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James W. Elkins

Baton Rouge, LA-
Korean War Veteran of the United States Marine Corps

"About 1300 hours, the Chinese who were high on rice wine made a banzi attack on the front of the line.  My friend was wounded.  I can tell you I was afraid with all of the grenades and mortar rounds bursting and bullets flying around.   I kept a watchful eye on my end of the line.  At the same time, I pulled the Marine-issued New Testament out of my pocket and memorized the 23rd Psalm.  This gave me a peace I had never felt before."

- James W. Elkins

<---Picture of me in Korea, 1951, with an Eti-wa hat on. This is what old men wore with long white robes. With this on, they could go from village to village and have someone feed them and put them up for the night. The jacket I am wearing is a quilted Chinese soldier's jacket worn in the winter. I had the pants but could not get into them. The pants I am wearing were U.S. issue for cold weather. Boots are shoe pack used for the winter months.


[The following memoir is the result of an interview via US mail between Corporal James W. Elkins and Lynnita (Sommer) Brown that took place in January of 2000.  It was with sorry that the KWE learned that Jim Elkins died a couple of years thereafter.]

Memoir Contents:


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Pre-Military

I was born in the town of Farmerville, Louisiana, on September 3, 1929.  My father was Roye Elkins, and my mother was Tressie Opal (Hunt) Elkins.  My father had the distributorship for four large town newspapers in our small town.  He also owned his own taxi (the only one in town).  On the side, he bootlegged bonded whiskey in our dry parish (county), which was illegal.  My mother never worked outside the home until she was 40 or 45 years old, at which time she operated a small cafe.

I have one brother who is six years younger than me,  His name is Royce Dean Elkins.  I also have one sister who is 16 years younger than me.  Her name is Wanda Sue (Elkins) Pace.  I graduated from grade school at Farmerville Elementary School and then from Farmerville High School at the age of 16 in 1946.

I started work at age seven delivering newspapers door to door in the mornings and afternoons.  I sold papers downtown on Sundays.  I did this until the end of my second year in high school.  The summer I was ten, I worked in a blacksmith shop as a gopher.  The smithy was an absolute genius at his work, and I wanted to be an apprentice.  He very wisely advised me to get an education.  He made two wooden-body school buses each year, and he allowed me to help him drive nails into the planks on the flooring and in the tin on the side of the buses.  I shall never forget this experience.  In the summer between my junior and senior high school years, I did construction work.  Most of the work consisted of laying plank roads from a secondary road to an oil rig.  Also, from the age of 12 1/2 for about 3 1/2 years, I was the projectionist for the local theater at $25.00 per week.  I was paid in silver dollars.  I started paying half percent Social Security tax at that time.  I worked seven days a week.  Monday through Friday there were two shows at night, Saturday the shows were from 12 noon until midnight, and Sunday afternoons there were two shows.

I was a Boy Scout and attained the rank of Second Class.  Many years later, as an assistant Scout Master, I was given an honorary rank of First Class.  The troop I was in during my youth was not very active.  However, we did camp out overnight several times.  My experiences were really uneventful.

We had family members in World War II.  My father's brother was drafted into the army in January of 1942.  He fought in North Africa, Italy, and then in France and Germany by way of England.  Our high school collected scrap metal for the war efforts.  Everybody was involved.  We filled up the front school yard with scrap.  When it was sold, the money was enough to buy what we called in the service a 6x truck.


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Joining the USMC

I voluntarily enlisted in the Marine Corps on my 17th birthday--September 3, 1946.  None of my friends went with me.  I graduated from high school in May and had to wait until my birthday to enlist.  There was only one Marine I knew of in my hometown prior to World War II.  When he came home in his dress blue uniform and I saw him, my heart beat faster.  I had heard it said by World War I veterans that the Marines were a tough outfit, and I wanted to belong.  I found out that a recruit had to be six feet tall and weigh at least 180 pounds.  Because of my size, I knew I would never make it.  Then along came World War II, and size no longer mattered.  I could not wait to become a part of what, in my mind, I considered the best.  I never considered any other branch of service.  My parents did not object.  They wanted me to have what I considered to be best for me.  My mother had to sign release papers for me to enlist.

I went to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.  The Recruiting Sergeant took me from my home town in a military Jeep to his recruiting post, and we went by train that night to New Orleans, Louisiana.  I passed the physical the next day, and the following morning, a large group of us got on a train for South Carolina.  I did not know anyone who traveled with me to boot camp.

Parris Island was located in the lower part of South Carolina, not far from the coast.  It was barren land, mostly sand--deep sand in areas.  I do not remember any types of insects or other pests in the camp.  About ten minutes after we arrived at boot camp, we were herded into a large building and told to strip and put our clothes in our bag or suitcase.  When this was accomplished (on the double time), the Sergeant passed around to each boot a small bag with a draw string to put valuables in.  He missed me and put the rest of the bags on a bench.  I walked over to get one, and on my way back, I found myself on the floor face down.  I was hit in the back of the head by the Sergeant.  He had his foot on my neck.  For the next ten minutes, he cursed me and all of the other boots.  The message was, "Don't do anything unless told to do so."  Everyone learned a good lesson at my expense.  I don't remember the name of my DIs.  However, I remember they were World War II veterans.

Boot camp for me was six weeks.  I was at Parris Island in September and the weather was pleasant.  My platoon number was 342 in early September of 1946.  So many draftees and others who had retired were no longer in service, the Marines needed warm bodies to fill the ranks of the 1st and 2nd Marine Division.  We learned how to fire and clean a rifle, practiced Judo, and did bayonet practice with bales of hay.  We spent many hours on how to obey orders, how to keep discipline, and soaking up the good news that the Marines were the best.  We also viewed films and had lectures on venereal diseases.  (The message was, "Always be cautious.")  If we, individually, could not prove that we were worthy to be Marines, then we would be kicked out before graduation.  The only proficiency test I had to qualify in was with a rifle.  I was qualified as "Marksman."

We got up at 4:30 in the mornings, had exercises, then cleaned ourselves and our guard bay and wash room.  One of the DIs came in at 4:30, flipped on the lights and yelled, "Out of the rack."  At times, he flipped a double-decked bunk over.  Personal hygiene was great for all.  Each morning at roll call, we were checked regarding hygiene.  Our training was great.  The only free time that I remember was at meal time (church was not offered).  Otherwise, if we were in the field or the barracks, we had something to do.  The barracks had to be spotless.  Everyone was assigned a task to do inside.  Lights were out at 9:00 p.m.  I do not recall having fun in boot camp.  I was there to learn, and I soaked up everything like a sponge.  Nothing was hard about boot camp for me.  I enjoyed it all.

Earlier, I explained my encounter with a DI the first ten minutes I was in boot camp.  We always obeyed orders regardless of how stupid the task was--such as looking under rocks for cigarette butts.  The Marines of my platoon kept their mouths shut and did as they were told.  We had no troublemakers in our platoon.  As a matter of fact, all members of my platoon graduated.  I was never sorry that I joined the Marines.  I volunteered for the Marines.

Our DIs did not use corporal punishment.  However, on one occasion, one of the DIs found a rifle so dirty that he threw it back to the boy instead of handing it to him.  It knocked out four of his front teeth.  I did not see others disciplined.  In my platoon, if we did something wrong, we went to the sand pits, filled our packs with sand, and marched until someone dropped.

I ate very well in boot camp--good Southern cooking.  Meals were great.  There was a special for breakfast maybe three times a week called S.O.S. with toast and boiled eggs.  The only other foods I remember were chicken, potatoes, green beans, and squash.  I always tried to sit at a six-man table with boys from north of the Mason/Dixon line.  Consequently, I had plenty to eat.  There were no black recruits.  This was before Truman integrated the services.

When boot camp was completed, we were given the Marine emblem of the Globe and Anchor to put on our uniform caps.  There was a parade to commemorate the graduation of several platoons at one time.  The officers of the camp were on a grandstand, and we marched past them.  When we passed the officers and the command came, "Eyes Right," that was the best feeling I had experienced up until that date. I left boot camp feeling like a Marine and acting like one.  It was a feeling that cannot be explained.  The Marine Corps took a 17-year-old boy from a small town of 600 and made a man of him.  I learned discipline, respect, and to obey orders without question.  My training in boot camp was to serve me well in Korea.

I did not go home after boot camp.  In 1946, we did not have what was called post-boot camp training.  We went into either the 2nd Marine Division or the 1st Marine Division.  I went directly to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and began extensive combat training.  We practiced ground combat and amphibious landings more than anything else.  We had no testing requirements during this time.  We got on troop landing craft that had front ramps that let down.  The boat went out to a troop ship anchored offshore.  The Navy men threw down a large rope ladder about 60 feet long before our boat came alongside.  The ladder was wide enough for six men with full packs and weapons to climb the same time.  Once everyone was on the ship deck, we got the order to go over the side, and we then went back down to our boat.  The most I remember doing this at one time was up and down two times.  It was very tiring to do.  Then the boat went back to the shore.  The ramp went down, and we ran out on each side of the boat, hit the deck, and then crawled ourselves forward--mostly on our elbows.  After a day like that, we ate well and slept well.

I took leave after being at Camp Lejeune for four or five months.  When I returned, I took no more leave.  When I did go on a leave home, people said how nice I looked in my uniform.  As best as I can remember, there were only two other boys from my hometown in the Marines about the same time.  I knew them, but our paths did not cross while we were in uniform.

I returned to Camp Lejeune by Trailways Bus.  My home base while in the 2nd Marine Division was Camp Lejeune.  We did have liberty, and a good time was had by all--sometimes too much of a good time.  I was on six different ships.  We trained in the Caribbean and North Atlantic and Mediterranean Seas.  My battalion in the 2nd Division also received cold weather training.  I was in Able Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines.  We went to Argentia and Newfoundland in the winter of 1947.  Snow was everywhere and several inches thick.  We tested the same cold weather gear that was used in Korea the winter of 1950.  I know, because I was there.  I am so glad that I had that training in 1947.  Because of that, I knew how to use all of the gear issued.  Some younger ones in Korea did not know how to use the shoe packs and had a lot of trouble with their feet.  I am convinced that my government knew what was about to happen in Korea at the time we tested the cold weather gear in 1947.

In January of 1948, I boarded a Navy cruiser--the Manchester CL83--and sailed for the Mediterranean Sea.  I was one of 600 combat Marines aboard 17 ships which made up the 6th Fleet.  When we went over, the Communists were still trying to take over the country of Greece.  At night we could see tracer bullets being fired in the hills.  We were there to let the Communists know that if they were about to succeed in their conquest, we would intervene.  Also, this was when Palestine became the nation of Israel.  We would protect America's interests there, if needed.

In February, I was lined over to the aircraft carrier Philippine Sea CV47 in a mail bag with full combat gear.  That was a scary experience.  I spent five months on this ship.  It was hard to believe that I came from a town of 600 and there were 3,500 men on the Philippine Sea.  To me, it was like a city.


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War Breaks Out

At the time the Korean War broke out, I was a student at Louisiana Tech in Ruston, Louisiana.  I had completed one year and had just started another semester.  When I heard the news, I told my wife that I would get a call soon.  At that time, I was in the Inactive Reserves.  I received a letter on October 10, 1950, from the Marines that I was being activated.  I was to report to Shumake, Arkansas, for a physical, which I passed.

I was then given ten days to get to Camp Pendleton, California.  I met a former Marine at Shumake who had arranged to pick up a car in Shreveport, Louisiana, and drive it to San Diego, California.  The car was a 1949 Oldsmobile (like new).  They paid us to drive the car to San Diego, which included gas.  In those days, cars were sent to the West Coast by individual drivers because they brought about $2,500 more on the market out there.

When the war first began in Korea, I was willing to go and put my life on the line to fight Communism. I realized that all of the training that I had during my previous time in the Marines would be of benefit to me.  I will say now and probably a number of times more that I believe that my prior training and prayers saved my life.

I had read about the Inchon landing before I was recalled.  I thought nothing about it because that was one of the major things we were trained to do in those days.  I had no feelings one way or the other about whether I would like to have been a part of that landing group.  I kept up with the news about the war until I arrived at Camp Pendleton, California.  We began an intensive refresher course in weapons and tactics.  During that time, I did not pay that much attention to the war and what was going on in Korea.  I knew I would be there soon.  I don't remember being aware of the Chosin Reservoir crossing by the Chinese.  The following I do remember very well, however.  We were told that we would be given ten days to go home for Christmas.  I looked forward to seeing my wife and son.  Then all at once, around December 21 or 22, we were told to get all of our gear together, put on dungarees, gather up our full field packs with rifles and cartridge belts, and leave our sea bags behind.  We were put on a train and transported to San Francisco.  Then we boarded World War II Mars Flying Boats which had upper and lower decks.  I know that eleven of these were made in World War II for transport, and I assume that we loaded all of these planes.

We flew to Honolulu and landed at the Naval base.  We ate and slept a few hours, and the next day we took off on Navy troop transport planes.  We stopped to gas up and eat on Johnston Island, Guam, and the Philippines.  We finally arrived at Tokyo International Airport.  We then walked to the rail yards, boarded a Japanese Pullman, and went to Kobe, Japan.  From there we boarded a Korean ferry boat, "The Koran Maru," and landed in Pusan.  By my calculation, that was late on Christmas Eve, 1950.


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Overview - My Time in Korea

I estimate that it took us 58 hours from the time we left San Francisco until we got to Korea.  We were the first part of the third replacement draft, and I believe that they flew us over because of our previous service and training.  I have been told that the other part of that draft came over by boat.  It was beginning to get cold when I got to Korea in December.  Cold weather gear was issued.

The situation in Korea was critical at that time.  The men there had no place to go but back into the sea.  When we got to a staging area not far from Pusan, we got off trucks.  As we got off, there was someone who said, "You go here," "You go there," and so it went.  We began an offensive immediately, which was to mop up guerilla action in the south and then to move north.  They did not care what our M.O.S. training was.  They just needed warm bodies to fill the ranks.  My "baptism of fire" was my first day in Korea.  We engaged guerillas in the south.  There were enemy machine guns on the side of each hill overlooking the valley and they were slinging lead.  I was behind a small tree, and I noticed about one foot from my right side that bullets were hitting the ground from my head to my feet.  I was not hit, though.  An air strike was called in and the planes bombed both machine gun nests and destroyed them.  When the first bomb hit, I saw bodies and pieces of bodies fly up in the air.  I felt good about the fact that the planes had put them out of action.

I have said that bullets began to fly on Christmas Day.  Some dispute that, but I know that the oldest man who came over with me (28 years old) was killed by my side, and I still say it was Christmas Day.  The first day of action I saw dead Koreans and a dead Marine.  It did not affect me at all.  My impressions of Korea were neutral.  I could tell immediately that we were in a war zone because there were only 15 men left out of the company that I joined who had made it out of Chosin in one piece.  As mentioned, no assignments were made before I arrived in Korea.  There were always Korean laborers around moving supplies.  Of the 15 men left out of a company (a company was approximately 300 men), I knew none of them.

Concerning the duty I was assigned, the first time I was in the Marines, I was trained to handle the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR).  Later, I became a rifleman with an M-1 Garand Rifle.  At Camp Pendleton, I was trained with a flame thrower.  I really liked this weapon.  In Korea, they said, "You go into machine guns."  Later on, the M-1 Garand Rifle was replaced by a lighter weapon, the M-1 Carbine.  I carried two boxes of ammo for our gun, as did three other men.  This is the way the Marines have always been.  Regardless of training, we went where we were needed.  The job I was assigned was as good as any other.  I never complained.  I did not know any of the officers' names when I got to Korea and did not know any while there.  I surely don't remember any now.

When my group arrived in Korea, we were not green troops.  We had all served previously during the World War II period.  Some served in combat, and some like myself on occupation duty.  We knew what to expect when we arrived, and we went to work.  The 15 men left in my company could not teach us anything.  Most of us were older than they.  In Korea, I learned not to take chances.  I did my job well, and my previous two years of training in the Marines really paid off.  The first time we were involved in real heavy action, we killed a lot of Chinese and North Koreans.  Our casualties were light compared to theirs.  The fact that I had practiced for war for two years previously allowed me to hold up emotionally.  Did I ever have moments of fear?  The answer is yes.  At first no, but as the months rolled on and I saw so many deaths, there were moments when I felt that my time had come.

In Korea there were hills and valleys.  The best place to be was in the hills.  In the cold winter, with 30 degrees below zero, there was no vegetation for the enemy to hide behind.  We were usually on the attack.  Each night we had to dig a one- or two-man foxhole.  On line, we had fifty percent watch, which meant that one half of our men were awake at one time.  Our battalion was on the move except for those times that we came off the front lines after many days of extreme fighting and spent some time in the rear getting rest and eating hot food.

My discharge says I was in south and central Korea.  We landed in Pusan and fought our way north of the 38th parallel at a place called the Punchbowl.  My unit fought there twice.  I know that we were north of the 38th parallel after MacArthur was fired and Van Fleet took over.  He is the one that made us stop our advance back up to the Yalu River.  We had the enemy on the run and to a man in my outfit, we wanted to press on, knowing full well that many of us would not make it back.

I do not know the names of the hills we fought on.  However, my wife kept most of the letters I wrote to her from Korea, and I can tell pretty well where I was by when the letters were written.  The areas were:

  • 12/30/50 - Masan
  • 1/7/51 - Masan
  • 1/24/51 - Pohang
  • 1/30/51 - Wonsan
  • 4/15/51 - Unknown
  • 4/30/51 - Hoengsong
  • 5/3/51 - On line in Korea
  • 6/12/51 - Inje, North Korea
  • 6/19/51 - Inje, North Korea
  • 7/10/51 - Wonju
  • 7/11/51 - Inje, North Korea
  • 7/28/51 - Masan (I was being sent home by mistake.  When they found the error, I was sent back to my company.)
  • 8/4/51 - Inje, North Korea
  • 8/5/51 - Inje, North Korea
  • 8/18/51 - Inje, North Korea
  • 9/3/51 - on line in Korea (my birthday)
  • 10/15/51 - Inje, North Korea
  • 10/27/51 - Inje, North Korea
  • 11/6/51 - Inje, North Korea
  • 11/10/51 - Inje, North Korea
  • 11/25/51 - on line in Korea

I started in Pusan (the bottom tip of South Korea) and fought all the way up north of the 38th parallel to the Punchbowl, and then the Hwachon Reservoir area.  Our company commander changed twice during this time.  I did not know either of them.

In the very beginning we had air support, but that stopped.  We always had artillery and tank support, and I might add support from the big guns of the Navy.  For a while, we had a Navy spotter with us.  I remember 2,000-pound shells from the 20-inch guns on a battleship hitting the top of a hill in front of us, and the hill was no more.

The bloodiest battles we fought were from April through June 1951, and again in September 1951.  However, there were many battles of lesser significance.  In most battles, we took casualties.  Sometimes there were many more than at other times, but such is war.  The enemy always suffered many more dead than we did.  There were many killed or wounded in my company during the eleven months I was in Korea.  I was one of the lucky few who made it.  I remember us getting six new men one day and two days later, three of them were dead.  Most of the men killed or wounded in our company died April through June and in September during the most intense fighting. I do not know the names or the states of the men killed.

There was no specific time that I felt most in danger in Korea.  Any time a battle was raging, we were in danger.  I remember one time a sniper evidently had me in his sight.  About three times I heard a bullet pass my ear.  When a bullet did that, it made a noise like a bullwhip being cracked.  It meant that it was no further than ten inches from my head.  I remember putting my face in the dirt with my head covered by my helmet and thinking, "Is that next bullet going to be named Jim?"

When we dug in for the night, our machine guns were set up so that there was interlocking fire with riflemen and BARmen in between.  Our 60mm mortars were set up behind the hill so that they could lob shells over our heads in case of a heavy enemy attack.  If we were told that we would probably be in the same place two or three days, we set booby traps--usually hand grenades with the pins in, but with the back side of the pin straightened a little--below our front lines.  A thin piece of wire was attached to the pin before the operation and the other end was attached to a small tree or bush about ten feet away.  Anyone coming up the hill and tripping the cord would set off the grenade.  The grenades were always far enough down the hill that shrapnel would not hit any of our men.  Fighting was anytime--day or night.

We disposed of most of the North Korean army early in 1951, which left mostly Chinese to do the fighting. I must pause here, however, to say that women fought in the North Korean Army.  They were trained to fire World War II 60mm mortars, and they were very skilled at their job.  These same women were used to cook for the men and served as their concubines.  If one became eight months pregnant, she came toward our lines with a white flag, knowing that she would get medical care.

In the early days of the Korean War, the Chinese were armed with World War I and World War II rifles captured from the Nationalist Chinese, Japanese, and from other countries.  Before I left, they were using all Russian-made equipment.  Any rifle can kill regardless of age if properly handled--including muskets of the Civil War era and even before that.  The only heavy machine guns I saw the Chinese use were World War I Russian-made 31 caliber.  They were on metal wheels with armor plate in front.  They must have been hell to take apart, get up into the hills, and put together again.  They were the old water-cooled type.  Bullets from our BAR and M-1 Garand rifles were armor-piercing and went through the armor plate around the guns.  They also had a 76mm cannon on wheels that they got into the hills the same way.  It was a deadly weapon if handled properly.  However, the sound of those shells coming in did more psychological damage than any other kind of damage.  When they started to fire, we stayed in our foxholes.

Most of the Chinese who were killed appeared to be young peasant boys who were ill-trained and ill-equipped.  In my opinion, they were not good fighters.  Believe it or not, they wore tennis shoes summer and winter unless they had some good boots taken off United Nations troops.  They did not like to fight Marines head-on unless they were high on rice wine and made banzi attacks.  I don't think they put up as good a fight as we did.  I would say that the Chinese usually hit and ran, while we pressed forward most of the time.  However, if the Chinese had one or two well-equipped divisions to throw into battle, they did so and put up a good fight.

They were masters of subterfuge.  There were times that they came close to our lines at night and asked for the time.  The answer we gave him was always a hand grenade.  One night a Chinese soldier, who evidently had been educated in England, came up to our lines and said, "I say, Ole Chap.  Can you tell me the time?"  Our response was the same as always.  There was also a time when the Chinese dressed up beautiful Korean women as Geishas, put them in white robes, and sent them toward our lines, knowing the weakness of Marines for women and booze.  They came toward a foxhole with their right hand in the fold of their kimono.  Once in the foxhole, everyone was blown to bits.  It was theorized that the women carried at least two--maybe three--grenades with the pins pulled, and all they had to do was release their grip and everything blew up.  This happened three times before the word was passed along the line (we were set up in a level area in two-man foxholes).  About two days later, this happened to me.  As I remember, it was early in the morning, and I saw this white object coming toward our two-man foxhole.  As it got closer, I could tell it was one of those beautiful women dressed in white with her right hand in the fold of her kimono.  As she got closer, I raised my rifle and told her in Korean to "get the hell out of here."  The boy in the foxhole with me said, "Elkins, are you crazy?"  She kept coming, and I fired.  At the same time, I ducked down in our hole and pulled the other boy down with me.  Then there was one hell of a bang.  There were only pieces left of her.  The other boy looked at me with fear in his eyes and said nothing.

There was a time when my outfit was above the 38th parallel and we were completely surrounded by Chinese.  We had no food for 72 hours.  The water we drank came out of a creek filled with corpses.  The corpsman put one drop of iodine per canteen to purify the water.  At the end of the third day, the Air Force parachuted in food to us, which we ate.  Shortly thereafter, with the help of another Marine group, we broke through back to our own lines.  It was a 40-mile forced march.  I will never forget it.

I can remember at least three times we were under mortar attack.  We always took killed and wounded.  In one such attack, I heard a thud about a foot from my right side.  I looked over and an unexploded mortar shell had landed.  I did not know if it had a delayed action fuse.  I just lay there and prayed.  I also remember our attacking an enemy position one time and tanks firing in our support.  My friend in Baker Company, which was near us, lost ten men to friendly tank fire on that date.  My understanding was that the officer who made the mistake was severely disciplined.  I do not know that for sure.

I personally had no contact with the Korean military.  The only troops who fought along beside us were the Korean Marines.  They were very good fighters.  I met men from other countries, but I did not fight alongside of them.  I remember one cold, rainy day we took over lines being held by the French Foreign Legion.  They were a happy-go-lucky group.  They had to serve one year in Vietnam (when the French ruled there) and one year in Korea.

To my knowledge, my group was never flanked by an Army outfit.  We did on more than one occasion pass a member of the 1st Cavalry Division either going or coming from the front lines.  Other than being in an Army hospital for ten days, the only contact I had with the Army was when an Army Military Police outfit came into our camp when we were in a rest area.  They sold us Canadian Club whiskey for $50.00 per quart, which they had stolen from the Canadian Officers Corps.


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Life in a War Zone

As I mentioned earlier, when the Korean War broke out I was willing to put my life on the line to fight Communism.  However, when Truman fired General MacArthur (in my estimation, the best general of modern times)--and replaced him with Van Fleet, who was a "yes man", my attitude began to change.  Almost immediately after he took over, he stopped our advance and said, "We will go no farther north."  It was to be left to the politicians to work out.  At that moment, I felt personally betrayed by my country--first, for the pure hell that I had been through; second, for all of the men who had died for what we were told was a just cause; third, for the fact that my country would not acknowledge that Russian pilots and some ground technicians with rocket batteries were involved in the war; and fourth, after the initial Chinese entry into the war that Russia (Soviet Union) was supplying the arms for the war.  At that point in time, I did not give a damn about the war, although I was involved in it for some time after that.  I thought the United Nations was a joke.  We provided all of the supplies and did 99.9 percent of the fighting.  I have nothing but contempt for the United Nations--then and now.  The greatest mistake made by my government was the firing of General MacArthur.

The winter I was there was pure hell.  It got down to 30 degrees below zero for a while.  To give an example, we were pulled off the front line after several days of fighting.  We went back to a rest area where we had hot food.  Tables were planks on 50-gallon oil drums.  They had a huge urn of boiling hot coffee.  I filled up my canteen cup, went through the line and got hot food, went about ten feet, put down my canteen cup, took a bite of food which had ice flakes in it, reached for my coffee, and it had about 1/4 inch of ice on top.  Some cold, huh?  At least the temperature extremes did not affect our weapons.  What we had were proven weapons used by the infantry in World War II.

What we wore during the winter while I was in Korea was the following.  On our head we had lined head gear which covered the ears.  We wore a helmet on top of that.  On our bodies, we had dungarees with all-weather pants on the outside and heavy lined parkas that went down just below the knees.  Our shoes were shoe packs--rubber type on the outside with double shoe pads inside and two pairs of heavy socks to be changed each day.  This was the same gear that the others and I had tested in Argentia, Newfoundland, in 1947.  I kept warm because I had been previously trained in how to use the equipment.  Our summer clothing was helmet, dungarees, and leather boots.

In the summer, the Chinese wore some kind of grey clothing and tennis shoes.  In the winter, they had quilted uniform tops and bottoms and tennis shoes.  In the cold winter of 1951 around February or March, it got down to 30 degrees below zero.  From time to time after we took a hill, we found Chinese soldiers who had been left behind.  They had gangrene from frostbite up to their knees and sometimes above.  The comrades of these dead Chinese took their hats, pants, shoes, socks, rifle, ammunition, and food.  When we came upon one of these pitiful creatures, they would point to the muzzle of our rifle, then to their head, and we could see in their eyes what they were asking us to do: "Please kill me."  Sometimes we obliged, and at other times we left them to suffer.  This normally depended on the severity of the previous battle and how many killed we had sustained.

In battle, emotions could run high.  I remember one day not long after we had seen the aftermath of the slaughter of an Army unit that we were in the process of taking a hill.  I was about middle way up the line of assault when someone brought me a young Chinese soldier who had surrendered.  They had given him a cigarette and asked me to hold him until Intelligence could send someone to pick him up.  I was so bitter at that point in time, I put my rifle very close to him with the safety off.  I wanted to kill him, but knew he was more value to us alive than dead.  We stared at each other's eyes for what seemed like an eternity.  He never twitched or flinched a muscle.  The cigarette continued to burn.  I began to smell flesh burning and hear the sizzle.  When I finally glanced at his hand, he was holding ashes between his fingers.  I felt good.  This is what war will do to a person.

Regarding mistakes, there was an incident in which we had taken a hill from the Chinese and secured same.  Some Marines on another hill thought we were Chinese troops and called an air strike on us.  Two Marine Corsairs came with .50 calibers spitting lead, and each one dropped a napalm bomb.  There was a covered Chinese bunker about five feet from me.  I dove in head first, right on top of a dead Chinese soldier.  His eyes were open and so were mine.  The difference was, I was breathing and he was not.  Not more than two seconds later, someone jumped in on top of me.  I kissed the dead Chinese soldier.  I did not know until 1993 who that was on top of me and that it was one of my friends.  After the attack, we were ordered to go back down the hill the way we came up.  The official history of the incident said there were no friendly fire casualties.  That is not true because I saw three dead Marines face down who had been hit by .50 caliber bullets.

We never lived in a foxhole.  We were usually on the move, which meant that a new one had to be dug each day.  I was never in a trench or a bunker.  I was never involved in hand-to-hand combat while I was in Korea.  I was never wounded in action, either.  However, I was burned in a gasoline fire (my fault) when we relieved the French on line.  On that cold and rainy day, I got second and third degree burns on my forehead and right leg.  When I was burned, the corpsman gave me morphine for pain, put salve on my burns, and bandaged my head completely except for eye holes and holes to breathe.  It was the next morning before they could get my stretcher down the hill.  I shall never forget when I got down the hill and was waiting for a Jeep to take me to an Army hospital.  An Associated Press photographer came running over and asked me how I had been wounded and how serious I was.  He wanted my name and home town.  When I told him I had been burned in a fire and that it was my fault, he said, "Damn," and walked off.  I sure laughed about that one.

I was in the hospital about ten days.  An Army dentist was set up there.  He checked my teeth and said I had a cavity.  He had nothing to fill it with, so he pulled it.  I think he did it only for practice.  There were two hospital tents end on end.  One was for South Korean soldiers and the other for American soldiers.  One South Korean soldier was dying from internal parasites.  He asked his officer for a .45 caliber pistol to kill himself.  The officer obliged, and the boy killed himself about ten feet from me.  I saw corpsmen sew up cuts on men without the benefit of a pain killer.  They always did a good job.  I have always considered Navy corpsmen as Marines.

We had plenty of contact with the South Korean population.  After all, we were protecting them.  There were also many North Korean civilians who came south to get away from Communism.  We had a Korean interpreter attached to each company, and we had what we referred to as "chigger-bears."  They were Korean men who carried supplies such as food into the hills for us.

The only food we had on the front lines were C-rations.  The food we had in reserve areas was hot and to my taste.  The home-cooked food that I missed the most while I was in Korea was beef or pork roast with potatoes, onions, carrots, mashed potatoes with tomato gravy, small green peas, green beans, butter beans, and steak of any kind.  (This was before I got into seafood, which I really love now.)  One day my machine gun group found a large sack of rice.  We cooked it in our helmets with water and chocolate wafers which we crumbled up into powdered chocolate.  It tasted fair, and we did not get sick from eating it.  I always had lots of garlic on me.  Each Korean hut had a big storage area for garlic.  When we captured a town, I stocked up on garlic and used it to flavor my C-rations.  This almost got me killed by one of our own men one time.  I always smelled like garlic because I used so much of it.  One day as we were going up a hill, I moved down the side of the hill a little way to defecate.  All of a sudden, I heard an M-1 Garand rifle bolt pulled back and loaded.  I looked back, and a Marine had a rifle pointed at my head.  In a loud voice, I shouted, "Don't shoot.  It's me!"  The Marine said, "(expletive) You smelled like a Chink, and I thought you were one."  After that, I quit using garlic.

As best as I can remember, I had three showers while in Korea.  I showered when we were in a rest area.  Sometimes in the summer, we bathed in whatever stream or creek was available.  Most of the time, corpses were in the water.  We put back on the same dirty clothes.  I can remember only twice getting a change of fresh clothes when we had a shower.  The old clothes were put in a pile with gas poured over them and set on fire.  I believe this was the time when we had so many body lice.  We were on line and all of us were itching like crazy.  A couple of days later, they sent up two large cans of lice powder for each man, and we were told to use it from head to tie.  I remember emptying those two cans over my body and in my clothes.  In about ten minutes, I pulled my jacket open and dropped my pants, and all I could see were millions of little white things crawling over my body, beginning to fall off.  The next day, I shook my clothes and felt really good.

The following incident is macabre, but was funny as hell when it happened.  By this time, death had no meaning for me.  (That feeling has not changed over the years.)  We were going along a ridge line to take the high ground on another hill.  We came upon a dead North or South Korean soldier or Chinese soldier who had been killed by a wound which had knocked a hole in the back side of his head.  There were yellow flowers growing along the hillside.  The body was placed in a foxhole and covered up to the head.  Someone dug up one of the flowers and planted it in his head.  I must say, it was a comical sight.  My wife and I have gone to auctions for the past several years, and each time a planting pot made like a head, either in ceramic or porcelain, is put up for sale, I am reminded of this scene.

Another time we had set up 50 percent watch.  I pitched a tent on the down side of the hill and was going to sleep until it was my time for watch, which would be midnight.  Well, all hell broke loose about 11:30 p.m.  Everyone but me heard the battle.  I have always been a sound sleeper, and I heard nothing.  The next morning, my friend grabbed the end of my sleeping bag and gave a jerk and said, "Elkins, it is time to get up."  I recognized his voice and raised up in my sleeping bag and hit him over the head with my rifle butt.  Fortunately, he had his helmet on.  After a few expletives, he said, "I will never try to wake you up again."  Then they all began to tell me about the battle I had missed.  I still sleep so soundly that a stick of dynamite could go off outside my house, and I would not hear it.

Other than those comical moments, being on the front lines was generally always serious business.  In rest areas there was time for laughter, gambling for those who were interested, and time to get drunk if we could get whiskey.  There was also plenty of time for joke telling, although there was not a comic in our group.  All of the stories we told were about women and what we would do when we got home.  We had no "leisure" time.  When we were in a rest area, we cleaned weapons, ourselves, and ate good food.  I smoked cigars, chewed tobacco, and drank beer and whiskey while in Korea, but I did not gamble.  Beer was furnished in the rest areas by the Marines for a price, and we could buy whiskey from the Army M.P.s.  I did smoke cigars and drink prior to going to Korea.  I began to drink, smoke, drive, and womanize at age 11.  I lived in a small town.  I never had a driver's license until I registered to vote. Three of my school mates and I enjoyed doing these things together.  In later years, we all turned out to be alcoholics.  But today, thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous and the Good Lord, we are sober.

There was no regular pattern to getting mail.  It was never delivered to the front lines.  Sometimes I got four or five letters at one time.  Most of my mail was from my wife, and some was from my mother.  My wife sent me boxes of cigars.  I don't think I received them all, however.  It was my suspicion, as well as that of others, that the boys in the rear who handled mail tore some of the covering and if it was something they wanted, they kept it.  I asked only for cigars, and this was from my wife.  Letters usually arrived in fair condition, but the packages were usually in bad condition.  One of my friends used to get powdered soup regularly from his father.  He got several packages at one time.  He heated water in his canteen cup, poured the powdered soup in it, and stirred.  He always gave us a sip.  I don't remember anyone getting bad news from home, however, I feel sure that some did.

Religion has always played a big part in my life.  I gave my heart to Jesus at the age of eight.  I have never doubted my faith, but there were many times that I was not faithful to my beliefs.  I did a lot of praying in Korea, and many people at home were praying for me.  Church was offered, and I attended all services when we were in a rest area and all memorial services for the dead.  I can remember one particular moonlit night when our company was strung out along a ridge line.  One of my friends was on point, and I was on the back end of the line.  We were 100 percent watch.  About 1300 hours, the Chinese who were high on rice wine made a banzi attack on the front of the line.  My friend was wounded.  I can tell you I was afraid with all of the grenades and mortar rounds bursting and bullets flying around.   I kept a watchful eye on my end of the line.  At the same time, I pulled the Marine-issued New Testament out of my pocket and memorized the 23rd Psalm.  This gave me a peace I had never felt before.  My company and Baker company took a lot of casualties that night.

I spent the Marine Corps birthday in Korea in 1951.  There was no celebration.  I also celebrated Thanksgiving on the front lines.  I celebrated my 22nd birthday in Korea, too.  It was just another day, although I did write a letter to my wife on that date.  I saw two USO shows in Korea.  One was Jack Benny and the other was Danny Kaye.  All I can remember is that both men were funny.  But to a man, we really didn't care about them.  It was the women they brought with them that we were interested in.  There were no prostitutes in the area where we rested, and the M.P.s would not let prostitutes set up business outside the rest area.  (When I was in Korea, the Marines never had R&R, either.  We served a straight eleven months and got out of there.)  The only American women I ever saw in Korea were in the two USO shows.

We had almost daily contact with the Korean people.  Many worked for us.  Many times as we headed north, there were lines of old people and children who passed us going south.  In secure areas, the children were clean and appeared to be well-nourished.  The Koreans lived in mud huts with thatched roofs.  There was a place to cook on the outside attached to the house.  In the winter, they used the heat from this fire to circulate and warm the house.  In the summer, they blocked off the back of the furnace so the heat would not get into the house.  They slept on mats on the floor and had rice pillows.  The pillow fit under the neck.  Some of the huts had small teakwood tables.  One corner of the house from the bottom of the roof to a small platform near the ground was filled with dried garlic.

My memories of Korea include what I consider to be atrocities.  I remember seeing the aftermath of POWs or civilians who had been doused with gas and set on fire.  I also remember the time when we had just gone off line into a rest area and had been there for two days.  We hadn't started to relax when the order came to saddle up--the Gooks had broken through the lines where the South Korean Army and some United Nations outfit were joined.  The order was for us to drive the Gooks out and close the gap.  When we got there, the Gooks had retreated, and this is what I saw:  two six-by trucks loaded with dead American Army soldiers.  Bodies were all around on the ground, many with eyes gouged out.  As we went up into the hills, we saw a young Army soldier who was nude and had his hands tied behind his back.  Gas had been poured on his genitals and it was burned off.  I suppose the shock killed him.  I saw no other marks on his body.  I also saw a woman who had been gang-raped by approximately 50 Chinese soldiers.  When they finished, they wrapped an 18-inch tent peg with barbed wire and thrust it into her vagina.  She was still alive when our interpreter went over to her.  There was no hope and no medical help to fix her problem.

Another time we were set up in a dried out rice paddy in two-man foxholes.  I noticed a young Korean boy coming toward us.  He had in his arms a naked baby girl about six or eight months old.  He came up to us, spread the baby's legs, and said, "Presento $10,000 Won."  What he was doing was offering us sex with the baby for about $1.00 American money.  I was so furious I pointed my rifle at him and said in Korean gutter language to leave.  Boy, did he run with the baby in his arms.

Also of note is another incident that has stayed with me all of these years.  We had been on line 10 to 12 days engaged in intense fighting.  We were relieved and went back to a rest area.  Each time we went into a rest area, children and old women came into the camp to barter eggs for articles of clothes.  They were particularly fond of our woolen long johns, which we hated and willingly traded.  We were set up in eight-man tents.  On the second day, I heard a lot of laughter coming from two tents down from me.  One young replacement came by my tent and said, "Elkins, come see!"  I picked up my rifle--which was loaded with the safety on.  When I got to the tent, what I saw revolted me.  There was a Marine raping an old woman, and there were others in line.  I pushed the safety off my rifle and raised it to kill him.  About four other Marines wrestled the rifle from me and took me back to my tent.  Their comment was, "You don't want to get in trouble."  For many years I wished that I had picked up someone else's rifle and finished the job.  In the past few years, I have realized that if I had shot him on top of her, the bullet would have passed through him and killed her, too.  Now I am glad that I did not shoot.


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Marines in Combat

I don't remember hearing of anyone in our unit who was taken as a prisoner.  We were never concerned about being captured.  In 1946 in boot camp, we were taught to fight or die--but never to be captured.  Most of the men with me were trained in that same era.

As Marines, we never thought of any objective as being impossible.  As a matter of fact, an 8 1/2x11 mimeographed sheet was given to members of the 5th Marines which illustrates my point.

Headquarters, 5th Marines
1st Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force
c/o FPO, San Francisco, California
25 June 1951

From:    Commanding Officer
To:       Officers and Men of the Fifth Marines and supporting units
Subj.:    Performance in Combat

1.  It is with a deep feeling of humble pride and since gratitude that I convey to the Fifth Marines and supporting units the following:

Headquarters, 1stMarDiv (Reinf.)
c/o FPO, San Francisco, Calif.
20 June 1951

From:    Commanding General
To:       Commanding Officer, 5th Marines
Subj.:    Message of Appreciation, delivery of
Ref.:     (a) CG X Corps msg 191014z

1.   It is a distinct pleasure to deliver to you, your officers and men, the following message from the Corps Commander:

Please express my appreciation and high commendation to the officers and men of the Fifth Regiment, U.S. Marines, and its supporting units, for their valor, persistency, and complete effectiveness in the fighting of the past ten days.  Today I made an aerial reconnaissance of the near impossible mountain peaks east of Taem-san captured by the Fifth Regiment.  I have nothing but admiration for the dauntless men who summed those peaks and now remain on their assigned objectives.

Signed/Almond

2.      I extend sincere congratulations to the Fifth Marines for this recognition of their excellent combat effectiveness.

Signed/G.G. Thomas

2.      I want you, every man, the rifleman, the artilleryman, the tanker and the engineer, to know of the pride I have felt in watching your actions in the past two months of combat.  You have done so well, worked so smoothly as a team that at times the most difficult missions have seemed deceptively easy.  From the initial attack on 22 April and capture of Hwachon, through the repulse of the ferocious enemy attack north of Hongchon and the offensive into North Korea, you have proved your skill and courage.  Even when higher commanders were planning your withdrawal, you were aggressively setting out to attack.  Not once did the enemy force you from a position; never able to deny you an objective.

3.      The operation that we have just finished has not been easy.  You have fought a skillful, fanatical enemy, who defended rugged mountain peaks with great determination.  They wanted that high ground and meant to stay there.  You made sure, by effective use of supporting arms, and finally with grenade and bayonet, that the enemy remained--permanently.

4.      Your courage, endurance, and devotion to duty have been outstanding.  I consider it a distinct honor and privilege to serve with you.

Signed/Richard W. Hayward
Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps
Commanding 5th Marines

 

The 1st Marine Division received a Presidential Unit Citation for 1951.  It enumerated the specific times and places involved.  The dates were 21-26 April, 16 May to 30 June, and 11 to 25 September 1951.  I did not see a copy of the citation until July 1993.

To me, a war hero is any man who serves on the front lines in war and almost daily is under fire.  Some die, some don't, and some are wounded.  To me, they are all heroes.  It's not the man with the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star, etc.  The Marines serve as a unit, and if we survive a year of combat, in our own eyes, we are heroes.


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Going Home

I went off the front lines in a rest area when I found out the exact date I was to leave for home, but as sometimes happened, I was sent back on the front lines three days before I was to leave.  I could not help but think, "Wouldn't it be a hell of a note if I 'bought the farm' so close to my time to leave?"

The only time I ever saw a helicopter in Korea was on Thanksgiving Day, 1951--the day before I left.  A level place was scratched out of the hillside about 20 feet from my foxhole.  A bubbletop came in with hot food.  The food was in the basket used to haul wounded troops.  I remember getting a six-course hot meal on the front line.  It was the best meal I ever had in Korea.  Since I was so close, my food was hot when the food was dropped off.  Then the helicopter left.  The South African Air Force flew cover over us while we ate.  Each man had to carry his food back to his foxhole.  Most of the men got cold food.  Only every other man could leave the line to get food at one time.  They sure did raise hell with me for being the one who got the hottest food.  (By the way, I never saw a bubble top take a wounded man down the hill.  This was done by stretchers.)

There was nothing special about my leaving or the time of departure.  When I left the unit, I was neither glad nor sad.  The only thing I cared about was getting the hell out of Korea.  I walked from the front lines to Battalion Headquarters.  From there I went to a staging area where I was thoroughly deloused.  After a few hours, to be sure the lice were dead, I showered and was given clean dungarees.  I believe we then flew to a southern port city.

The day before I left Korea, I was promoted to Corporal.  However, I was not aware of it until five months after I was at home and back in school.  They sent me the promotion letter and a check for $35.00.  The check came in handy.  A few months later I got a check for combat pay for the eleven months I was in Korea.  That check was gladly received, too.

I left Korea the day after Thanksgiving 1951, taking a boat to Otsu, Japan.  On the boat, I met a good friend of mine who had taken the refresher course with me at Camp Pendleton.  We were also on the same ship going home from Japan.  He was in one regiment and I was in another.  Neither of us knew if the other was dead or alive.  All we did was talk, talk, talk all the way back home.

We stayed in a Japanese Naval Officers barracks until we left for home.  While there, we had to go through a decontamination process before we could go home.  They checked for internal parasites.  After all of the tests were done, I was the only one in my group who had no parasites.  The Navy corpsman could not believe this.  One salty old Navy chief petty officer heard this, looked at me, and said, "Boy, did you chew tobacco in Korea?"  I said, "Yes, I had the whole allotment for the battalion since no one else chewed."  He looked at the younger corpsman and said, "That's your answer.  No damn bug could live in the tobacco juice that got into his stomach."  Since I had no parasites to treat, I was on liberty the whole time, while the others had to hang around and take a treatment during the daytime.  The other men were mad as hell at me, but I certainly didn't care.  I believe I was in Japan six days.

The name of the ship that I came back on was the USS General Polk, a troop transport.  The general mood on the ship was great, and so was mine.  I don't recall having any duty on the ship.  I was never seasick.  From 1946 to 1948 during occupation duty and training exercises with the Second Marine Division, I was on six different ships.  I have never been sick on a ship or a boat.  I don't remember any bad weather on the return trip.  The journey was two weeks, with the only entertainment onboard being movies.

We came directly to the States.  Our first stop was San Francisco, and I can say that tears of joy streamed down my cheeks as we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge.  The regular Marines and the active reserves got off there.  There was a Marine Corps band in dress blues, playing the Marine Corps Hymn.  Wives, children, mothers, fathers, et al, who lived nearby were there to meet their loved ones.  It was wonderful to witness such a joyous meeting.  There was no one waiting for me.  My family lived in Louisiana, and we did not have the money to spare for my wife and son to make the trip.  We needed that money for me to return to school.

We walked off the ship and were trucked to a barracks area for processing out.  We left San Francisco and went to San Diego where the inactive reserves were to be discharged back into inactive status.  It took about one and one-half days.  One day was to be taken up by lectures and films on how to adjust to civilian life.  These were known as the "Ole Lady Roosevelt" talks.  As far as the movies were concerned, the officer in charge had a cover over a large picture.  When he pulled the cover off, it was a naked woman.  We must have laughed for 45 minutes.  When things finally quieted down, he said, "Now, boys.  This is the female of our species.  She is not your enemy.  She is your friend.  Do not confuse the two."  After more laughter, he said, "We will start the processing now, and maybe we will get you out 12 to 18 hours earlier than expected.  We had no liberty since we all wanted to be home by Christmas.  And I did make it.  I arrived in Ruston, Louisiana, by bus at 1:30 a.m. on December 25, 1951.


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Civilian Again

The first week in January 1952, I was back in college.  I always sat in the front row.  The first class I went to, the professor asked us to give our names.  So it went until it got to the back row, and I heard an Oriental voice.  I turned around and looked, and it was a Chinese boy.  I said to myself then that war is stupid.  Here I was killing his cousins just a few weeks ago, and now I am in class with one of them.  It was at that exact moment that I put the war behind me and thought of nothing but my family, school, and work.  I don't think I ever mentioned in class about my military experiences, however those of us who were veterans gathered for bull sessions.  I received my final discharge from the Inactive Marine Corps Reserve in July of 1952.

Besides going to school, I worked four hours at night at an ice cream plant and twelve hours per day on weekends as a security guard.  It should be noted that my undergraduate degree was paid for by the World War II G.I. Bill of Rights.  I graduated from what was then known as Louisiana Polytechnic Institute (Louisiana Tech).  I received a one-year graduate degree in social work from Louisiana State University (L.S.U.) on the Korean War G.I. Bill.

I spent my life in social work, except for a 13-year period when I was Executive Director of the Baton Rouge Area Tuberculosis Association.  I worked for the State of Louisiana in Mid-level Management the last 20 years in the Medicaid Program.  I retired in February 1993.  For a number of years I painted with a palate knife, carved, wrote, and exercised by walking.  Now, because of a number of illnesses I have, I don't do much of anything anymore except cook.  This is something I used to do many years ago.

My son is Phillip Elkins, and he will be 50 years old on his next birthday.  My daughter is Janice Marie Elkins Babineaux, and she will be 47 years old on her next birthday.  If I did not mention it earlier, my wife and I were married 50 years on February 16, 2000.

I developed clinical depression in 1982 and Dementia (Alzheimer's type) in 1997.  By the way, the final diagnosis of Alzheimer's can only be determined at death with a scraping of brain cells.  Dementia simply means that I have a mental disease.  Alzheimer's is the best guess.  I also had severe nightmares about the war during the year 1997.  My psychiatrist was finally able to get me on several medications which have pretty much stabilized me for the past two years.  It was determined that my depression was caused by the memories of the war trying to break through.  I had suppressed them beginning the first day I returned to school in January 1952.  It took me a long time for some of the memories to come back, and I am sure there are others that will never return.


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Revisiting Korea

My wife and I visited Korea in June of 1998.  My name was drawn by lottery from a pool of Marines from the 1st Marine Division who had submitted the necessary papers to be eligible for the lottery.  There were 17 Marines who made the trip.  The total number of veterans who made the trip was 90.  Others who were with them totaled 57, for a grand total of 147.  Breakdown of veterans by country was: U.S. Marines - 17; U.S. veterans of other branches of service - 32; Canadians - 39; Philippines - 22.  We could take our wives with us (with proof of marriage by marriage certificate) or one child (by proof of birth certificate showing the father).  I believe two men had their sons, and the rest had their wives.  Also needed were papers showing that we had been in Korea at some time during the three-year period of the war.  The Korean War Veterans Association picked up the tab for our visit to help them celebrate the 48th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War.  I had to pay for our air fare to and from Los Angeles, and a little over ten percent of the fare on Korean Airlines from Los Angeles to Seoul, Korea.  Someone who went with us said they had checked with Korean Airlines prior to our departure, and they were quoted a price of $16,500 per couple round trip.  I think we only paid about $1,750 total.  From the time we landed in Seoul, everything was free except personal things that were brought by individuals.  We stayed in a five-star hotel with free food at any of the restaurants in the hotel.  We preferred the buffet, which was excellent.  Ground travel was free with an interpreter.  We saw many ancient palaces.  Perhaps one of the sites that impressed me most was the war museum which was four stories tall and probably covered six acres of ground inside and out.  It is required that all elementary school children in South Korea visit this museum at least one time.  All school children wear uniforms, including those in high school.

There is an obelisk outside of Seoul that is dedicated to Korean Marines and U.S. Marines who died in that war.  I was honored to join with one of the Korean Marine veterans in walking a wreath to the base of the obelisk.  We attended a dinner hosted by the Korean Veterans Association.  At that dinner I, along with other veterans of the Korean War, was presented with the Medal of Peace.  The medal was pinned on our lapels, and we were also given an Award of Appreciation Certificate written in both Korean and English in a nice folder.  The following morning, Korean Secret Service Agents boarded our bus.  They checked our name tags--checked them against a list--and stayed with us until noon.  We were then told that we would meet with the South Korean President later--time not specified.  Our tour guide suggested suits and ties for the afternoon.

When we boarded the bus that afternoon, all of our old name tags were confiscated, and new name tags given for us to wear.  They took us somewhere outside of Seoul to a very high class area.  We went into a hotel, the opulence and splendor of which I had never dreamed.  A magnificent brunch was served.  By the way, we had to go through a scanning device for our person and items like my walking stick.  Before we got off the bus, the women were told to leave their purses on board as well as camera bags.  The bus doors would be locked and a guard would be provided.  A camera could be taken inside, and after it went through the scanning device, a Secret Service Agent would hold it up and snap a picture.

It was comical about my walking cane.  They kept twisting and turning it and feeling the weight to see if anything was inside.  Once we were all inside, the doors were shut and locked.  When the President came, they unlocked the appropriate door for him and closed it immediately.  My wife rushed up front to see him.  I was so tired by that time, I sat in the only chair in the room, and it was by the bar.  As soon as I sat, a Secret Service Agent came and stood by my side.  I had noticed him watching me previously.  There was only one television crew allowed inside, and they really did watch them.

I should also mention that in 1998, 85 percent of all South Koreans were born after the Korean War.  One day as my wife and I were walking down the street, an old man came out of his store and asked, "You, U.S. Marine?"  I said, "Yes."  Then he said, "When you in Korea?"  I told him 12/25/50 until 11/27/51.  With tears running down his cheeks, he said, "Thank you for saving my country."  And I remembered if we had not reinforced the men already there, all of Korea might well be Communist now, and tears began to roll down my cheek.  It seems we shook hands forever.  It made me understand why the Korean War Veterans Association invited us back.  Only 15% alive who remember the war!


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Final Reflections

There was recently an Associated Press story about the alleged massacre of Korean civilians by American troops at Nogun-ri.  Tied in with this was a story about a bridge blowing in Korea in which numerous civilians were ordered off the bridge (because it was about to be blown up to prevent enemy advancement).  The civilians remained on the bridge and were caught up in the explosion.  I believe that one must experience war--the killing--seeing body parts--blood and guts and your friends die--to be able to understand it.  In a chaotic situation such as this, it must be realized that the South Korean Army had retreated to the rear, which left only some Americans to fill the gap.  With hundreds of civilians fleeing south, many North Korean soldiers put on civilian clothes which were wide-leg type.  They had pistols, knives, and each man probably carried at least 12 to 14 hand grenades.  Once behind our lines, they began to kill our people from the rear.  In those situations, our troops could not tell friend from foe.  If things happened as some of the Army men described, and the people on the bridge were told to get off by the South Korean soldiers but didn't, then they should have blown the bridge and fired on what is quoted as civilians (which no doubt had many North Korean soldiers among them).  The American Army had the right to protect themselves.  This reminds me of the Lieutenant Calley incident in Vietnam.  He had been ordered to take that village by his superior officers.  He lost quite a few men in that battle.  Except for the children who were killed, I have no problem with the killing of grown men and women who had no doubt been shooting at his men.  May I also say to those who may read my words at some future date that women can be taught to shoot weapons as good as men.  As I said much earlier in this memoir, the North Koreans used women to fire their 60MM mortars.

My strongest memories of Korea are fighting the enemy (which was pure hell) and the bitterly cold winter of 1951 when the weather got down to 30 degrees below zero.  The hardest thing for me about Korea had been being away from my wife and son.  My son didn't know me when I returned, and it took at least six months until my wife could leave him alone with me.  I guess he felt, "Who is this stranger who has come into my life?"

I think that the United States should have sent troops to Korea.  If our government had better armed them beforehand, there would not have been such a debacle to begin with.  MacArthur went north of the 38th parallel twice and I agreed with his strategy.  The second time was in 1951.  That's when Truman fired him.  If MacArthur had been left in command, we would have gone back up to the Chinese border and there would be one Korea today.

I would like for future generations to know that the Korean War was a war on the verge of being wrapped up with a big victory, and the politicians pulled the rug out from under us.  No good came out of the war.  When MacArthur was fired and Van Fleet took over, he said, "Stop, boys.  We will go no further up."  We lost almost as many men in Korea in three years as was lost in Vietnam in eight years.  Our dead were buried in Korea.  Their dead were sent home.  We still have 8,000-plus men unaccounted for.  We now know a large portion of them were sent into Russia.  While they still scratch for bones in Vietnam, my government has never done a damn thing about trying to get any of our men back from Korea.  To say the least, I have a deep resentment toward my government because of this.  Nevertheless, I think we should still have troops in Korea.  With a U.S. military presence, there will be less of an element of surprise if the enemy again makes a move south.

In Korea I was pretty much a loner.  I had five good friends from the war. Like me, three of the five had been in the Marines previously during World War II.  (We had not, however, served in combat.)  The other two were in my machine gun section and neither of them had served on active duty before.  Four of the five were wounded in action--not seriously--and all six of us made it out of Korea.  Three of them I have had close contact with since Korea.  Two very close friends I have had contacts with since we came home and another since 1993.  Two others I have talked to a number of times, but have seen them only once.  All of us came home, finished college, and did well in our respective careers.

I am a member of the Marine Corps League, as well as four other Marine-related military organizations.  The League has monthly meetings.  I attend other reunions if they are in New Orleans, Louisiana, Houston, San Antonio, or Corpus Christi, Texas.  The medals that I wear are as follows:

  • World War II Victory Medal
  • Navy Occupation Medal for Europe
  • National Defense Medal
  • Korean War Medal with four battle stars
  • Good Conduct Medal
  • United Nations Medal
  • British Commemorative Medal celebrating 50 years after World War II
  • Korean Peace Medal given to me when my wife and I were invited to come to Korea at their expense to celebrate the 48th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War
  • Presidential Citation ribbon from the Korean government (I think men of all branches of service received this ribbon.)

When appropriate, I wear the above medals on my Marine Corps League uniform and civilian clothes.  Very recently, we have been authorized to wear a medal issued by Korea for all Korean War veterans.  I am proud of all of them.

"Once a Marine, Always a Marine" became part of our Marine heritage while we were in boot camp.  We are highly trained and a well-coordinated fighting machine.  We are usually a first strike force.  However, we realize that it takes all of our military forces to win a major war.  My time in Korea was something I had to do--and I did it.


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Prose Poetry

The following is prose poetry I wrote about the Korean War in 1998.

Long, Long Ago

Many sunsets ago in a far-off land,
I laid my life on the line
For God and country and family
I left behind.

It was hot and cold--sometimes 30 degrees
--below zero, that is.
The place was Korea, a name not often heard
but a place to be remembered with sadness
for those who gave their lives for what we thought
was a noble cause.

Later we found this was not a war--
Only a police action, our President said.
My question is why did we give 50,000 young lives
for something we did not plan to win?

When the enemy was slaughtered and on the run,
Why did our President fire our greatest General--
Douglas MacArthur--and put in another who said,
"You have gone far enough, boys, even beyond the
38th Parallel?  Turn around and come back and leave
the enemy alone."
We will let the United Nations talk this out!

As U.S. Marines, we were taught to fight or die and
never surrender at any time.
The U.N. forces--What a laugh--They will cut and run
when the first shot is fired and not come back
until we have secured the line.

We pay the bill for their officers and men
which includes booze and booze and girls, too,
while the U.S. fighting me plod on and on.

My generation was raised to believe in God
and country and family values, too.

To hear bullets pass your ear and wonder if
the next one is named Jim, at age 21,
You stop and think:
What in the hell am I doing here?
I have at home, a wife Claudine,
a son named Phillip, a daughter yet to come
and Louisiana Tech in Ruston waiting for me.

When I finally realized it was a no-win war,
I no longer gave a damn.

I will always revere Uncle Sam, but not the
One World scum that sit on the throne
in the high reaches of our government today.

I say to them, Go to hell
until you stop sending our young men--and God forbid--
young women to die in some forsaken place,
with a name we never heard and for a cause
that cannot be explained.

Our military is treated so shamefully today,
it is a wonder that anyone will come forth and say,
You can count on me!

I am reminded of a propaganda pamphlet
the Chinese left behind.
He said and I quote:

"Why should you die for the Wall Street war mongers
who profit by you being here?

Over the years, I have pondered over this
and my conclusion is thus:
There may be some truth to what they said--
for when there is a war--declared or not,
the machines of industry whir and who gets rich?
--the corporations, of course.

I will finish my story with this.
I am one tired old Marine who will someday be at rest
and in God's heaven.
I will visit my old war buddies who have gone before--
"Semper Fi," boys, I will see you there.

I have been blessed beyond measure with a family
I love dearly--my precious wife of 48 years--
2 children--9 grandchildren and 1 six-year old great grandson.
And I am looking forward in the years to come
to hear those wonderful words,
You have another great grandson/daughter.

I am reminded of the words of an old hymn,
"Precious Memories, Oh how sweet."

Written by -
James W. Elkins
U.S. Marines, Serial #625639
WWII, Occupation Forces Mediterranean Sea
Korea - 1950/51 Combat Veteran
4 Battle Stars


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Letters from the War Zone

Jim Elkins' wife kept the letters that he sent to her from Korea.  They are presented here in two PDF Files:

[KWE Note: To view other Letters From the War Zone, visit the KWE's Letters from the War Zone page.]


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Death Notice - James W. Elkins

Not yet provided to the KWE.


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Photo Gallery

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Chinese propaganda leaflets distributed to American troops

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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