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Orace Leon Edwards
"My Christian faith was with me 24 hours a day. I know my mother, my father, and my oldest sister were praying for me. My sister was 16 years old at the time. I found out later that she had an unexplainable urge to pray for me all day the day I was wounded. If God hadn't had his hand on me, I would not be here today. My only question was, 'Why me? I'm no more special than the others that died.'"
- Orace Edwards
My name is Orace Leon Edwards of Arlington, Texas. I was born at home with the use of a mid-wife, Mrs. Eva Overmyer of Fouke, Miller County, Arkansas. My mother told me the mid-wife was allowed to name me and that she named me after an old German boyfriend of hers. (I often wondered if her husband knew about that.) I was born March 2, 1931, four miles outside of Fouke (population 231). My father was Peter James "Pete" Edwards and my mother was Alma Viola Philyaw Edwards. My father's grandfather, William Vandenberg, migrated from Amsterdam, Holland, when he was under age ten. Father was born in Fouke. Mother was born in Creston, Louisiana, approximately 75 miles south of Shreveport.
I lived on a farm about four miles from Fouke from birth until the summer of 1942, when I was between the 5th and 6th grades. I played with homemade toys and siblings and had farm chores. Farm chores included drawing water for the farm animals, working the crops in the field, helping saw wood for cooking, and any other task we were assigned. I started to school in September of 1937 at Genoa, Miller County, Arkansas. I rode a school bus approximately ten miles. We (my siblings and I) were allowed turns to go to town with our father to Texarkana on Saturday when he went for supplies. Many cooking supplies were otherwise procured from roving peddlers when the roads were dry enough for them to get in. A man who lived near us owned a school bus, and on Saturdays he drove it to town, which was 14 miles away. He picked up several people along the way who had no other transportation. Our nearest neighbor was a quarter of a mile away. I believe most of the neighbors were our relatives (cousins and such).
My siblings were James Corneilus Edwards, born February 19, 1929; Nona Mae Edwards, born June 26, 1934; Alma Racine Edwards, born March 28, 1937; Kenneth Carrol Edwards, born March 24, 1940; Rita Sue Edwards, born November 12, 1942; William Everett Edwards, born November 23, 1944; Cecil Oneal Edwards, born November 16, 1948; and Margarett Anne Edwards, born July 5, 1951. The five eldest of the siblings in my family were born in Fouke, Miller County, Arkansas, and the four youngest were born in Texarkana, also in Miller County. I believe we were a very close family, and the ones of us who are alive are still close. We have reunions once a year and keep in contact. Probably this closeness comes from being influenced by my grandmother and parents. They were always there when we needed them.
Father was always a role model to pattern our lives after. He was a devout Christian who didn't drink, smoke, swear, or tell bad jokes. He set a pattern that I still go by. For example, one day when I was about seven years old, my turn came to go to Texarkana with him. While we were there, a man came up to him asking for money and said that he was hungry. He said he hadn't eaten in a few days. My father said, "Come with me," took him into a restaurant, and told him to order a meal. We sat down with him and I had a piece of pie and milk. When we were through, my father paid for it and we left. After he was gone, I asked my father why he just didn't give him money and let us go on our way. I told him that it had taken time out of my turn that Saturday. My father said, "Son, I don't want to support his bad habits (perhaps being a wino), but I don't want to see a man go hungry either. If I don't have time for him, I don't have money for him." He taught by example. Father is still a huge man in my eyes. My mother was the same way.
Father was a farmer who had gone to school to the 9th grade in a one-room school in the Miller County, Arkansas, school system. My grandmother always lived with us and helped tend to the children, which allowed my mother the freedom to work out in the field on the farm. We didn't know we were poor because everyone around us was in the same boat. It was noticeable only when we went to school and realized that some kids had sliced bread for their sandwiches, while we had homemade biscuits with something in it. Sometimes it was only sugar and butter, and sometimes fruit my mother had canned.
We had no electricity or any utilities until we later moved to Texarkana, so while living in the country near Fouke, we had to know how to build a fire every morning when it was cold weather and know how to survive without any conveniences. My father took my older brother and me hunting and fishing with pine knot torches and taught us how to live on what was around. He showed us where to get dry wood to start fires, and taught us that dead limbs still in a tree and not on the ground are dry. He showed us how to find our way around if we thought we were lost. My brother and I took my mother's rifle, and she gave us two bullets to go hunting. She expected us to have an animal for food for each shell that had been fired. My grandmother who lived with us was half Choctaw Indian, and she taught us all about leaves from trees for medicines and also roots. There were no doctors or drug stores nearby, so we had to use what we had. Kerosene was one item used for treating open wounds. Irish potatoes were used to prevent infection from a rusty nail if we stepped on one. The potato drew the rust and impurities out, and it healed right up. We learned that human urine could stop the itching from bull or cow nettles. I told my nephew who was a pharmacist about that. He thought about it and decided it was because urine is basic and nettle is acidic, and that it was neutralizing it.
My family was still living in the country at Fouke when we heard the news about the outbreak of World War II. We had a radio that had a wet cell battery that Dad took to Texarkana on Saturday to have it charged. We listened to the Grand Old Opry on Saturday night, and then on weekdays in the morning Dad listened to the news. We had gone to church that morning and had not had the radio on. (He usually conserved the battery for the radio to make it last until the next Saturday charge.) My brother and I had ridden our bikes over to a friend's house that had a radio, and we heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor on his family's radio. My family was mad at the Japanese for doing such a thing.
In 1941, my father got a job in Texarkana working for the railroad station, handling the mail baggage on trains. We moved to Texarkana when I was 11 years old, and rented my Aunt Blanch Philyaw's house in the summer of 1942 to make it more convenient for my father's work at the railroad station. He continued to do some farming after he started working at the railroad station.
In Texarkana, I went to College Hill Elementary School for the 6th grade and had the same teacher (Mrs. Nichols) as I had had in the 5th grade at Genoa Central. She had taken a teaching job at my new school. I went to Texarkana, Arkansas Junior High school. I joined a Boy Scout troop, but didn't become very involved. Most of the things they were doing were old hat to me except for the knot tying. In the ninth grade I began working for Western Union peddling a bicycle and delivering telegrams. I was making good money (more than the teacher who was teaching me), so I decided I had had enough education and wanted to work full time and quit school. I told my grandmother and she told me that I would always be digging ditches. I told her that she had never gone to school at all and she was doing all right. She said that she didn't have a school to go to, but she had learned on her own and she could say her ABC's frontward and backward. She said she would agree with me quitting school if I could say my ABC's backward like her. I tried and tried, but could never do it. I then talked to my mother and she said that if I quit school, I would have to pay rent. I agreed to it and dropped out. I began working for Western Union full time. About a year and a half later, I was riding my bicycle up a hill to deliver a telegram in the cold of winter. It was raining and the rain was freezing on my poncho. I had to shake it off periodically because of the weight. I decided I needed to go back to school and be able to make something better of myself. I then re-enrolled in Junior High school, made the honor roll, and became president of the student council. I graduated from Junior high School to go into Senior High (10th grade). My teacher used me as an example of someone who understood the importance of education because I was going back to school even though I had been making more money than her.
Two years after we moved to Texarkana, Dad was drafted into the Army in 1943, even though he was 35 years of age and had six children. He left for basic training and finally went to Germany. When we moved to Texarkana, my grandmother had continued to live with us, and this gave my mother the freedom to work at Red River Arsenal making ammunition for the war effort after my father was drafted. I remember that the school began having scrap drives and I remember squishing a lot of tin cans. I was in Junior High and don't remember any recruiters coming to my school. They had the draft so I don't think they needed many recruiters. There were just MPs checking everybody's draft status. Red River Arsenal was a hub of activity for the Army at that time and had a lot of servicemen there and many servicemen traveling through Texarkana by train. This caused many MP patrols to be on the streets of Texarkana, and they challenged anyone who looked to be service age and not in uniform for identification of their draft card status. My brother who was two years older than me was about six foot two inches tall and weighed about 200 pounds. The MPs would ask him for his draft card, and when he told them that he didn't have one, they would order him to get into the Jeep and take him to the police station. There they would clear it up, but they made comments about him being big enough to be in the service and he seemed to feel guilty about it. He talked my mother into signing for him and he lied about his age to get into the Navy.
My brother went through Navy boot camp at San Diego and was assigned to a ship out of Pearl Harbor (which was considered a war zone). I believe he was 14 years old at the time. My father didn't know it because he was in Germany. About a year later, my dad found out about it and wrote the Navy Ship Commander to get him out. The Navy Commander refused, so my dad wrote Congressman Wright Patman and he got my brother out. It was even worse then with the MPs, so my mother was talked into signing again and he joined the Army Air Corps. He went to Kessler, Mississippi for training. He didn't like the Army Air Corps at all, so my brother wrote a letter to Wright Patman, forged my dad's name, and got himself out. When he turned 17, my mother signed for him again and he went back into the Navy until the war was over. They discharged him in 1947. His re-enlistment was not accepted because the war was over.
Cecil McWilliams, who lived across the street from me, was killed in the Pacific in the Army during World War II. I was 14 when the war ended in 1945. I remember we were happy that my dad was coming home. Although we didn't have a car (which meant that gas rationing hadn't affected us), we were also glad that all the other rationings were over.
Even though the war was over, my brother really wanted to go back into the naval service and found that he could join the Texarkana Marine Corps Reserves, which he did. When the Berlin Airlift occurred in 1948, it generated a need for service personnel. My brother talked to some Navy recruiters and they told him that if he would rejoin the Navy, they would connect his time for naval service to include all his time in--even the time while he was under age. He requested a discharge from the Marine Corps Reserve to enter active duty Navy, which they granted. He went back in the Navy and stayed for a total of 31 years, retiring as an E-9 Master Chief. He married a fellow Navy Hospital Corps woman, and had one daughter. He retired in Texarkana where he lived until May 2000, when he died. He was buried beside his wife in Maud, Bowie County, Texas, with full military burial. I was able to help get the military burial with assistance from some retired Marines who I worked with at Bell Helicopter and who had connections.
When he returned from military duty, my father used the GI Bill to get his high school diploma from Texarkana, Texas High School, and then he received an associate degree from Texarkana Junior College. He and I took classes together because I got my first two years of college there. My future wife, Sylvia Ann Peek, graduated from the same high school as my dad, but two years after him.
Marine Corps Reserve
I joined the Marine Corps Reserve on April 20, 1948, while I was still in high school. My older brother had joined the Texarkana Marine Corps Reserves in April of 1948, and when he came home from signing up (he was living at home), he told me about it. He showed me all the clothes he had been issued and said that he would attend meetings every other weekend with pay. He said they would also be on active duty for two weeks at Camp Pendleton for training every summer. He said they would have liberties, see some of sights of Southern California, and also go down to Tijuana, Mexico. I had just turned 17 years old a month earlier on March 2, and wanted to know if I could get in on that. He said yes, took me down, and got me signed up on April 20, 1948 for a three-year enlistment. My serial number was the next one after his. My parents allowed me to make my own decision about joining the military. My mother never questioned me very much after my decision to return to high school.
I had not thought of joining anything. I was still in high school, finishing up the 9th grade when I joined the Reserves. I had three high school buddies who wanted to sign up, too. Two (James Roberts and Darce Odom) signed up for two-year hitches. They got out before we were activated and were not allowed to get back in and go with us. Another buddy, Elmer Davenport, signed up for three years. He was activated and stayed in California during his active duty tour. We all needed the money and thought we would get paid for having fun. Darce Odom had helped me get my Job at Western Union. We lived in the same neighborhood and ran around and hung out together.
My Reserve unit was Texarkana C Battery, 155 Howitzer Battalion, Marine Corps Reserve. It was located about eight blocks north of the downtown area of Texarkana (the Texas side) at 9th and Pine Street. The battalion headquarters was a very large previous mansion of one of Texarkana’s early pioneers. After it housed the Marine Corps Reserves, it was the site of a Wadley Hospital. The downtown area was at the Union Train Station, where my father worked. I was selected for the local security section (MOS 331), which worked with rifles and machine guns to establish the security for the 155 Howitzers. Most in that unit worked and trained on the 155 Howitzers, practicing fire missions. I learned to disassemble machine guns, M1 rifles, and carbines. There were no Browning Automatic Rifles (BARs) in the unit's inventory.
I went to summer camp at Camp Pendleton, California, in the summer of 1948, traveling to the camp by train. I also attended summer camp in 1949, traveling there by Marine Corps C-47 airplane. I had never been that far from home. I believe the farthest I had been from home was Shreveport, Louisiana, about 70 miles south of Texarkana, and about 55 miles south of Fouke, Arkansas. We went to the rifle range and fired the rifle and carbine for record. We were given demonstrations of machine gun set-ups and tactics, and fired a light .30 caliber machine gun. We went to the grenade area and threw grenades. We had regular Marines that were assigned there as their duty station, and they knew how to keep our attention. They tried to make the training competitive. At the summer camps we competed with Marine units in other towns, i.e., Dallas-Fort Worth and Oklahoma City. I still worked a few after hours for Western Union on the 'extra board'--which was work if it was available and if need could be coordinated. I removed my name for weekends of Marine Corps training. In the summer I had more available time.
In senior high, I took up sports. I played football, baseball, basketball, and track. In my junior year (11th grade), I lettered in football and track. I wanted to get an education and if I couldn't get a sports athletic scholarship from football or track, I planned to attend Texarkana College for at least two years. I had a better chance for a track scholarship, but there was also a chance for a football scholarship. In football I played End and was their punter. In track I did well in the 440 yard, 880 yard, and the mile. I was in very good athletic shape for the Marine Corps. I worked at it intensely, and would not smoke or drink alcohol. I cannot stand the taste of beer. It reminds me of sour hog slop that I was around on the farm. I know it's mental, but that is me. I tried hard while I was in the Marines, but I never could overcome it and finally gave up.
War Breaks Out
The Korean War broke out in the summer of 1950 and our Marine Corps unit was activated July 27, 1950. That summer turned out to be a Lulu. I don’t remember having ever heard of Korea before that. I knew that the Marines had fought at Guadalcanal and other places in World War II. I knew that the Marines had made landings and I had seen them in the movies. I read in the papers that the Marines at Camp Pendleton were making up the 1st Brigade and that they were going to Korea. Newspapers had pictures of them loading on a ship and leaving. Then I knew where Korea was. Our unit was immediately put on standby to be activated. Within a week we received notice of the impending activation and had orders to report to the Armory for instructions. When we arrived at the armory, we were told that our departure date would be July 27, 1950. The regular Marines there had already begun making preparations for departure to Pendleton.
I think I thought the Korean War was a little hot spot that would be quickly resolved--or at least I hoped that would be the outcome. I didn't want to go to war. I didn't want to get shot at, and I really wanted to finish my senior year of high school. But I had made a commitment, and I would stick to it. I followed the news about what was happening in Korea very intently. I didn't have a car radio to listen to, but I read the local Texarkana Gazette newspaper. My family and close friends were worried for my safety and did a lot of praying. I had a girlfriend that did a lot of crying and praying, too. She did not become my wife. We broke up after I got back and I subsequently met and married my wife Sylvia. My girlfriend at the time I left for Korea later married a Baptist minister.
Our sea bags were carried on trucks to the station and the Reserve unit marched in formation from the Armory to the train station with much media attention. I know Life magazine was there and photographed J.W. Sooter Life put him on the cover of the next issue with his head hanging out the window of the train, tears flowing down his cheeks. The title of the picture was, "The Crying Marine." I didn't cry, but I could understand his sad feelings. The trip from Texarkana to Pendleton (July 27-July 30) was made in three days and three nights. The train picked up a diner car in a town that coincided with the meals. When the meal was finished, the diner car was dropped off. When the train stopped in a town, we were not allowed to get off.
When we processed in, most of the Marines in the Texarkana Unit were assigned together to the 11th Marines, which was artillery. I was separated from them and never saw them again until after the war was over. My best friend Elmer Davenport was with me at first during the processing. I was sent into a room and the Marine in there told me that the first thing we were going to do was make out my will, which raised my hair a little and was very sobering. That was a little scary, to say the least. We then took evaluations and I was categorized to go into a line company. So was Elmer Davenport. I finished my physical before Elmer did and went outside. I was told to get on a truck to go to my unit. I said, There's still one more in there." He said, "Get on the truck." I boarded the truck and we left. I didn’t know what had happened to Elmer until after I got out of the Marine Corps.
We were issued our rifles and 782 gear, haversack, knapsack, and mess gear. I was taken to an area for my assignment and became a member of G-3-1 as it was being formed. I believe this was about August 3, 1950. The Company was moved to Tent Camp II for training. That's where they tried to teach us how to adapt to the Korean terrain. This consisted of long marches, checking out our gear, and getting acquainted with our weapons. The core of the Company had previously been Able Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines. They had just returned from a cruise in the Mediterranean Sea area. I was one of six from the Texarkana unit that didn’t stay with the artillery unit and go to the 11th Marines. There were about 150 Marines in the Texarkana unit. Others in the Texarkana Unit left later. One of the ones that left a couple of months later was Harold Morris Crow who I only knew as the Texarkana Marine that had tattoos of blue birds on his chest. He was married to my future wife’s sister, Martha Frances Peek. I knew he was one of the Texarkana Marines that was killed in Korea, and then after I was married to my wife, I connected from the blue birds that he was my wife’s brother-in-law. He was killed in D-2-7th Regiment, 1st Marine Division, on March 11, 1951. Harold and Frances had one child, Harold Morris Crow Jr., who had to grow up without his father.
Elmer Davenport was left alone at the building where we had our physicals, and didn’t know where the rest of us had gone. His records went to Korea, but he remained at Pendleton and wound up in a casual company. Since he had no personnel record file, he could not get liberty, could not get paid, and could not be re-assigned. He wound up repairing the commander’s boat and when his records were finally back, the commander had him assigned personally to him for the remainder of his tour.
Being called up for active duty meant that I wasn't going to get to finish my last year of high school. It was not until 1952 that I took a GED test and got my GED diploma from the State of Arkansas before I enrolled at Texarkana Junior College. I went to college as a disabled veteran under Public Law 16 (more on that later in my memoir).
The training at Tent Camp II and packing our sea bags were all the preparations for Korea that I remember. Sergeant Rocco Zullo came each morning and got us up. When he yelled reveille, the Quonset hut roof shook. Then we went on a 20-mile march with long-legged Captain Westover leading the way. When we took a break, he walked to the rear of the troops, then walked back to the front and said, "Pack 'em up and let's move out." He never seemed to tire. I thought, "I'm a track star and younger than he is. How does he do that?" While I was in track in high school, I sometimes ran 26 miles around the track in the evening. However, I had on shorts and no field gear.
I was not privileged to know when the orders were received, but we moved from Tent Camp II to San Diego on August 11 and bivouacked at MCRD before loading on the Simon Boliver Buckner the next day. And, Hey! I did go to Boot Camp. (Only one night - Ha!) The Marine Corps has since changed its policy. Now when a recruit joins the Marine Corps Reserves, he or she must go to boot camp immediately. We had one liberty to go to a restaurant in San Diego before we boarded the ship. I went with Sergeant Binaxas and two other Marines to a restaurant. Sergeant Binaxas was a World War II veteran, and pretty salty--using words I was not used to around waitresses. I had been in the Reserves for over two years with two summer camps, and had the rank of Corporal. Sergeant Binaxas and Corporal Haber were Reservists, too, but had World War II combat experience. They took me under their wing to help me. Corporal Haber had three days' combat experience and two Purple Hearts. He and Binaxas were killed the third or fourth day after the Inchon Landing.
Trip to Korea
We hit a typhoon going across the Pacific from San Diego to Kobe, Japan. The ship rolled and tossed, and I think I went downstairs (ladder) to my bunk and laid in the sack to keep from getting sea sick. I was able to fight sea sickness attacks by lying in the sack and eating soda crackers. I don't remember where I got the crackers from because we hadn't had any C-rations at that time that I could have gotten them from. They must have come from the ship's mess hall.
The USNS Simon Boliver Buckner was a naval troop ship. If my memory serves me correctly, it was about the length of three football fields (approximately 900 feet long). I believe all the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines was on it, which would have been approximately 750-plus Marines. There could have been more. They had some cargo, but I’m not sure what. It may only have been for the compliment of Marines on board. The crew was civilian. There were four people on the Buckner from my Texarkana Marine unit. They were Gerald Johnson (football teammate in Texarkana, Arkansas), Bobby Jack Fox (he had just graduated from Texarkana, Texas High School), George Ponder (World War II veteran from Texarkana, Arkansas), and Don Perry (World War II veteran from Texarkana, Arkansas. The World War II veterans told me that I needed to learn how to recognize people in my platoon from the rear with their helmets on. That was a tough one, but it helped to know our platoon.
We ate three good meals a day in the Buckner dining room. There were people that got seasick. I only got sick once and that was when someone got sick on the forward part of the ship. He couldn’t make it to the rail and it came back and hit me in the face. I threw up then and went down and took a shower. The de-salting devices broke on the Buckner, and we had to take showers with salt water for about half the trip.
My 'entertainment' on the trip over consisted of learning how to disassemble and reassemble an M1 rifle–-blindfolded. I questioned this, but was told by the World War II vets that the only time I might have to make repairs or oil my rifle would probably at night. If I could do it blindfolded, I could do it at night. I said, “It works for me.” I got busy and became proficient at it. Those silver-tongued devil dogs. We were always busy studying tactics and maintaining our weapons. There were also requests for volunteers to learn tactics for a recon patrol and they would put us on a list, which I declined. I didn't want to ask for trouble. However, the Sergeant that taught the class and made the list lost it, and I wound up on a recon patrol the first night on the beach. We had informal classes on what to do in certain 'what if' situations like, "What do you do if you are out on patrol or something else for over 24 hours and don't know the new password?" One answer was to come back at the challenger with the famous Marine Corps salty language, and they would know you are a Marine.
I have two photos of the Buckner--one on a postcard and one that I sent to my parents postmarked September 11, 1950. This was about the time we were boarding LST 1045 at Kobe, Japan, to head for an unknown destination in Korea. When we got to Kobe, we all got off the ship and went to Camp Otsu in Japan by truck. Camp Otsu was a US Army occupation base, and the soldiers who had been stationed there were now in Korea's Pusan Perimeter. We trained at Otsu until it was time to board the LSTs for Korea. I felt I needed all the training I could get, and was taking in all I could get, especially from the World War II veterans. We did a lot of long conditioning marches because there was intense heat in Korea in August, and some were dying from heat exhaustion. (Boy, did that ever change!) Remembering those long marches triggers a memory. As we were returning to Camp Otsu from one of our 25-mile marches, some Army wives were standing there watching us, making non-complimentary comments as we marched by. One of the wives said to another, “They aren’t nothing but a bunch of Salt Water Cowboys." I still think that was funny. I haven’t heard it since, but I thought the Marines had just received another name.
It took four days for the LST to get from Kobe to position for landing in Korea. About two days after leaving Kobe, it was revealed to us that our destination was to be Inchon. Lt. Richard E. Carey and Staff Sergeant Tillman briefed us on the mission and pointed out Inchon on the west side (the China Sea side) of Korea on a chart. They said that Inchon stuck out like a sore thumb, and that we were going to make an amphibious landing there. They also gave us our LVT assignments number IDs. I lucked out when I got Carey as an officer. He was the best 2nd Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. That was proven when he stayed in and retired as a Lieutenant General. He was a mustang. He went in as a Private to boot camp and worked his way up. We caught him in his first assignment as an officer. I believe that was divine providence, too.
LST 1045 was what we launched the LVT (Landing Vehicle Tank), a/k/a AMTRACs (amphibious tractor), from. There were only G-3-1 Marines--approximately 240 men, on this LST. The LST had pontoon bridges hung on the side that were later used to make a bridge across a river. The Navy dining room on our LST was small and we had to eat in shifts, but it was Navy food and we had plenty to eat. I thought it was good. The Japanese-operated Q0030 that we went from Inchon to Wonson on was a different story. Some of the LSTs that Marines coming from Kobe to Inchon were on were operated by the Japanese. I understand that the food was not as good as was served on the US Navy-operated LSTs. I believe the US Navy LST crew consisted of over 30 to 40, while the Japanese used a crew of about four or five, so there was more bunks available on the Japanese-operated LSTs.
We hit the remnants of another typhoon while going around the horn of Korea to Inchon. When the LST rolled, the pontoons threw salt water straight up into the air and then it fell all over the LST deck. The LST had a maximum speed of about eight knots, and was a flat-bottomed, 300-feet long ship that was operated by a US Navy crew of approximately 30 men. I believe it held six LVTs inside the hole. The LST front doors opened out from the center front and the ramp came down. The LVTs then came out the front, down the ramp, and hopefully would not go to the bottom, but instead would head for the beach. I believe one LVT held two squads. There were three squads to a platoon and three platoons to a company. I believe I remember six LVTs in the hole.
We got into position for the landing at Inchon on the morning of September 15, 1950. I believe that our breakfast in the dining room of the LST was steak and eggs. After that, almost everyone went topside and watched the fireworks of the Naval gun ships that were softening up the beach. There were other LSTs anchored, and I believe there were destroyers. (My brother James C. Edwards was a corpsman in the Navy on the USS Thompson at Inchon.) There were also destroyer escorts and cruisers, and the battleship Missouri was out there somewhere. All except the LSTs were belching fire from their big guns toward the shoreline. In the distance I think I saw an aircraft carrier that the Navy and Marine Corps Corsairs were flying off of. We could hear the engines of the F4U gull-winged Corsairs whining, and they were bombing, strafing, and dropping napalm on targets on the beach.
Inchon harbor had a 33 to 35-foot tide that was completely out at noon and came into high tide at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. It was out to low tide at midnight and noon. The optimum time for the landing had to be in a window of opportunity at around 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. to keep the landing vehicles from being stuck in the mucky mud left when the tide went out. We were going into Blue Beach at around 6 p.m. We were given life jackets because there had been cases where the LVTs had gone out the front, down the ramp, into the water, and sank. It would be impossible for a person to swim with all the battle gear he had on. The LVTs were open on top and we could get out, but then what?
The LSTs had two anchors in the aft. At high tide they got a running start, dropped the rear anchors out a ways from the beach, and ran themselves onto the beach. The landing craft had a flat bottom to enable it to do this. It allowed some non-floating vehicles such as tanks, big artillery pieces, big trucks, Jeeps, and other necessary support supplies to come ashore by driving off onto more or less dry land. Those types of logistics were necessary before a healthy advance toward Seoul could be made.
The weather was clear that September 15th. I was in the first wave. Around 6 p.m., it was time for us to land. Our LVT drove up to the beach and the back ramp went down. We ran out, took cover (we were receiving small arms fire from the enemy), and removed the life jackets, throwing them toward the LVT. After the landing and the beach were secure, the LSTs (about 300 feet long) were unloaded, and when it was high tide, they used the aft anchor to pull themselves back out into the water and into their operational environment.
I was a member of George Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Platoon, 3rd squad, under Sgt. Vernon Kent. I was in the first fire team, which consisted of David Martinez - rifleman, Gene “Red” Myers - BAR man, and me - assistant BARman. I was a young Marine who should have been finishing my last year of high school in Texarkana, Arkansas. Instead, the Marines made the decision that anyone who had had two summer camps was “combat ready,” and I was now in Korea. PFC Ralph Murphy, who was in my platoon, was killed during the landing. I believe he was trying to cut some wire out of the way and a sniper bullet got him. Corporal Albert Barnes was also killed. I knew Murphy about as well as I knew anyone else, and had seen Barnes and been around him.
One person in our platoon, Maury Wilmouth, a Marine reservist from Oklahoma City, had done a hitch in the Army prior to getting into the Marine Reserves. He had had a duty assignment and was stationed at Inchon before the war. We passed directly beside the building (located just off the beach) that he had been in for 18 months. He knew the terrain very well and was immediately called upon for help for an assessment on the lay of the land into Seoul, where he had spent his liberties.
Our orders were to dig in and I was to share a foxhole with Gene Myers, who at that time was the BARman in our fire team. He had an idea of the best way to shape it. We dug it in an “L” shape with a cavity in one end and deep enough to kick a grenade in case one got in and we didn’t have time to throw it out. He thought it would provide some protection for us. While I was digging, my sea legs began to fool me that the ground was rolling like the ship. What an eerie feeling. But we got it finished as it was getting dark.
As I mentioned earlier, while we were on the USS Buckner between San Diego and Kobe, there was a request for volunteers to be trained for “recon” patrols. I had avoided this because it sounded dangerous to me, and I didn’t want to ask for trouble. After we finished digging our foxhole in Inchon, a big Sergeant came up to where we were and said, “I need three volunteers for a recon patrol to make contact with the next company on line." I didn’t recognize this Sergeant as being in 1st Platoon. Then he said, "You, you, and you" (pointing at me). I looked over to Sergeant Kent like I wanted permission, and he said, "Go."
The patrol began. It was now dark and the ships in Inchon harbor began shooting up flares to reveal any movement. These flares went up in the air, hung on little parachutes, and lit up the area until they burned out. When we began advancing, a flare periodically shot up and we had to freeze until it burned out. This made for slow going. I remember the password was "Lucky Strike" in case we got separated and had to get back on our own. We came upon someone that made my heart come up in my mouth. It turned out to be a dead Korean. We made contact with the other company and then we returned to our company. I got to use my new foxhole. Years later, I talked to Jack Dunne at a reunion and found out that the Sergeant who had picked me to go on the recon patrol was Sergeant Malnar in 2nd Platoon. I’m not sure why he picked me. Jack Dunnne said that when Sergeant Malnar picked him, he said, "I’m not on that list.” Malnar replied, “I lost the list."
Since I was new, I was not familiar with all the people in George Company, but I was trying to learn them fast. I knew the people in 1st Platoon, and I very well knew Master Sergeant Zullo with that thunderous voice that seemed to vibrate the Quonset hut roofs at Pendleton. I also very well knew Captain Westover with his long-legged marches that we took at Pendleton and Camp Otsu. He never seemed to tire. Most of the other personnel I knew were in the 1st platoon.
We began to move toward Seoul after the Corsairs had knocked out some North Korean tanks. My fire team was assigned to protect the right flank of the company as we moved toward Seoul. We were advancing through a narrow field of peas that was on the bank about 30 feet above a narrow part of the road the company was traveling on. The peas were very dense and reached up to about our waist. We couldn’t see the ground or determine if anyone was in the pea patch. We spread out with three to four rows between us to try to encounter anyone that might be hiding. Our weapons were raised high enough to clear the top of the pea stalks. I remember them being so thick I couldn’t see the ground or what was on the ground. Red Myers (our BARman) was walking in one row and stepped on a North Korean that was hiding and trying to lob grenades down on the company. I think they had already thrown a couple. He motioned for him to get up, then he told him to get up. The North Korean made a move like he was going to toss a grenade at us and Myers shot a burst into him. The grenade went off, but I think it was so close that it only hit the North Korean. We ducked when the grenade went off and somehow it missed us completely. It did clear a path in the pea patch rows so we could see the enemy. There were four of them scattered in the pea patch. They were next to the road trying to lob grenades. Myers got two with his BAR. I think I got one and Martinez got the other. None survived or escaped.
We advanced with the tank column toward Seoul. I believe this was the day a motorcycle came speeding upon us. The motorcycle came at a fast speed, meeting our column as we advanced toward Seoul. The motorcycle had a side car and it looked like an officer was his passenger. I believe he fired a shot from a pistol or something. That was his mistake. He was immediately taken care of and they crashed, swerving to their left off the road. Neither survived.
We advanced by walking (mostly running) and riding on DUKWs toward Seoul. It was during this time period that we got hit by mortars. I remember that on one of those days we were taking a break, and a mortar hit in a rice paddy within ten feet of me. When it fell, it sank so deep in the rice paddy that the explosion went straight up. Nothing went horizontal. We also rode some tanks during this time frame, and once Chesty Puller walked right beside me. Someone in a Jeep pulled up beside him and asked, "Colonel Puller, do you want to ride?" He said, "Hell no. If my men have to walk, I'm gonna walk." Then a little later, when some of the Marines got on tanks and some got on DUKWs, he finally got in a different Jeep.
Another time there was what looked like a kid standing on a ridge. The mortar rounds coming in were aligned up with him. If he moved to the left, the incoming mortar rounds came in a little left. If he moved to the right, the mortar rounds adjusted to the right. Finally someone took the enemy firing the mortars out and the incoming mortars ceased. Peepsight Pendas was the only one in our company who had a sniper rifle that could reach that far, so it might have been him--but I can't say for sure. One thing I can say for sure, however, is that we generally took mortar rounds if we sat in one place very long.
Sergeant Binaxas and Corporal Haber were killed while handling and interrogating some prisoners we had taken. This was a couple of days before we crossed the Han River to Seoul and before we got to Yongdungpo. I wasn't present when either got killed, but I knew about it shortly after. The report I got about Haber was that he was called upon to question some prisoners that someone else had captured. They couldn't understand them and Haber could speak a little Japanese. He went to question them and was standing too close. One pulled a pistol and shot him. I believe he was killed first that day. I'm not sure what happened to the prisoners. Binaxas was called upon later when someone in the platoon ran into two uniformed people who were thought to be South Koreans and they couldn't understand them. Binaxas spoke some Japanese and they called him to try to talk to them. When he came around the corner, one of them turned, pulled a pistol, and shot him in the stomach. One of them was killed and the other got away. Binaxas and Haber were World War II vets who had helped me on the ship, trying to teach me the fine points of combat tactics. Since I was new to combat, old salts like them had helped me not only by sharing information learned from their previous combat experience, but also by boosting my morale. They seemed to keep a positive attitude. I was very sorry they had been killed. In fact, I was always sorry when I saw anyone with a rag hat (Marine) laid out dead. I thought all of those I served with in Korea were heroes, especially the dead.
The dikes at Yongdungpo were part of levee-type system that was probably used for flood control. I believe there were some canals there, but they could have been barrow pits made when the earth was removed from them to form the levees or dykes. It reminded me of the big levees around Red river in Miller County, Arkansas, which also had barrow pits. (They made good fishing places.) I really don't know what their function was at Yongdungpo, but they were on the riverside between us and our ultimate objective--Seoul. We also needed someone on top of the dike or levee to see if anyone was on the other side who might be the enemy. If we were on the top, we were a target, so the person who was on the top would run along just on the friendly side and peek over to see what was on the other side. We had aircraft overhead that were watching, too.
We got in front of our air support at the dikes and had to pull back to keep from getting strafed by our Corsairs. It was a close call. We had some very brightly-colored pink and yellow silk panels that we stowed in our helmets. They were used as markers to identify us from the bad guys. These panels almost glowed in the dark. When we called for air support, we were supposed to whip the panels out and put them on the side of us toward the enemy. Many times the Corsair aircraft were so low we could tell what color of eyes the pilots had, and we didn't need panels. At the dikes, however, somebody called for air support and we didn't have our panels laid out yet. We got strafed, but none of us got hurt. Maybe the pilot recognized us, because the air support was notified very fast as we pulled back and regrouped. The air support always did a very good job and we were able to reach the 'beautiful downtown Yongdungpo area' (ha ha)--and that's where the Marines found a brewery.
When the Marines went into the brewery to secure the area, they got hold of some green beer that made them sick with dysentery. After we got onboard LSTs going around to Wonson and waiting for the minesweepers to clear the harbor, they also got seasick to go with that. I didn’t drink beer, so I was spared the misery.
We crossed the Han River in DUKWs (pronounced "Ducks"), which were large vehicles that could drive into the water and operate as a boat. They had a six-wheel drive and three axles. I believe a DUKW held 10 to 15 people, maybe more. It had propellers and a rudder to operate on water, and large rubber-tired wheels to operate on land--with a steering wheel that maneuvered the front wheels for its direction. It was similar to a big two-axle truck, but it was a little wider and had a boat appearance. It operated at a top speed of 50 miles an hour on land and six miles an hour on water. The DUKW operator could enter the water and activate it to operate as a boat, then disengage the boat feature and activate the land feature when leaving the water, and drive it like a truck or a car on land.
Around 4 or 5 p.m., the Marines boarded while on dry land on the Yongdongpo side, and our orders were to get off when it was on the Seoul side on dry land. There were maybe six to ten DUKW's in the convoy that crossed the Han that evening. Our DUKW operator moved the rudder back and forth to zigzag the vehicle, making an "S"-type pattern in order to avoid the enemy mortars that were hitting the zigzag pattern where we weren't. I sat on the seat and looked at mortar shells hitting the water, wondering if one of them was going to get lucky--and hoping it wouldn't. I don't think any of the mortars hit any of the DUKWs. If any had hit, I would have remembered very vividly.
The trip across the Han took about ten minutes or maybe a little less after we entered the water. The bridge across the river had been knocked out and I believe we crossed on the west side of what was left of the bridge. Although I don't remember any, I'm sure there were snipers firing at us from hidden areas on the Seoul side, but I couldn't see anybody and I don't remember any reported casualties. We pulled out of the water, unloaded, and took to high ground. The DUKWs left, probably going back to get another load, and we dug in for the night.
We had just had our breakfast (a can of C-rations) at the place where we stayed the night after crossing the Han River, and were beginning our advance toward the inner part of Seoul. The 1st platoon had gone over a railroad track at a place that was about a half block left of a railroad trestle that a road went under, and we were advancing toward an open field that had a rise or a hill. The 2nd platoon was on our right. I believe that most of them went over the railroad track, but some may have gone under. I wasn’t looking at them, but as we were going up the rise in the field, gunfire opened up on us and the 2nd platoon took the brunt of the attack with a lot of casualties. We took cover in what looked like foxholes that had been dug by the North Koreans. I remember Meyers cussing them for being so small. We returned fire to where we thought it was coming from. We pulled out our entrenching tools and began a modification of the foxhole (making it larger). I don't think that 1st platoon had any casualties, but I believe that 2nd platoon lost about half of the platoon. We finally pulled back and called in air support. I was a little surprised when the aircraft we got was Night Fighters. Most of the time it was Corsairs. This time was the only time that we got Night Fighters. I don’t remember their designation, but they had twin engines in the wing and they were painted black. They were quite a contrast from the Corsairs, but they came in low. We then began to advance toward the inner part of Seoul. It was between here and the roadblock and on Ma Po Boulevard that Sgt. Gene Lilly from Oklahoma City was killed by a sniper's fire while we were pinned down a little later. He was directly across the street from me and beside Lieutenant Carey.
We had a calm period in the evening and were waiting for a recon patrol to return with information on what was out in front of us. I believe we were possibly going to move out. Oscar Weeks and I were assigned to take up an outpost position out in front of the roadblock, look for the enemy approaching, and keep an eye out for Corporal Collins' patrol that was supposed to return at any time. We moved out in front of the roadblock and took a position on the left side of the street in a hole next to a schoolyard wall approximately 100 or so yards out. The time was somewhere around midnight when Weeks asked me if I could take the watch while he rested his eyes. I said yes and watched for quite a while. It was dark and I could hear motors running in the distance. I then noticed some people on the opposite side of the street advancing toward the roadblock, but still a good half block or so from us. I told Weeks, “I think I see the patrol coming in.” He said, “How many made it back?” I started counting "one, two, three." When I got to six, he jumped up and said, “That’s too many.” We then looked on the schoolyard side and saw a long line of people approaching us next to the wall. He immediately fired into the line on the schoolyard side and I fired at the line across the street. They were surprised and started scrambling for cover, doing a lot of jabbering that I couldn’t understand. Then someone from the roadblock hollered, “Don’t fire. That’s the patrol coming in.” I hollered back, “There’s too many of them.” They then hollered, “Pull back.” Weeks said, “You go first and I’ll follow.”
I could hear a tank coming up closer as I started to run down the street back toward the roadblock. I could hear automatic weapons firing and see sparks from bullets hitting the street surface around my feet. That made me run faster. I ran over the machine gun emplacement just in front of the roadblock. It had sandbags stacked around it, and I stumbled on top of the machinegun gunner. He said, “Hey, I’m on your side,” and we both laughed. As I walked around the telephone pole to behind the sandbags of the roadblock on the schoolhouse side, the tank fired a round that came so close to me, the wake knocked me down. Then someone (I believe Corporal Fry or Sergeant Hancock) said, "You need to go up to the Command Post and report what’s going on out there to Captain Westover. He is concerned about Corporal Collins' patrol that has not returned yet." I said okay and then ascended up the hill that was on the schoolhouse side of the street to where the CP was. There I found Captain Westover and M/Sergeant Zullo. I described to them the situation about the line of troops that Weeks and I had encountered on both sides of the street, including the tank, but told them that we had seen no sign of the patrol. Captain Westover thanked me and dismissed me to go back to my unit.
I then descended back down the hill from the CP and back to the roadblock area at street level, where I saw a Marine that was hit by what I assumed was ammunition from the tank's 88 gun. He was decapitated. I thought it was Weeks. I then went back to my squad that was positioned at the canal on the opposite side of the street from the schoolhouse and told Sergeant Kent, “I think Weeks got it.” He said, “That’s what he said about you.” He was okay and had made it back to the squad while I had gone up to the CP. The remainder of the night was a counter attack mounted by the North Koreans. It was quite an intensive battle (better described as “all hell broke loose”). We wondered why they wanted us to be pushed back so badly, until we found out later that the school had a cache of arms stored in it. It was believed to be what they were trying to get to. They didn’t make it and were eventually pushed back.
During the fire fight at the roadblock (which was before dawn), we were across Ma Po Boulevard from the school, firing across the canal (ditch) at the enemy. Sergeant Hancock threw a grenade across the canal and we ducked waiting for the grenade to explode. Nothing happened. Someone said to Hancock, “Did you pull the pin?” He said, “Yes.” Someone else said, “Did you remove the tape?” And he said, “Damn!” The hand grenade came in a cylindrical case with a removable top. The case had a piece of tape wrapped around the cylindrical bottom and top at the interface. When we received the hand grenade, we usually unwrapped the tape from the cylinder interface, removed the top, and then removed the grenade. We wrapped the tape around the grenade and spoon as an extra safety precaution. Before we threw the grenade, we then had to pull the tape off the grenade and pull the pin.
Corporal Collins' patrol got back the next morning, coming in one at a time. He was the last and he was dressed in Korean clothing (women's clothing, as I recall). Corporal Collins had the South Korean interpreter with him (I believe that was O Chain Joe), and they were several blocks past where Weeks and I were on the outpost when the the Koreans began to move up--probably about the same time that Weeks and I encountered them on the outpost. It seems to me that he realized that he was cut off and began trying to maneuver himself away from the area. During this maneuver, he became separated from his patrol. Somehow he and the interpreter wound up among some scared South Korean civilians. I assume that he got the female clothing from some of them. I never did hear all the details, but I remember that he got a lot of kidding about it from people in the Company who knew him better than I did. This incident is covered in detail on page 35 and 36 of Volume I of the G-3-1 history. It covers a lot more than I knew until I just read it. I always called the interpreter 'O Chain Joe' (spelling it like it sounded to me). The first time I saw our South Korean Interpreter was after we had heard stories of North Koreans killing Marines, getting their uniforms, and then taking advantage to infiltrate among the Marines' areas to play havoc. We were warned to watch out for it. And then this Oriental wearing a Marine uniform walked up. I was ready to shoot. I don't remember who (it could have been Carey), but someone stepped up and introduced O Chain Joe as our interpreter. I'm glad they did or I might have been in trouble.
The North Koreans were who we were fighting. The South Koreans or Republic of Korea (ROKs) were who we were defending. (You might ask how relatives can war with relatives. My answer to that is Cain killed Abel, and more recently, brother fought brother in the Confederate War in the United States--and there have been other examples through time.) North versus South Korea is better understood with some background information about World War II that will clarify why North and South Koreans were rivals.
During World War II, Russia and China had been our allies just like England. When World War II was over in Europe, the conquerors (Russia and the United States) split Korea and Germany in half. Germany was split in half by the Pottsdam Agreement. Korea was split in half because Russia occupied the northern part of Korea and the United States occupied the southern part when World War II ended. They could not agree on the form of government that would unify Korea. It became a stand off. The United Nations, which was set up to resolve these types of issues, was called upon to do so. They wanted to set up a democratic-type government for both, and sent in a team to do so. Russia would not allow this team into North Korea, so the UN was only allowed to set up a democratic government in the South. The first elections in South Korea were held in 1948. Russia set up a dictatorial government in North Korea. The split was at the 38th parallel.
Meanwhile, the German population was separated into East and West Germany. The capital of Germany was in the middle of East Germany, so they split Berlin in half and Russia agreed to allow free access through East Germany with roads and railroads to the US half of Berlin. That was done until 1948, when Russia blocked the roads and railroads through East Germany and cut off all supplies to West Berlin. The US began flying supplies into West Berlin, and did so until Russia reopened the roads and railroads. (This was called the Berlin Airlift.) When the development in West Berlin and West Germany began to flourish, the East Germans saw it and began to leave and go to West Germany in droves. This was especially true in Berlin, so the Russians constructed the Berlin Wall to prevent migration to the west. The South Koreans' development also begin to flourish. The North Korean people saw this and began to make their move to escape to their South Korean relatives. I think the government that ruled the northern half of Korea by fear saw an exodus coming. (Its leaders had watched what happened in East Germany, and they were probably urged on by Russia.) They precluded it by attacking South Korea in June 1950, but the whole mess was started as World War II ended. I personally consider the Koreans now serving in the North Korean Army to be brainwashed robots who happen to have relatives in North as well as South Korea. Then there are the real victims--the Korean people in the North who are enslaved by the ruling regime. They also have relatives in both North and South Korea. It's a sad state of affairs that did not end with the signing of the truce in 1953. Understanding the Korean background as it relates to World War II helps to understand why the United States got involved in the Korean War in the first place--and why on September 26, 1950, the United States Marines were fighting North Koreans in the streets of Seoul, South Korea.
Our roadblock held up during the night and the North Koreans finally retreated. After daylight our tanks began advancing through the roadblock and up the street. One tank ran over an anti-tank mine that was out in front of the road block, exploding it with his right track. About ten Marines standing nearby were wounded. 2nd Lt. Richard E. Carey (in command of first platoon) was on the tank phone at the right rear of the tank, trying to stop the tank driver when the mine exploded. The tank shielded him from extreme injury, but his left ear drum burst from the explosion. In February 2008, my wife and I were dining at a restaurant in Dallas, Texas, at a Chosin Few gathering. Lieutenant Carey (now Lt. Gen. Richard E. Carey, Ret.) was dining with us, and in the course of conversation we talked about the roadblock incident and the anti-tank mine explosion. He told us, "I still can hardly hear anything from my left ear." The tank phone was in his right hand and was held to his right ear, which probably saved his right ear from being burst by the explosion, too. The explosion actually occurred on his right side.
We were all on the right side of the street and I was standing closer than the others were, but it all somehow missed me. One of the wounded was Red Myers, my fire team’s BARman. His wounds were multiple and were in his right chest side and down around where his ribs ended. He was alert, talked, and told me to take care of his BAR, but he did not stand up and was evacuated on a stretcher. That is the last I heard from him. I don't know where he went to, but I am sure it was back to the States (although I really don't know that). I was then given the assignment as the BARman and given his BAR. Joe Bell was re-assigned from another fire team as a replacement to be my assistant BARman to the third squad, first fire team.
We lost our corpsman after securing Seoul, and a new one was assigned to our platoon. As he was digging in, I said to him, "I have a brother that is a corpsman in the Navy with the same rank," and asked him if he might know him. The corpsman said, "No, the Navy is a big place." When I told him that my brother was named Jim Edwards, he said that he knew a Big Jim Edwards in Pensacola. That was my brother, James Cornelius Edwards. He had been stationed at the US Naval Hospital in Pensacola the same time that the new corpsman, Ernie Hefling, was. Their friendship included owning a car together at Pensacola. When the Korean War broke out, my brother requested to be transferred to the 1st Marine Division so he could "take care of his little brother." Ernie Hefling did not want to go into a combat unit and put in a request for a transfer to a destroyer. He ended up with the 1st Marine Division and my brother was assigned to the destroyer USS Thompson, which was stationed off the coast of Korea. The Thompson made some excursions up some rivers in Korea, but I'm not sure which ones. My brother was in Korean waters from September 1950 to August 1951. When Ernie was assigned to my platoon I thought, "What a small world." I was with Ernie until I got wounded at Hagaru-ri.
Lieutenant Carey took 1st Platoon on patrol (for food we had K-rations), and it lasted all day. We circled around an area north of Seoul. I am not sure how far we were out. I remember we came upon a crater in a rice paddy that the whole platoon could go down in to. It was believed to be created by the explosion from one of the Battleship Missouri’s 16-inch shells. We continued and came upon a little South Korean village. There was a large number of civilians who had their hands tied behind their backs with wire. A trench had been dug, the civilians had apparently been ordered to kneel down, and then they had been shot. They each had a neat hole in the back of their skull. They had been shoved in the trench that they had dug for themselves. A product of the North Korean Army. Lieutenant Carey speculated that these were the village elders or leaders.
It was while we were still in Seoul that I saw Margaret Higgins, a female media reporter. I saw her talking to some of the other Marines. She was the only American woman I saw while I was in Korea. Shortly thereafter, we were relieved by the 1st Calvary and they continued going north. Before we had gone very far past Seoul, we received orders to return to Inchon. We also were provided with a much-needed shower bath and a clean set of some Army dungarees. Some of them had ranking markings on them. There was a pile there and we had to pick out some that would fit. Some were new and some looked previously owned. I somehow got a new pair with nothing on them. Some got them with the Gunny Sergeant stripes on them.
I broke out in a rash from wearing those Army fatigues. I thought they had some kind of small insect in them. I went to sick bay and they gave me different kinds of powder, which didn’t help at all. When the Corpsman took the Army dungarees and put them next to my skin, I got a reaction. He said, "You are allergic to the dye in the Army dungarees." I had my Marine Corps dungarees washed by a mama-san. It cost me a can of C-rations and a bar of soap. She took them down to a stream that had a large rock on the bank. She 'wet 'em, soaped 'em, and beat 'em' with a stick on the rock. When I got them back and put them on, I cleared right up. Can you beat that! I was allergic to the dye in Army fatigues, but I’m not allergic to poison oak or poison ivy. I always had to help my father saw wood because my older brother and mother were allergic to poison oak. My father and I were not. I am not sure when I got rid of the Army dungarees and put my Marine clothing back on. It wasn't too long, because I didn't want Marines thinking I was Army. (I might get run over by a Jeep - ha ha!) I know that I didn't want to leave and lose my Marine dungarees because we couldn't count on being in one place very long. I think the longest we spent in any one place was at Majon-ni, which was two or three weeks. After that we went around to the east side of Korea. Clothes were not my priority at that time, except for not losing them.
Lieutenant Carey was to be the Mess Officer on the LST Q0030 that took us to Wonson. Our LST was an old one operated by a Japanese crew. Carey was given the rations from the Army and it turned out to be nothing but large cans of tuna, large cans of corn beef hash, and large cans of cherries. Some of those that had stripes on their dungarees used them to raid an Army stockpile from an unsuspecting guard that was outranked. The food was used to stock the LST on which we were to go from the west side of Korea (Inchon) to the east side of Korea (Wonson). We wound up with a more palatable diet for the trip, which turned out to be about two weeks longer than it should have been because of having to wait for the minesweepers to clean out the mines in Wonson harbor. We went back and forth on the east side off the coast of Wonson. This became known as "Operation YoYo". I sniped a can of those cherries (a very large can), took it up a hole on the LST, and ate them all. I have not been able to eat cherries since. I finally confessed this to Carey (who retired as a Lieutenant General) at the 2007 G-3-1 reunion in Quantico. Virginia. He laughed and said, “You stole my cherries?” His wife Dena was with him and my wife was there, so he didn’t kill me.
The harbor was declared clear of mines and the LST began the very slow move toward the shore, getting in a position for the LVTs to take us to shore. We were making the same type of landing as we had at Inchon, but without any hostile fire. As we moved toward shore, we passed the largest ship I had ever seen, with the largest guns I think I had ever seen. We were very close--I think probably less than 50 yards away. It seemed to take us forever to go by it. Joe Bell and Roland Manning (they had graduated together from high school at Highland Park in Dallas) had joined the Marines together and been sea-going Marines. They were now in 1st Platoon, George Company, and Joe was my assistant BARman. I ask Joe Bell, “What is that?” He said that it was the battleship Missouri. The Missouri was anchored, and as we got near the front I could see its name, USS Missouri. The 16-inch guns looked much larger than any guns I had ever seen before. We got into position, boarded the LVTs, and headed for shore. We followed the same procedures that we had at Inchon--life jackets and all. The weather was nice and comfortable and we had no cold weather gear at that time. There was no indication of any bad weather ahead. It didn’t really get bad until after Thanksgiving.
When we got on shore, we assembled and found out that our first assignment was to escort a large Caterpillar bulldozer that was used to carve out an airstrip for supplies, evacuating wounded, etc. We started to where we were to meet up with the Cat and we passed by many bunkers that were very well fortified and had grass growing on the top that hid them from aircraft. As we went farther, I observed a very large cavity that had been dug into the side of the mountain by the enemy to form an aircraft hangar (another almost impenetrable target from the air). I thought the only way anyone could put a bomb into that hangar would be to use a torpedo plane, come in low, try to slide a torpedo it in, and then do a hard right to try to miss that mountain. Fortunately for us, the Republic of Korea (ROK) Marines had come up the east coast and taken and secured it a couple of weeks previously. I believe this hangar was where Bob Hope was putting on a show, but it was not for us. We didn’t have time to see Bob Hope's show because we were assigned to go into the mountains west of Wonson to the little village of Majon-ni and secure the area.
A sergeant in the Engineers operated the large “Cat," which had a maximum speed of about three miles an hour and made an enormous amount of noise. During the all-day trip, small arms fire seemed almost constant. It was returned and little pockets of resistance were overrun. But the big Cat never had to stop. It clanged and plodded along with small arms fire ricocheting off all parts of the Cat and by the driver’s head. He went on even when the fire was extremely heavy. Of course we took cover, but the Cat kept going. The Sergeant was an inspiration for all of us to follow. We finally got into Majon-ni late that night and the Sergeant shut down the Cat. Someone went over to tell him how brave and fearless he was. He looked up and said, "What did you say?" He was deaf and couldn’t hear a thing from all of the noise the Cat made.
We set up a defensive position around Majon-ni. Joe Bell and I were placed upon a mountain or hill just below the crest on the south side of Majon-ni, and we dug a foxhole. Then we set out booby traps in front of us for security at night. We tied tin cans together in places that we thought someone might try to sneak up. For booby traps we used the case that the hand grenade came in. We removed the grenade from the case, and secured/tied the case to something. We put the grenade back in the case and tied a fine wire to it, pulled it across an area, and tied it to a bush, making sure the wire was taut. After that, we removed the grenade, held the spoon, and pulled the pin. We then pushed the grenade back in the case so that the case was the only thing holding the spoon. In theory, when the enemy came he would hang his foot on the wire, pull the grenade out that released the spoon, and pull it under him or toward him. He would be neutralized--or at least alert us. When necessary, we disarmed by holding the spoon as we pulled the grenade from the case and reinserted the pin. We stayed there the whole time except when we were assigned to go on a patrol. One of us usually went down to get rations or to check to see if we had mail.
Because we couldn't get supply trucks through, we had air drops at Majon-ni every day. I watched them from my foxhole up on the mountain or hill. One time Joe Bell and I observed a crew member that was pushing stuff out of a C-119 during one of those air drops. He must not have had his safety harness fastened because he fell out of the plane and hit the ground flat on his back. I said, "Oh, My God! Joe, did you see that?" He said, "Yes. That's too bad." People started running out to him, and about the time they got to him, he got up. I have wondered whether he lived very long after that. He had to have done internal damage, I would think.
We had recon patrols that went out every day, and a roadblock was set up on the road that went to Pyongyang. I was on one patrol that went to the west to investigate some old mines. It took all day, and we found nothing. There was either no one there or the enemy hid well. We had truck convoys that came from Wonson with supplies. They were ambushed four or five times and we lost several Marines. These were all in the same general area at about the halfway point. One time they mutilated the Marines bodies, poking one Marine's Purple Heart down his throat. Combat patrols were sent out and they were attacked. Lieutenant Carey and Sergeant Tillman took our platoon about halfway out to the area that had been hit several times. We took two radiomen, one in the front and one in the rear, and spread out as far as we could be apart and still have a visual. When we got there, nothing happened. We then decided to investigate to the south of the area. We spread out and moved across an open field. I had my BAR and everybody else had their weapons at the ready position. As we moved across expecting something to happen, we flushed out a cubby of quails. A few rounds went off, but I believe all quails were safe. I found a quilted jacket (the Chinese wore them) in that field, and that was the first sign I had seen of the Chinese. I gave it to Lieutenant Carey and he took it back to Majon-ni and gave it to someone.
We were at Majon-ni for the Marine Corps Birthday on November 10, 1950, and we stayed there until around the 15th of November, when we were relieved by the Army. We then began our trip north toward the Chosin Reservoir--first by train. The train was smaller than an American train, and, like the ones in Japan, rode on rails that were closer together than American rail lines. The train engine was located in the middle of the train. In case the track was mined, it would suffer less damage and could reverse and salvage what it could. Fortunately, no explosion occurred.
I don't remember anything eventful happening on the train except some old Marine rifles got traded for some new Army rifles that were neatly stacked in a military position beside the train track. The slings had to be swapped because the Marines had different slings. Boy, they worked fast. I didn't trade because I had a BAR. Other than that, the only other event on the train trip was we had our Thanksgiving dinner en route on the 23rd of November 1950.
After embarking from the train, we didn't meet any Army troops. We were integrated with the Royal Marines from Koto-ri to Hagaru-ri. We passed some Army soldiers while on the train who looked like they were permanently assigned there. I'm not sure I would have known the difference after we got our cold weather gear on.
Before recounting the events that took place in the following days in the Chosin Reservoir area, I want to tell the readers of this memoir about the daily life (keeping clean, eating, "entertainment", buddies, etc.) of a combat Marine in Korea from the perspective of someone who experienced it from September 15 to November 30, 1950. We took a shower on the LST the night before we landed at Inchon. Then the next time we had a shower was about 12 days later, after we had secured Seoul, dug in on a mountain, conducted patrols in the area in mop-up type operations, and were pulling back to Inchon to board the Q0030 LST to go around to Wonson. We had shaving gear and soap, and I had writing tablets, envelopes, and a pen to write to my family and my girlfriend. We did not need stamps. We just wrote FREE where the stamp usually was. We did not have our mess gear because we were traveling light and it was in the bottom part of the backpack which was stowed someplace.
During combat operations, the only thing that we had available from the Marines Corps pantry was C-rations, except one time on an all-day patrol we were given K-rations. The K-rations must have come from World War I. It had a pack of six cigarettes, a dried fruit bar, two dried wafer crackers, and a three-stick package of gum. It came in a waxed pasteboard carton. Nothing required preparation. When we chewed the gum for a few minutes, it completely dissolved and was gone. The most popular C-ration item was wieners and beans. The variety of items in C-rations was chicken and vegetables, sausage patties, corned beef hash, and wieners and beans. It seems to me that there was something else, but I don’t recall what it was. We never knew what we were going to get. The total items in a C-ration were a sterno pack (for heat which was seldom used), a dry ration can that contained crackers, a round breakfast cake that was cereal of some sort that we could eat dry or place it in our canteen cup, add hot water, and eat like hot oatmeal.
One time I ate the native food, even though we were advised against eating any vegetables or anything grown there. While I was on the LST, ocean salt water thrown up by the pontoons hanging on the side of the LSTs had fallen on the LST deck and my watch. The watch had quit running, but a Korean gave me a dozen eggs for it even though I told him it didn't run. I shared all but two of the eggs with my buddies, cooking them in a skillet with no grease that someone had acquired somewhere. I didn’t smoke, so I traded cigarettes for vegetables and fruit. That was all done before we got to Seoul. I missed stateside milk and ice cream, but at least we had a nice meal at Thanksgiving. We were at Chingyong, about 10 miles south of Koto-ri, for Thanksgiving, and I remember we had a full turkey Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings, including shrimp cocktail, stuffed olives, sweet pickles, roast young tom turkey, cranberry sauce, sage dressing, giblet gravy, green peas, buttered corn, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, bread, butter, fruit salad with salad dressing, fruit cake, pumpkin pie, mincemeat pie, coffee, hard candies, salted nuts, apples and oranges. (This list is from the 1st Marine Division Thanksgiving Dinner menu 23 November 1950, found in Volume II of the G-3-1 history.)
I was closest to my foxhole buddy, Eugene “Red” Myers of Michigan, from Inchon to Seoul, and Joe Bell of Dallas, Texas, from Seoul to Hagaru-ri because we were next to each other all the time and talked about situations in Korea and each other's thoughts about home. I tried to know everything I could about the Marines in the first platoon--what town and state they were from and a little about them. At one time I knew almost everyone’s home town and state. I can still remember a lot of them. But after we began getting replacements, I couldn’t keep up with them.
War was not always serious. There were lighter moments. For instance, one Marine in the platoon received a letter from the California Highway Department while we were between Inchon and Seoul, requesting him to come in to face a speeding citation issued in the middle of August 1950 in Southern California. He wrote back to them that he had renewed his driver's license in July of 1950 and had never received it. He told them that on the date of the citation he was on a ship going to Japan, was now in Korea with the 1st Marines, and that he would be happy for them to come and arrest him and put him in jail. I don’t think he ever heard back. One thing I think of as being humorous was during the combat patrol at Majon-ni when we fired at the quails. I wonder what the Chinese thought of that. I’m almost certain that they were watching us from some place. Did they have a good laugh at our expense? One of the guys in our company, Wasylczak, seemed to always have a good sense of humor and did a lot of joking around. I can’t think of any comical moment in particular after 57 years, but they all seem to be happy-go-lucky guys.
We received mail regularly. I got a letter almost every time there was mail call. It was from my parents, my brother on the USS Thompson, and my girlfriend from Texarkana. Letters from home took about a week to arrive and they were received in good shape. I don't remember anyone from home who got bad news. The only thing I remember is that Woolcox got a letter from his girlfriend that she was pregnant. He was killed right after that on November 30, 1950. I have no idea how that situation turned out, except I'm pretty sure that she probably had a child. I had been wounded and evacuated before he was killed.
George Company did not have any black people, but if we had have, I'm sure the attitude would have been that they were an American and we wanted as many on our side as we could have. The person who stands out most clearly in my mind after all these years is Lt. Richard Carey, my platoon leader in Korea. I thought he was very smart--a “fast thinker on his feet" type of person. I still see him and his wife Dena every couple of months at the North Texas Chosin Few meetings. I did not know him before the third of August 1950, but after Korea I saw him when I was at NAS Pensacola performing Marine MP duty. He was going through flight school to become an aviator. I was released from active duty in January 1952 at the Marine Corps Barracks at Pensacola. The next time I saw him was in 1959 at Chance Vought Aircraft (manufacturer of the F4U Corsair), where I was a Propulsion Engineer. He was the Commanding Officer at the Dallas Naval Air Station, flying F-8 Crusader Aircraft manufactured by Chance Vought. I was sitting at my desk working and noticed that someone had come to the front of my desk and was just standing there. I looked up and it was Col. Richard E Carey. Since then we have been in contact periodically through all these years, and now live across town from each other.
I was never in a bunker while I was in Korea, but I spent some time in foxholes. A foxhole is a place where we had to sometimes live for a few days. It usually required that we slept in it sitting up. We tried to position it where it would not fill up with water if it rained. Foxholes were usually in the mountains so as to have a commanding position to fight from. Many times we dug our fox holes in Korean grave areas (the Koreans used the flat low lands to cultivate and the unusable for cultivation mountains to bury their dead). This made for some unusual and unwanted discoveries. We got out to eat and answer nature's calls if not under attack. Most foxholes were two-person, and we took turns staying awake 24 hours a day in them. We had the privilege of making it into our own little nest, but usually when we got it comfortable we had to move out..
From time to time in South Korea we came in contact with Koreans that were moving along the roads--and sometimes we had to search them. The civilian populace from the South seemed to want to help us; however, we weren't sure who was who. We checked their ankles to see if they had been wearing military leggings. The thing that bothered me most was that the Korean kids didn’t have any food to eat. When we ate our C-rations, they watched every move we made to take a bite from our C-ration can, and followed our movement from the ration can to our mouth. Many times I handed them the can and they took it and run off. If we dropped something, they knew we wouldn’t pick it up--but they would. That was sad. Many times it appeared they were carrying their total household on their backs. We usually had O Chang Joe, our Korean interpreter, present when this occurred, but many Koreans could speak fluent English. As I mentioned earlier, I once traded for some eggs, vegetables, and fruits. That was between Inchon and Seoul, but I don’t recall the dates that it occurred. Their houses had straw roofs, and when we fired we tried not to put a tracer bullet through the roof or it would burn to the ground. The children were running around the streets when there were no combat activities going on. They appeared hungry, took food that was offered to them, and then ran. They may have been running to give it to their parents, who were also hungry.
I visited with our interpreter O Chain Joe, and talked to him some during breaks and rest periods. We talked about differences in the USA and Korea. One difference I remember was in the way that the Orientals count their age. We count our age by when we are first born, beginning as zero and then a year later we are one year old. Koreans count their age as when they are born they are one year old. Their “birth” day, they begin as one, and a year from when their “birth” day is they count as two. I finally figured out that they are more or less counting their age from conception. That is not wrong, it’s just different. The way they do it, they could be off by three months, but the way we do it, we could be off by nine. I thought that was very interesting. I have wondered how many other things we do differently and don’t know it.
I was not a smoker, drinker or gambler before or during my Marine Corps tenure. I still do not smoke. I do play the Lotto and visit a casino infrequently (once or twice a year), and I infrequently drink a margarita about twice a year. Church was offered in Korea, and I always tried to attend on Sunday if a service was available and combat activities permitted. We had to take our rifles to church service when we attended. In my leisure time, I wrote letters, improved my foxhole, and performed maintenance on my rifle or BAR.
The Salvation Army allowed George Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines to sleep in one of their buildings in September 1950. The only contact I had with the American Red Cross in Korea was in the hospital at Hungnam, Korea. I purchased shaving gear and other personal items from a Red Cross worker that came around the hospital ward. I purchased items for other wounded patients who had no money because they hadn't been paid.
We were positioned and spent the night of November 28 on the perimeter of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines at Koto-ri. When we arose early the next morning, we discovered that the snow had covered our sleeping bags during the night and the temperature had dropped. Joe and I were on 50% alert, with at least one of us awake when the other slept. We had some coffee that was provided to us, but we had to drink it fast because it froze quickly in those metal canteen cups. I believe we were getting ready to move toward Hagaru-ri with the Royal Marines. Although it was daylight, we were getting incoming fire from the Telegraph Hill area. I don't remember if I ever knew how that hill got its name, but it was probably something that the 1st or 2nd Marine Regiment came up with. The 2nd Regiment was assigned to remain there until all of the Marines had gotten back that far during the withdrawal. Then they left.
The Royal Marines took the first hill and we were to go by them and take the second one. When we went by the Royal Marines, we began getting fire. SSgt. Gerald Tillman looked over the ridge to try to see where it was coming from and a sniper got him in the Marine insignia that he wore on his cap under his helmet. He was killed. The Corsairs pretty well took the Chinese on Telegraph Hill out, and we were then told to pull back--I believe by Lt. Col. Douglas B. Drysdale (Royal Marines). He had orders from Colonel Chesty Puller to get to us and then go to Hagaru-ri to open up the road and support the battalion at Hagaru-ri on East Hill. There was hand-to-hand combat at East Hill, but I was not involved. It happened after I was wounded and evacuated. I'm glad I missed that. I did not meet Drysdale in person. I don't know if I ever saw him. I could have been beside him and not known it with cold weather gear on. I may have seen him from a distance directing the British Royal Marines. We were beside the Royal Marines and talked to them, but we didn't know any of their names until they started coming to the G-3-1 reunions. I believe all I ever talked to at Chosin were enlisted men. All I knew about Lt. Colonel Drysdale was that he was a colonel in the British Marines. I also knew that he was over Captain Sitter on the convoy "Task Force Drysdale."
Later on during the morning of November 29, we were assigned to take a convoy through to Hagaru-ri to reopen the road between Koto-ri and Hagaru-ri. (The Chinese had closed it.) The road was a valley between two hilly and mountainous areas with a river running through. The narrow road was on the north side of the river and up the side of the mountain in a cutaway area. It connected Koto-ri and Hagaru-ri. Chinese divisions had slipped across the Yalu River, and some had taken positions on mountains on both sides of the river in the mountains, isolating the two towns. They possessed the high commanding positions of the road, and they had many soldiers. I've heard reports that eight to ten Chinese divisions were in the Chosin area. That would be between 120,000 to 150,000 troops.
The convoy we were assigned to was referred to as “Task Force Drysdale”--derived from British Royal Marine Commander Colonel Drysdale, who was leading the convoy. The eleven miles from Koto-ri to Hagaru-ri were referred to as “Hell’s Fire Valley.” We started fighting our way toward Hagaru-ri about mid-morning, and didn’t get there until about midnight. We advanced to where the Chinese had a roadblock set up, and then were pinned down until it was cleared out before we could advance further. These roadblocks were obstacles of some sort put in the road by the Chinese to stop or slow down passage of any vehicle. They were fortified by heavily armed soldiers who were positioned up above, waiting to exterminate anyone who stopped or slowed to attempt to move the obstacle.
We had tank support from Koto-ri to Hagaru-ri, but there was an up and down side of tanks in Korea. On the down side, the terrain and the narrow roads hindered tank movement. They had trouble with narrow roads or very wet terrain. They required a road or a place to open up a path where they could go and not get stuck. They also usually required the support of riflemen on the outside who could cover their vulnerable areas because the sight of the tank crew was almost blind except for a narrow slit of a peep hole. They made a lot of noise, and when it became dark in Operation Drysdale, we had to put them in between the trucks in our convoy to draw fire away from the trucks. On the up side, tanks were bullet proof against small arms fire, and they provided a mobile artillery piece that we needed to reach "up" into the mountains. They also had a .50 caliber machine gun that had a farther range than the .30 caliber that people carried.
At this point, I want to mention the weather conditions that existed on our trip to Hagaru-ri. The temperature was well below freezing, and the wind was blowing hard. I don't know the speed, but I've read reports of a wind chill of minus 85 degrees Fahrenheit. I believe this was before they had defined 'wind chill.' They were probably factoring in the wind velocity with today's definition. The snow was probably two or three inches deep. Our C-rations froze and we had to put a hole in the top on each side with the little can opener that was in each issue and heat it (if we were allowed to light a fire--which we often weren't). When we heated the C-rations, they were boiling around the side of the can, but frozen in the middle. This made it very hard to eat. It was very difficult to have a bowel movement. When we evacuated the bladder, the urine froze into solid pellets before it hit the ground. We did not shave and the hair grew under our noses. Then our breath froze the hair and it broke off. We then had two little roads under our nose. The British Royal Marines showed us up and shaved every morning. I believe they also got a ration of rum every day.
Even our vehicles were affected by the cold weather conditions. If the drivers turned the engines off, they were difficult to start and, in some cases, didn't start and had to be abandoned. The cold weather also affected our weapons. The slide on my BAR slid so slow that sometimes it stuck, hung up, and would not fire. This was true of the rifles and machine guns, too, because the grease on the rifles froze. When it was a heavily overcast day, we couldn't get air support. (We needed visual contact to hit targets and miss mountains.) But if it was clear, the temperature did not affect air support. The Marine pilots flew so low it seemed they would knock our helmets off. Air support was our edge over enemy numbers.
The cold weather gear that was issued to us was a parka and a pair of pac boots with two sets of innersole liners. The liners were a felt-type of material that fitted in the pac boot bottom under the foot to absorb moisture caused by sweating feet. Our instructions were to change them out every day. We were to stow the liners we had removed under our armpits or someplace next to our body to dry them out for the next change. We had woolen socks that we were to change out every day and also stow them next to our body to dry out. The pac boots were large enough to accommodate several pair of socks. We put on long johns, then as many wool pants (in my case, four) as we could wear and still get our dungarees on. We also put on three shirts over our long johns, had a pair of woolen gloves, and a very thick sleeping bag. We had to wear our helmet over our parka hood. The downfall of this was trying to move. We usually had to try and maneuver a change in our sleeping bag. If we were moving, our feet sweated very much, and then when pinned down by hostile fire, the moisture in the pac boots froze on our feet. If we fell down, it was hard to get up. It was a no-win situation. We could pull the trigger with the woolen gloves on, but if it jammed, the gloves had to come off. Many people (on both sides) lost limbs and life strictly because of cold weather. Responding to bodily functions was a real challenge too, as was trying to eat frozen food and/or drinking water. It was the old adage that Hell really had frozen over. And I was there.
Even though our cold weather gear was inadequate, it was better than what the Chinese had. They had light clothing with quilted jackets and tennis shoes. We had superior weapons. They had what they could carry, and they traveled mostly at night, usually off road and in mountain areas to avoid detection by our aircraft. We had fantastic air support. They had none. They had us outnumbered 10 to 1, but the Corsairs evened that out.
I remember that my feet had a burning ache all the time. (I was told not to worry about it until they quit hurting.) About three-quarters of the way to Hagaru, my feet were found to be frostbitten and I was told to hang onto a truck until we got to an aid station. I gave my BAR to Joe Bell, took his rifle, and hung onto the left side with my right foot on a rail on the left side (behind the rear wheels) and my left leg dangling out over the side of the vehicle. The truck had wounded Marines inside--I was on the outside.
When it became dark, the trucks in the convoy were intermingled with tanks in between, i.e., one tank, then two trucks--supposedly to draw small arms fire from their noise in order to allow the trucks to pass in the dark with less risk of drawing fire from the Chinese. As we approached Hagaru-ri, the truck on which I was riding was blown up and I felt a sting to my left knee from something from the explosion. I bailed off the truck as it was going over the embankment and I tumbled down the mountainside, going over toward the left side. I was afraid the truck would roll over on me while it tumbled down the mountainside--or that I would hit a tree. The truck and I finally landed in a frozen-over stream below, and broke through to water. I was still close to the truck. I believe the truck hit the bottom of the stream, but it did not submerge completely. I had on four layers of clothes, plus a parka. I guess that helped me survive all the tumbling. As I fought my way out of the stream, ice froze on my clothes and really all over me. (It was reported to be between –30 ˚F and –40 ˚F.) I tried to stand up, but my left leg wouldn’t hold me up. I didn’t feel any extreme pain, so I didn’t think I was wounded that badly. I crawled around in the snow and looked for my rifle, finally finding it with its stock broken off. My rifle was in two or more pieces. My pack boots filled up with water and they froze before I got to an aid station, which was estimated to be three to four hours later.
I thought that I would crawl back up the mountain to the road and try to connect back to my company for help, but I wasn’t sure it was still up there. It was pitch dark except for the occasional light from tracers, and I believe the truck was on fire in the stream. Then I saw silhouettes of two people crunching in the snow coming toward me, looking me over. My first thought was, “I’m captured.” (There were Chinese all around us and they were supposed to have control of the road that we were traveling on.) Then one of them said, “Bring a stretcher. Here's another one.” Boy, you can’t believe how really relieved I was. They gave me a shot of morphine, then placed and strapped me on a stretcher and took me back up the hill feet first. (I was tilted with my head downward, but I didn’t care). When we got to the road, the stretcher I was strapped on was fastened onto the hood of another truck (just like the one that had just been blown up). I remember looking up, seeing tracers going over me, and saying to myself, “There is no way I’m going to make it out of this.” My Christian faith was with me 24 hours a day. I know my mother, my father, and my oldest sister were praying for me. My sister was 16 years old at the time. I found out later that she had an unexplainable urge to pray for me all day the day I was wounded. If God hadn't had his hand on me, I would not be here today. My only question was, "Why me? I'm no more special than the others that died."
At a G-3-1 reunion in Reno, Nevada in 2002, Tom Powers said he was in the truck right in front of the one I was on. He said he watched it rolling down the mountainside totally engulfed in flames. He said he didn’t think anyone could have survived that. I said, "I did!" He asked if anyone else had survived and I said I didn’t know because I couldn’t walk. But I was sure that the people who put me on the stretcher checked the area for other survivors. He said he watched the Chinese throw explosives (he thought they were satchel charges) under the truck and blow it up. I also talked to Rayburn Blair at a North Texas Chapter Chosin Few meeting. He said he thought the truck I was on was possibly the same truck his best friend, Leroy Storey, was on. (Leroy didn’t survive.) Rayburn said he descended down to the truck and helped pick up survivors, took them back up, and placed them on a truck that was the last in the convoy. I said I heard a report that Royal Marines may have picked me up. He said that Royal Marines were all around. I don’t know who to thank, but I sure am grateful I wasn’t left.
We proceeded on into the defensive perimeter set up at Hagaru, and I was placed on the ground in a medical tent with several rows of wounded Marines on stretchers. This was the first time I got out of the cold--and the tent wasn't all that warm. I didn't get warm until I got in a hospital that had heat. My parka and other clothes were cut off with a pair of large scissors so the medics could look at and tend to my wounds. My knee had a hole in it about the size of a half dollar, and it had now swollen almost as big as a basketball. Both groins were swollen, and I couldn’t sit up. I was hurting pretty bad and couldn’t wait for the next shot of morphine. (The corpsmen only allowed one every four hours.) That night mortar and other explosives hit outside the tent and one person in the tent was wounded again. The Chinese kept it up the whole night, but their attack seemed to abate when the sun came up. The next morning's light showed that the tent was shredded like a sieve with holes all over it.
I wasn't involved in the withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir after November 30, but while I was in the medical tent, I was told by newly-wounded Marines that the first and second wave of Chinese had weapons and the third wave would pick up the weapons of the first and second after they went down. Two days later I was evacuated on a C-47 to a hospital in Hungnam. Don Perry, “G” Company mortars, was from my hometown and awaiting orders to return to the USA. He came by as I was being loaded onto the plane. I told him to tell my mother that I was okay when he got back to Texarkana. He said, “You’ll beat me home.” I finally found Don Perry from the G-3-1 address records and talked to him by phone in 2003. He now lives in Southern California. I first asked him if he was originally from Texarkana and in the Marines from there and he said, “Yes." I then asked if he remembered Orace Edwards and he said, “No, I don’t.” I then asked him if he remembered a Marine from Texarkana that was wounded in Hagaru-ri and on a stretcher who was being loaded onto a C-47 airplane and who had asked him to tell his mother that he was okay when he got back home. He said, “Yes! Boy, you were young!”
Since I had been separated from my unit during the truck incident and my unit didn’t know where I was, my parents received a telegram from the Department of Defense stating that I was missing in action. That shook my mother up a little. I guess that was finally corrected when I got to a Naval Hospital where they could access my records, identify me, and correct my status.
I traveled to a Naval hospital on a stretcher from Osaka to Yokosuka by train. It was on the train that I accidentally knocked off the black tips from the end of my right two frostbitten toes, which had turned black. I was trying to use handrails on the train to navigate a short distance while swinging my feet. The skin underneath looked okay and looked normal. After I arrived at the hospital, my parents got another telegram stating that I had been wounded in action but was now recuperating in a Naval hospital. While in the hospital, I thought about home. For some reason I wanted a milkshake. I also was fixated by an electric light bulb. I missed seeing a light bulb for some reason, but I didn't think about it until I was in a hospital that had one. I kept looking at the filament. That's crazy--or maybe I'm crazy.
From Yokosuka I flew to Midway, then on to the Tripler Hospital in Hawaii. At Tripler, I received my Purple Heart from General Sheppard. Then I flew on to Mare Island, and from there to San Antonio, where I saw Darce Odom (my hometown buddy), who was stationed in the Air Force at Lackland. He came over to see me before I was sent on to the US Naval Hospital at Pensacola, Florida. I arrived at the hospital in Pensacola somewhere around the 28th of December 1950. I don’t remember the exact date. I was assigned to what they called the frostbite ward, which only had people who had various degrees of frostbite in it. I discovered that one person from my Marine platoon was also in the ward, Jasper Wayne Boggan from Monroe, Louisiana. The doctors checked out the circulation in both of my feet and determined that I had about 40% circulation in my right foot and 60% circulation in my left. They tested my left knee by having me sit on a table and placing weights on my foot to determine how much weight I could lift with my left leg. I had to raise it to the horizontal position. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but it was determined that I could lift less than 10 percent of what I could lift with my right leg. I could walk, but it was a little shaky at times.
I began to receive whirlpool bath treatments and physical therapy treatments that consisted of doing weight-lifting exercises every day until I could walk almost normal again. This went on for about two weeks. Since I was in the frostbite ward, my diet was monitored. I was not allowed to drink coffee, tea, soft drinks, or anything with caffeine in it. The nurse came around three times a day and administered a shot glass of Old Methuselah whiskey to me. It was administered to all in the ward. The corpsman accompanied her with whiskey and poured it. She watched us drink it, then recorded it in her notebook. Another nurse came to the ward and administered something by spinal tap. I was never there for that because of the whirlpool and physical therapy treatments, so I missed that. I asked those that took it how it felt and they said that there was a warm sensation all over them. That treatment was discontinued about a week after it started.
My parents did not come to the hospital, even though Bill McWilliams, who lived across the street from them, had offered them his 1949 Lincoln. Mr. McWilliams had lost his son Cecil in World War II. They declined because they didn’t like to borrow something that valuable. I’m not sure my dad had a driver's license at that time. After about three weeks, I was given a 30-day convalescence leave from the hospital in January of 1951 to go home and see my parents and relax. While I was in the various hospitals from Korea to the States, I was not ambulatory, so I had no liberty or freedom. The first time I was out of a military facility was when I left Pensacola Hospital for this convalescence leave. I went home on the Greyhound bus, and saw my parents for the first time since I had left Texarkana. They had no phone, so I had not been able to call home. Communication between us was done by mail only. When I first saw and talked to my mother, she told me that she had first received a telegram that I was missing in action and she was very worried about me. She said that a few days later, she received another telegram that stated that I was wounded in action and was recovering in a Naval hospital. She felt much better. She said she was very glad to see that I was walking.
I was first released from the hospital to the Marine Barracks at Pensacola, Florida for limited duty. "Limited duty" meant that I could not participate in long marches because my knee would swell up and sometimes lock up. This was not a problem at Pensacola because I was Sergeant of the Guard and nothing like that was required. Because of my combat record, I was given the option of choosing a duty station that would be as close to home as possible. I chose NAD Shumaker, Arkansas, and was assigned there. Shumaker was outside of Camden, Arkansas, and 90 miles from Texarkana. I was transferred there in late March or early April 1951. My duties were again guard duty, so I was not required to walk long distances. I was there until it closed in September 1951 and was given to civilian guards. I was then transferred to Camp Lejeune and assigned to a rifle platoon that required long marches and physical activities. The result was as expected--my right knee swelled up and sometimes locked up. When winter began to set in, my feet began to ache. I was transferred to the warm climate of Pensacola, Florida, and remained there until I was released from active duty on January 10, 1952.
I had a meeting at Pensacola with the First Sergeant and was given the option of re-enlisting and going for a test for Staff Sergeant or to begin the process to be released from active duty. I chose to be released. The doctors at the hospital said that I could attain a medical discharge, but processing that type of discharge was slow and lengthy. They suggested that the fastest way was to get out and file for disability with the VA. I was released in January 1952 and filed for disability. I didn't have trouble getting disability like many veterans whose records burned in the St. Louis fire. Mine were somehow available and showed treatment, trauma to my left knee, and frostbite to my feet. I had an examination and was awarded 10% disability in February 1952. I was re-evaluated in 1996 and it was raised to 60% for cold weather injury.
When I first left the Marine Corps, there were some adjustment issues. There was a railroad track that ran through a cut-away near my home, and I had fear walking down it. I could now walk without fear because nighttime has become a protective friend. However, I could not sit in the back yard with a light burning above my head for fear of a sniper. I don't seem to be bothered by that anymore.
After I was discharged, I worked from January to June of 1952 at Lone Star Arsenal (Day and Zimmerman) making 105 Howitzer shells. I worked from July to September 1952 at the Red River Arsenal (civil service) upgrading government vehicles. I took a GED test, got my high school diploma from the State of Arkansas, then left those jobs to attend college. Soon after beginning college, I married Sylvia Ann Peek in Texarkana, Texas, on September 18, 1953. We had children Thomas Cleveland Edwards, born October 1954 in Texarkana; Russell Alan Edwards, born March 1958 in Dallas; Cynthia Ann Edwards (Bartlett), born October 1960 in Dallas; and Gregory Wayne Edwards, born April 1966 in Meterie (a suburb of New Orleans), Louisiana.
Being in the military gave me the scholarship fund I needed to pay for my college costs. I went to Texarkana Junior College for two years in general engineering for a total of 60 semester hours. Many of the male students at Texarkana Junior Collage were ex-military, and I believe had similar views about the Korean War and the military. They were patriotic, and they were optimistic about the future. When you're 15 to 25 years old, you feel invincible. I can’t read females very well, but I think everyone in the United States wants to be free.
I then transferred to Texas A&M for two and a half years in mechanical engineering for an accumulative total of 145 semester hours (no degree). When I went to Texas A&M (1954 thru 1957), it was an all-male school and the students were required to be in Cadets Corps for the first two years (except veterinary students and former military persons that got two years credit for military science). The first and second year students took ROTC the same as high school. First-year freshmen (called "Fish") had to answer upperclassmen, "Fish Jones is my name sir!" Second year sophomores (called "Frog") had to answer upper classmen with, "Jones is my name sir!." It was almost like boot camp. There was lots of hazing done all the time by upperclassmen (24 hours a day). When they reached their third (junior) year, and if they had good grades in military science and the subjects in their degree plan, they received a contract with the Army, Navy, or Marines to be commissioned officers upon graduation. I believe they may have received some compensation after the contract was signed. The junior would then be able to answer, "My name is Jones." When he became a senior, he was allowed to just answer, "Jones." When they asked me if I wanted to be in the Corps, I told them that I had been in the Marine Corps and I didn't want any part of their Corps. I went to after-hours classes at SMU in Dallas for engineering courses--12 semester hours.
After college I worked as an engineer. Between 1957 and 2004 I held the following positions in technical fields for 47 years:
My wife and I were very involved in church activities from 1959 through 1979. We were team Sunday School teachers at Evangel Temple Assembly of God in Grand Prairie, Texas, and we taught children in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade. We were also heavily involved in the choir and special music, singing solos, duets, trios, and such. The church had a television program that broadcast on Sunday morning. Our church was also in a building program and I took it upon myself to do all the electrical wiring for the new building. Our involvement in this church was interrupted for about four years when my work moved us to New Orleans and then to Southern California. When we came back in 1968, we resumed our church activities.
In 1970, Ray Woodall (pianist), Jane and Paul Fields, Gary Graves, and I formed a gospel quartet named, "The Harbingers." In 1971, Jane and Paul Fields dropped out and we revamped the group, adding Gary's brother Terry and Gary's future wife, Linda. We renamed the group, "The New Harbingers." We cut (recorded) a couple of albums in 1974 and 1975, and in one of those years we were honored as group of the year in the Southern Gospel Music Association (SGMA). That is now called the North Texas Chapter of the Southern Gospel Music Association. I sang with them until 1976 and dropped out to form a family group that included my wife, our youngest son, and me. We called this group the "Love Notes," and sang about four years until 1982, when my youngest son's voice dropped and we had problems trying to rearrange the music. My job became more demanding (I was traveling to England for weeks at a time to perform testing), and we couldn't meet our bookings. We had to let the group die, and we never picked it up again. I have since transformed (on my computer) the record albums of the New Harbingers to CD's (updating the technology), and made CD's of the "Love Notes" recorded music. I have given some of these out to the G-3-1 Marines at reunions.
I retired from Bell Helicopter Engineering on April 30, 2004. I don't do a lot in my retirement, but I seem to have no time left. I play a lot with my computer, and I putter in my yard. I attend G-3-1 company reunions. I also attend Chosin Few reunions because many in the North Texas Chapter were in the Texarkana Marine Reserves that were called up. Once a Marine, always a Marine. I think there is an undefined bond between them.
When I retired from Bell Helicopter, my disability was raised to 100% for unemployability. I now have two feet and legs that are completely numb up to about halfway to my knees. The numbness matches the place where my pack boots came up to when I wore them in Korea. I also have no hair on my legs below that point. The VA doctor made that notation about five years ago. I had never noticed that before. I have two toes that the nails have been about 3/8 inches thick and brittle for 57 years. The numbness hinders my balance and my toe movement. I couldn't walk a line to prove that I wasn't intoxicated.--I would have to request a breath or blood test. If I close my eyes (like when a prayer is said at a funeral), and I am standing up alone, I just fall over. I have to now balance with my 'rear.' I do not feel a pin until it gets above the numbness line. The VA doctors say I will carry that to my grave. I can predict the weather somewhat by the pain in my knee. The doctors say that all of this is permanent.
My initial frostbite injury in Korea became more severe because of the truck destruction. I don't think the cold weather gear would have prevented my frozen feet in water. Most of the other frostbite injuries Marines suffered at the Chosin were because of the cold weather and inadequate cold weather gear. I was in a ward in a Pensacola hospital in December 1950 with a frostbite casualty who was frostbitten in Montana trying to prove the adequacy of the cold weather gear that we were using in Korea--and he hadn't been dodging bullets either.
In 1987, my company (G-3-1) wrote the story of the battles in Korea that we were in. It has more detailed information, statistics, things I didn't know as a rifleman and BARman, and pictures of the Inchon Landing, the liberation of Seoul (including Ma Po Boulevard and the roadblock), the Majon-ni firefights in North Korea, and the Chosin Reservoir battle in North Korea. It delineates the casualties of the Marine company units around us, and includes comments from our Company Commander (Capt. Carl Sitter), Regimental Commander (Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller), General O. P. Smith, and about the ten Chinese divisions we fought at Chosin. It also tells about the two people in the company who received the Medal of Honor during Task Force Drysdale on November 29, 1950 (Captain Sitter and PFC Bowman). My story was done after this G-3-1 history was written. I wrote it at the request of my wife so that my kids would know what their dad was doing during this time. My story was done in parallel with what G-3-1 wrote and coincides with what we were doing to cover details of what I was doing, but I was with them the whole time.
When I left Korea, I only saw three Marines from my platoon--Carey and Boggan at Pensacola, and then O. D. Crumpler and Boggan at NAD Shumaker, Arkansas. Boggan was a regular Marine who just happened to be home on leave when the Korean War started and missed going with his company in the 1st Brigade to Pusan. He should have been with Baker (the Bandits) Company, 5th Marines. After I got out of the Marines, I didn’t see any of them or have contact until I saw Carey at Chance Vought Aircraft. I called and talked to Joe Bell who lived in Dallas, and he filled me in on the company outcome at the Reservoir. He was wounded in the spring of 1951, losing a leg to a landmine. The Marine Corps retired him in 1951 with disability. I never had contact with anyone else until they had a reunion in Dallas in 1987, which I attended. That's when I found out that they had written the G-3-1 story. Joe Bell was moving from Dallas to Minneola, Texas, at that time. I did not see him at the reunion, but we had several visits in Minneola before he passed away. G-3-1 had the Volume II cover at the 1987 reunion and I signed it. I then lost track of them, but made contact in 2000, attended the reunion at Cincinnati, and have been in contact since.
I’ve made some effort to contact Eugene “Red” Myers, the original BARman of the fire team I was in. I think he lived in Michigan, but I have scanned the State of Michigan and found nothing. I have about decided he is deceased. He has made no contact with the G-3-1 organizations, and I have searched others. Even if I found him, he might not remember a guy who was with him for only ten days of combat. Carey and G-3-1 have also looked for him.
The G-3-1 reunion in 2001 was done right after 911 with the Twin Towers being destroyed. It was the Cincinnati, Ohio reunion, but it was actually held at the Drawbridge Inn across the river in Kentucky. My wife and I drove up from Arlington, Texas, and so were not affected by flight cancellations. My wife heard some of the stories that we were talking about and she asked why I had never talked about it. (We were married September 18, 1953.) I thought about it and my answer was, "I figured If I told you what happened there, you would probably think I was making it up." But she now knows it to be true. Thinking about it makes it seem unreal--I only lasted three months in combat. I have told my family about my Korean War experiences. I printed out the two volumes of George Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, and gave it to them. If they seem interested, I would love for them to be able to see this memoir after I'm long gone.
I received the United Nations Service Medal with three stars (three battle stars for my participation in the Inchon Invasion, Liberation of Seoul, and the Chosin Reservoir campaign), the Korean Presidential unit citation, the National Defense Medal, the Korean Service medal, and the Purple Heart Medal for being wounded in action on November 30, 1950. These were listed on my service records on January 30, 1956, and do not include the medals or citations awarded since then. We (the First Marine Division) received the Presidential Unit Citation for the Inchon Landing and Liberation of Seoul (September 15 to September 27, 1950). We also received the Presidential Unit Citation again for the Chosin Reservoir Campaign.
For me personally, the hardest thing about being in Korea was leaving my family and friends back in Texarkana, as well as my many friends who were in the Marines or some other branch of service.
Much has been said about "war heroes." To me, all of the men of 1st Platoon were war heroes except me. I consider myself a survivor. It would be hard for me to perceive myself as a hero. I survived Korea without going to boot camp. As I explained much earlier in my memoir, I did not go through a formal “boot camp” as such. My boot camp came from my two summer camps at Camp Pendleton and from all the Marines of G-3-1 who were well-trained and I was integrated among them--especially the World War II vets like Binaxas, Haber, and Lilly prior to the Inchon Landing. I was their very eager student.
After what I saw at a village north of Seoul, Korea, on September 28, 1950, I think the people in South Korea would have been enslaved into the North Korean regime if the United States had not sent troops to Korea when it did. We would have had a Korean nation double the size with the same, and it would be more of a threat. It is my belief that US involvement in the Korean War contributed to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of Communism in major world nations. I think that MacArthur should have gone north of the 38th parallel because it revealed the intentions of the communist nations, especially China. The Korean War kept the South Korean people free and displayed to the world the contrast of development of free people and enslaved people.
I believe that the United States should still have troops stationed in Korea now. I think it is a visual deterrent and a reminder to North Korea, even though they say that we didn't win the war. Recently there was a crisis in North Korea with regard to the threat of atomic weapons. I am not troubled by this. I guess I'm one that thinks God has the final control of things. I think He uses people to execute His will and way--if they will ask, be still, listen, and allow Him to guide them, and don't allow their aspirations to influence them.
My time in Korea was a life-forming step in my life. Regrettably, the Korean War carries the nickname, "The Forgotten War," because persons who were very young at that time or who have been born since the Korean War have not been exposed to it or educated about it to become aware of the effect it has really had on their lives--the freedom that has been purchased by the blood of veterans. The Korean War falls into the same category of things forgotten as the "slide rule" and the "beta cassette," which have no reason to be remembered or propagated. World War II affected more people than the Korean War because more people were involved. World War II involved everyone except the Swiss, who held money for both sides. The particular understanding I want someone who reads this Korean War memoir to realize is that the freedoms that we enjoy, and that includes me, have not been free. They were bought by the blood of others from George Washington until now.
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