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Charles Joseph Eberlin
"Like everyone there, I missed home, and mainly wondered more than once if I would ever make it back home. As we got ready for each new engagement with the enemy, those feelings increased. I had the feeling that my luck might run out eventually. After 11 or 12 months in Korea, the closer we got to rotation, the worse this feeling got."
- Charles Eberlin
My name is Charles Joseph Eberlin. I was born on October 22, 1929, on a farm near Chesterfield, Missouri, a son of Joseph Edwin and Viola Marie Barklage Eberlin. I was named after my Uncle Charles and my father. We later moved to Roxana, Illinois, and I finished middle school there. Then we moved to Godfrey, Illinois, just outside of Alton after we inherited my grandparents' fruit farm, and I went to high school in Alton. My grandparents were in failing health so we moved there to operate the 40-acre farm, which had 1800 trees.
My parents were Joseph Edwin and Viola Maria Barklage Eberlin. They were not immigrants, but I am sure their parents were from France and Germany. My father's family was located in Brussels, Calhoun County, Illinois. My mother was from the St. Louis area. My father was a pipe-fitter for Shell Oil Company in Roxana and also ran the farm. We sold fruit to the town of Alton and nearby locations. Before my father went to work for Shell Oil Company, he was in the WPA during the Great Depression years. My mother was busy raising five children. With that many kids to support, my whole family was extremely poor.
I had four brothers and one sister, and all of us were born in the United States. We were a very close family. My sister is the oldest. She is still living at the age of 81. My older brother Floyd, who served two hitches with the Seabees in Vietnam, died at the age of 69--not from the war. He was a year and a half older than me. I have two younger brothers. Harold was a year and a half younger than me. He served in Korea after the cease-fire took effect. My other brother Larry was eight years younger. He served his time in the Marine Corps stateside.
I was a well-behaved child because I had stern parents, especially a stern father. He died at the age of 41, so with my older brother serving in the Navy (later the Seabees), I was basically in charge of the farm at age 14. My mother and we five kids ran the farm for at least four or five years. Since help was scarce, we employed the help of the young boys in the Western Military Academy in Alton to help us harvest the crop. It was strictly a volunteer effort on their part and the best we could do. We had a hired hand worker to assist so we could finish high school. During the winter months when work slowed down at the farm, I had a small job after school delivering groceries for a local grocery store. I was 16 and had my driver's license.
I liked my teachers. They were very instructive and taught me well. I paid attention during class and never took assignments home after school because I had farm work to do. I never joined or belong to any such group as ROTC. I never had the time or money for it. I was never in the Boy Scouts and I didn't participate in any sports because of the farm either. Later I was a fast softball pitcher and did real well. A group from school formed a boy's club in North Alton and the adults of North Alton sponsored it and kept watch on us. It was labeled the "Bow Tie Club." We wore bow ties to the dances around town for fun, and I was the president. Our meeting place was an abandoned grade school.
The outbreak of World War II didn't affect my family that I remember. I don't recall losing any relatives or suffering. I am sure that there were students and adults who did many things to support the war, but we were so busy running the farm that we didn't get too much involved other than the fact that my brother Harold and I took a plow and a team of horses all over town and plowed victory gardens for many, many residents. That was a major contribution in the war effort. Because of the war, food supplies throughout the country were less, especially fresh vegetables, so we plowed gardens in back yards, side lots, or wherever there was space for a garden so people could grow their own food. We were only in our early teens, but we made a few bucks.
I worked for Owens Illinois when I was 17-18 years old. The company was one of the largest corporations that manufactured glass containers. It was headquartered in Toledo, Ohio, but was also worldwide and diversified in other products. I was in production for six months, then they transferred me to the accounting department. Initially I worked as an accounting clerk, doing payroll and budget jobs. By that time my father had died and Mom had sold the fruit farm and moved to St. Louis for a short time. She later went back to Alton. I lived with a friend who got me the job; then when Mom moved back, I moved back in with her and my two younger brothers still at home.
In 1948, while I was working for Owens Illinois, I joined the Marine Corps Reserves in St. Louis, across the river from Alton, Illinois. At the time, guys my age could be drafted. I felt that if I had to go into service, I wanted the Marines--the best. I didn't know any Marines personally, but all through the World War II years I had always admired them. I don't really remember much about the Marine reserve unit in St. Louis. I was there for such a short time--and not full time, that I never had an awareness of how many reservists were there. I don't remember attending any reserve meetings. They were held at night after my working hours. Before much involvement with them, I was activated for the Korean War.
I didn't attend any summer camps with the reserve unit. When the war broke out the Marines were short on men. I was sent to Parris Island to go through boot camp, and then went on to Camp Pendleton for more training. I think everyone had heard about Korea through the media, but I was never aware of too much detail about it while my training was going on. My family and friends were down and expressed great support mentally. Like anyone, I didn't want to go to war, but I knew that I was destined because I had signed as a Marine.
I traveled alone to Parris Island from Illinois. As we got closer to Parris Island, others who were going into the training program seemed to accumulate on the train from all over. We were all scheduled to attend boot camp during the fall of 1950 for eight weeks. When we finally stopped to disembark, there were several buses waiting to haul us to the island. The first act of discipline was a drill instructor got on the train to address us. Marine Corps drill instructors are commonly referred to as DIs. This one was wearing no stripes, not even a PFC stripe. He pointed to the Marine Corps emblem on his collar and belted out, “Anyone wearing this emblem is in charge over you, so pay attention.” He went on to say, “The last asshole off of this train and into those buses will answer to me.” You had to be there, otherwise you couldn’t believe the scrambling. It’s a wonder someone didn’t get hurt. And rest assured, I wasn’t last.
Parris Island was located off the coast of South Carolina. There was only one main entrance to my knowledge. The island was completely surrounded by heavy currents (like Alcatraz), which made it impossible to swim off the island. It was too far and too dangerous.
About the second day after my arrival on Parris Island, I was sorry I had joined the Marine Corps. This was while I was being checked in, standing naked for hours, being always shouted at, being called names, and the DIs never letting up on anything. But after a while I started to develop a sense of pride about myself that I was man enough to take as much as they wanted to dish out right on up to graduation.
We had six DI’s to start with and later only four. None that I recall had any prior war service. I only remember my head DI by name, Paul Myers. (The name might be spelled Meirs, I'm not sure.) Later when I was in Korea, I found out that he had been sent to Korea for maltreatment of a boot. He had made him scrub his ears out with a scrub brush and he received an ear infection. Throughout boot camp, things of that nature always occurred.
We were disciplined in all ways, from getting out of bed in unison to going to bed, etc. In addition, we spent a week on the rifle range. But first there was a week of snapping-in to learn all about the rifle and how to use it without ammunition. We had bayonet practice, two weeks of mess duty, washing our clothes with sand and rocks, guard duty, acting as a company runner delivering messages from one unit to another, marching, marching, marching, and exercise a plenty. There was more, I am sure, during those 11 weeks of boot camp.
We got up at 4:30 a.m. and fell out of the barracks in platoon formation. Then we ran for two miles at a good speed around the parade ground before getting back in formation and being marched to the mess hall. It was only next door, but it took us several minutes to get there. In the beginning, some of the men passed out from the run. After chow we got back into formation and the smoking lamp was lit. That meant we could smoke a cigarette—but only one. Then we returned to the barracks and obtained our guidebook, rifle, and whatever was necessary for the day. But always as we left the barracks it was first in platoon formation and then marching to wherever we went. As we first started boot camp, initial visits to the doctors, etc., were in order before we developed a routine of actual mental and physical training.
Sometimes we were awakened in the middle of the night by the DI for different reasons and again, discipline. It could be because someone was caught smoking or didn’t reply to the DI correctly. I remember that once I stuck my guidebook under my pillow when I shouldn’t have. When we returned, the barracks was completely torn apart. Everyone was punished for my mistake. We scrubbed the barracks floor down with our toothbrushes. Not too easy.
In addition, for not placing an item in the right place, two of us had to stand on a table, one at each end, and shout to the rest, “Don’t ever put anything in the wrong spot.” All the men had to stand around the table and watch. No one could laugh. Another time I was asked what the serial number was on my bayonet. I said, “I don’t know.” I should have answered that there weren’t any serial numbers on a bayonet. As a result, I had to go down the hall that night to the DI’s room, stand at attention, knock three times on the outside of the door before I was admitted, take three 30-inch steps, and stop on an X on the floor. When we were at attention, we couldn’t look down to see the X, so I had to do it several times before I got it right. Then I was severely disciplined with much rough language. It was a never-ending situation. I got in trouble on more than one occasion.
No one was left out of being disciplined. One guy complained about having teeth pulled. While marching he was ordered to scare the sea gulls out of the way, which only flew up and came right back down again. He had to do this for three or four weeks every day. One night he was going after the DIs with a bayonet. We stopped him. He broke up, cried, and was sent to the medical building. He returned a short time later and the punishment was increased. No one was going to get out of the Corps the easy way, as they put it.
Sand fleas were a problem on the island. One guy swatted one on his neck and the entire platoon had a funeral march to bury the sand flea. This happened during a combat program at night. No one was supposed to move or our position could be given away. Then he swatted the flea. Many times anyone singled out to be disciplined for whatever reason got the whole platoon involved. One guy said something back during rifle inspection and we wound up cleaning our rifles all day—on Christmas Day. There weren’t any real troublemakers, just dumb mistakes. For example, one tall black man was forced to do rifle drills in the lobby area of the barracks and when he did parade dress with his rifle, he accidentally knocked out the hanging light fixture.
The DIs were trying to teach us future requirements in combat for our own good—stick together, etc. At the time it didn’t ring a bell, but afterwards in combat, it was easy to understand because if we didn’t, everybody was in trouble. We had around 80 guys at first and wound up with about 60 at graduation. The ones who left couldn’t stand the discipline. They cried, couldn’t learn, couldn’t shoot, were sickly—just about anything one can name.
I remember no formal church services or group Sunday trips, but if we asked, we were allowed to visit with a preacher or priest. When a boot asked to see a reverend, the reverend was very tough on the boot as well. Apparently he was instructed to be that way for a boot’s safety when he finally got into combat. But I am sure some were released from the service through that process.
It’s hard to say what was the hardest thing for me personally about boot camp. I was in good physical shape going in. I had played a lot of softball and baseball. I was a good shot with a weapon, having hunted at a real young age on the farm. Probably the hardest thing was the constant harassment from the DIs. But I found out that it was for my own good. After being in combat I could easily have taken boot camp all over.
During the graduation ceremony we had to pass in review parade in front of the base commanders in full uniform. I felt like I was a Marine, and that feeling never ended—even today. I am very proud to have served as a Marine. I left boot camp feeling more matured, very proud, and thinking that I was better than the average guy walking anyplace because I had accomplished a feat very few have done or were able. All in all, I felt great.
After boot camp we had a 10-day delay en route leave. I spent my leave time in Illinois and went back to Parris Island. From there I traveled on a troop train to Camp Pendleton. It was required to wear our uniform at that time, even on liberty. The trip to California was uneventful. We had two meals a day and stood guard duty to keep busy. It was just a long trip. I hadn't traveled that route before and enjoyed the scenery.
Training at Pendleton
We were quartered in Tent Camp Two, just off of Highway 1 in California. To explain on a week by week basis what we were learning and doing at Pendleton would be impossible, but in general our training was both physical and mental. We had several marches, including one that went for about 60 miles. We ran maneuvers simulating taking bunkers on hillsides, maneuvers crawling under heavy and light machine gun fire, rope maneuvers crossing streams, and night maneuvers through rough terrain. During the live machine gun fire training, we had to first climb out of a trench, keeping as low as we could, knowing that the machine gun fire was right above us. Then we crawled on our stomachs with our rifle and pack toward the other end of the course. Within the area, TNT charges were set off to simulate hand grenades or artillery shells. It was a very nerve-racking trip. Some guys froze. It was a lesson well taught, and one that represented real combat as much as any. As I crawled, I had the feeling that it would never end. I could hear the bullets whizzing over my head, but I knew that I had to keep going. Just how high they were firing, I am not sure. But, again, it was nerve-racking to me.
The marches were normally compass marches supporting tanks and using tanks as artillery for targets on the hillsides. We fired different weapons--rocket launchers, machine guns, and rifle launchers. We also trained with the flame thrower, threw hand grenades, underwent bayonet practice, learned Ju Jitsu or Karate tactics, and had more rifle range practice.
We also traveled to San Diego, boarded ships, and ran through simulated ship to shore landings, climbing down rope net ladders into landing boats, and then attacking the shore. We went to Big Bear Mountain, probably the highest mountain around, for cold weather training. There was snow on the mountain at that time of year, but it was not as cold as Korea got. Again, there were more simulations of taking enemy strongholds, bunkers, etc. As I remember, we were taught how to use the buddy system to keep each other from freezing, build fires if we could, cook using heat tables, wash in streams, etc. The buddy system is difficult to explain, but it was just a method of togetherness--one body against the other, as well as using the other guy's body to keep from freezing our hands or feet by sticking them in his crotch and arm pits--the warmest part of a person's body. This was never used by anyone that I know of, but could have been under certain circumstances, i.e., if somehow we were isolated and had very little means of keeping warm. They were simply teaching every possible way to keep from freezing, and Korea was where it could be used. The training was not at all as unpleasant as Korea.
All in all, we trained night and day to get us prepared for Korea. We knew where we were going. Did I want to go to Korea? No way. Combat was one thing--as a Marine I had to accept that. But the weather was a different item, and we were advised very correctly about that.
While we were at Camp Pendleton, we went on liberty each weekend. We hitchhiked into Los Angeles--quite a distance from Tent Camp Two to and from, and had no problem getting a ride--different than today's world. Quite often we returned to base just in time to fall out for whatever. We skipped chow several times. This wasn't too bad, unless we had heavy physical drills that day.
Trip to Korea
We were advised that we were leaving on two APA ships at San Diego. Both ships were alike and carried the same number of men--2,000 troops on each ship, plus crew and supplies. After we boarded the ships we were given many safety type instructions and assignments. The Marine Corps thrived on keeping everyone mentally occupied with some chore to keep our mind off of what was ahead in Korea. Our Company Commander lost the toss of the coin apparently, and we had mess duty all the way. Every man was assigned something to do. Some companies had guard duty, some mess duty, some chipped paint, some swabbed decks, etc. My job was to make coffee for 2,000 Marines every day.
Once we got underway, most of the men got sick. The Navy crew laughed at us in fun, but a few days out the Navy guys got sick and we had our turn to laugh. Quite a few of the crew had never been out themselves, and thus had the same problem as the Marines.
As we traveled north of the Hawaiian islands, our sister ship blew a boiler. We were in the midst of land swells generated by a typhoon that had just gone through. Waves were so big that half of the ships could be seen out of the water. Apparently the other ship's boiler broke when the ship went up and pounded down hard. Our ship was doing the same thing. The sea sickness reoccurred for several days, too, while the boiler was being repaired. We were only making about five knots an hour. It took us around 21 days to reach Kobe, Japan where normally it was only about a ten or eleven-day trip. Of course, we still had mess duty, while other companies reverted back to training tactics.
After the waves subsided we watched movies on deck after dark. A few of the guys played guitars and sang, too. During the day we were busy doing chores. We only had two meals a day the entire trip, which was all we could handle with that many men. All of the men ate standing up at tables. I carried the coffee to the tables. I had a coffee urn so big that I put the coffee in a gunny sack type sack and had to climb a ladder to reach the top to put it in. Then I turned on the hot water valves. I made a lot of coffee, but I couldn't drink it myself. Drinking it was one of two things I couldn't do on the ship. The other was smoke cigarettes. There was just something about the salt water. Whatever it was, other guys had similar problems.
We stopped in Kobe, Japan, to drop our sea bags off in a storage warehouse. We only took our dungarees mainly. We left our dress uniforms in the bags, as well as other personal gear. We were there but a short time, but we did have about four hours of liberty. My buddy and I went into downtown Kobe and so did others. We proceeded to get so drunk that we couldn't find our way back to the ship, even though we were only about three blocks away. Two Army MPs hauled us back and we gave them almost a full bottle of whiskey we had bought. Our problem was not having drank anything on the way over for 21 days, our system couldn't handle it. Later we also felt that the Japanese had sold us some rot-gut whiskey. We weren't punished or anything. I guess they were happy we made it back and we had enough punishment being sick. The next day we were on our way to Pusan, which took another day roughly.
Front Line Experiences
The 8th draft arrived in Korea in April of 1951 at Pusan. The port was in southern Korea. I recall arriving in the port during daylight hours and that there was a hospital ship in the harbor. We were already packed and ready to disembark when we reached the port. We unloaded immediately onto “six by” trucks and then were hauled through part of the downtown area to an airport that was not a real short distance away. As we went through the city, we saw damaged buildings and people strolling around as though they were lost. One thing that has always stuck in my mind is that we stopped frequently and momentarily because of the movement of the convoy. A native couple was strolling alongside of our truck holding hands. They too stopped so the man could urinate. It didn’t bother him or her that we were watching, and they still held hands. The women would also nurse their babies right out in the open in front of a bunch of men. We were young guys in a strange country with strange customs that I still today can’t believe, even though I saw it for myself in 1951.
We saw other natives on the trip to the airport, but not that many. The ones we saw were mostly people in rural areas. As we were riding in the trucks we were told to watch for snipers, so we were definitely looking—and very alert. Nothing happened, but we felt a little uncomfortable. I am a little vague about my first hours in the country, but I remember that the regiment to which I was to be assigned was in North Korea at the time. To reach them, we (the 8th draft replacements) boarded C-47 planes in Pusan while the planes were still running, and were flown to someplace north. The planes had no seats. We just sprawled on the floor, 25 to 30 guys at a time. On the way we were instructed that when we landed we were to jump off and hit the ditches alongside of the airstrip—a precautionary measure in case of snipers who we were told were even behind the lines. Actually, at that time there were no lines. When the plane landed, we then boarded more trucks and drove for some time. They were hauling us further north to our outfits and it was during this process that we were assigned to the various companies. I wound up in Item Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, and that is where I remained during my tour of duty in Korea.
At the time the replacements in the 8th draft arrived in Korea, the 1st Marine Division was located in eastern Korea. From the time the ship landed to our assigned company seemed just a matter of a couple of days, maybe not even that. We weren’t counting. Everything seemed like it was “move, wait, move,” and then we were in the full swing of things with briefings, etc., in order for us to know as quickly as possible what was going on and where the enemy was located.
When I arrived at my company, I didn’t know anyone. Since we were replacements, we were joining individuals who had already seen a lot of action, except maybe those that had arrived just a month before us. Like many newcomers, I was assigned to be a Browning Automatic (BAR) rifleman, a job I did not like. I carried ten magazines, plus the weapon and pack, all of which was heavy gear. Besides the fact that it was a heavy load, the bearer of the automatic weapon was always the more sought after by the enemy. The rifle was also harder to keep clean and the BARman was dependent on an assistant who was carrying the additional ammo. The good thing about the BAR was that it was a very accurate weapon that earned a lot of respect from both the enemy and the Marines. Later I was an assistant BAR man. I carried 20 magazines of ammo, plus an M-1 rifle, pack, and ammo for my own weapon. As time progressed, I became a fire team leader, carrying only an M-1 rifle. Most of the time I carried the M-1 rifle, had a bayonet, plenty of ammo (two bands of maybe 20 clips), a knife, and two or three hand grenades.
My regiment had returned south from the Chosin Reservoir a few months before I joined them, had rested and regrouped, and then had moved north again above the 38th parallel. The first United Nations counteroffensive after the Chosin Reservoir campaign was 25 January to 21 April 1951, and I arrived in Korea during this timeframe, before the Chinese offensive really got underway. We were a delaying action as we withdrew from the north so a main line of defense could be structured around the 38th parallel. In my conversations with the Chosin veterans, they said that the Marines had literally been surrounded at the Chosin and launched an attack to break through their perimeter. The Marines were accused by the press or someone of retreating, but Chesty Puller informed them otherwise with his famous words, "Retreat Hell! We are just advancing in a different direction." And that's what they did. They broke through the enemy lines and started south. Much of what was talked about with the other guys was what was happening with us at the moment--i.e., fight, move, etc.
The Chosin veterans helped teach us new ones the ropes. It was to their advantage, as well as ours, to make sure we were brought up to date on everything because we were a team. We were informed of the enemy's habits, their routine, what was the strange noise at times, the bugles, etc. In a short period of time we were also veterans, but we welcomed anything and everything they could teach us. As it pertained to the use of weapons, nothing new was learned. However, as it pertained to the countryside, the enemy, their habits and tactics, we learned a lot. For example, I learned that when we captured the enemy, they frequently had grenades strapped in their crotch. Dying meant nothing to them.
Our program in taking a hill was a leap-frogging maneuver. The first platoon would go first, the second platoon would advance through them, and then our platoon would move through both of them. Of course there were casualties. Somewhere near Inje we were taking a hill. George and Howe Companies were leading the attack climbing the hill. I can still recall the dead as we moved through them. One of them was a dead Marine who was sitting and leaning naturally against the trunk of a tree as though he was just resting. He appeared to be smiling, which was the hard part to look at. At least he had died peacefully. The fact that he was the first dead Marine that I saw in Korea made it even more awesome. I didn't know him personally, but it is difficult to describe how badly I felt. I was very disturbed by it, even though it was somewhat expected when we were in combat. There was also a sense of being glad it wasn't me.
As we approached the hilltop, enemy machine gun fire started strafing the ridge line, and everyone sought some sort of protection. Mine was terrible. Since we were routing the enemy out of their positions, we were within their old holes and bunkers. Outside of their main defense bunkers, they had latrine trenches, shallow in depth. That's where I dove for cover. You can imagine what I was like. After the fighting, I never had a friend. No one would even get near me--and I couldn't stand myself. I threw up several times. It took a while before I could get replacement gear.
At the time I arrived at my company, the Chinese were amassing around 600,000 troops and were starting to push their way toward South Korea again. This Korean campaign was known as the CCF spring offensive and it took place 22 April to 8 July 1951. My regiment was somewhere north of Chunchon when I got there. We were on the move in the daytime, constructing a permanent-type trench line with bunkers every 30 to 40 feet, it seemed, and barbed wire in front of them. At night we fought the attacking enemy and then moved several miles the next day. Korea was not a huge country, but it was big enough and rugged enough, so the Eighth Army forces were widely scattered.
We generally moved on foot rather than in trucks, and it took us several weeks. Each night we climbed a hill and set in. The Chinese attacked us every night around midnight, and sometimes again just before dawn. One of the main reasons for their night attacks was that if they attacked in the dark we couldn’t see how many of them we had killed or wounded. They always removed their casualties before daylight. When this happened we could hear more of the dead enemy than we could see. We heard the bodies being dragged away and only could see them when an overhead flare was shot or a flare grenade was thrown. The Marine Corps firepower was always so great that very little could survive it, and we knew we hit them as a team, not necessarily as individuals. (Later I experienced hitting them as an individual, too.) Dead or wounded were always being carted out on stretchers as the situation allowed.
Meanwhile, as I said earlier, the Eighth Army was setting up the main line of defense at the 38th parallel. We saw a lot of action on various hills since it wasn't a short distance, but we always set in on high ground so the enemy was below us in an attack. We did a lot of damage. We were told they did a lot of burying of their losses the next day and reorganized, I suppose. I am sure that our air guys delayed their advances, too. We received the regimental combat award for delaying the enemy from advancing too fast while the main line of resistance was being set up.
Initially there was not a lot of action going on, but I was very nervous. The veteran Marines who had already experienced enemy attacks told us that their attacks were always preceded by bugles. They said that we would know the enemy was on their way (always in mass form) because at night they made call-type noises when they were patrolling--I guess to keep track of each other, not always to harass us.
At some point, the 1st Marine Division moved from the eastern to the central part of Korea, but for the moment we were located on Heartbreak Ridge near Inje on the east side of Korea very near the 38th. I am a little vague on the exact location, but we were in the attack to gain better ground as a battalion and our company had advanced too far ahead of the rest of the units. In essence, we were more in the huge valley area, while others were already more on high ground. It was near dark and in order to be on high ground to be less vulnerable when attacked, we were instructed to take a smaller hill within the valley area. This was our only night attack on Item Company's part while I was in Korea. The hill was not as high as those our neighboring units were on, but at least we would be in a better place. Climbing the hill was not easy and we didn't encounter the amount of resistance that was expected. But as we climbed, we needed the help of flares and could see the enemy on the run. As we got higher, we were able to move faster and within an hour we had taken the hill and started quickly to set up in perimeter order. Being such a small hill, although the best high ground around, we were closer together and increased our fire power.
By this time the enemy had been pushed back into the valley, which allowed us to set up in the perimeter fashion to get prepared for the counter attack that we knew would be coming. In this area of Korea there were thousands of enemy troops massed. Air surveillance had been reporting for days about troop movement, so we got as ready as possible. I was about to experience my first Chinese attack since arriving at my company and I was very, very nervous. My buddy next to me noted my nervousness and advised me to fire my weapon, even though I had nothing to shoot at. I did and it relieved a lot of tension. Mentally it prepared me to get a better feel of the happenings around me. It made me feel somehow what I was there for and confirmed that my weapon was ready for me when I needed it. Mainly it relieved the build-up of tension that was sky high at that point.
As normal, around midnight the Chinese started coming. The one thing that helped us on this hill was being close together, and the killing was enormous within their ranks. They attacked and fell back, dragging their dead and wounded with them. Then they reorganized, blew their bugles again, and charged at us once more. Our concern was running too low on ammo. It was too dark to know about our own casualties. We had none on our immediate spot, but there had to be some. How many, I couldn't tell. They came at us again just before dawn, but not as hard. That was where we saw one of the burp gun ammo carriers just strolling around like he was on a Sunday picnic. (The Chinese had one person operate the gun and two or three others carry extra ammo.) We took him prisoner and he just smiled at us as though we were the same as he was. Either he was out of his head from shock or he was on dope.
The next day there was no let up. We were in such a predicament that we had no sleep other than naps on and off because we had to better build our defense. Everyone was busy building bunkers, improving foxholes, etc. during the daytime and standing watch and fighting at night. Ammo was air-dropped instead of food, which meant that we were running low on food. We were told to ration it as best as we could, not knowing when we could get more. For about four or five days we encountered attacks each night. We became so fortified that we were hard to get to. We still didn't get anything other than a nap for sleep, and we didn't receive much food. We successfully secured the higher ground before we left and the fighting ended when we were finally relieved by an Army outfit. Our adjacent forces had also been on the move and pushed the Chinese further back. By that time we individually had so much ammo that we couldn't carry it all. The gooks (South Koreans) were sent to help us. As we left the hill and proceeded down the road from the hill, there were several UN vehicles with their occupants taking pictures like we were some kind of heroes. I never did see any of them later, but maybe it was considered a blunder by our commander for advancing too far and creating a vulnerable situation. It had been quite an engagement and were we tired.
From there we went to a rest camp, where we got more than the normal amount of sleep to make up for what we hadn't got on Heartbreak Ridge. I don't remember how many days. The Marines never really let us "rest" in the rest camps. We went on patrols behind the lines as well as in front looking for enemy. We also had schools on weapons and we cleaned our weapons. One day they had us drilling with tanks, which we never had in the States before going over. Our drill was to grab the telephone from the rear of the tank, pull it out, and with the first tank's machine gun using tracer bullets, direct the gunner to zero-in on a simulated hillside bunker. Once on the target, we were to call for the 90mm tank artillery piece to fire. I was the first to do it. We were in the valley in sort of a river bed terrain. I pulled the phone out, flopped down in a prone position alongside of the tank, and directed the machine gun to zero-in. Then I called for the 90mm to fire. The force from that gun blew the sand into my face so bad that it took a long time to mend. Of course, even though they knew what would happen, they let it happen. I set the example for the rest on what not to do.
One time I met my drill instructor from Parris Island, Paul Myers (or Meirs), in Korea. He was assigned to the tanks and we met as we came off the lines to rest camp and set in around the tanks. He didn't remember me--he had had so many boots that he trained in Parris Island. But I remembered him. With several months of combat in Korea, I had already seen more action than he had as a Marine. While at the rest camp, we gathered ingredients from the mess section and made Cherry Jack in one of the five-gallon water cans. Cherry Jack was an alcoholic drink that was popular within the military combat area at that time. Paul and I became friends, even though he was the one responsible for the rough treatment in boot camp. As I said before, boot camp was a piece of cake compared to combat. My outfit had to leave the rest camp for the lines again before the Cherry Jack had completely fermented, so he gave it to me. With the help of some other guys, I carried it with us until we got to the first hill to climb. With all the weight of our pack and equipment, we regrettably had to leave it. It was just too much to carry.
Not too long after I got to Korea, Item Company had an assignment to back up the South Korean (ROK) army, which had a bad habit of not holding its ground. Too often the Koreans would take off and run. We were told to set in behind them and to shoot anything or anyone that moved in front of us, including them. For one month it seemed, we marched 15 or 20 miles a day, setting in behind their companies in front of us. Apparently they were informed about us because we had no encounters with them. I would not have had any problem shooting them if we had to, because then we would have been the ones in jeopardy. The fact that we were there obviously did the job. The worst part was that we walked our feet off--every night climbing the hill after the march, and more than once making the entire trip in the rain.
One day after an all-day march in the rain, our clothes were soaking wet and I remember that it increased our weight quite a bit. We carried a heavy load to begin with and with the distance we were marching heavily soaked, we were extra tired at the end. A farm house was at the base of the hill we were to climb and set in on, so we set fire to the farmer’s house and all of us circled the house to dry our clothes and thoroughly clean our weapons before we started to climb the hill. (Remember, we were still in North Korea and weren’t exactly caring for the farmer’s house and family. Combat made a person so hard he just didn’t give a damn.) About halfway up the hill, it started raining again. When we reached the top, we had to dig in. Since we were backing the ROK army, we only had to dig shallow trench-like holes merely to avoid concussion from artillery fire. When I awoke the next morning, I was submerged in water up to my chin and obviously again soaking wet. An hour later we were again on another force march and dry due to body heat.
I didn't get close to that many live enemy except when we took prisoners. When I did, they appeared very young. It was hard to tell with Chinese or North Koreans, especially with the uniforms they wore. Many of them were also on dope—opium, I am told. As we took hills, we had the enemy on the run and sometimes we caught up to them, depending on the terrain. If we were able to corner them somewhat, we got close enough to either fight or kill, although we had to be careful of our own troops. There were isolated situations, such as ambush patrols during the winter months. We dressed in white gear because of the snow (the enemy also had white uniforms for the snow which they wore on their night patrols), traveled down the hillside after dark toward the enemy lines, and then waited silently in ambush for their own patrols. Our objective was to take prisoners alive.
There was quite a bit of difference in our fighting tactics and the enemy's. We had air power, more artillery, and special weapons platoons. We also had tanks that were used primarily as artillery pieces. On occasion the terrain allowed some tank support, but not where we were very often. One time we removed a heavy machine gun from a tank and used it as a sniper weapon. The range was super, we could squeeze off one round at a time, and with tracer bullets we could zero-in on a target more easily. We were better trained mentally and physically than the enemy in Korea, and the Marines excelled over other outfits within the American forces. I am not just saying that. The Marine squads had 13 men to a squad and within them were three Browning automatic rifles. The Army also had 13-man squads, but they only had one BAR. Our squads also had extra weapons in all areas--rocket launchers, flame throwers, etc. The enemy had manpower, but appeared short of weapons. One man carried the burp gun and two or three carried ammo for him. Their weapons were antiquated and extremely well-worn, decreasing the accuracy.
One time we thought we were going to have hand-to-hand combat with the Chinese, but they surrendered when we got close and we took them prisoners. They were out of ammo and gave up. I remember Hill 902 in North Korea. They came at us with so much force (numbers) that the light machine guns in George Company froze up from firing. I am sure there were some hand-to-hand in situations like that.
We knew that one of their habits was gathering around a campfire to eat their meals whenever possible. I was on a patrol one time and we advanced right up to their bunkers--not to engage in a fight, but merely to gain information on bunker positions. There were only four of us. We observed that they were eating chow around the fire on the reverse side. We were sighted by one and it stirred up a hornet's nest. We started running back to the line, up and down small hills in between, being fired upon by machine guns. We were 500-600 yards apart. We made it back safely thanks to our own lines opening their fire, but it was a scary adventure.
It was also scary when our rifles wouldn't fire. It was always important for us to keep our weapons in shape. They froze up if not kept dry and lubricated. I personally went through seven different M-1 rifles that wouldn't fire. One particular time it nearly cost me my life when I went to shoot and it wouldn't. My buddy pulled his BAR down on the enemy and saved me. Our rifles were from World War II, had been kept unassembled in cosmoline vats for years, and were then reassembled for the Korean War.
Probably the worst experience for me, and one that I will never forget, was when we were being shot at for some time by a high velocity 76mm enemy artillery piece at our foxhole. This was while we were still in the eastern area of the country near Inje. I was sharing a foxhole with one of my fire team members on a hilltop which was extremely barren land. The artillery piece shot straight and accurate for several yards like a rifle. As each barrage came, we kept digging deeper. Thank God the enemy wasn't that accurate, which allowed us to dig deeper. We reached a point when we had to stop digging for fear of the hole collapsing in on us, but finally they stopped. Maybe they ran out of ammo or something, but we were glad. That lasted for some time, and we thought more than once that they would have us the next time. We were totally exhausted, mentally and physically. It was an accurate weapon, but apparent the gunner was still too far away.
As part of the Eighth Army, several countries were represented in the Korean War. We didn’t see them except when we came off the lines to rest camp. One time we passed a British outfit. Their camp wasn’t all that large, but they were close order drilling, as if in a parade. Can you believe that? We were there to fight and they were parading. They offered us coffee and doughnuts at one of their trailers. We had been on the lines six to eight weeks, so both were welcome. Another time the ROK army relieved us on the lines after we took the position. It was an all-night event, and it no longer was a threat to anyone at that location. The individual soldier taking over my spot on the line was entertaining. We kept warm over some hot coals we had started and he sang songs. He sang, “Auld Lang Syne,” which he proclaimed was their national anthem.
We never had trenches until later, when the main line of resistance was set up around the 38th parallel. But every night we were there, except for rest camp, we dug our own foxholes. We received artillery support from our own as well as from tanks, although we didn’t always have tank support because of the terrain. We also had air support from the Marines, Navy, and Egyptians. Sometimes before we attacked we could sit back and observe while the air guys did their work. One time it was the Navy, another time our own Marine Corps pilots, and other times the Egyptians. Their wing rockets and machine guns were all similar when they released napalm, which covered both sides and more space. In the air we rated the Egyptians the best. Don’t tell this to other Marines, but when we received the air support, they seemed to always attack from one side to the other and the enemy troops would simply run to the other side of the hill when fired upon with rockets or machine gun fire—a little different with napalm bombs. The Egyptians, flying four in a sortie, would circle until they had a plane on each side of the hill and then take turns diving at their side of the hill—a more successful approach.
One time when we were near the east coast above Inje, the big “MO” (USS Missouri) gave us support with its 16” guns. That is another story never to be forgotten. The ship was something like 23 miles away when they started firing, supposedly at the hill in front of us that we were waiting to take. We had a Navy observer on the hill with us. The first shell landed behind us. It made a hole big enough to put our whole platoon in it. Thinking that the next one could be our hill, we almost panicked. The Navy observer quickly got on the radio and corrected the mistake. Later he told us that not all the hills and mountains were accurately mapped. Many maps were outdated.
Helicopters were originally used in Korea only to evacuate wounded and dead, haul supplies, and observe enemy movements. Chesty Puller was our leader in the beginning and he used to fly a small bubble helicopter out in front of our lines to see what the enemy might be doing. He was fired upon quite a lot. We all loved Chesty. It was hard to reach our areas by truck and South Koreans to bring us supplies sometimes, so supplies were air dropped more than once. We were instructed not to eat from a dented can.
Later in 1951, we made the first helicopter landing in Korea (and perhaps by the Marine Corps) in a combat situation. In trying to take a hill we had to also climb it, and because of the high hills, quite often we didn’t have good energy left to fight as was necessary at times, especially when we had them on the run. We generally had one day to attack and capture, not multi-day campaigns. Visualize the ridge line running from one hill to another at the top. Through the use of helicopters, we started landing on the ridge line on the top of the hill adjacent from the one we wanted to take. From there we could advance toward the enemy's hill on a more level ground. Now we had plenty of energy. The helicopter would set down and we would slip down to the ground on a rope, pack and all. Several helicopters were used and kept rotating until all the troops were on the hill.
We attacked during the day except a few times. The Chinese always attacked at night. We were taking a hill and had the enemy on the run one day in one of our advance movements near Hanchun-ni, on the east side of Korea. George or Howe Company had moved first and encountered the brunt of the enemy's firepower. Several Marines were dead as we moved through them. We kept chasing them up the ridge line toward the top of the hill. At the peak of the hill they had a bunker containing a heavy machine gun. As we got into position they strafed the ridge line, having already zeroed in on that area they knew we would pass through. When they opened up, a bullet apparently first went through a small sapling tree and then hit me in the leg below the knee. The impact knocked me down the hill on the opposite side from my squad about 25 yards--a steep incline. The injury was not enough to stop me. Although it bled a lot, it was just a flesh wound.
Every company had corpsmen designated to take care of anyone shot or wounded. The day I was wounded, a black corpsman named Kelly ran through the same fire to get to me. He put a quick bandage around it and I was able to get on my feet and continue the advance. Later they sent me back to the sick bay unit where it was dressed better. After two days, I rejoined my outfit with a bandaged leg. Fortunately it didn't hit a bone. A few of the other guys from Item Company got killed in this and other actions. Some were wounded as well None of the casualties were real close to me except a buddy--my fire team's BARman. He stepped on a land mine and it blew his foot off. Callen (or maybe his name was spelled Kellen) was sent back to the States. He was from Wisconsin, I think. I don 't know if he is still alive or not. I am a little embarrassed that I haven't kept track of some of my buddies.
During my tour of duty in Korea, I assisted the corpsmen a few times when things were hot and they had all they could handle. One such time was in a mortar attack when there were wounded and dead all around. This incident occurred when we were stationary on a hill on the east side above Inje, very close to enemy lines. At one point we were 50 yards from their line with a deep canyon separating us. At night they sat behind the peak of their hill, protected from small arms fire, and sang country-western songs to us. That's how close we were. But they also were close enough to launch mortars. One day they hit the CP area in the back of our line. The call for help went down the line and several had to go help the corpsman. I personally tightly held an artery on a Marine until the corpsman was able to secure the wound. Several men were hit and some died. I am not sure how many. We moved them to a safer place and if we could, we got them out of there on a helicopter, Jeep-type ambulance, or whatever.
In addition to being wounded with the machine gun as I mentioned above, I also had a couple of narrow escapes. One day when we were receiving our share of sniper fire, I had the strap partially blown off of my shoulder. We were wearing field jackets--the ones with a strap on each shoulder. Another time, a Marine that two guys were carrying on a stretcher behind me was killed on the stretcher. The bullet had to go right by me to hit him. Once when we were stationed where a deep ravine separated our lines, snipers hit a coffee can that I was heating over one of the alcohol heat tablets. It went through the edge of the sandbag and hit the can. That really shook me up for a while.
Officers came and went. We respected all of them and had no problems in following their leadership. One officer, a 2nd Lieutenant named Jenkins, sticks in my mind because he and I did a few things together. One time we were taking a hill and as we moved through a set of enemy bunkers, he asked me to throw a grenade in a hole that supposedly had been vacated. While I was supposed to do that, he covered me with his Thompson submachine gun. I had the pin too tight on the grenade and couldn't get it out so he had to help me. We were careful how we carried the grenades to keep the pin from slipping out. I just had mine too tight and, as strong as I was, I couldn't pull it out. Lieutenant Jenkins was a favorite of all of us--a brave man and we had a lot of respect for him.
Chesty Puller, our regimental commander, was the most decorated Marine in the history of the Marine Corps. I never had the opportunity to talk with him, but I saw him once close by. He was talking to other officers of our company. I also observed him flying in a "bubble " helicopter out over enemy lines to gather information on enemy positions, probably to formulate our next attack. You can ask any Marine of today or back then about Chesty Puller. Those who served with him all thought he was the greatest. He had guts! Guts!
The move south took us about six or eight weeks into May or June of 1951. We moved to a rest camp that was south of the 38th parallel. Apparently Chesty Puller had radioed in to have it set up for us. The camp was below the 38th parallel not too far, so we had to remain prepared for any breakthrough that might occur. We were there for at least a week.
As we entered the camp, there were several reporters waiting and taking pictures. One woman reporter, Maggie Higgins, was there. She later won the Pulitzer award for her reporting. The weather was warmer by this time and the engineers had dug a swimming hole for us near the entrance of the rest camp. Several guys were taking a dip (totally nude, of course), and as Maggie and her group entered the camp, they stood on the bank waving at her. (We often wondered whether they were the only naked Marines she saw.) The story goes that Maggie commented on the indecency of the Marines and Chesty had her and her group removed. She could have stayed if she hadn't been critical. It was no place for a woman, as he put it. She was in a place where she shouldn't have been. She didn't witness dead Marines or the badly wounded. They were all gone from our outfit by the time she arrived. Chesty Puller was right to send her off.
The weather training we had before we left the States was good, but we had to quickly learn to adjust to Korean weather, both in summer and winter. We experienced the country's monsoon season with heavy rain all the time, and in the winter we experienced living in the snow and cold temperatures as low as 38 below zero. Many tales exist about the weather. To keep warm I wore long underwear as a first layer of clothing, then dungarees, a warm dress winter uniform, dress uniform shirt, dungaree jacket, Alpaca vest, field jacket, and a full length fur-lined parka. Initially we had shoe-paks, which didn't keep our feet warm. Later the Navy supplied us with a new kind of insulated boot which only required one pair of socks. These were great, especially standing guard, but not good for marching any distance. Our feet would sweat and become raw, so when we marched, we wore our regular boondockers and slung the special boots over our pack. On my head was a fur-lined "bunny" cap, plus the fur-lined parka hood. We had so many layers on at times that our pack straps were extended as far as they would go.
Except for an occasional wiping of our faces now and then out of a frozen stream, our bodies never encountered water. We all had body lice so badly (in our arm pits, belt area and crotch--mainly in areas wherever the clothes fit more tightly) that it was unbearable. We didn't wash our bodies until we got back to a rest camp (we were gone six to eight weeks at a time), so we had to endure it. Finally when we reached the rest camp, they set up showers for us in big tents. We discarded our several layers of clothes, which were burned, and we received a new issue. One of the worst things about combat was the body lice. I can still feel it in my mind. I never understood why we didn't have head lice, too. Maybe it was because our heads were more exposed to the weather.
Korea was nothing but hills and mountainous terrain. Farms existed in the valleys, although when we were around, the people generally weren’t. I remember eating the native food twice. We always had South Koreans hauling supplies to us--food and ammo. Each night, when permitted, they would build a fire in their nearby camp and quite often they would cook fish heads and rice. It happened often enough and it seemed to be one of their favorites, so my buddy and I had to try it. We almost threw up. We spit it out. It was terrible. Another time we were on a recon patrol out in front of the main line. Squads always took turns patrolling, and one time we passed through a farm and through the farmer's garden. He had lettuce, cabbage, etc. growing and it looked good. Since we occasionally received hamburgers and gravy in our C-rations, we gathered some lettuce on the way back to make a hamburger. The lettuce tasted terrible because of the fact that they used "honey dippers" to spread human fertilizer on their crops. No more native food.
Daily we received a box of C-rations. It had three cans of chow--one can of beans, one can of spaghetti, one can or hamburgers and gravy, etc. They tried to mix them up, but some days we got all three cans of the same thing, like three cans of beans. In addition, we always got a can of fruit, a can of cookies or candy, plus several candy bars in addition to the C-ration box. Depending on where we were, and only after we were set in on the trenches, we sometimes received fresh bread. At times we also got extra fruit. The Marines always had enough to eat. There were times we went without while moving in a hurry, but that was very seldom. When we were in rest camp, we received hot food in a chow line--eggs, sausage, meat of all kinds, etc.--regular stateside food. I remember that, standing in line at the mess at rest camp one day, two guys were playing Russian Roulette and one guy shot and killed himself. Dumb.
We always waited for mail call, which we got almost every day. I am sure they made every effort to get letters and packages to us because it was a great morale booster. Normally if we wrote home and asked for something, we got it--not too fast, but eventually. There were "Dear John" letters, too. Only a few months after I got to Korea, I received a so-called Dear John letter from the last girl I was dating. It didn't bother me too much. She wanted to get married before I left but I had said no. If anyone were to get the $10,000 insurance money in case I got killed, it was going to be my mother. This former girlfriend then moved to Fort Sill and married some Army guy (proof that she wasn't playing with a full deck). More sad than my situation was a guy in my fire team from Texas. "Tex" Tschirhart got his letter and it totally upset him so much that he volunteered for every patrol that came up. Eventually he settled down and got back to normal.
My mother and family sent me mail on a regular basis. I also had a couple of girlfriends who wrote. One of them sent me a good-sized round can of cookies with a metal lid. Everyone got something--some more than others, and we shared package goods. After I shared my cookies, I made the can into a stove. At the time, we were on the lines in the high mountain area. We had a CP tent on the reverse slope of our hill and they had a regular stove and fuel oil. I made a stove with the can, putting the fuel in a .50 caliber ammo can used by the heavy machine gunners. Our corpsman had a tube with needles attached to each end (the kind for giving transfusions with plasma), and he gave it to me so I could regulate the flow of oil going into my stove. I put fuel oil in the tube and tied knots in it, allowing the oil to drip into the can. We had the makeshift stove inside of our bunker and it worked good. Others followed our idea, but one screwed up and their bunker caught fire, making quite a display on the front line. Our bunkers were made of wooden logs over the trench line, so it made a real good fire. Needless to say, no more fires. We couldn't give our positions away to the enemy.
In this trench, two men occupied every other bunker. The one in between was used as a toilet. With the temperature getting as low as 38 degrees below zero, we needed protection for that, too. It was a miserable place to live, but we had to spend several weeks there. One night while we were in the same bunker that held my makeshift stove, we heard a sound like an animal drinking or lapping up water. Without thinking too far, my buddy grabbed his rifle and started firing at the ceiling. We had tacked corrugated boxes on the ceiling to keep the water from running into our bunker, and when he did this, not only did the water come through, it was full of blood. Rats were drinking the water that had resulted when the stove melted the snow on top of the bunker.
As I mentioned before, we always set in on high ground wherever we were. In some areas we had bunkers once we were to be there for a while. They were logs over a trench for mortar protection. These bunkers were cold and damp in the winter when there was heavy snow. They could be damaged with big 120mm mortars, but not usually with anything smaller. We always put good-sized logs on our bunkers. But bunkers served another purpose, too. It was a place to get out of the weather, and it allowed us to sleep in shifts with one watching and one sleeping. A bunker also kept our supplies dry. A bunker was a lot safer than anything around, plus we felt safer--and that was mentally a better thing. We also had these bunkers over a trench line, not out in the open like a castle.
We strung about three strands of barbed wire in front of our positions as added protection against the enemy. One night it was very harassing to hear a strand being cut in front of us about every 15 to 20 minutes. Very nerve racking. Finally one guy couldn't stand it any more and tossed a grenade. He hit one of them and we could hear him choking. Another one was killed. This time they couldn't drag him away. He was wearing a white uniform because there was snow on the ground. The next morning there was a hole in the wire big enough to drive a six by truck through. Big searchlights were installed for additional protection. They reflected them off of the clouds and this lit up the whole area in front of us. There had to be clouds, though. And, of course, we always had artillery and our own mortars nearby. As mentioned earlier, sometimes there were also tanks.
Like everyone there, I missed home, and mainly wondered more than once if I would ever make it back home. As we got ready for each new engagement with the enemy, those feelings increased. I had the feeling that my luck might run out eventually. After 11 or 12 months in Korea, the closer we got to rotation, the worse this feeling got.
I wasn't super religious. Occasionally a priest paid us a visit, but never in our march from the north. He came only after we set in on the main life of defense. Some guys were religious, and I would see them off in a corner praying. There was also always a makeshift tent available for services in rest camp.
We never celebrated any holidays in Korea per sa. I remember quite distinctly Christmas night of 1951, though. We were there for Thanksgiving, too, but that Christmas night we were in the trenches on the east side of Korea somewhere and it snowed heavily. My buddy and I stood watch in the tent every two hours. The next morning, not more than 15 yards from where I was standing, I found a 'Christmas card' from the Chinese army. They were that close and could have easily killed me. The snow was like a blizzard. That night they also stole one of our machine guns. We realized that the heavy snow storm had allowed such a move by them--the snow was coming down very heavy and there was no way we could spot anything moving, nor did we ever expect any move by them in a storm like that. They knew what they were doing and we had a high respect for them afterwards. They got to us real good. We became more cautious after that. I still have the propaganda pamphlet they left that Christmas. It's in Chinese.
I saw one USO show while I was in Korea. It was strictly for Marines and was held in one of our rest camps. It was the Betty Hutton show, and she joined us in the chow line afterwards. I have pictures of her and the guys. She was a good performer so her musical show was very enjoyable.
The rotation system kept guys in my company going in and out, so other than some of them that were left, I never had a long rapport with most of them. I was friends a little with Lockerbox Jones. He had been a DI at Parris Island and the story went that he was charged with maltreatment of a recruit. He made him hold his locker box over his head too long and it collapsed on him and hurt him somehow. As a result, they sent Lockerbox Jones to Korea and he was in our outfit. Tex Tschirhart, who I have already mentioned, became a good buddy. He and I went through a lot and after we both returned home, I worked for a company that sent me to Waco, Texas once. I planned to go down to San Antonio to see him since he lived just outside of the city in a little town called Castroville. I let him know I was coming and he had arranged for the whole town to welcome me with a steer barbecue. There was a band and everything--quite an honor for me. I still keep in touch with Tex via his daughter and we talk on the telephone from time to time.
A Korean interpreter named Pak Tae Yong was assigned to our company. He was a good friend, too, and was starting to teach me Korean. Before I learned very much, he was transferred to another unit. I had asked him what he would like from the States and he said a Webster's Dictionary. My mother sent it to him and he sent her a real nice letter which she had published in the local paper. I still have that copy.
We didn't see that many natives in the areas where we were. Back in history, the Japanese had previously fought the Koreans, and we were told that the Koreans mixed-bred with the Japanese were always larger in structure. When we saw a big Korean, we assumed that he was part Japanese. No Korean prostitutes ever got into our area, but we did hear stories about rear echelon troops that had them. One story going around was that there were some guys who had them cleaning their tents on a regular basis, dressed like small boys. They slept right in their tents. Others we heard ran a business. This was all pretty vague. We were never in a town or city for us to have contact with the natives.
Occasionally we saw a farm house. One strange thing about the houses was that their barn was attached to their house, i.e., a cow in one room and the living quarters in the next. The smell had to be quite raunchy. The barn doors were half-type doors that opened at the top and the bottom. I remember that when we were patrolling in front of the lines one day, we passed through someone's farm grounds. As we passed, a cow stuck her head out the top half of the door and we almost shot her. We were shooting at anything that moved and she almost got it. The people were nowhere in sight. I, like others, became a very "hard"-thinking individual in Korea, even losing any sympathetic feelings for the South Koreans. Another time around a farm house we were temporarily stopped in our march to another attack. Inside, the farmer's wife was dying. But we had no sympathy for the farmer's problem. We were clowning around and riding the farmer's cow.
I saw only a few children at different times, such as when I arrived in Pusan and from the truck, in rest camp a few times, and as we left. But I can't forget "Piss Pot Pete." We literally adopted him. He was always in rest camp and shined the officers' boots, plus he did other odd jobs. The other South Koreans had a dislike for him because we all favored him so much. One day he disappeared and one of our patrols coming back picked him up several miles from the rest camp. Apparently the South Koreans hauled him out of town to get rid of him. He could swear just like the rest of us. He must have been six or seven years old, maybe not even that. It seemed like he was everywhere. The guys had him outfitted with clothes, and he had sleeping quarters and plenty of food. It just made the other South Koreans too jealous.
We received beer rations in rest camp, and occasionally when we were more in a stable situation. We got plenty of cigarettes all the time, and we often gave them to South Korean laborers so they would do our laundry for us when we were back in rest camp. They loved the American cigarette.
When in a reserve area, we played poker. We started playing for pay-day stakes, but that didn't work because we didn't have anyplace to spend it. There were too many card sharks in our group, plus guys owing would get killed or wounded and then they were gone before pay day. So we started playing for the can of fruit in our C-ration box, the favorite can and daily. One of our guys, Sandy, was a card shark. He was a professional gambler before he got in the Marines or was activated. He loved the fruit. One day he won all the cans--around ten of them, and ate almost all of them at one time. It reacted in his body badly, and he was in and out of his sleeping bag all during the night. It was funny. You had to be there.
When we were close to going home and we were set in near Panmunjom where the peace talks were being held, we started getting a quart ration of Osaki beer each day from Japan. We were on an outpost hill one and a half miles in front of the main line. We had three outpost positions--George Company, Howe Company, and Item Company, between the outposts. We entered and vacated them when it was dark and we were camouflaged so the enemy didn't know the posts were there. We had listening posts manned by eight guys merely to watch and listen and advise the outpost itself of any enemy troop movements.
My time to rotate was so close that I thought the Marine Corps might position me to a job in the rear, but they didn't. The day it was time for me to go home, the other guys gave me some of their beer. The truck from the rear didn't show up to take me, and since it was my time to man the listening post (no exceptions with the Marine Corps), I had to go. Unfortunately, after drinking my ration of beer, plus the beer given to me by the other guys, I was not very sober to walk out to the listening post. I had to hold on to the belt of the guy in front of me and another guy held onto my belt in back of me while we slowly made it out to the post on a path through a mine field. During my last night on the line, George Company or Howe was approached by an enemy patrol. George Company chased them away with mortars and they ran right in front of our listening post. (We weren't there to engage them. The outposts were strictly for observation.) There had to be 35 to 40 of them, and apparently they didn't know we were there. My light machine gunner, new to Korea, wanted to mow them down. But I told him that he would be subject to a court martial if he did. He didn't. I was going home the next day and didn't want any delays or casualties.
The next day, I packed my gear and was ready to go. I was very happy that I was leaving, but sad that I was leaving my buddies. As I remember, there was one road leaving the outpost area, but I think I had to walk part of that distance to a spot to meet the truck. I wasn't by myself because a few others were going, too. I am not sure whether they were all going home. Daily trips like that were always taking place for one thing or the other. I remember unloading my pack and rifle someplace and keeping only my personal belongings. They didn't want anything from Korea going to the States because of diseases, I guess.
We rode a train from Seoul to Inchon, where I boarded the USS General William Weigel and left Korea in April of 1952. I held the rank of corporal. The Weigel was a two-stacker, a regular passenger ship that had been converted for hauling troops. There were about 4,000 other guys on the ship with me, counting the crew. We stopped in Japan to pick up our seabags and other guys who had been stationed at Kobe, Japan. It was a very jovial group. I don't remember anybody being too sad that we were going home. With the rotation system, everyone was leaving buddies behind. But the war was ending--at least they were talking peace, so it was a matter of time before we would reunite later.
There was seasickness, but not as much as when we were going to Korea because of the larger ship. Unlike when we hit large swells above the Hawaiian islands going over, the sailing was smooth going home. The trip also only took 11 days as opposed to the 21 days it took going over because our sister ship blew a boiler and we had to slow down until they repaired it.
There were books to read and movies to watch on deck at night. I remember that Mickey Spillane's books were favored at that time and there were so many within our area that wanted to read them that we had paperback books torn apart in five or six places so we could pass them on to the next guy when we had finished reading our part. There were also lots of card games and gambling on the ship going home. One guy who had quite a bit of winnings was discovered cheating after the game was over. They searched for him during the remainder of the trip but never found him, otherwise he would have been tossed overboard. I had MP duty coming back and we were watching.
We docked at San Diego. There were a lot of people waiting at the dock, but not for me. It was a very emotional time. There was some kind of welcoming group there and a band was playing. It was a great sight for all of us and anxiety reigned to go ashore. As normal, we left the ship in a very orderly fashion, as the Marines do it. We boarded trucks and busses, and were hauled back to the San Diego boot camp base for further checkout procedures. We remained in San Diego around five days going through exit physicals alphabetically before we were allowed to go home. We did nothing but relax and wait our turn. It was amusing as we roamed around on the base and passed recruits on the sidewalks. They would stop and stand at attention waiting for us to say, "Carry on." It was part of their training to respect any Marine wearing a higher ranking emblem than they were wearing, like a stripe or bars.
We were allowed to have liberty while we were waiting. We had a good time every night and had a few fights with the Navy guys at local bars. We were in a Navy town, and they didn't like Marines, even though we were part of their organization. But it didn't amount to anything. A couple of times we wound up having drinks with them. On one of the nights while we were waiting to process out to go home, a Marine was killed crossing the main street there. I think it was Pacific Boulevard. He had been drinking, as we all were. I didn't see it, but the next day everyone knew about it. Can you imagine--all that time in Korea, only to get killed at home? I had been drinking the night before I had my physical and it almost prevented me from going home as scheduled. Apparently my blood pressure was up and they almost kept me a few more days. I talked them out of it, and I left via commercial airlines to St. Louis, near my hometown of Alton, Illinois. When I arrived home, we had more partying.
There was an extra effort by the Marines to try to get a re-enlistment from us. We were offered immediate money, like several hundred dollars, and promises to locate us near home. Some did, but not me. No way. I had had enough of it.
I was discharged from the Marine Corps in May of 1952 and then I had another nine months of reserve time added. I was still in the reserves and still on call, but being recalled never happened. I returned to my job at Owens Illinois in Alton. I seemed to get back with it and, as can be imagined, I answered a continuous line of questions from a lot of people about Korea. The one problem I had was sleeping. In the morning I would find myself on the floor halfway under the bed. This went on for a while. I was at home and Mom was really concerned, but eventually it stopped. I know I had to be looking for cover, dreaming about combat.
Not long after I returned to the States, I met Miss Alton of 1951 at a popular local bar near where she lived with her aunt and uncle. She was beautiful. That particular night I was still in uniform. We started dating on a regular basis for a year and we married in 1953. Her name was Marlene Osborne--a real beauty.
I worked in the Accounting Department for Owens and became Accounting Supervisor in Alton before moving on and being transferred to our main office in Toledo, Ohio. It was a major corporation and I held several jobs within it. I worked for the glass container division for 13 years and the forest products division for 24 1/2 years. During that time I held several jobs at various locations and finally retired as Financial Manager for our composite can operation--eight plants scattered across the country. I retired at age 55 in 1984.
Before I retired, I lost my first wife. She was only 49 years old. Fortunately we both were acquainted with another woman who owned a restaurant that we patronized. After a period of time we started seeing each other on a regular basis, and wound up getting married about a year later. As of this year, we will celebrate our 25th year anniversary. Her name is Barbara. Aside from successfully making it through combat and suffering the loss of my first wife, I couldn't have made a better move. She has been a very great item in my life.
When I first retired, I did nothing but play golf and do the various odd things like fishing, etc. I got so bored (I was too young to quit working) that I got my broker's license and started selling real estate. I did that for ten years, then finally reverted back to real retirement, golf, etc.
At no time while I was in Korea did I perceive it to be a country worth fighting for, and I still don't. The country is good for rice. Had we not intervened, South Korea would not have prospered as it has. Maybe that's good and maybe not. I am not bitter about being in Korea. We helped South Korea a lot, and I don't respect anything about communism, but I think we should have stayed out of the picture, just like Vietnam. I can't see where it was worth the lives we lost on either side. There is now competition of products in the market place, but nothing else--and I am not aware of anything they have done for us over the past several years. I don't think we should still have troops in Korea now either, but I can't see removing them with the way our relations still seem uncertain with North Korea, even though their leadership has changed since the war years. South Korea has had enough time to handle its own defense, and we should tell them that and leave. I have never returned to Korea, and I don't really care to either. There are many other places I would rather see with my money. I certainly didn't fall in love with the country when I was there.
I had no long-time acquaintances with anyone in Korea because of the rotation system, as well as the losses on the east side of Korea early in the game. Those guys that perished near Inje at the Hwachon Reservoir were new to me and during the later months they were soon out of my mind as just a vague recall. Not so with regards to Tex, who was in the same draft or near the same draft, going and coming. I have often thought about him through the years. I didn't make the effort to contact anyone, nor did they me afterwards, and I am very sorry about that.
I still have a scar from the machine gun bullet that hit me in Korea. As I mentioned earlier, it didn't hit a bone. It was just a flesh wound. Since I never had any problems, I never applied for any compensation for the wound. I never knew I was entitled to any. Then one day about three years ago here in Florida, I was playing golf in shorts and a friend noticed my scar. I told him what had happened and he suggested that I should register with the VA hospital in Gainesville and apply for compensation. I did and started receiving compensation immediately--not much, but every little bit helps. It apparently was for the appearance of the scar, not an internal problem.
Most people aren't interested in hearing about the war that took place in Korea in 1950-53. They are sympathetic, but soon drift their attention in a different direction. After all, what is interesting in hearing about withstanding the conditions we faced in Korea? Sometimes I get the feeling that others think I'm not relaying the truth, it really wasn't all that bad, and perhaps I am boasting a little.
Boot camp served me and others well in Korea. Many needed that disciplinary teaching that they hadn't received at home. But boot camp also created a sense of pride within us, and mental as well as physical toughness--all attributes badly necessary in combat. With regards to boot camp, those I served with and I all agreed that after several months of combat that thank God we had it. The training at an early age had an affect on the progress I had during the balance of my life. Simple things like learning to listen. I definitely paid attention. No procrastination. And I took orders as directed. Thus, I was compensated with promotions and more money. They wanted someone to pass on to other individuals the same attributes. I also didn't take any crap from anyone. There is always that ten percent in every group, and I learned to recognize them wherever I went. As I experienced these types of people reporting to me, I weeded them out, thus improving my overall performance. I credit my time in boot camp and the Marine Corps for my success in the later years. The confidence that Owens saw in me had to be the reason why I got promoted.
I realize that our country's leaders felt it necessary to intervene in behalf of liberty for everyone and considered the communist world as a threat for any world peace in 1950-53. For me, though, my time in Korea was simply a loss of time in my life. Still, Korea and being in the Marine Corps made me a very proud person, and a more mature individual all around.