petty fears large or small were not a hindrance to myself or to those in my crew I worked very closely with each day. I was the wire chief, so as the leader of the crew, my feelings were held inside. Only later when I reflected that event did I realize how many had died for so little.
I saw some examples of the North Korean brutality both on civilians and American fighting men while I was in Korea, but it just didn't soak in until later. I saw trenches dug by the North Korean Army and civilians stood in front of it and shot. One was a whole village. The NKA did not have time to cover the trench before the USA arrived.
While on the front line, we kept clean the best way we could. If we were near a stream or river, we could swim if there was time. There was always water available for shaving when time permitted. For the first few weeks when we were on the Pusan Perimeter, we were dug in on the Naktong River bank. The opportunity was there every day to bathe. After that, it was rather haphazard. I remember the shower stations set up where we could get a shower and change of clothes.
We had no leisure time while I was in Korea. If we were in reserve and the communication lines were in, we cleaned and repaired the equipment for the next time it was needed. The hardest thing about being in Korea for me was the physical exertion that it took to stay alive.
The first few weeks, food was scarce. I remember one day getting one cracker and three cherries for a meal. The food was divided up by our platoon commander. It was one or two days later that rations arrived, and several got sick from eating too much. After I moved from A Company to Headquarters Company, meals were usually the usual food served to the military. I remember lots of canned meats and vegetables. One time when we were near Seoul, I was asked to accompany another NCO who had to make a trip to the city. We had dinner at a local restaurant. I had steak and potatoes, which was good. The best food I ate in Korea was Thanksgiving 1950, when the meal we were served outdoors was the traditional turkey dinner. I missed all of the food back at stateside, most especially ice cream.
USO shows came to Korea during my stint there. I saw Bob Hope and his group. I think it was the Andrews Sisters. From where we were standing, you couldn't see well but the sound was okay. Best I remember the show lasted about an hour. Another time when the crew and I were working on a wire line, we saw a group go past in a Jeep. They were a country music group. I think that one was Grandpa Jones from the Grand Ole Opera. There were two or three ladies in the group, too.
I made some acquaintances in Japan, but no real friends. Two men in my platoon in Japan were Kenneth Riley and George smith. They were orderly room clerks. I saw both at Fort Riley, Kansas, when I was waiting on orders for a new assignment after Korea. They were jus two fellows who had been in the same room with me. I remember a few times going on pass with them, but at that time I was usually out by myself. some of the others in "A" Company had similar interests as I, and a group of us went out on weekend days and walked and ran for many miles while we were stationed in Japan. At that time "A" Company was stationed at Camp Barry a few miles from Camp McGill.
Most of the time that I was in Korea I felt I was in personal danger. When in "A" Company, the enemy was mostly in front of us. In HQ Company we were usually out by ourselves and many times were isolated from other units. It was one constant watch for the enemy snipers or roadblocks.
There were not many laughs in Korea. Some funny things did happen, but the humor just wasn't there. I do remember a night swim that we once took. We were going cross country one night installing a wire line when we came to a swift river about a hundred or more feet across. I couldn't ask one of the crew to do what I was afraid to do so I took off all my equipment and took the end of the wire and started across the river. About halfway across, I stepped on a round stone and fell down in the swift current. The current was so swift I could not get up. Since I had the wire wrapped around my body, I just held my breath. One of my crew members saw me go down and they set the brake on the wire drum. The current carried me to shore with the brake set. When I climbed out of the water, my crew sure had a good laugh. The next trip across was a little slower. At least I didn't have to go to the shower point to get a shower. I had already had a bath.
Another time we were laying wire along a road when we came to an area that was ready for inspection by some high ranking officer. They had the air recognition panels laid out for the helicopter landing zone. A flight of C-47s came over and mistook the landing zone for a drop zone. They proceeded to drop communication wire on what they perceived to be the drop zone. Needless to say, the area, which was a headquarters unit, did not look quite like it did before the wire attached to parachutes dropped on top of the area. The crew and I thought it was really funny to see the planes drop the load of wire and flatten several of the perfectly aligned tents.
Mail was delivered daily and if I remember correctly, it usually came when around mealtime. When we were out working, as we were most of the time, we usually saw the clerk when we were close and checked for mail. Mostly family was sending to me from back home. They sent things for Christmas and Mother sent me things that I asked for. Since I sent money home, it was mostly paid for with what little money I asked her to spend for the things. I asked for a Coleman gas stove and Mother sent it. It was the kind that fit in a quart container--very small and easy to carry. I had it for about five months before someone stole it. Another frequently received item from the States was homemade candy. While other mail usually arrived in good condition, the candy was usually all melted together.
There were a few times during the early going that I went to services in Korea presented by chaplains of different denominations. After leaving "A" Company, it seemed the time never was available to try and find a place to worship. Many practiced religion privately.
I did not smoke or drink in Korea, and there was very little time to gamble in the work we did. Cigarettes were in the rations or could be found in other places. Drink was unavailable for a time. Pabst Blue Ribbon sent many cases of beer and Coke to Korea marked on the cans, "To be issued free to the troops." The ration usually consisted of one can or bottle of either--when it came. After a while the WCTU complained that young men were being given alcohol. They forced Pabst to quit sending it. Pabst then sent writing portfolios with the words, "We can't send beer, but we can send something to write home with." To this day, I have no respect for anyone or anything connected to the WCTU.
The only American women I saw in Korea were some Red Cross women and a few nurses. I did not have any contact or visit any of the Red Cross activities. The nurses I saw were when we were moving into a battle and the hospital was being dismantled for movement to the rear. I believe part of the equipment was destroyed because of the nearness of the Chinese. UN forces did not want to let the equipment fall into their hands.
R&R to Home
After the withdrawal south from the Yalu area, I got R&R in Japan. My platoon leader asked me if I wanted to go home or to Japan on R&R. I picked R&R. I celebrated my 21st birthday during this trip. I do not remember much of that day that I would like to pass on. I did have a good time, but would have had a better time if they had sent me to Yokohama where I had some experience. I spent the R&R in Sasebo, Japan, sightseeing and enjoying hot baths. The five days went very quickly. Little did I know that I actually could have gone home instead of on R&R at the time. My platoon leader asked me every week after I got back if I was over the R&R. I answered "No Sir." After one particular trying day about a month or six weeks later, he asked me again and that time I said, "Yes." He said, "Pack your bag. You are leaving tomorrow for the States. He also told me that I could have gone sooner if I had said so. The next day I started on my way home, arriving home almost to the day a year after I landed in Korea.
I do not remember much about the last day with the unit. There was a corporal who was my second in command who took the crew over. I was pretty glad. I was getting burned out doing the things we had to do. I do not remember exactly how I got from the unit to the point of embarkment to go home. My best recollection was that a truck took us back to the center where we were kept for three or four days to insure we were all healthy. I do not remember anyone failing the medical exams. Then we were taken to the ship by truck and taken to Sasebo, Japan. I left Korea the second or third week of June 1950.
When we arrived at Sasebo, we were taken by truck to a large barracks compound. We were told to strip and leave everything on the ground. All we could take with us from the quadrangle was our wallet and belt. After that we were issued a full set of clothing. We boarded a troop ship and headed for home.
My year in Korea had been one continual day with many moments of fear and panic. During that year I did learn how to control both.
Back in the States
Other returning veterans and I were on the US General Simon B. Buckner, but I did not know anyone who I had served with in Korea. The mood on the ship was very good. The weather was fine and while I did see some seasickness, there wasn't much. I didn't have any duty on the ship as it was staffed by merchant marine sailors. The ship was in transit on July 7, 1951. I have a copy of the ship's newspaper. The paper did not give the ship's location, but it must have been close to the United States since I sent a telegram to Mother on July 19, 1951, telling her that I would be home on Friday at 1230. By that time I was on a train in the states, heading home.
There were firefighting ships in the bay when we pulled in. Lots of smaller boats were circling around. The fire boats had the water turrets on and it was a fine show. It was not a particularly emotional time for me as the ship drew near to land because I was still over 2,000 miles from where I wanted to be. There were many high school marching bands playing. It was very emotional seeing those things after a year of darkness.
We disembarked at Fort Lawton near Seattle. We unloaded by name and were put on trucks. Once off the ship, some returning veterans got down and kissed the ground. I had a lot of miles to go before I could do the same. There were only about 1900 enlisted me on the ship with about a thousand dependents. I do not know how the dependents got off. When the truck pulled out and went through Seattle on the way to Ft. Lawton, all the town's people were throwing ticker tapes and cheering us as we went along. It made one feel very good. I did not leave the barracks that night. The next day we were processed, given orders, train tickets and meal vouchers, and taken to the train station. I do not remember much except the rough ride and that I did not see many other veterans after a while.
I had been away from home for almost three years and the one thing I missed most was the smell of fresh cut alfalfa. I stood outside the railroad car most of the way from the Nebraska line until we arrived in Fremont, Nebraska. Nothing eventful happened on the trip home. The train only stopped at one small town and that was where I sent the telegram telling my mother that I was on the way home. What I did not tell her was that I would arrive in the A.M. instead of P.M. The train left me in Fremont. I talked to a taxi driver about how much it would cost me to go to North Bend near where my mother and stepfather were living. He dropped me off at the local sheriff's station and the sheriff called one of the neighbors who went over to my folks and got them up. They were surprised to see me at that time of the morning.
My leave was thirty days. Home in the middle of July was not much fun. I bought a car and my brother Zane, who was home on a two-week leave from basic and on his way to Korea, and I went out to see all the relatives we had not seen in years in the Litchfield and Sumner, Nebraska areas where we had lived earlier. Some were surprised to see me as the radio had reported my name among the KIA's. We visited with lots of cousins, too, during that week. I spent the last three weeks of my leave just relaxing. Malaria hit me twice during that time. It was the first time it bothered me. Several times after that during the next few weeks the attacks kept coming.
When my leave was over, I was sent to Fort Leavenworth for reassignment. There were only two people I had met in Korea that I saw when I was at Fort Riley after my leave. I saw some others from A Company later, but again only conversed in passing about how each other was doing. Most were like myself and on a very short time of enlistment. I had been extended by Truman for an extra year of duty. About six months into that period, I decided to reenlist and did so for an unspecified length of time.
The MOS I had in Korea was for a Communications Chief, but I was not trained for the job until the summer of 1952 when I was sent to the communications school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Just about as soon as I came back from school, I was sent to Wisconsin to Chemical and Biological Warfare School. I did not get to finish as I was recalled for overseas shipment. I was shipped to a field artillery unit in Germany where I was assigned to a communications platoon as Communications Chief.
During my tour of duty in Germany, I learned that my brother was wounded in Korea. Zane had been trained as an engineer, but after he arrived in Korea, he was sent to an infantry company and served as a Browning Automatic Rifleman. He was wounded with three bullets in his right ankle. He spent his recuperation in Japan and was sent back to Korea--this time as a jeep driver. He was in the war zone for less than a year, I believe. Neither of us has felt comfortable telling each other about our Korean experience.
I was in a field artillery unit in Swaabish Hall, Germany, serving as communications chief when I got the news that he had been wounded. I knew that his wound was not life threatening; still, hearing that he was wounded and still alive, I just had concern about him. My parents were farm folks and Mother had three brothers in World War II. My stepfather was also a veteran of World War II who did not serve active duty because he was over age. Both knew and understood the degree of my brother's wounds and that he would recover eventually. My brother got a pension from the government when he was discharged. The wounded ankle bothered him at times because they had to put a silver plate in it to repair the damage to the bone.
While in Germany, I tried to get reassigned to Japan or Korea. I requested transfer back to Korea, and I asked for an infantry position. I spent a year in the infantry. After a couple of years in Germany, the Army was needing NCO's for helicopter school. I applied twice and was told I was too important to let go. I had met the requirements of my enlistment so I resigned from the Army. Again, it took three times to get the paperwork through as it seemed to get lost. Back home, I investigated the possibility of returning to the Army. However, they would never guarantee where I would be sent. They gave me lots of promises, but I was not interested in promises.
After discharge I went around to visit with all my relatives that I had not seen for several years. Then I found a job at a local factory doing carpentry and making furniture. Since my youngest brother had left for the Navy, my stepfather asked me to stay at home and help him, which I did. I helped him before I went to work and after I came home. My stepfather had about forty head of cows to milk and sold his milk to a dairy. After I got married and moved to Illinois, he sold his herd as it was just too much work for him by himself.
I had no trouble adjusting to civilian life after leaving the Army. At home 0430 was time to get started doing the farm chores. The Army always started early and in Japan we were usually up at 0430. Our company commander gave us the option of falling out early for physical training and then showering and changing, have breakfast and fall out for our regular training day about an hour after every other company. In Germany, the early start was 0530, an easy rise time.
I married Margery Lucille Rennels from Charleston, Illinois, on February 22, 1956, in Nebraska. We lived in Nebraska until late June 1956, then moved to Charleston, Illinois. We lived in Mattoon and Tuscola most of the 15 years that I worked at the United States Industrial Chemical Company near Tuscola, Illinois. I took several electronic courses for work as an Instrument Technician while I was there. Through training and self study, I progressed to the Class A Instrument Technician level, continuing until 1970, when I changed companies. I moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, and began a new job as an Instrument Technician at Eli Lilly's new facility at Clinton, Indiana. By mid-1970, the Lilly plant had grown so as to need more technicians. I supervised eight technicians for an eight-hour shift. During this time, the plant offered some night courses from Indiana State University.
As I progressed at Lilly, I needed to know more about industrial control, so I continued my university studies in this area. For the most part I tended to try and stick with the older group of students. Not all the younger students were interested in learning. They were after a good time. There were some classes where I was the oldest with two young students. In those cases we complemented each other. We all learned from each other. I graduated from Indiana State University with a Bachelor's degree in Electronics in the spring of 1990. My final work at Lilly consisted of managing the company's Maintenance Procedures as required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). I began working as an Engineering Technician in the early 1980s. My responsibilities included maintenance procedures and different projects needing engineering help. I retired in 1990 when the company had an incentive plan to reduce the number of employees.
My wife and I had two sons. David was born October 7, 1956, and Robert was born December 14, 1957. David died on July 21, 2000 at Regional Hospital in Terre Haute. He was never married and lived alone. Robert was married twice. The first marriage resulted in two girls who are 24 and 25 now. His second marriage resulted in two boys who are the ages of 11 and 12. Bob is a Food Supervisor at a state correctional facility. His wife Nancy is a Registered Nurse working in Intensive Care at a local hospital. Marge and I are blessed with babysitting as both Bob and Nancy work shifts, even though they try to keep their schedules so that they don't work the same days.
In my retirement, I continue my hobbies of amateur radio, flying radio-controlled model planes, stamp collecting, and genealogy. Other hobbies that I discontinued were target shooting, hunting and fishing.
When I went to Korea, most of us were near the same age (20) except for the non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers. I think Korea gave us the opportunity to grow up. I expect I did change. Those of us who went into combat together rarely talk about it unless it is some funny thing that happened. We were for the most part more reserved than the younger soldiers. Even now when I talk to those who served with me in Korea, we rarely talk about what we saw or what we did.
I think my mother knew I had changed, although she never said anything. As I mentioned earlier, I was physically changed in that I had malaria attacks that I had never had before. Mother worried because the attacks continued, but eventually they got further and further apart and less severe. I had two or three attacks after I was married, but then they quit reoccurring.
Emotionally, there were changes in me, too. When I arrived home from Korea, I could see at night as well almost as in the daytime. It took many years and lots of comments from my wife before I could stop watching the ditches and areas along the road instead of paying attention to the road itself. To this day while driving I can still catch myself looking not at the road but the ditches and fields on either side of the road.
I think that the United States should have gotten involved in the Korean War like it did. As I understand it, the South Koreans and United States had some sort of security agreement. There were US troops in Korea when the North Koreans invaded, and it was imperative for the safety of those men and their families and the South Korean civilians that the US step in. In my opinion, MacArthur had no choice but to go north of the 38th parallel, as a general protection of the force was most important. Unfortunately, it was not as important to the president of the United States who sent us there in the first place.
At the time I was in Korea, I did not perceive it to be a country worth fighting for. In retrospect and with far greater knowledge than I had then, I understand the importance of the intervention. The impressions I had mentally during the year I spent in Korea gave me some insight as to the importance. It was only after I was safe and had time to reflect that year that I became very convinced that we were doing the right thing.
The part I still have trouble with is the fact that we were sent to Korea by a president that had let the military degenerate into a shameless condition, then sent troops to war with worn out weapons and equipment. It sends chills down my back sometimes to reflect upon the young men I was with and how they did the best they could with what they had. We could only see emotions in our fellow soldiers' faces. We wanted to cry, but we had a job to do, so we couldn't. It was just too bad that the people who sent us were not along to help. It might have caused some of them to realize just how fragile peace is. The worst mistake of the war came from Truman. When China intervened in Korea, they should have been treated with heavy bombardment on the north side of the Yalu.
I believe that we did not win the war in Korea. Instead, it was lost because of politics. Not much good came out of the Korean War with the exception that at least South Korea is free today. What it should have taught our country's leadership was to give the military its mission and then let them do it. Vietnam was a perfect example of non-military big heads trying to run a war that should have been winnable. As to US troops still being present in South Korea, I think it is probably a good idea. With North Korea's horrible economy and living conditions, they would, if possible, start the war all over again.
I have followed the recent stories about the 7th Cavalry at Nogun-ri regarding claims of Americans killing civilians. These stories are typical of the stupidity of the news reporters. They forget that the North Koreans were trying to kill us and that many times they advanced toward our positions with civilians in front of them. I was contacted by someone in the defense department a couple of years ago, but I haven't heard anything since. To give some perspective on this issue, I know that one of the units in the First Cavalry had some men captured and executed with their hands tied behind their back. A Chaplain who went to beg for their lives received the same treatment.
An order had to come down from above to take prisoners. It was really moot anyway because they were always attacking and the possibility of capturing them was nil. Hundreds of Americans were taken prisoner and were never returned. I suppose that the US government is now doing the best it can to try to recover our nation's missing in action in the Korean War. I did see a jail in Korea that had names of American soldiers on the walls. When I saw them, there were no soldiers or bodies.
War is hell and no one sane likes it. But war is inevitable and there will always be war somewhere. There are those who are delusional enough to think that we need never to go to war. Perhaps someday there will be no war, but that time is many lifetimes away. All I have told my children about Korea are some of the funny things or lessons that I learned. I told my grandsons that I spent a year on a "camp out." No veteran that I know has sat down and went into detail about what he did or didn't do in Korea. Young men and women have to experience war themselves to be able to understand war.
I received the Combat Infantry Badge (CIB) as the result of my combat tour in Korea. This was an award only for those on the front lines and came from my time in "A" Company. I also received the Korean Service Medal with five bronze campaign stars. The stars were for serving during the first five Korean campaigns. The only one that really means anything to me other than a representation that I was there is the Combat Infantry Badge. It is earned only by being in the infantry and under fire.
I have found about ten men from the Fifth Regiment through the years. Most are from "A" Company. This spring I intend to go to the reunion at Fort Hood, Texas, and perhaps meet some of the other survivors of the Fifth Regiment.
No matter what war they served in, all veterans have one thing in common: They have "been there." Especially those who served on the front lines. As a member of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, I have never asked or been asked which war I served in. I usually tell someone I meet that I am a Korean vet if they are wearing something that identifies them with a particular conflict. An example was when I was attending my granddaughter's graduation from Advanced Basic. I saw a young soldier wearing a First Cavalry patch on his right shoulder. A patch on the right shoulder signified that the soldier had served in the First Cavalry during a war period. I asked him what his unit in the Cavalry was. I told him that I was a Korean War veteran from the Fifth Regiment and then I congratulated him and wished him well.
I am a member of the two veteran's organizations because I want to support those who go in harm's way in the future. My mother and stepfather belonged to the American Legion for many years. They both encouraged me to join and participate. I have not been an active participator in either the Legion or the VFW, but they are great organizations in which to belong.
Serving in the military in combat has made me more mindful of what politicians say and do. It has also given me the ability to think of other solutions to a problem. Unfortunately, it has not helped my worst bad habit of saying exactly what I think at the time. This is a problem which has caused me grief from time to time.
- End of Memoir -
Troopers Tribune, Vol. 2, No. 30, 10 June 1950