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Dale Alfred Erickson
Esko, Minnesota -
"My strongest memories of Korea are the conditions of war, the hardships, the bravery, the battles, the hunger, the cold, the sadness, learning what the human body can take, and how to adjust to the most trying conditions and survive."
- Dale Erickson
My name is Dale Alfred Erickson of Esko, Minnesota. I was born on January 08, 1931 in Duluth, Minnesota, a son of George Eugene and Winifred Greene Erickson. My father was a grocer and my mother was a homemaker who stayed at home. My father worked for his father in the grocery business called F.W. Erickson Grocery Store, located at 21st Avenue West and 3rd Street in Duluth.
My father died when I was eight years old and my mother was left to raise three boys. I was the youngest. My siblings and I grew up in a lower class neighborhood of mostly Swedish and Norwegian people. Mother went to work for department stores Wahl's, Bud's, and Martha Straussberger's Women's Clothing in Duluth. We were on welfare. We were very poor--and we knew it. Hunger was no stranger to me growing up in those difficult times.
I was not close to my mother or brothers. I never received any support from them while I was growing up. I was on my own more or less. I lived in a tough neighborhood and sometimes had to fight, but I was never in trouble with the law. Later in life my background in street survival served me well.
I attended public schools Ensign Grade School, Lincoln Grade School, East Junior High School, and Central High School. I did not like my teachers, and they did not like me. I was below average in school--an under-achiever, and they could tell I came from a poor family. We did not have much money and I did not get a lunch every day. I played hockey as a youth and was above average in that sport. I got write-ups in the newspaper for that. Playing sports was my way to get out of the house and I made it my social life as well. I loved singing in the school choir. I had a paper route and also worked for a gas station when I was in high school. I did not go into scouting because we could not afford the uniform or money for summer camp.
I heard about World War II from my family and I had a cousin that was a member of the National Guard. He served overseas in North Africa and Europe. I knew people from our neighborhood that were killed in World War II and it was sad for everyone. My oldest brother William went into the Navy during World War II, but was given a medical discharge because of asthma. My older brother was Donald L. Erickson. He suffered from a medical condition, so he did not enter the military. I remember the end of the war. All of our neighbors celebrated. I was happy that it was over, but it did not affect me much.
Marine Corps Reserve
I left school for the military after the 11th grade. I joined the United States Marine Corps in 1948 to get pay for the meetings and to get away for two weeks during the summer. I was underage, so my mother signed the papers allowing me to join the Marine Corps Reserve. She was not hesitant to sign. My feeling was that this was an entity that would allow me to break out of the unpleasant setting that I was in at the time. I think that my mother saw this also. I looked at the Marine Corps not as a prelude to war, but as an opportunity to learn a trade or to further my life's experiences in a structured way--maybe a discipline that I needed at that junction of my life. I also joined the Marine Corps Reserve because I had friends who had joined, maybe for the same reasons. I always thought that the Marine Corps was an outstanding military unit, something that would make me stand out, and would help me make something of myself.
The Marine Corps Reserve unit that I joined was called B Company, 4th Infantry Battalion. It was a basic infantry unit--a ground assault force. We had meetings twice a month at the Navy training center in Duluth, where we learned about the Military Code of Justice, Marine Corps protocol, how to wear the uniform, and Marine Corps history (when it was formed and why). We learned military tactics, discipline, leadership, communication, close order drill, marching, survival, and the chain of command. We learned how to use all types of weapons, how to care for them, and how to take them apart and repair them. Although I had fired a .22 caliber a few times, I was not a shooter until I went into the Marines. I received all of my gunfighter training in the Corps. We learned how to live in unfriendly environments, cover and concealment, and how to use explosives. We also learned the important factor that Marines learn to understand--we would do anything to save another Marine. We were taught all of this by officers and senior enlisted men with past military experience.
The above pictures were taken while on reserve in Korea in June 1951.
Sitting left to right: Corporal Gerold R. Courture, Corporal Gordon J. Nelson, Captain M.T. Matthews, Sergeant Tom A Marron, Sergeant Leroy R. Pearl.
Kneeling: P.F.C Ken Gauthier, P.F.C Larry Lane, Corporal Dale A. Erickson, Sergeant Willis H. Kent, P.F.C Ron Behning, P.F.C Ryan Hietala, Corporal Elwood J. Egnebretson, Corporal Charles K. Hendrickson.
Standing: Sergeant Don Jasper, Staff Sergeant Gail Gates, P.F.C Jim Kaskela, Corporal James Riorden, Sergeant Edward S. Spencer, Sergeant John P. Brazerol, Sergeant Howerd B. Colford, Sergeant Melvin Hendrickson, Sergeant James A. Thompson, Sergeant Eugene A. Isakson.
We went to summer camp for two weeks. One year we were sent to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, where we learned to make amphibious assault landings. We also learned to shoot at the rifle range using machine guns and other weapons. We did map readings, held night operations, and had recreation. Another year we were sent to Camp Pendleton at Oceanside, California, to learn the same things.
I lived at home while I was in the Reserves. I worked at odd jobs and worked at a gas station and in a bakery. I had girlfriends, but no serious relationships. I went fishing with friends. I went to church, but not on a regular basis. I played sports - football and baseball, and attended semi-pro hockey games. I played semi-pro hockey. I attended school dances. I liked big band and jazz music.
War Breaks Out
As a student I had focused on sports and on my general surroundings, so my perceptions at that time in my life were limited. I had never heard of Korea until the Communist North invaded it, and at that time I did not understand the implications that this would have on the world. I heard about the war after I was notified that my Marine unit was going to be activated. Korea was a new name for me. The news reported that Communist forces were invading South Korea. I had no idea what was going on in Korea or how the United States would react to this invasion of South Korea.
I did not want to go to war. I had bad feelings about it. My family was concerned about me being activated and being sent to California. We did not know at that time if I was going to be sent to Korea and into combat. My friends were troubled by this also. I did not think that I would be sent overseas or see combat. I thought I would be stationed somewhere in the United States as a replacement to some regular Marine. I did not think that this action in Korea would last very long.
My Marine unit went by train for Camp Pendleton in California. When I left Duluth I did not have a girlfriend to say goodbye to, but I said goodbye to my mother and two brothers. I did not have any property to secure away. I think I had ten dollars in my billfold.
Our train trip to California was uneventful. Our train stopped in Minneapolis, picked up Marines from there, and added railroad cars. The train stopped again in Rockford, Illinois, and picked up more Marines and added more cars. They were from Marine reserve units in Minneapolis and Rockford. I had never been west of the Mississippi before. We stopped at Tucumcari, New Mexico, for a short time and we saw the Great Salt Lake along the way. We took turns going into the dining cars for our meals and I remember that the food was very good.
I remember the train pulling right into Camp Pendleton. When we arrived there all of us were sent to different units. We were separated and reclassified by our past training and experience. We did not have choices. Those of us with previous military service went to a group that was sent to Korea right away. Some of us went to advanced combat training for a few weeks, and some went to boot camp to start the basic learning and training. I was told that I would not be going to boot camp because I had had two summer camps. Those Marines with less training were told that they were going to boot camp.
I was happy that I did not go to boot camp because I heard how rough it was. I was sent to Tent Camp #2 for advanced military training. It was mostly weapons training, map reading and compass training, and assault training. The training was very demanding. We were up at 5 a.m. every morning and started the day with exercise and running. Then we went to chow and after that we went out into the training areas all day long. Many nights we had training also. We got a leave every other weekend and most of the time we went up to Long Beach or to Hollywood.
I was told that I would be shipping out to Korea in October of 1950. We had shots and we received more clothing, new shoes and boondockers (boots). I did not complete a will. I telephoned my mother and advised her that I was on my way to Korea. I was apprehensive about going to Korea. We were not informed of how the war was going and what the 1st Marine Division was doing at that time. There was very little communication from the Marine command to the troops. I felt that I was combat trained, but I felt inadequate to be put in a front line position.
Trip to Korea
The ships that took me to Korea was the APA 210 Telfair. An APA is a cargo and troop ship with landing craft. We left from San Diego on or about October 15, 1950 with around 400 Marines onboard. I knew some of the other Marines from our training. There were no other military personnel other than the ship's company of sailors.
I had never been on a large ship before. I was told that the ship took a record roll on our way to Japan. I did not have any duties on the ship and we did not have any training on the ship. I was cutting two molars, so I had to go to the ship's dentist to have some work done on my teeth. We had heavy seas and half of the Marines were sea sick. I did not get sick, but I did not feel that good. I was able to eat meals every day.
It took us about 25 days to get to Japan. The time I spent aboard ship was monotonous. There were long lines when we went to the galley for our meals, so this took up time. There were books to read. Some of the Marines had musical instruments to play and groups sang. There was also just looking out over the sea, reflecting on my past and my fate--"Am I ever coming home again?"
After landing in Kobe, we remained in Japan for three days. I had never traveled outside of the United States before and I had never seen a Japanese person. The people on shore were very busy and organized, and the tug boats were waiting to assist the ship to shore efficiently. The Japanese longshoremen or dock workers took breaks every hour or so, and they immediately started playing baseball. They had a little playing area set up on the dock and played a form of baseball with real zeal for 15 minutes or so.
Word was passed that we would be able to go ashore, with the condition that we had to be back on board at 0100 hours. They told us what the uniform of the day was and everyone was excited to go after being confined onboard for this long period of time. We left the ship around 1000 hours and walked to the downtown area. The buildings were different, but nice to look it. There were old-style buildings mixed with some modern-looking buildings. There were Japanese signs up and down the streets. Trains were pulling in and out of the depot and there was lots of ship traffic in the harbor.
The people were nicely dressed and it looked like they were used to seeing Marines. They appeared to be very friendly and we were surprised at this friendliness. A student walked up to us and told us that he was studying English and asked us to chat with him for a while. There were lots of shops to visit. They were selling sateen jackets with dragons embroidered on them, cigarette lighters made out of beer cans, and ceramics, dishes, bowls, cups and plates. There were many beautiful things. There were also jewelry stores that mostly sold gold chains and pearls.
Soon it was time for a beer. We found small little bars in every block. The streets were busy with people going here and there. We saw rickshaws, small motor scooters and delivery trucks. We did not see any bomb damage left from World War II. It was good to sit down and relax. Soon the gorgeous little girls showed up and were very friendly toward us. They were dressed in pretty gowns and dresses. They sat down with us, accepted drinks from us, and lit our cigarettes for us.
After our exhausting three days in Kobe, we were told to take our sea bags and all of our belongings and prepare to debark from the ship. We lined up on the dock and marched with our sea bags to a large warehouse where we stowed our sea bags with all of our dress clothing. We then boarded trucks that took us to a train station. The passenger cars were old looking and the seats were not very comfortable. The steam engine began to puff and off we went into the night at a very fast clip. The ride on the train was short and soon we were at our destination--a port on the west coast of Japan whose name I can't remember.
I believe we marched to the waiting Japanese passenger ship. As soon as we were aboard ship, we cast off and were under way for Pusan, Korea, a short cruise across the Sea of Japan. I believe that the trip across took about four hours. On the trip from Japan to Korea, I reflected that I was getting close to a place that may have a lasting effect on my life and that I could be faced with life and death situations. I am sure prayers were said.
I do not remember the exact date that I arrived in Korea. It could have been around November 20, 1950. We arrived in midday. Where Japan had been a country with bustling cities and with people and cars and trucks moving about, Korea looked very run down and dilapidated. There were very few vehicles. The people were wearing native dress. There was no western-style clothing. We saw men walking with a large A frame on their backs with huge loads of fire wood or whatever they were carrying. Most of the homes in the area had thatched roofs and the buildings were nothing more than dressed-up shacks. Korea looked old to me.
When we arrived in Korea we immediately debarked from the ship. I smelled the sea when we first arrived in Korea. I saw one boat about 50 feet long, overloaded with passengers inside and on the roof. The boat looked like it had about a foot of freeboard. It looked like it could not handle rough seas. I could hear the sound of small passenger boat engines, one-lungers, that were moving in the harbor. One-lunger is a slang term for a single cylinder engine that does not fire on every stroke. It sounds like "bang, bang, bang, tick, tick, bang bang, tick tick tick, bang, tick tick tick, bang bang bang, tick." The bangs are when the engine fires. The ticks are when it does not fire. This type of engine is very old technology. It was used on medium and small power boats and for other uses. This type of engine did not fire on every stroke because it was designed that way. It had a distinctive sound.
Once ashore we were given new winter clothing consisting of heavy parkas, shoe packs, wool socks, heavy vests, leather mittens, long underwear and winter caps. We had no orientation other than, "Just listen to the officers and 1st Sergeant and do what you are told." We were then trucked up to an area 20 miles west of Pusan to a town called Masan, and then on to the outskirts where a Marine tent camp was set up. We called it the Pea Patch. It was a large open field, I assume about one hundred acres of flat land that appeared to be a farm. They could have grown peas, but we did not know for sure what was grown there.
There were about 100 tents at the camp when I arrived and more were going up each day. I did not see any permanent buildings in our camp. There were some vehicles pulling trailers big enough to be lived in also. Most of the tents were squad tents designed for eight men. Each tent had eight cots, although some of the tents were much larger. Each had a pot belly stove that burned fuel oil and we had to take turns tending to the furnace and making sure that we had fuel oil. It was very cold at the Pea Patch, and the little stoves provided very good heat in sub freezing weather. Our meals were served to us about a block away from our tents. We took our mess gear to the field kitchen to get our food and then walked back to our tents. By the time we got to our tents, the food was frozen so we had to try to heat it on the furnace.
I found out after a few days at the Pea Patch that the First Marine Division was at that time engaged in fighting their way out of the Chosin Reservoir and that they were not expected to get to our location for a week or two. In the days before they arrived, we were taken in groups of four to an assignment tent where we were then interviewed by a Master Sergeant. After giving our name, rank and serial number to him, the Sergeant then looked at our file and shortly thereafter gave us our assignment. I was assigned to Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment (W/2/7) of the 1st Marine Division. I am not sure why I was chosen to go to Weapons Company. The speed of the selection process leads me to believe that it was a random selection.
I was given the name of the Officer in Command of Weapons Company and was told to report to him. The officer then assigned me to the Assault Platoon and told me to report to Sergeant White. I reported to Sergeant White and he assigned me to a squad and an eight-man tent. He then told me to go to the supply tent and get a cot and blankets. We were given weapons and told to clean them and get them ready to use. We were all issued M-1 Garand rifles and ammunition with a cartridge belt that held a bayonet and a small medical pack. It also held a canteen with our mess kit. In the Marine Corps, this was called 782 gear. Besides our carbines, we had .45 caliber automatic pistols as side arms.
We were assigned to camp security and had assignments to walk the perimeter of the camp to guard against infiltrators. We felt safe at the Pea Patch with several hundred Marines around. With the protected perimeter we felt that we were in no danger. The perimeter did not have a physical barrier, but had Marine guards stationed around the camp. We also had some Marine tanks in the camp and other equipment like generators. There was a communications center, mess hall, supply depot, medical tents, fuel storage area, and a motor pool.
Assigned to Weapons Company
Weapons Company was made up of three separate units: mortar, machine gun and anti-tank assault. I was sent to the anti-tank assault unit as an ammunition carrier for a rocket launcher team. Sergeant White gave us training in the use of the 3.5 rocket launcher. This weapon was used primarily to knock out tanks or other vehicles and bunkers. It had a range of 880 yards and the rounds were designed to penetrate five inches of homogenous steel. We were also trained in the use of machine guns, flame throwers, and satchel charges.
A rocket launcher team was made up of the gunner, the assistant gunner, and two ammo carriers. The rocket launcher was a hand-held weapon fired from the shoulder with an optic sight. When we got ready to fire the weapon, the assistant gunner took the safety buckle off the rocket round and placed the round into a tube. He then connected a wire lead onto the firing mechanism and then tapped the gunner on the shoulder, letting him know that the round was ready to fire. When the gunner pulled the trigger, it sent an electrical charge to the rocket round, igniting the rocket. The assistant gunner had to stand away from the back of the launcher because of the heavy blast of fire and the fact that the noise of the rocket was very loud. It was a very effective weapon and it knocked out many enemy tanks during the Korean War. The rocket launcher came in two sections and locked together. It weighed about 28 pounds and was carried over the shoulder. When it was not in use, it was taken apart.
Celebrating the Holidays
I celebrated Thanksgiving at the Pea Patch in Korea. We were served a turkey dinner. We all went to the mess tent with our metal mess gear to pick up our food: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie and milk. When we made it back to our tents, most of the food was frozen and we had to take turns heating it on the oil heater. This dinner was a treat for us.
Christmas was also celebrated at the Pea Patch. We did not have a mess tent to go to. We had to stand in line to get our turkey dinner and head back to our tent as fast as we could to keep the food from freezing. I do not remember going to church services that Christmas. I thought about home that day and wondered if I would make it back.
I believe that we were at the Pea Patch about three or four weeks before the rest of the 1st Marine Division arrived. Those of us that were waiting at the Pea Patch had no information as to the condition of the Chosin Marines or what they had to go through to fight their way out. When they arrived at the Pea Patch, those Marines were beat up and bloody, their clothing was a mess, and they were dirty, hungry and cold. It was a pitiful sight to see. Soon they were cleaned up, fed some good meals, and given new clothing.
The Marines that returned from the Chosin were surly and hard to talk to. They had been through Hell and did not want to talk about it. We were able to get some information out of them, though. They talked about the lack of supplies. They also talked about the casualties--the large number of KIAs they had, about loading the frozen dead Marines onto trucks, frozen feet and hands, and walking out through withering gunfire to reach the sea and the ships waiting for them. One of the Marines, Sgt. Richard Janca, was assigned to lead my squad. His parka was half burned and had bullet holes in it.
Pohang Guerrilla Hunt
We stayed at the Pea Patch until 15 January 1951. We received orders to get ready to move out. We were taken by truck back to Masan, and we boarded a train and were taken to Pohang. The trip took about three hours. At Pohang we marched to a staging area and set up pup tents for the night. We were told that the next day we were going on a long march up a big mountain that we could see in the background. We could see snow on the top of three-fourths of the mountain. We were told that our mission was to pursue and destroy Communist guerrilla forces operating in that area. We were told to lighten our packs and not to take anything extra with us because the climb to our objective was going to be very difficult. We were all issued an extra canteen to use on the climb.
Early the following morning we packed up our gear and started out on foot to the big mountain. It took us three hours to reach the base of the mountain. It was the most exhausting climb I had ever been on, even though we had short breaks every hour. Our gear was heavy. We found out that we were dressed too warm, so we had to take some of our clothing off to keep from over-heating. My water did not last because I gave some to a friend who was having a hard time. After about five hours into the climb, we reached the snow line and I remember the other Marines and me taking a mouthful of snow to quench our thirst. The grade was steep and the terrain very rough. There was not good footing. There was about a six-foot drop off the trail to get to the snow. I slipped and landed on my back in such a way to twist myself. I felt a sharp pain. I was able to keep going, but the hurt stayed with me for a long time. We made it up to level terrain after a ten-hour climb. We set up that night without digging in. We were around pine trees. We set up watches on our perimeters and got some well-needed rest.
Baptism of Fire
The next day we moved out again, following a well-worn trail along a ridge line. About an hour into the march we saw two bodies next to the trail. They appeared to be civilians--one middle-aged male and one female. At about noon we came to a small village. I would say there were eight homes there in a little valley next to a steep mountain. We took a short break and headed up the steep mountain alongside the small village. This was an extremely steep climb. We reached the top, set up defensive positions, and placed our machine guns so that we would have a good field of fire in case we were attacked. We were in very rugged terrain and at our position we could look down on the small village that we had passed through about four blocks straight down.
We had been in our positions for about three hours when a Marine yelled out that a column of enemy troops was very close by on a trail leading to our position. Gunshots rang out and my squad's machine gun began to fire at them. I got a chance to see about three of them run by an opening, but I could not get a shot off at them. The shooting was over in about two minutes. The enemy disappeared into the rocks and cliffs. We saw some blood, so we knew we had hit some of them. The enemy that I saw were all wearing different clothing. None of them wore uniforms. A squad of Marines went out looking for the guerrillas, but darkness set in so they had to give up the hunt.
This was my first combat action and it caused my adrenalin to flow. Fear was with me, but I was able to function as trained. I must say that it was a frightening experience. Sergeant Janca told me that I did fine during this first skirmish. He was a good leader and kept a close eye on all of our squad. He lead the way for us and showed us how to keep a low silhouette and stay off ridge lines.
Although my official job was an ammo carrier in a bazooka team, there were no reports of tanks in the area that we were patrolling so we did not take the rocket launchers with us on this patrol. My job was a rifleman in a four-man fire team. All Marines are riflemen first, and then they specialize in something else.
We came down from our mountaintop position to a position near the small village for the night and then moved out the next day on another patrol. On the third day out we went on a long patrol with an artillery forward observer and his radio team. We proceeded up a long valley and then up a long trail. Up, up, up we went to a very high, round, barren mountaintop. There were no trees--just a little brush here and there. From this position we could see for miles. We were on top of the world up there.
Our leader at the time was Lieutenant Rice. He was talking to the forward artillery observer and was using his field glasses, looking way down this valley to a small village. We saw a person on a white horse ride into the village and go into one of the houses. Apparently they had information that a group of guerrillas was operating out of that village. A forward observer or FO was a Marine from an artillery unit that was assigned to go with line companies. It was his job to call in artillery fire onto enemy positions. The 7th Marine Regiment was very fortunate to have good artillery support. When we called in a fire mission, it was very accurate. The same for mortar support. They were very accurate, as were our air strikes.
Artillery had many types of rounds that they fired. "HE" was high explosive. They also had white phosphorous rounds, illuminating rounds, canister shot, and others. White phosphorous rounds were known as Willie Peter or WP for short. On this particular day, I could hear the FO call in a fire mission to his artillery battery, giving them the coordinates and calling for HE high explosives. Immediately we heard the cannons fire way back from our position, maybe several miles. Then, because we were up so high, the artillery rounds went over us--but not by too much. We could plainly hear the rounds going over us, then we could see the impact area. They all hit right on target, destroying it.
We started out right after the artillery struck. It was starting to get dark fast. Our column had moved about 200 yards down toward the valley when we were ambushed by a group of guerrillas. One of our Marines got hit in the arm. I was near the back of the column and could see the area the fire was coming from. Four or five of us returned fire. We could see about five of the guerrillas running away, but we could not tell if we had made any hits on them. We did not get any more fire from them. We made it back to our camp after dark, walking the last two miles in total darkness.
We had Marines with us that had served in the Second World War. They were older and found it tough going. We did not have any black Marines in our unit. We did have some Mexican Americans and some Native Americans with us. This was no problem for us. We got along fine.
We were on the move most of the time during my first three months in Korea. We did not fight from trenches or bunkers. Our anti-tank unit was not active in that capacity. Our rocket launchers were put away for emergencies. We were converted into a recon unit. We were sent out to contact the enemy and to find their positions and spot their patrols. If tanks were spotted in the area, then we were notified and had access to our launchers. The recon unit that I was with was kept very busy. There were lots of patrols and we were constantly on the move.
For the first four months I was in Korea, we were always operating in mountainous terrain. I do not recall ever being in flat terrain battles. Maybe just once or twice did we engage the enemy under those conditions. We were often assigned to other regimental line companies such as Dog, Easy and Fox to give them support when they needed it. Contact with the enemy in the form of fire fights and skirmishes was a common occurrence. We were often under a barrage of mortar or artillery fire.
My recon unit was given an assignment to go with Marine tanks on a patrol once, and I had a heart-breaking experience at that time. Our objective was to locate enemy patrols, gather evidence of troop movements, and interrogate the citizens in the area about the enemy. We had an interpreter with us. We moved a long way down a valley and came to a junction in the road. The Lieutenant told us to take our backpacks off and leave them at an intersection. I was assigned to stay with the gear and guard it. The tanks pulled away and I was left there out in the open. I sat down next to the pile of packs and just observed my surroundings. As I recall, it was about noon when I was dropped off. It was early spring and not cold.
Suddenly I noticed a little child come out of a shabby house about a block away and walk toward me. When he got close, I could see that it was a small boy dressed in native white clothing. He was carrying a large charred black bowl. He appeared to be about five years old, very small. He walked right up to me not showing any fear. Then he held the bowl out to me and pointed at the contents like he wanted me to have it. I looked and saw about a teaspoon of dried-up, burned rice in the bottom of the bowl. I did not take it, although he insisted that I should eat it. There he was, looking hungry and malnourished, yet he offered me the last bit of his food. I could hardly keep my emotions under control. I ended up giving him most of my C-rations and sending him away. The memory of that child has stayed with me. I wondered if his parents had been killed or if he was alone out there. This Marine hurt that day.
Operation Killer & More
Operation Killer came along on February 20, 1951 and lasted until March 6. Our unit was right in the mix. We were taken by truck and then walked to our forward objective. It was cold and we had to walk through a river of water up to our knees and over our boots. We made it to our positions and then it got extremely cold that night. I was on watch on a wind-swept hill and thought I was going to freeze to death. I had to go back to my position and bring my sleeping bag up to my lookout. I also had a shelter half with me. I was happy when I was relieved by another Marine so I could get into my down sleeping bag and warm up. Most people do not realize that the down sleeping bag saved countless lives in Korea. Without them, Marines and soldiers would have frozen to death.
During Operation Killer we experienced fire fights and had the enemy probe our line on numerous occasions. The cold weather took its toll during late February. I had emersion foot and my feet were bleeding. Emersion foot was caused by the feet being wet. You know how your fingers look when you have had them in water a long time--they start to wrinkle up. Emersion foot is the same thing, only to the extreme. The skin cracks and starts to bleed. I had to be evacuated to C-Med, a medical facility somewhere in a rear area. C-Med was a small medical company and facility that had tents, doctors, male nurses, and good food. I remember that when I got to the facility I could not get warm, so I sat near the stove to try to warm up. I did not see anyone I knew there. The treatment for emersion foot was to get me warm and feed me some good meals to build up my strength. They gave me some dry socks and treated my feet with ointment and powder. My feet healed up, I gained a few pounds, and the doctor advised me that I was fit for duty. I knew I had to go back. I was at C-Med for ten days. When I arrived back with the company, the 1st Sergeant, Gunny Delaney, told me what squad to report to and gave my .45 caliber automatic back to me.
A PFC or a Corporal in combat in the Marine Corps was not told and did not know the grand scheme of things or the military strategy being used to defeat the enemy. We were mostly concerned with staying alive, keeping warm, and getting enough food to keep us going. Our lives were in danger every day and we thought about making it out alive. We also thought about dying. When we got so cold and tired, a kind of depression set in. We either fought it or succumbed to it or both. Some days were better than others. When the sun came out, when no one was shooting at us, when we had just had something to eat and when we were not cold, things looked pretty good. But every day the thought of dying came to mind. Although I personally never gave up, I had many close calls.
I was never involved in hand-to-hand combat, although we had Chinese overrun our position on two different occasions. Both times it was in total darkness. We were set up on a ridge and off to our right flank a Marine unit had an hour-long firefight going on. The Chinese finally had enough and ran through our positions trying to get away. The only time we could see them was when we fired our rifle and the muzzle flashes illuminated them. Another time two Chinese came up to our position. We could hear them for a long time. A Marine threw an illuminating grenade out and lit them up. They were both taken out.
Carnage of War
Operation Ripper (March 6-31, 1951) followed Operation Killer and I got credit for being in combat during that second operation. The big shots had names for the various operations during the war, but to us it was all the same. We just looked at it as one miserable battle after another. Death and dying was common to us then. We became very hardened and surly.
On March 7, W/2/7 was advancing along with the rest of the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marines to new positions in East Central Korea near the little village of Hoengsong. We had been on the move for two or three hours on foot when we spotted some American bodies along the road out in a rice paddy. Then we saw another and another, some closer to the road. As we walked on, more bodies showed up. We had no warning. Then on the road we came upon a military truck with Army markings. Checking further, we saw four frozen bodies in the truck--all American soldiers, then more trucks and tanks. We started seeing bodies all over by the hundreds. Some of them were burned and naked. For every ten American bodies we saw there was one Chinese body. Government records show that about 700 Army personnel were killed and maybe executed in this narrow valley. Army records show that 2,018 American and Dutch were killed there February 11-13, 1951. One hundred of the victims were Dutch. Also lost in this valley were fourteen 105mm Howitzers, six 155mm Howitzers, six tanks and 280 vehicles of various types. It is believed that the Chinese forces used some of this captured equipment against us soon thereafter.
A write-up of this action was written by Gary Turbak and published in the VFW Magazine in February 2001. He wrote:
I know about this. I was there. We had our own vehicles, trucks and tanks moving with us on the same road. We came to a place where the road dropped off sharply on one side and the other side had a rock wall. We saw bodies that were frozen on and beside the road. We had to walk alongside of our own trucks and tanks while our vehicles crushed the bodies with wheels and treads, creating a crimson carnage that repulsed the souls of everyone that witnessed it. It was the most horrifying scene that anyone can imagine. As we walked along, there was not much space between the trucks and tanks and the rock wall. We could not step without stepping on a face or arm or hand. The road was thick with this carnage and my boots were covered with blood. I could not bear to see this anymore, so I grabbed onto the shoulder of the Marine ahead of me, closed my eyes, and stumbled along with him that way for I do not know how long.
I must have blacked out because I do not remember what happened after that. W/2/7 engaged the enemy two days after we walked through the carnage and we took some casualties. I did not find this out until later because I had been evacuated to the hospital ship Repose. I woke up on the ship two days later. My body must have reached its limit and it took me out. It was too much to see. I could not take all the death and dead bodies. I could never get the blood off my boots after that. Part of that experience has stayed with me all of my life.
At one action during Operation Ripper, we were on line with 1st Battalion 7th and stayed on that line for a few days. During this time we received incoming artillery, but the enemy did not probe our lines. I believe it was kind of a stalemate period. We saw air strikes on the ridge ahead of us. One day we saw four Corsairs come over. One of the Corsairs came down and made passes on the ridge ahead of us without firing. The Corsair came down very low over that ridge and we could hear the enemy firing small arms at him. Then he made another pass--the same thing, very low. We heard the small arms fire again. When he circled over us, he was smoking and his engine was running rough. He made one more high pass, came over us, went inverted, and the pilot bailed out. Some Marines went down and rescued him. I do not know if he was injured.
In April and May we had Operation Mousetrap. During this period we were mostly on the move and on patrols. Our orders were to pull out of our forward positions after the Chinese poured down on us from the North, locate the enemy, and report their position. Marine units were strategically placed along the line in places that we had determined the Chinese would use to try to encircle us. At times we had skirmishes with their patrols.
Whoever planned this operation did an exceptional job anticipating what route the Chinese would use to attempt to encircle us. The 7th Marines, with tanks, artillery, mortars and air strikes, were waiting for them. When the Chinese showed up, all hell broke loose on them. At one pass that we came upon on our way out, two Marine tanks were there spaced about 200 feet apart. The two tanks had to face each other and fire on each other when the Chinese swarmed over them. The Chinese did not let up. They just kept coming in on the two tanks and the tankers just kept pouring it on them. We happened to be there just after this battle took place. We saw Chinese bodies piled up around the two tanks. In one small pocket of the action that day, there must have been 300 dead Chinese. The Marines used bulldozers to bury them.
Operation Mousetrap always fascinated me. I did lots of research on this operation and never could come up with anything. The Marines that I talked to about it also talked about the large number of enemy casualties. I saw the dozers burying the Chinese bodies by the hundreds. I saw blood running down the ditches near the place where the tanks killed hundreds. My unit took about 30 prisoners that day. We had a short fire fight with them until they threw their arms away and joined in with us walking out. All of them had new uniforms, tennis shoes and equipment with them like they had just arrived in Korea. Some of the Chinese that surrendered to us that day were very tall--some well over six feet.
Something fascinating that day was that a small Manchurian horse joined up with us. It had gaping sores on its back. The corpsmen gave us sulfa and other meds for the horse and after a while he healed up and stayed with us for several months.
Our leaders changed all the time. Our COs did not stay very long, and neither did our executive officers. Our officers were mostly good, although some of them were not cut out for combat. It was easy for us to tell which new officer would last and which ones would be sent back. I heard that an officer's combat tour was six months, although some stayed longer.
We were not close to our officers. I never spoke to any of them except one time, when I spoke to our platoon leader. He was a 1st Lieutenant from Boston, I believe. That was just after he got wounded when we broke up a road block while riding tanks in the spring of 1951. My squad was assigned to go with two Marine tanks to open up a road. The road swung into enemy territory and then back into our line of control. We got about halfway down the winding mountain road when the tanks stopped and gunfire erupted. I was on the second tank and I immediately jumped down and ran for the ditch. Just ahead of the first tank there were four Chinese soldiers set up with small arms and grenades.
Machine gun fire from the lead tank hit two of the enemy and two surrendered. One of the wounded Chinamen played like he was dead. We were examining him when he jumped up. His wrist had been hit and his hand was just hanging on by some tendons. We took four prisoners that time. We continued down the road until we made contact with another Marine unit. The tanks turned around in a small river with lots of boulders in it. Our tank got a boulder stuck in the tread and broke it. It took the tank crew about a half hour to fix the tread.
Sgt. Richard Janca
I personally did not meet any high-ranking officers in the 7th Marine Regiment while I was in Korea. The most important man that I met in Korea was SSgt. Richard Janca. He was a real warrior, and I became good friends with him. I followed Sergeant Janca through the gates of Hell and back. He received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for heroism in the line of duty and for saving the lives of his fellow Marines in Korea. As mentioned earlier, he was my squad leader when I first arrived in Weapons Company, Second Battalion, Seventh Marines.
When I first met him, Sergeant Janca took me aside and told me that, if I followed his advice, I stood a good chance of making it out of Korea. He told me about all kinds of tactics that were taught to Marines that I had very little knowledge of when I first got to Korea. He explained the process of spacing our weapons to gain the best field of fire. He gave me instruction on how to field strip weapons and clean them. On some weapons he showed me how to detail strip them (breaking the weapons down to the last piece), and how to put them back together.
When I was assigned to Sergeant Janca's squad, he gave me a brand new .45 automatic pistol still wrapped in heavy grease preservative. He sat down with me and detail-stripped the weapon. We got some gasoline, put the gas in my steel helmet, put all the pieces of the .45 in the gasoline, and cleaned every piece with a toothbrush. We then covered every piece with light oil and then put the pistol back together. He also made sure I knew how to use it.
Sergeant Janca taught me the "stay alive" method of sleeping in a sleeping bag with my .45 in my hand, and not to zip my sleeping bag all the way up. He showed me how to cover the open part with a jacket so I could pull the jacket away and come up out of the sleeping bag with my .45 ready to fire. I owe my life to Sergeant Janca's leadership and combat skills. There were so many subtle things he taught me--like how to stay just below the skyline so I did not make myself a silhouette. He told me to stay on the high ground when possible.
Sergeant Janca was from Buffalo, New York, and we kept in contact with each other over the years. We had a reunion in Washington, D.C. when they dedicated the Korean War Memorial. We exchanged photos of our families with each other. We were very close. Sergeant Janca passed away on July 27, 2009.
Chinese Spring Offensive
I can remember the Chinese Spring Offensive of 1951. Great numbers of Chinese forces gathered to push us back and show their power. Our leaders read it right and we pulled back our ground forces. In so doing, we hit them with air power and artillery. I was told that they came down too far too fast, ran out of supplies and had to retreat. The Chinese casualties were very heavy during that period.
During the Spring Offensive our orders were to withdraw from our front line positions. We moved out down the Main Supply Route (MSR). There was lots of traffic and troops walking south. We came to a junction in the road and saw an Army half track pull up. It was manned by three soldiers. The half track (an armored fighting vehicle with tank track on the back and wheel on the front) had four .50 caliber machine guns mounted on it. A Marine lieutenant pointed to the top of a ridge about 900 yards out and asked them to fire on the Chinese that were swarming over it. The fifties let go and it was quite a sight to see the results of this machine gun fire. We had to leave. There was no time to watch the action because our orders were to proceed south.
We saw leaflets that were dropped to the enemy by the United Nations forces. These surrender leaflets were all around, having been dropped by air. The passes offered the bearer of the pass safe treatment if they surrendered to us. To my knowledge, we never had anyone surrender to us with a surrender leaflet. I never saw any leaflets that the enemy intended for us.
Sometime in April of 1951 our platoon was given an assignment to escort a group of Korean laborers carrying supplies, ammo, stretchers, water, C-rations and medical supplies to Easy Company. We were told that Easy Company had suffered 80 percent casualties and were in a bad way. Easy was up on a high ridge engaged in a fierce fight with the Chinese. This particular mountaintop with rugged terrain consisted of two distinct knolls separated by a small ridgeline. The Chinese occupied one of them and Easy occupied the other.
The Korean workers were all dressed in blue jumpsuits and were equipped with back packs. They were all loaded down and ready to go when we arrived there. We started up a steep mountain and as we neared the area where we thought Easy Company was set up, we started to get incoming rifle fire from a ridgeline to our left. Somehow we had taken a path that took us to the left of the area we were supposed to be headed for. We soon corrected our course and made it to Easy Company's positions. It was a troubling sight. I was surprised to hear the CO of Easy Company call out my name. It was Captain Matthews from my hometown of Duluth, telling me to keep my head down. He had just been wounded by friendly fire from a .75mm recoilless rifle. He did not have life-threatening injuries, but I understand that he was later evacuated.
We may have been up there for a total of three hours and while we were there Easy Company called for an air strike. Soon four Corsairs showed up and circled the area. Easy Company had air panels out (large orange markers showing our position) so they would not drop ordnance on us. Then the air show started. It was amazing and also very frightening. Each Corsair dove down right over our heads, firing .50 caliber machines guns and firing rockets. It was so close we could see the pilots' faces, and the blast of the rockets caused some debris to fall on us. That is how close we were to the Chinese positions. One of the Corsairs dropped a large canister of napalm and the heat from this bomb was felt by all of us. We were hoping that they would not drop any more napalm because it was so close to our positions. After all of the Corsairs fired all their ordnance, there was one Corsair left with a napalm tank under his wing. We all said a prayer when he started down with that last napalm bomb. He got down very low, but he suddenly pulled up and did not drop it. We felt so relieved. Then he came around and made another pass at us. Again prayers were said and all eyes were fixed on that napalm tank. When he came down over us, we saw that he had released the tank. At the last minute he had pulled up and we watched the tank fly end-over-end and land a mile away. What a relief.
While we were mixing in with Easy Company and after the air strike, we were asked to assist them in making an assault on a Chinese position. They needed to gain some important ground for our security. This did not take long because of the damage the Corsairs had inflicted on the Chinese positions. Four Chinese prisoners were taken during the assault and we took them down the hill with us. The four prisoners were turned over to regimental headquarters. I heard later that the Chinese abandoned their positions and pulled back from this area. We did not take any casualties.
After the assault and after the supplies were distributed, we assisted in picking up the wounded, placing them on stretchers, and escorting them down the mountain for medical treatment. I believe that we had five wounded on stretchers and two or three Marines were able to walk down with us. The wounded Marine that I was with was placed on a canvas stretcher, and as we laid him down on it the canvas ripped in half. We could not find anything to tie it together. Then one of the Korean laborers took some straw and started braiding it into rope. I was amazed at the speed and dexterity of his ability to do this. Soon we had enough rope to tie the stretcher together and start down the mountain with the wounded Marine. Some son-of-a-bitch was shooting at us on the way down and the Koreans wanted to drop the stretcher and run, but I encouraged them with my M-1 to finish bringing him down to the road.
"If I Get Killed..."
One day we were in a staging area getting ready to move to some new positions to wait for another assignment. I believe that we were waiting for some trucks to come and move us. It so happened that the area that we were at was being prepared for some large camp and the engineers were working with earthmovers. I was just standing there watching them when a road grader driver stopped his grader, climbed down, and walked over to me. He told me his name and hometown, then said to me, "If anything happens to me--if I get killed, will you tell my folks that I love them?" I could not believe it. I felt so sad for him. I told him that the chances of him getting killed driving a grader was not very likely and I tried to assure him that he would make it along the way. It was a sad thing to hear.
Contact with Fox
Sometime in May of 1951 our recon unit and a machinegun squad from our company were to meet up with Fox Company on a ridge. Fox was expecting to get hit that night, and there were indications that there were large numbers of Chinese troops in the area. Our unit moved out and we walked for about two miles before we arrived at the base of the hill that we thought Fox was set up on. The problem was that it was starting to get dark, our radio was not working, and we had no contact with Fox Company. We did not know their exact position. We sent scouts out and they came back without making contact.
Sgt. Neil Armstrong pointed to me and told me that I was going out with him to make contact with Fox. Sergeant Armstrong was a crazy son-of-a-bitch who was known for his total disregard for safety during firefights. I knew we were going to get into trouble. We started walking east at the base of the hill. The underbrush was heavy and we could not see very far in front of us. We had to push some small brush out of our way to make headway. All along the way Sergeant Armstrong yelled, "Fox Lemon." That was their code sign. No response. We walked some more and it got totally dark. Every time he yelled out I cringed, figuring we were going to get gunned down.
We had walked about 300 yards out when I told him that we had better turn back. He yelled out, "Fox Lemon" one more time and some Chinese soldier answered us, yelling, "Marine, you die!" I told Armstrong that we should turn back, but he wanted to keep going. I told him that the Chinese did not sound like they were that far away. We argued about it and finally he said we were headed back.
Sergeant Armstrong and I made it back to our positions at the base of the hill. Along with the rest of our unit, we were set up in a small rice paddy with some terrace walls about three feet high. I was lying down in my sleeping bag close up to the wall of the rice paddy when suddenly we started to receive incoming. Heavy stuff--I believe it was .76mm. It hit the top of the ridge in front us and then some of the rounds fell just in back of us maybe 50 feet or so. It was flat trajectory cannon fire and the rounds sailed just over our heads. The concussion was terrific. I thought that we were all going to get killed. Although it was close, Sergeant Janca told me that it was not going to hit us because of the flat trajectory effect. Besides, he said, we were just close enough to the hill that those rounds that did not hit the top of the hill would go over us and land in back of us. The next morning I woke up and I was alive to fight another day. We connected up with Fox and stayed with them for a few days.
The following day, again along the same ridge line, I heard a tremendous explosion about a block away from my position. When the dust and debris settled, I saw one Marine standing and two Marines down. The Marine standing was Lt. Clayton O. Bush. He walked right by me holding one arm close to his body on the way down to the medical tent. I believe he was evacuated out. His war was over. The other two Marines were dead. Later some Marines came up and recovered their body pieces with waterproof bags. After the war I talked to Major Bush, now living in Colorado, about this action. He said that he was told he was hit by friendly fire. I do not know for sure what hit him, but it could have been friendly fire. Lieutenant Bush was in 1st Battalion 7th Marines.
The day after I saw Lieutenant Bush get hit and his two companions killed, my unit was on line in a position close to the next ridge over, where the Chinese were dug in. We had been in the area for a few days and were getting hit with incoming every day and every night because the Chinese were probing our lines, looking for weak spots.
One night just after dark, a Marine unit came in with flash detection equipment. They set up and tried to triangulate the flashes of the Chinese artillery in order to find their positions. The following day we were surprised to see a group of Forward Observers show up. They were a team of six--an officer (I think he was a flyer), a radioman, and four Marines carrying rifles. They had been sent up to call in air strikes on the Chinese positions out in front of us. We did not exchange any words with them. They did not ask any questions and we did not say anything to them. They just walked right past us and down the hill in front of us.
I was alarmed by this. I knew that there were no friendlies out in front of us and that they were walking into No Man's Land. I ran to Sergeant White and asked him about this. He could see them as well as I did, but he told me to forget about it. (He used some other terms.) I thought about this for a minute and decided to run down and stop them. If something would have happened to them, I would have had to live with this for the rest of my life. I talked them into returning with me and to take the time to check their maps. They moved off to our flank and I never saw them again.
Short, Effective Prayers
Religion was not very important to me when I first arrived in Korea. I may not have been as faithful as I should have been. I was a young, wild sinner that only called for divine help when I was in deep trouble. My signal to start praying in Korea was when I heard the zing of a bullet pass close to my head. My prayer was quick: "Our Father in Heaven, please keep me safe. If you get me through this one, I will never do anything bad again in my whole life. Amen."
How should a Marine pray? We are told to be more effective in prayer, use Biblical terms, and study the scripture to gain understanding. Ask God to teach us to pray every day and to use any time we can find to pray for ourselves and others. Thank God and ask Him for His divine help. Also, use brief prayers interspersed throughout the day. I made all kinds of promises to the Lord when I needed Him, but when things got better I seemed to side-step the Golden Rules. Later when I saw that my longevity was in doubt, I made it a practice to attend any kind of church service I could find.
There were times in combat when Marines experienced conditions so bleak--when they were being overrun and they felt that all was lost and believed that they were going to die anyway, that they stood up out of their fighting holes, released their souls, picked up what weapons they had left, and made a final accounting of themselves. When the battle was over and they became aware that they were still alive, they attempted to gather up their souls. Some Marines never did find their souls again. They have memories that cannot be chiseled out of them. A part of them remains missing for the rest of their lives and they forever struggle with what some people call "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder." I will tell you more about PTSD later in this memoir. In the meantime, believe me when I say that I sent many fast prayers up under extreme conditions in Korea. Short prayers must work, for I am here and I am a servant of the Lord.
Acquiring a Sixth Sense
Combat Marines gain insight when they experience extreme combat. The struggle to survive lives in the human body. In combat, all of one's senses become acute, with every thought focused on staying alive. During my combat, I acquired a sixth sense. I am sure of it. I learned to sense danger. Maybe it was divine intervention, but I had it and I continued to use it and added to it. I can truthfully say that I owe my life to it. To some degree, this phenomenon has stayed with me throughout my life. To have this ability with you in a civilized setting may not always be a good thing. Can you see danger ahead? Can you look into someone's eyes and see love? Can you look at someone and see evil intent? Do you have a special communion with God or a Holy Angel looking out for you? If I have it, I praise God for it. After my military career I traveled through many dangerous situations using my instincts, and they have served me well.
All through the war I stayed with Weapons Company. Our assignments changed daily. One day it would be going on patrol on foot on the high mountain ridges, looking for enemy positions. The next day we could be assigned to a rifle company if they needed the manpower or our machine guns. We went on patrols with tanks. Sometimes we had to carry food and ammunition up to rifle companies.
When we were out in the field on patrol, every night when we set up our perimeter we used the terrain to our best advantage. If we had machine guns with us, we set up fields of fire, placing the guns so that we could get a cross fire covering the natural avenues of approach. We then interspersed a BAR man in between them and then filled the gaps with two-man foxholes and Marines with their M-1s. This type of defense was pounded into us during our training, and it was a proven method.
Just Another Day
I believe that sometime in the middle of May I was moved to a new squad. I did not know the Marines in the squad very well. One cloudy day my new squad leader, a buck sergeant, gathered us together and told us that we were going on a patrol that day. He told us, "No backpacks. Just bring your weapons and cartridge belt, and make sure to fill your canteens." He told us that Lieutenant Owens would be with us on patrol.
We boarded a jeep that was pulling a trailer and set out down a small winding road. After a 30-minute ride, we turned off the road and crossed open country on a wide foot path. We then turned off of this toward some high foot hills that steeply rose out of the flat terrain. The fog had rolled in and there were wisps of clouds low to the ground in places. We looked down a narrow draw between the steep sides of the hills. The foliage was deep green and heavy on the side of the narrow draw. The jeep stopped and we prepared to move out. There were ten of us in all. The jeep driver stayed back. The Sergeant called out and ordered Cpl. Richard Coutant to take the point. I thought to myself that this could be his death sentence. This was an ominous-looking place. I asked myself if we would ever make it out.
We started down the narrow draw, spaced ten feet apart. Marines always stress not to bunch up. We walked for about an hour before we took our first break. I could not believe we had made it down that far without getting shot at. We were so exposed and we would never be able to see who was shooting at us. The fog lifted a little and there was an opening in the foliage so I could see way up to the top of the ridge. Then the Marine next to me said, "Look" and pointed up. We saw a column of Chinese moving fast and going in the opposite direction that we were going. We told the Lieutenant. He looked, but he did not see them. They had passed the opening.
The Lieutenant ordered us to head back to the jeep and we moved out in a hurry. I thought, "Well, his survival skills are working today." Some officers had no clue. We made it back to the jeep and proceeded out in a hurry. We arrived back in camp and I felt relieved that we had made it out. It was just another day in the life of a Weapons Company Marine. Say a prayer, Marine. It may be the last one you send up.
I was in Weapons 2/7 in an anti-tank assault platoon. At times we were sent to Dog, Fox, and Easy Companies to help out when needed with our machine gun sections and also sent on patrols, sometimes with the tanks. On May 28, 1951, I was about a hundred yards away when a jeep hit a mine and was blown up. I started to go over to it, but another Marine grabbed me and told me I did not want to see it.
One day my friend James Bardwell from Mississippi and I were each carrying a case of C-rations up to a rifle company. It was about a two-mile trek so we took a break about halfway up. Four Marines carrying a stretcher down with a wounded Marine on it were also taking a break. Some other Marines were walking up the same trail. The Marine on the stretcher looked dead. His color was bad, he was not moving, and his eyes were closed. One of the Marines moving up the trail asked the stretcher bearers how that Marine had died. The Marine on the stretcher opened his eyes and told them, "I'm not dead yet."
Besides the M-1 rifle, our fire teams also carried Browning Automatic Rifles (BARs) on patrol. We needed the BAR in our squad for fire power. This weapon could reach out a long way and lay down a devastating field of fire. The BAR is a fully automatic rifle that can also be fired one round at a time. This weapon is clip fed, and ammunition clips hold twenty rounds. The weapon is equipped with two front legs that can be folded back. The BAR fires a 30-06 Springfield round--the same round that the M-1 Garand fires. Its rate of fire is 600 rounds per minute. A Marine assigned to carry this weapon is given a special ammunition belt that carries eight clips at 20 rounds each. The BAR can lay down an accurate field of fire at a long range. It becomes very accurate with the legs down.
The BAR is a heavy weapon and the ammo clips weighed the men down also. It would have been unfair to have the same guy in the squad carrying it all the time so the sergeant passed this assignment around. I carried it for about six weeks and I can vouch for its effectiveness. I had to use it two times--once when we spotted a Chinese column moving away from us climbing up the next ridge over. We caught them out in the open when they were about 300 yards away and we took them all out. Another time we were probed at night by some enemy and we had to show them that we were alert and waiting for them. I was happy when the sergeant gave the BAR to someone else to carry.
When I arrived in Korea in November 1950, my records showed that my enlistment was going to be up in June 1951. I thought I was going to be a short-timer there. But someone in Washington had different plans for me. By Executive Order, the President of the United States extended everyone's enlistment by one year.
Harry S. Truman signed the following order on July 6, 1951:
By the stroke of the pen, someone had the power to seal my fate. That was a signal to me that things were going to get bad.
Sometime in June of 1951, the 2nd Battalion 7th Marines moved up to an area next to the Hwachon Reservoir. Our orders were to make contact with the enemy and report their positions. The Hwachon Reservoir was a very big, man-made lake. We moved into the area without receiving any resistance. We climbed up to the high ground--the high ridges alongside of the lake. The ridges were quite high and there were pine trees here and there, although not really heavily forested. The ground was sandy, but different in that there were large granules of sand. When we walked, we sank into the ground a little. We had a commanding view of the lake and a road that ran alongside of it. We found our positions and dug in for the night. The ridge that we were set up on was more like a razor back. The top was narrow, so only one person could walk on the top of this sandy ridge. The sides dropped off quite sharply.
We woke up early the following morning and one of my squad members started a fire. It was perfectly calm, with not a breeze. The smoke from our fire went straight up in a tall, narrow line to about 300 feet and then flattened out at the top, the smoke drifting out away from the center both ways, forming a "t" shape. It was eerily quiet that morning and voices could be heard at long distances.
Suddenly I heard the sound of mortars being fired from across the lake. After being in combat for a while, I knew the sound that mortars made when being fired. Immediately we started receiving incoming onto our position. Mortar rounds began falling onto our position, but to our amazement the soft earth swallowed up the rounds, causing just a puff of sand to rise up maybe two feet and absorbing all the energy of the blast. What a miracle it was for us. Some rounds landed very close to us that morning. One round hit a tree high up and exploded, wounding two Marines close by. We called that a tree burst. We took incoming for about a half hour that morning. Maybe 100 rounds fell in our area in a short period of time.
Later that morning we saw two Marine tanks proceeding slowly up the road near the lake. The first tank came to a small bridge and stopped. They then suddenly decided to go around the bridge and forge a small stream. As they started across, the tank hit a land mine. The explosion was terrific and a large column of black smoke rose high in the air. Later a tank retriever came up and it also hit a mine and was disabled. Our unit then proceeded up into the high ground in search of the enemy.
Yanggu River Valley
It was 10 June 1951 and Assault Platoon, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines had not been active for a few days. At O700 hours our sergeant told my squad to get ready to move out. He said that we would be proceeding to the main road to meet up with two tanks and we would be going on a patrol with them. There was no other information given, no plan or objective mentioned.
Our squad of 12 Marines walked out to the main road, met up with the two tanks, and climbed aboard. As I recall, it was a beautiful day--72 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. We started up the Yanggu River valley, a winding gravel road alongside a small river. I thought at the time what a beautiful setting this was with lots of green leaves out on the trees.
We rode the tanks for what seemed to be an hour or a little more and the tanks suddenly pulled off to the side of the road. One tank stopped 30 degrees to the left and the other 30 degrees to the right. We jumped off of the tanks and made our way to an open field some 50 yards from the tanks. We could hear artillery fire in the background. One of the tanks fired a 90mm shell at the top of a ridge maybe six hundred yards out. I do not believe he was firing at a target, but was firing for effect. One of our Marines started a little fire to warm up some coffee or C-rations and I thought that was a little strange. I could hear artillery shells going overhead from the north to an area from whence we came. I wanted to see where it was landing and looked for some high ground to check it out.
I saw the rounds hitting the river, leaving water spouts that caused me to be alarmed knowing we were within enemy artillery range. A feeling of survival came over me, the hair on the back of my neck stood up, and I felt like I was in great danger. I ran as fast as I could to a berm or small ridge and saw a small opening in what looked like a small bunker. Just as I was diving head first into the bunker, an artillery round hit right in back of me. I was hit with small pieces of shrapnel and the concussion was so great that I was unconscious for a little while. When my vision cleared I saw that I was in the bunker with two Chinese officers wearing black uniforms with collars tight to their necks and black caps. They were alive and very surprised to see me, as I was surprised to see them. Their eyes were very wide looking at me. I did not see any weapons, but I didn't stay there very long--maybe 30 seconds. When my head cleared and as soon as my legs worked, I was out of there like a flash.
As I ran back to my squad, I saw Peter Jukich walking toward me with his dungaree jacket open and his white tee shirt covered in blood. It looked like he had been blasted with a shotgun over his body and face. I believe he was in shock. I took him out to the tanks and pulled him under the first tank because the artillery was still landing around us. I then went to the back of the tank to get the phone out to talk to the tank commander and the phone was missing. I crawled up onto the tank and used my canteen to pound on the hatch. They opened it up about an inch and I told them to send help--that my squad members were all hit and needed medical help.
Jukich had crawled out from under the tank and I put him back. Then I went and helped two other wounded Marines get to the area of the tanks. The artillery was so bad that I did not think I could get to the Marines anymore. Time was a blur, but sometime later a platoon of tanks arrived with medical help. We loaded stretchers onto the tanks and made our way out. As for the two Chinese officers that I surprised when I jumped in the bunker, I wanted to go back and take them out, but I was so busy helping wounded Marines and dodging artillery rounds, I never got the chance.
I never saw those Marines back at Weapons Company again. I did see Peter Jukich after the war in Joliet, Illinois. Now living in Florida, he credits me with saving his life, but I just pulled him under a tank for cover. We talked about the incident with the two Chinese officers in the bunker, decided that they could have been forward artillery observers calling in strikes on us.
After I returned from the patrol I went to the Med tent and was patched up. My wounds were not serious enough to be evacuated. I made it back to Weapons Company late that night, but I was the only Marine of our group to make it. No one asked me what happened and I did not tell them. They must have received reports from some other source.
Long Foot Patrol
During June or early July of 1951, elements of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines and my unit, the Assault Platoon, were sent on a long foot patrol. My unit had never teamed up with any of the line companies for a foot patrol before. This was in East Central Korea around the 38th Parallel or maybe north of the 38th. It was a beautiful day, about 72 degrees. The sun was out in all its glory. All of the Marines that day were only equipped with their rifles and ammunition belts. They had no backpacks, which made the going easier.
We started out moving away from our ridge line down a trail and onto flat terrain. This flat area was made up of rice paddies and the paddies extended for more than a mile ahead of us and also off to the side of us when we entered this area. We walked single file across this area on a little berm that separated the paddies. At times the path was very narrow and we had to watch our footing. Our unit was toward the back of this column. It looked strange to see this long line of Marines walking single file, stretched out for that long distance. I thought at the time how exposed we all were being strung out like that.
We noticed that the farmers had erected an elaborate system of irrigation. They had built a system of hollowed-out logs that ran from one end of the terraced-off area all the way to the other end of the paddies. It may have been a half mile wide. The system was 30 high at some points and it was elevated all along the way. When we looked at this system it was hard to see if it had any slant built into it or if it had an elevation drop. The system was helped up by single poles regularly spaced along the way. My thought at the time was that, for a backward country, they had figured out how to move water across great distances using only gravity with no other power source. That showed lots of ingenuity.
Our long column of Marines walked for a long time without a break. We finally reached the bottom of the next small mountain. Where the terrain started to climb upwards, the officer in charge called for a break. When I look back at the situation we were in at that time, and the fact that we walked across that open terrain exposing our movement, I cannot believe that we were not observed by the Chinese.
We had been into our break for about five minutes when we were hit by mortar or artillery fire. And it was intense. The rounds came in fast and with accuracy. I could hear the cries of Marines being hit. I found a small bunker built into the side of the hill. It was a basic dugout with three logs placed over it and room for two people. I was the first one in and soon another Marine jumped in alongside me. Then another. We were packed in. Soon after, another Marine came in and crawled over us. I was in a terrible situation. I could not breathe. I tried to keep my cool, but it was useless. I had to get out. I asked the Marines to let me out and they resisted because of the rounds landing around us. Finally I told them that I would go straight out of the top if they did not let me out. Only then did they make room for me to leave.
When the barrage first began and I was looking for cover, I had noticed a series of foxholes dug at the base of the draw we were in. They were perfectly dug and regularly spaced. There were about eight of them about twelve feet apart and staggered. They were four feet square and four feet deep--a perfect place for someone to seek cover from the blasts. I dove into one of them. I began taking close hits from rounds. They landed so close to me that I was thrown high into the air. The concussion was so great I was nearly unconscious. They kept landing close to my position and I realized that if I stayed there I would be killed. I got up out of the hole and started out toward the area of the paddies. Some grass and hay was burning, causing heavy smoke in the area. I now believe that the perfectly-dug foxholes were put there and targeted by the enemy.
When I staggered out into an open area, I noticed a corpsman or Navy doctor working on a wounded Marine. They had this guy spread out on an old door with his arms spread out. They were pinching off bleeders on his open wounds. When I first saw this through the smoke, in my semi-conscious condition I thought it was a crucifixion going on. Then I realized what it was. That corpsman or Navy doctor was the bravest man I ever saw. He stayed with the wounded Marine and did his job while rounds were dropping on us. I was able to make it back from our patrol that day. We had taken several casualties. That day was the closest I had come to getting killed.
Other Close Calls
I was on an outpost in July of 1951 when a spotter plane kept circling our position. Soon our command post contacted us, advising us to report if a spotter plane was circling our position. We told them that it was right over us. We were told to wave to them and get our air panels out. They thought we were Chinese.
Another time, Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines was starting up a steep mountain with an objective to take the high ground and eliminate the enemy. Fox was taking machine gun and rifle fire before they started up. A Marine friend of mine, Ron Behning, told me that a member of his fire team--George Biggs, got hit and was down. They checked on him and found that he was hit in the head. They covered him, figuring he was dead. After securing their objective, they came down the hill and found George sitting up, rubbing his head. They saw where the bullet had hit, traveled under the skin, and came out the back of his head. George was evacuated, but after three weeks he returned to Fox Company.
Everyday Life in War
All through my tour of duty in Korea someone from our unit was either killed or wounded. I do not remember their names. The only one that I was close to that was wounded was Peter Jukich. Replacements came in and some of the personnel was transferred to other units. I believe this was done to keep us from getting too close to other Marines. It also cut down on the bickering. I went from one squad to another many times. We had to learn to perform with new team members. There were personality conflicts that we had to deal with. We had to get along with everyone because our lives depended on each other. This was not an easy task. People became very surly when someone was taking potshots at them every day. Marines in a combat situation are not happy people.
Our fighting was day and night. Most of our worst fights were in daylight hours. Most of our nights were spent protecting our perimeter. Often our 21-man reconnaissance unit moved about in the mountains on our own. Each night we set up our own perimeter and defensive positions.
As Marines we were called upon to do things beyond what one would expect. During night patrols, we were asked to stay awake all night. One night we were hit by some Chinese with burp guns. They were very close to our unit when they fired at us. Luckily no one was hit. I was on the patrol that went right out after them in total darkness. I remember I could still smell the gunpowder when we started out.
Salute to Corpsmen
Navy corpsmen were always with us. They went where we went and took care of our wounded. They earned their place of honor with the Marines. All of the Marines I served with in Korea felt the same way about Navy corpsmen. They were treated as Marines. At Marine Corps gatherings, Navy corpsmen are always welcome as our honored guests. We have the greatest respect for them.
Corpsmen distinguished themselves countless times by going to the aid of fallen Marines. They had to leave the safety of good cover during the firefights and barrages, exposing themselves to enemy fire to give medical help to the wounded. They worked miracles with limited medical supplies while under fire. They carried wounded to safety in withering firefights. I saw them take up positions on the firing line, returning fire onto the enemy right alongside of Marine riflemen when there was no one else to fill the gap. Just knowing a corpsman was with us made us feel better. We knew we had medical help with us should we need it. I remember Doc Sellers from our unit. He was a big, red-headed guy who had no fear. When someone called for a corpsman, he was right there. When he left us other corpsmen came in to replace him.
The weather had a big effect on us. The cold in Korea was the worst. The cold weather was devastating and it was very hard to survive in those conditions. Hands and feet were affected the most during cold weather operations. Mine were cold all of the time. The effects of frost bite are with us yet. I have a friend, John Hull, who served in Korea with the 11th Marines. He suffered greatly from frost bite. He recently had another toe removed from one of his feet. I believe he has had five operations on his feet. The effects of frost bite took a heavy toll on many of my Marine friends.
The cold also effected our weapons. A Marine friend, John Hogquist, told me that his BAR froze up and the only way to get it going again was to feed one round in at a time until it heated up and he could get it to fire on automatic.
Another effect the cold weather had on ground forces operations in sub-zero weather was the heavy clothes weighing us down and making it difficult to move around. Our cold weather gear consisted of long underwear, wool stockings, Marine green wool trousers, wool shirts, a sweater, a field jacket, sometimes a vest, and a heavy alpaca-lined parka that came down over our knees. The parka also had a hood that was alpaca-lined. We had heavy mittens with leather palms. The mittens were cumbersome and during fire fights I saw Marines take them off. Others used the finger ports built into the mittens to fire their weapons. We also had wool gloves and shoe packs (rubber bottoms with leather uppers). This was very good cold weather clothing, but it was heavy. We also wore our steel helmet, and we wore a warm alpaca-lined cap with ear flaps. Our summer wear was the typical Marine dungarees with regular underwear. Tee shirts were optional. We had cotton stockings and our famous boondockers and steel helmet.
As to the enemy, they had poor clothing. The Chinese and Korean forces wore cotton-padded clothing and padded cotton caps with ear flaps. They wore tennis shoes. They also had leggings or they wrapped their feet and lower legs with strips of cloth. I did not see them wearing any stockings--just strips of cloth wrapped around their feet. The Chinese summer clothing was cotton and tennis shoes. I never saw them wear steel helmets. Each Chinese soldier carried a bag of rice slung around his uniform. Now and then we saw a squad of Chinese and not all of them had rifles. Some carried boxes of grenades.
While I was serving in Korea, I spent all of my time living outside and sometimes in pup tents. It went from freezing weather to tropical weather and I was never sick and never had a cold. That is unbelievable. In the winter, on the coldest nights we had our down-filled sleeping bags and we had wool liners for the bags. We had a waterproof cover for our sleeping bags. Settling in for the nights we pulled our heavy parkas in with us. Even in sub zero weather we could stay warm that way.
The rainy season came and stayed with us for several weeks. It rained every day, and during that time our rain parkas were a Godsend. The parkas were designed to fit over our helmet and over our backpack, but we were still cold and damp. The rains turned to mud, walking was difficult, and vehicles bogged down. One time when elements of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines were moving into new positions--moving along a road with trucks and tanks in the mud, we were given a break. It was a cold rain. A Marine tank was nearby and two Marines jumped up onto the back of the tank to take advantage of the heat from the engine. They were soon overcome by the exhaust gas and fell over unconscious. They were revived by corpsmen.
In the summer of 1951, we were issued air mattresses and they were a welcome convenience. It took 87 puffs of air to blow them up. The summertime weather was great. I remember it being in the 70s and 80s. One thing about Korea that sticks in my mind is that we were always able to find water. We got it from mountain streams and springs and it was ice cold, pure mountain water. Most Marines carried two canteens.
Our food on the front line was C-rations. They were frozen most of the time for the first four months that I was in Korea. Some of the time we did not have a chance to heat our rations up. I have memories of opening my C-ration can, using my bayonet to chip frozen food out of the cans and eating it that way. When we were on the attack or defending our positions, we did not have time or did not have the firewood to heat our food. The water in our canteens was frozen, making it difficult to stay hydrated.
Other Troop Nationalities
I saw French and Turkish troops and some British, but we were not in a position to see them in combat. We saw Chinese troops. Some of them were old and had gray hair, and some were very young. I took a beautiful dark-blue knitted sweater away from one Chinese prisoner. It had his name knitted onto the front in light blue. After I had it for a few minutes I felt so guilty that I gave it back to him. I thought his grandmother might have knitted it for him. War is hell.
The North Korean soldiers were mean sons-of-bitches. They looked mean. I saw one North Korean prisoner beat up another North Korean just for his blanket. The other guy had frozen feet so bad that they were black with large cracks. The Chinese were known to have harsh prison camps. One Marine from our unit, Wayne Pickett, was taken prisoner up by the Chosin Reservoir and spent 33 months in a Chinese prisoner of war camp under very harsh conditions. We did not think about being taken prisoner, but it could happen.
Our Marlboro Man
Some funny things happened to us during the year I spent in Korea. One time, while we were with tanks on patrol, we had to cross a very wide river. It appeared to be about two blocks wide. The tank commander paused at the river bank to survey his options. When we started across, it looked like we were at the tank's depth limit, down into the water about two and a half feet. We got to the middle of the river and suddenly without warning the tank sank to about five feet, covering the lower hatches. Those of us on the back of the tank were not in the water, but the crew had to get out in a hurry. The engine stopped and we were in trouble. Two other tanks had to come to our rescue. We were out in that river for about two hours.
Sgt. Neil Armstrong, a regular Marine, was also in the Assault Platoon with us. Everyone called him Jack. He came from Lincoln County, New Mexico. He told us that he was raised by his aunt on a big cattle ranch. He said that life for him was tough growing up. He had to take on duties with the hired help--the cowboys. He told us about riding fence line, repairing fences, and being out in all kinds of weather. He was our Marlboro Man--tall, thin, and ruggedly handsome. He also had no fear. He was a loner and a man of few words. He told us that boot camp was a breeze for him because the conditions he grew up with were much more demanding.
It could have been May of 1951 when we had been up in the mountains for a couple of weeks. We were dirty from digging in at night, getting muddy, and not being able to shave or clean up. One morning we saw Sergeant Armstrong walk about 50 yards below our position to a little mountain stream where there was a small pool. There was still snow on the ground in places. The water was liquid ice because the weather was about 35 degrees. Jack took off all of his clothing, walked into the pool, took his steel helmet, dipped it into the water, and poured the water over himself. He then soaped up and poured more water over himself. He would yelp now and then like cowboys do. Then he got dressed and came back up, looking refreshed.
Our new lieutenant saw all this and it apparently looked like a good idea to him. He walked down, took all of his clothing off, stepped into the water, and shuddered. He could not handle the cold water. He got out, put all of his clothing back on, and came back up to our position. We had a good chuckle over this.
There were times when we were sent into a reserve. I remember being in reserve sometime in June or July. We were told that we could have two weeks to rest up and to clean or replace our weapons. Two days later we were told that an army unit was having a bad time at a place called the Iron Triangle. We got our gear ready and moved out.
The first night that I was on line we were at the base of our objective. We did not receive any resistance that night. Very early the next morning our units started up the steep grade to assault a Chinese fortress. We were told that it was not going to be an easy objective to take. Our assault units did not make contact until about 10 a.m. It took that long to get up there. Our platoon was still at the base of the hill waiting to back up the units that were having the most resistance. At 11 a.m., word came down that the objective was secured. The Chinese saw that it was the Marines that were advancing on their positions and did not want anything to do with us. The Chinese withdrew, our mission was completed, and we went back into reserve.
Filth and Lice
We looked forward to time in reserve because it was good to get some hot meals, rest our tired bodies, and write some letters home to our loved ones. It also gave us the opportunity to clean up. On some of the positions we held there was no way to keep clean, so we had to operate in dirty clothing. Sometimes when we were near a mountain stream we could get into it and clean up a bit, but most times when we came off line our clothing was filthy.
I remember that one time we had been on line for 64 days and our clothing was filthy. I don't remember the date, but it was after Operation Killer. We were sent to a reserve area for some rest. The next day some trucks picked us up and took us to an area alongside of a river where some portable showers were set up. The Marine Corps had what was called Headquarters and Supply (H&S), and supply was equipped with not only portable showers, but also portable water heaters. We took off all of our clothing and the only thing we set aside was our boondockers and billfolds. I remember the huge piles of clothing as big as double garages. The hot showers felt so good. We then went through the line and received new underwear and dungarees, also supplied by H&S. I remember how good that felt.
Some of our Marines picked up lice. One day we went out on a long patrol with artillery forward observers. Our mission took us to a high mountain top where we could see our targets from this position. It was a windy, cold day in early May. While we were up there waiting to get our job done and call in some fire, I looked over and saw my friend James Hughes stripped to the waist. He had his sweater turned inside out and he was picking the lice out of the lining. He said that he could not stand the itching any more. James Hughes was from Maine--a tough little guy that could lick his weight in wildcats.
Sometime in the summer of 1951 when my unit was in a reserve area, a friend called me over and told me that there were several Marines from my hometown of Duluth gathered by a river a block away from our area. I went over right away and was surprised to see about 16 Marines from my home town. There was a Marine photographer there and he took several photos of our group. It was a great visit. I had not seen some of the Marines since leaving Duluth. I received copies of the group photos after the war.
I believe it was in 1996 that I received a book in the mail, sent to me by a Marine friend Harvey Danielson. Harvey and I served in Korea together in Weapons 2/7. The book was Volume IV of U.S. Marine Corps Operation in Korea--The East Central Front, a five-volume set originally published by the United States Marine Corps. While I was reading this book I saw a photo that got my attention. As I studied it, I realized that it was a photo of me. I remember having the photo taken by a Marine photographer. He told me to lie down in the snow and he would take my photo. I remember turning to ask him how he wanted me to pose when he took the picture. The photo is USMC Photo A 159023, just after page 86 in the volume. The caption reads, "A young Marine rifleman hurriedly reloads after emptying his clip at Chinese Communist Soldiers." Harvey did not know my photo was in this book.
Better than Rations
When we were in the reserve areas we had hot food. Almost every morning we had pancakes and some kind of meat--sausage or bacon. Now and then we got scrambled eggs and toast. Fresh bread was a real treat. We had coffee and powdered milk. For lunch we had meat and grease, bread, some kind of canned vegetable such as peas or beans, and the same for dinner. This was not good food, but it was all we had. We never had access to Korean food. One time we picked apples off the trees and that was a treat. Now and then we picked berries.
The best treat I had in Korea was ice cream. We were on line up by the Punch Bowl and the Sergeant called out, "Come and get some ice cream!" My first thought was, "What a dirty thing to say to us." Then I saw the guys getting their canteen cups and being treated to ice cream. They had carried it up to us in freezer containers. What a wonderful treat that was.
When I was stationed at Camp Pendleton, every Friday they served ocean perch for dinner. (Now and then we even had steak.) I thought that was the greatest thing the Marines ever served. When I was in Korea, I missed Italian food the most.
Contact with Natives
We did not have much contact with the Korean civilians, but one time when we were in a reserve area set up by a river, we hired some Korean women to take our clothes down to the river bank to wash them. They were happy to do it because we paid them very well by their standards. This particular river (it might have been the Han), was about a half a city block wide and it was flowing very fast. Some Marines that were strong swimmers made it across, but they ended up two blocks downstream. Other Marines had to be rescued.
While I was in Korea I became aware of how the Koreans built their homes. They were small, timber-framed structures with mud and straw filling between the timbers. They had thatched roofs and small windows. The heating systems were unique. They all fired the furnace with wood charcoal. The small fire pit furnace sat outside against the house and it was placed on the corner of the house so as to catch the prevailing wind. The heat was then channeled through tunnels in the floor, giving it a great in-floor heating system. The furnace exhausted on the other side of the house. This heating system was very efficient and they did not use much fuel.
News from Home
We received our mail when we went into a reserve area. It was something that everyone looked forward to. I got letters from my mother and my Aunt Ruth that included information on my friends and asked me what my plans were when I got home. I also received a couple of packages from home--one contained cookies and the other had fudge. What I really wanted from home was beef pepperoni. I never received any. The parents of my friend Richard Coutant mailed him a large supply of vitamins and he shared them with me. Packages were not in very good shape when we received them. They were smashed and torn.
One time when we were sent to the rear to a reserve area, one of our Marines broke out his home state flag. It was a full-sized Georgia state flag and it was very impressive flying by his tent. This created some rivalry among Weapons Company Marines. Some of our Marines wrote letters home to their state capitols or to their state representatives and told them that they were in a combat unit in Korea and they requested a state flag so they could fly it in Korea. The responses were great. I believe that there were flags representing 16 different states flying over Weapons Company area at one time.
I was not very good at writing home. My company commander found out that I was not writing home, told me to sit down and send a letter off to my family, and told me to send mail out whenever I could. I did not want to write about what I was doing in the mountains, and one can only talk about the landscape so much.
One of our Marines received a telegram from home notifying him that his father had passed away. He was given leave and sent home for the funeral and to be with his family. He was back with us in two weeks. Other Marines received letters from their girlfriends notifying them that they had found new guys and that the relationship was over. One Marine received word that his wife was divorcing him. I remember him taking it quite well.
USO shows were very popular with the troops. I saw Bob Hope and Arrol Flynn and some blonde bombshell whose name I do not remember. I also saw Buffalo Bill's Barbershop Quartet, the quartet that appeared in the Broadway musical show Music Man. We needed the morale boost. A big stage was set up, some makeshift bleachers were brought in, and hundreds of Marines were treated to this performance. It was great entertainment. During the show a Marine presented Bob Hope with a Russian burg gun, and during the presentation the gun was accidentally pointed out toward the audience, causing some Marines to duck for cover. I am sure it was not loaded, but the reaction was there. There was another USO show that came to Korea later in 1951, but our unit was on line during that time and we did not get to see it.
We never got to celebrate the Marine Corps Birthday when I was in Korea. All birthday parties were put on hold in my unit. My own birthday came and it was just another day for me. We never got to go on R&R. We heard the Army was getting it and we were pissed off about it. I did not have any contact with the Red Cross or the Salvation Army.
Beers & Smokes
I did not smoke or drink while I was in Korea. A Marine asked me if I wanted to try some plug. This was a brick of dark brown, compressed chewing tobacco called Brown Mule. It was about the size of a bar of soap. I said, "Sure, I'll try some." The proper way to chew plug is to take a bit out of it, put it in the mouth, and chew. I chewed on that foul stuff for about 15 minutes and then started to get sick from it. To this day I cannot believe that someone would want to chew tobacco. It is so bad.
While I was in Korea we were issued three cans of beer. We had to order it and pay for it in advance and it took months to get to us. I remember we were set up in a reserve area when the beer came. It was some off-brand American beer that I had never heard of called, "Marvels Old Style." The plan was to take it to a cold spring, cool it down and drink all three cans as fast as we could to get the greatest effect from it. We all had our beer cooling down in a small pool of ice water, but then we started sampling the beer before it was totally cooled down. One Marine accused another Marine of taking one of his beers and a big brawl started. That was the end of the beer party at the pond.
For the Good Old Boys
My recon unit was sent out on a long march in early August. We were to make contact with a tank company that had set up a roadblock on the Main Line of Resistance. The MLR was the point of land that our forces controlled, and over this line was considered enemy territory. We walked all day to get there and I was very tired. I could not have walked another mile. I call it being exhausted. We were told to dig in, which meant that everyone was expected to dig a foxhole or fighting hole.
At this point in my tour in Korea, I must have dug 200 foxholes. I was good at it. You might say that I was digging for my life when I dug one. This day, however, I was so beat I said, "To hell with it. I am going to lie down on the ground and go to sleep." About two hours later, guess what. An artillery round came in very close. My reaction to this was to grab my entrenching tool and get to work. I dug my foxhole in record time. My squad had the greatest laugh over this. By the way, that round was the only one that came in to our area that night.
My body endurance peaked when I was in Korea. I could run for miles and walk with a heavy pack on my back for long distances without getting tired. When we were sleeping close to the front and subjected to loud cannon fire, our bodies adjusted to this also.
Anyone who has been in combat for a length of time learns well the sights and sounds of battle. We became keenly aware of our surroundings. Our sense of smell became acute. The Chinese ate copious amounts of garlic, and when the wind was just right it gave their positions away and we could tell when we were getting close to them. While my squad was on patrol one day after a day-long skirmish, we located a wounded Chinese soldier hiding in thick bushes. We knew he was in there because we could smell the garlic.
We learned to calculate where a projectile was going to land once we heard its whine. We could tell by the sound it made whether it was a mortar round or an artillery round. We also learned to tell if it was incoming or outgoing artillery. We learned to understand all kinds of sounds, such as troops walking by. All weapons had their own distinct sound, too. For instance, a Chinese machine gun (we called it a burp gun) fired at a very high rate of fire--I would say upwards of 900 rounds per minute, giving it a distinct sound. Our M-2 carbines fired at a rate of 750 rounds per minute. When an M-1 Garand fired the last round out of a clip of eight rounds, the round holder (clip) was ejected, causing a ringing sound. We learned to tape our identity tags together so our enemy could not hear them click together when we were moving. All of these subtle little things were basic survival skills learned by being in combat. They were not taught to us. We learned them to help us survive combat. It was called being "hyper vigilant."
The next day we put out trip flares and we strung wire with tin cans full of rocks to protect our position in case the Chinese tried to close in on us at night. A trip flare was a device used by the military to illuminate enemy forces that penetrated an area. They were charged with gun powder and had a triggering device in a cartridge built into them. When the wire of the flare was tripped by someone walking by, it triggered a powder charge that, when fired, sent a large projectile high into the air. When this projectile was at its maximum height, it broke open and struck an illuminating flare that was ignited. This flare was extremely bright and the light covered a large area. The flare was slowly lowered to the ground by a parachute.
The tanks fired their 90mm every now and then--maybe two an hour. This must have been for effect or just to let the enemy know we were still there. Now and then the Chinese sent a round our way. You would be surprised how resilient the human body is--how one's body could adjust to the cold and to the lack of sleep; how we could function without the proper amount of food to fuel our bodies. We, ourselves, were often surprised by the endurance we could get from our bodies. Every day our emotions were being stretched. It was amazing that we could adjust to seeing the broken bodies of war and the bodies of Chinese that had been burned to death after having napalm dropped on them. In fact, after a day of pitched battle, we found ourselves able to sit down and write a letter home or maybe joke about something with our buddies.
Later that day Sergeant Janca called for me and asked me if I would escort a Korean civilian through our trip wires so he could proceed into enemy territory. We watched him until he disappeared over the next hill. Later we found out that he was a South Korean agent on a mission.
We stayed on this roadblock for five days. We were then notified to fall back to a reserve area, which we looked forward to knowing that we would be getting hot meals and that we would get to clean up, maybe get some clean clothing, and take a break from combat.
Whiskey-swilling Cigar Smokers
We were in reserve for about a week when I was called in to see Sergeant Janca. He told me that I was to participate in a mock attack for some politicians and military brass. He said it was a big deal and told me that there would be about 50 Marines participating in this. He told me that the engineers had built bleachers, and they had also built bunkers and built up the terrain to look like a battlefield. The Marines were to go in with a coordinated attack and take out the bunkers with rockets and flamethrowers.
My first reaction was that I did not like the sound of it. Why should I go and do something like that when I had just spent seven months in combat? I was told I had to go. I was also told to pick up my rocket launcher and one round, and get in the truck that would take us to the battle scene. We were briefed when we got there. I was assigned to fire one rocket round into a bunker on the extreme right of the battle area. The signal was given and everyone went into action. I fired my round into the bunker. It was very close and I could feel the impact. Then something happened that I was not expecting. A Corsair came diving in with guns blazing and just about hit me and two other Marines. The rounds landed within five feet of us. The pilot must have been impaired or had his information wrong.
I went back to the company that day really pissed off. All this for a group of politicians; the Brass trying to impress the good old boys from Washington. I can see them now. The whiskey-swilling, cigar-smoking politicians watching the Marines perform for them.
In September we were deployed to an area called the Punch Bowl, a large natural bowl in the landscape of East Central Korea. I would say that it was about eight miles around. It was topped with jagged mountain ridges. Many battles were fought in and around this area during the Korean War. The first known helicopter troop landings took place in this area. At that time, helicopters were being used to bring in supplies.
The Punch Bowl was very high ground. From the ridges we were on we could see for miles. Our unit was in a secondary position for a couple of weeks. We could see action all around us during this period. We watched air strikes every day. We were right by the main trail leading to Hill 749 and different units moved through our position every day. Lots of supply units came through also. One night the sky exploded with tracers and explosions and this went on all night. The next day the Korean Marines carried their dead back through our positions. We found out later that they took very heavy damage and were almost wiped out. It was a sad thing to witness.
We moved again, only this time maybe just 300 yards back to a less exposed position. There we were told to dig in, make our foxhole deep, and make a tunnel to kick a grenade into if one was thrown into our hole. If this happened, the force of the grenade would be covered.
At about 10 a.m. one morning, I was sitting by my foxhole and a .51 caliber round whistled by my ear, just missing me by inches. I could hear the round travel down through the trees, cutting off leaves as it went. That Chinaman must have watched me for a long time. I got a cold feeling afterward. My life had been saved one more time.
One day while up on the ridges of the Punch Bowl we heard a tremendous roar. It sounded like a train moving past very fast. We all looked around to see what it was. Then we saw a huge explosion on the top of Hill 749. We found out that it was naval gunfire from the USS Missouri. They fired several rounds from their 16-inch guns into that hill that day. Think of the demoralizing effect this gunfire must have had on the Chinese and North Korean forces.
Equipped for Combat
Our patrols up into the mountains lasted three days at the most. We spent two days out on most of our patrols because the weight of food and water limited the duration of them. During our nights out we usually set up for the night on the high ground. It was always an advantage to be on the high ground for tactical reasons.
This is a list of the equipment that we carried with us: a rifle (M-1 Garand or an M-2 fully automatic carbine with two 30-round magazines taped together), fragmentation grenades, one or two illumination grenades, entrenching tool, ammunition, a .45 caliber automatic handgun, steel helmet, sleeping bag, shelter half, rain poncho, and back pack. Each night our section leader called for the percent of watch we would implement for the night. The percentage of watch depended on the intelligence we received on the number of enemy forces in the area and information on whether we were going to get hit by the enemy. If 100 percent watch was called, then everyone in the patrol had to stay awake all night. Fifty percent watch meant that for each two-man unit, one Marine had to stay awake. Our watches never got below 25 percent.
An experienced Marine never zipped his mummy-type sleeping bag up over his waist, and he always slept on his back with his hand holding his .45 caliber handgun. A jacket was used to cover the open part of the bag so that, if we were attacked, we could sweep away the jacket with our left hand and come up with our .45 auto ready to fire. Marines who zipped up in their sleeping bags were known to have been pulled from their positions by Chinese body snatchers.
From the time recruits enter the United States Marine Corps, they begin learning about weapons and survival. They become sharp shooters and marksmen with a variety of weapons. Marines carry this training with them throughout their Marine Corps career. In the American West there were gunfighters also. They called their combat "gun fights" and we called ours "fire fights" or "skirmishes." The Old West had rituals to follow before a gun fight. The Marine rules of engagement in Korea were: "Shoot the sons-of-bitches, whether they are sleeping, running toward you, or running away from you."
As United States Marine Corps gunfighters, we were assigned to a combat unit and mixed in with seasoned and experienced Marines. We learned from them, tried to act like them, and followed their lead. When we went into battle with them, we tried to overcome our fear and stand up and fight. Then after time and more experience, we became one of them. People that study war call that being "battle hardened." That is what happens. The accepted standard of social appropriateness is lost because combat takes away a part of one's personality. The psyche is changed. The days of severe combat make men callous and their mores change. These were the effects of facing death day after day.
The hardest thing for me in Korea was trying to stay alive and fighting the elements. I always wondered if I was going to make it out. I learned right away to never give up and keep alert. I learned that when on the move, cover your flanks. Use cover and concealment. I learned from my training that there are times when you have to go it alone, face up to your obstacles, and meet them head on. This goes for life after the Marine Corps, also.
A Higher Power Intervened
One evening we were told to pass the word down that our mortar section was going to be moving into a position just below us. It was a naturally flat area in a little draw near the top of the ridgeline that afforded natural protection from enemy fire. At around midnight, in the darkness, we heard them move in. They were busy for about an hour setting up their mortars and getting the aiming stakes out. Aiming stakes were an essential part of the aiming system used for map plotting to zero-in on the target by given map number information. When a mortar section moved into new positions, the first thing they did was to set the mortars up to be ready for a fire mission.
Soon all was quiet. They had completed their work and were bedded down for the night. About an hour later, I heard someone in a loud, commanding voice yell out, "Saddle up. We're moving out." Grumbling among the men was heard--their bitching was very loud, but they had no choice. They packed up their gear and moved out. It did not take them very long before they were gone. About 45 minutes after they left, the area that they had set up in was hit by a tremendous volley of artillery fire. The fire was well-directed and accurate. We felt the impact and the heat from the rounds from our positions a few yards away. I was witness to a miracle sent to us from above. There is no other explanation. There is no doubt in my mind that Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines would have been wiped out in that horrific barrage. And I doubt that they ever found out what happened that night. Some higher power intervened.
All the time I was in Korea we saw helicopters operating in our zone. During the first part of the war, it was only the light, two-man helicopters with two stretchers mounted on the sides. They were used to evacuate the wounded. Later when we moved into the area of the Punch Bowl, we saw heavy helicopters that could carry troops and supplies. I saw the first Marine helicopter combat landing. They came in about 600 yards from our position. We also had small spotter planes operating in our sector. They were reporting enemy troop movements and were looking for targets for artillery. They also called in air strikes.
During my combat time in the area of the Punch Bowl, our unit was set up on a high ridge overlooking the Punch Bowl itself and on the other side mountainous terrain. Many battles were taking place below us. From our position we could watch the effect of artillery fire and air strikes from Marine Corsairs, Air Force P-51s, and United Nations jets operated by all of the forces. It was an amazing thing to witness. All of this fire power was directed against the Chinese and North Korean forces. We wondered how the enemy could hold out under these conditions.
After a few weeks up near the Punch Bowl, our Weapons Company assault force received orders to prepare to withdraw from our positions up by the Punch Bowl. We were told that we had been called into reserve and that we would be moving out the following day. The next day and evening came and went and we did not get the command to pull out. The next day the same thing occurred. The problem was that we did not get any C-rations.
Try to understand that it was a treat for us to get our daily box of C-rations. It contained three cans of solid food (known as "heavies") like ham and lima beans, sausage patties, spaghetti and meatballs, pork and beans, chicken and dumplings, and others. Then there was a can of fruit--pineapple, peaches, pears, or fruit cocktail. The box of C-rations also had a small pack of cigarettes, toilet paper, candy, sometimes a disk of chocolate coco powder, some instant coffee, and sometimes a disk of gum candy that was so hard we could not eat it. This had to last us all day, and it was common for the men to trade for their favorites. When fighting was going on there was no time to heat our feed. If our unit was assigned to assault a Chinese position that day, we opened our C-rations, took out the can of fruit, and ate it. We figured that if we did not make it back, no one else was going to get our treat.
Someone someplace had the important job of keeping all the units supplied with food and ammunition. We had to have food, water and ammunition of all types brought up to us in mountainous terrain using foot trails that were very steep in places. The Marine Corps used the Korean labor force for much of this re-supply. Some of the time we had to send people from our unit down to pick up supplies and carry them back. I have to say that I cannot remember running out of ammunition, and just once or twice was our chow brought in late.
This particular time, we scrounged around looking for something to eat, asking units in the area if they could spare a can or two. Most of us were without food for over two days. Harvey Danielson, my Marine friend from Cloquet, Minnesota, came over to me and handed me a can of C-rations. I think it was ham and lima beans. It was so good. It tasted like a home-cooked meal.
On the morning of the third day without food, we moved out to a new area down in a valley away from the fighting. I remember marching on the main road with my company, and as we came over the top of a ridge on the road we could see down into the valley ahead of us. There were numerous military units, lots of Army artillery batteries, lots of vehicles, truck parks, and supply depots. I had yet another cold feeling come over me. I thought I was entering the Valley of the Shadow of Death. At that time I was nearing the end of my tour in Korea. I had to serve only one more month. I stepped out of line and sat by the side of the road. I could only pray. I prayed and asked to be able to make it through one more month. I recovered and caught up with my unit.
There was food waiting for us when we reached our new camp. In this reserve area we had it rather nice. We had hot food every day because there was a mess tent set up. We stayed in squad tents with cots. We had Korean houseboys cleaning up after us, washing our clothes, and bringing us water. The problem was that we were told that we were close enough to the Chinese line that we could receive incoming. I had our houseboy put sandbags around my cot when I found this out.
One November day when we were set up in a reserve area and we were on the way back from chow, all of a sudden we were hit by heavy artillery fire. I was running as fast as I could and was just passing a pyramidal tent when a round landed right inside the tent. The tent puffed up like a big balloon. The round did not go off. If it had, I would have been a dead man. I found shelter and sat out the rest of the barrage in a bunker.
Out of Harm's Way
The next day, the First Sergeant called me into his tent and told me, "Corporal Erickson, you'll be leaving for home in two days." That gave me three days to say goodbye and to get my gear packed. Since we were getting hit with artillery fire now and then, the Top Sergeant also told me to find some place to go back a few miles to get out of harm's way for my remaining time in Korea. That tough old Marine did have a heart after all. He shook my hand and said that I deserved to get out of there and that I had done a good job. I never thought that I would see the day that this would happen.
I had friends back in H&S, so leaving the area was no problem. I found a ride back about four miles and looked up Jim Smith, a friend from Duluth who was the number one man on a 155mm Howitzer crew. I hung out with him for two days and had some good meals with some old Marine buddies, but I then went back to my company. I wanted to be sure to get back to Weapons Company so I would not miss the truck taking the returning Marines out to the coast on the first leg of the trip home.
When the day I was scheduled to leave arrived, I had my gear ready. It was not much--a shaving kit, a change of underwear, some stationery, a back pack and the clothes on my back. We had turned in all of our weapons the evening before. I remember how naked and vulnerable I felt without my .45 and M-2 carbine. The thought of running into trouble on the way to the coast and not being able to defend ourselves came to me. There were eight Marines in my group who boarded a truck to the rear and left that day. When we started out, it was like a ton of weight was lifted off of my body. I was so happy to get out of there. Thoughts of going home flooded my mind during the five-hour ride to the coast.
Liberty in Japan
We boarded an LST at a coastal town near Pusan and headed for Japan. I believe the date was November 14, 1951. The LST landed on the west side of Japan at some small coastal port. We then boarded a train that took us to Kobe, Japan. We were picked up by trucks and taken to an old military camp with very old Japanese barracks. We were then taken to the mess hall and had our first good meal in a long time. After we went to the barracks we were given bedding and settled in for the night. The next morning we were up early and had a good breakfast. The staff at the mess hall were all Japanese. I remember we could have all the food that we wanted to eat. At that time I realized how much I had missed having good meals.
After breakfast we lined up in alphabetical order and proceeded through a line and up to a desk where we gave the sergeant our name, rank and serial number. He then handed us a folder with some paperwork and told us to keep this with us until we were taken to a large warehouse down by the docks. At the dock area in Kobe, we were marched over to a very large warehouse and proceeded through in alphabetical order. We were issued a complete new Marine green uniform, new shoes, new socks and underwear, the Marine lapel pins, shirts, ties, caps, rank stripes, hash marks, a new overcoat, a new shave kit, soap, toothbrush, etc. It was a complete new outfit. With all this new gear we were marched down to a waiting ship, the USS Lenewee APA 195.
We stayed onboard the ship the rest of that day. We were told that we would have liberty the next day and that we could stay ashore until 2300 hours. We were told to go to the local tailor shops, get our stripes sewn on our uniforms, and get alterations on our uniforms if they were needed. We went to the pay master and drew money that we would need for our stay in Japan.
On our second liberty in Kobe, I teamed up with four Marines and we headed for downtown Kobe. We must have stopped at every little bar in town. By noon we were well into our own celebration. I remember meeting up with the shore patrol. They advised us to head back to the ship. We thought it was good advice and were back in our bunks aboard ship by 1500 hours. We were all out on deck the following day. We watched the dock crews release the ship's mooring lines, then the ship pulled away from the dock and we headed out to sea.
A Hardened Man
Aboard ship I met a Marine on the way home that I had trained with at Camp Pendleton. He was from Minneapolis. I heard someone call out my name and then he came up to me, shook my hand, and gave me his name. He came from a middle class religious family. He was soft-spoken and so likeable--the type of person one wanted as a friend. He had the demeanor of someone that grew up in a complete and well-adjusted family. In Korea he had served with the 5th Marine Regiment as a machine gunner and survived violent combat. I looked at this guy and could not believe how he had changed. He now had piercing steel blue eyes and it looked like he had lost 50 pounds. He was a hardened man. His demeanor and speech had also changed. He had changed into a man that could stay alive in extreme combat.
The shock of seeing him transformed like that caused my blood to run cold. I was speechless, even uncomfortable, seeing him like that. I often wondered how his parents reacted when they saw him for the first time after Korea. I am so happy he made it home. I have a friend that has kept in contact with him throughout the years and I hear that he is doing fine.
I do not remember having any assignments aboard ship. Every one of us had to report to sick bay, where we were given a physical exam. They also gave us medication for worms. I met a few Marines that I had trained with at Camp Pendleton and we exchanged stories about our assignments in Korea.
The food aboard ship was good, but the chow lines were long. There was not much for us to do aboard ship. We spent our days out on deck. The seas were usually heavy, causing the ship to roll. Some of the Marines got seasick and spent most of the time in their bunks.
On the third day out we were ordered to stand in line to see a Marine officer who was handing out some kind of paperwork we had to complete. The line was long and I believe I stood there for two hours before I got to the head of the line. The Marine officer asked for my name. I gave him the information he requested, then he handed me a paper document. It was a United Nations declaration stating that I had served in Korea with the United Nations Forces with honor. They also presented a ribbon that went with the document to me. It seemed to me at the time that it was a small reward for what I had to do for it. Oh well. My best reward was that I had made it out and was going home. All of the Marines that I talked to were happy to be going home and were in a good mood.
We had heard that some of the ships returning with troops from Korea had stopped in Hawaii. We made inquiries and found out that we would be going directly to San Diego. We would have enjoyed a few days in Hawaii, but that was not going to happen. I believe that the voyage took 17 days. On the way home aboard ship, I thought about the Marines from my reserve company that had been killed in action in Korea. They were:
Of the 227 officers and enlisted men that were in B Company, 4th Infantry Battalion in Duluth and were activated and sent to Korea, 80 percent of them were wounded in action and eight were killed in action. This was a heavy toll to take for the Marines from my hometown. I had many friends from Weapons Company that were either killed or wounded. This was part of what I brought home with me to think about.
It was an emotional experience for me when we arrived at our dock in San Diego. All of the experiences that I had had in Korea raced through my mind and I thought of my friends who were killed and wounded. I hoped that I would never have to go to war again. There was a Marine Corps band playing as the ship tied up to the dock. There were lots of people there to greet us. I did not have anyone waiting for me, but a Marine friend had his parents waiting for him.
It took a long time to debark from the ship. We had to leave in sections according to alphabetical order. We had to carry our sea bags off the ship and board busses that were waiting to take us to Camp Pendleton. Those Marines that had family waiting for them were allowed to travel to Camp Pendleton with them.
At Camp Pendleton I was sent to Casual Company. My enlistment was up and my group started separation procedures the following day. There were lots of papers to sign. We had to be interviewed and asked if we wanted to sign over for another tour. I was also promoted to the rank of sergeant. I had another medical examination and debriefing about my war experiences. We were told about our benefits, our travel pay, and how much pay we would receive at the time of discharge. They gave us railroad tickets for our trip home.
When asked if I wanted to reenlist, I did not have to think about my answer. I had had my fill of war and the military life. I did not want to get involved in any more violence. I was looking for a quiet place to go to try to heal my wounds. My discharge date from the United States Marine Corps was 13 December 1951. I was 20 years old.
When I left Camp Pendleton I took a bus to Los Angeles and then to the train station where I boarded a train for home. When I arrived home there was no one waiting for me and there was no celebration. I took a cab home from the train station. I looked up friends and made some telephone calls to old friends to let them know I was home. I wanted to talk about what I had been doing for the past year, but no one seemed very interested. I tried to engage my brothers in conversation about my experiences, but they were not very interested in hearing about it. I got the feeling that they thought I had been at some summer camp for the past year. I wanted to unload my experiences on someone, but no one cared to hear about it.
I knew I had problems after I was home for a week or so. I could not sleep, I was very nervous, my startle response was out of whack, and I was irritable at times. I woke up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding so hard that I thought I was having a heart attack. I was sweating. I had dreams of fighting in Korea.
I worked at various jobs after returning home. I worked at the Curling Club making ice and doing general work around the ice arena. I also worked at a small bakery. I thought about getting an apprenticeship in baking through the GI bill, but I did not like the baking business. I took a battery of tests and received a GED diploma.
In 1952, I enrolled at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and did that one year. While I was at UMD, I gave a talk in one of my speech classes about a canoe trip I had taken into the boundary waters area up near the Canadian border. Another student got up and presented a great slide show and talk about his travels in Japan when he was in Special Services in the Army and how he had toured the whole country taking photos from Hokkaido in the north to the southern tip of Japan. He talked about how he had studied the culture while he was there. As I was listening to him give this talk, I thought, "You lucky son-of-a-bitch." What a contrast it was from what I had to do. He later became a popular TV announcer for a local television station.
While attending UMD, I did not talk to anyone about my military service. I found it hard to mix with other students. It was not that I did not like them. It was that I had my own issues to deal with at that time. I did not have that jovial, care-free attitude. I did not have anything to cheer about.
A Changed Person
I was a changed person when I returned home after my military career. My personality changed. I became a loner. I had trouble finding anything to laugh about. This behavior cut into my social life. It was up to me to work through that. The Veterans Administration had no information on the type of symptoms that I was showing at that time.
One day in August of 1952 I returned home after spending the day at the beach. I had the worst fever I had ever had. I was wet with perspiration and felt sick all over. My brother took one look at me and said, "We're going to the hospital." They admitted me and after three days they found out that I had malaria. I had picked it up in Korea. I was given medication for this and was released from the hospital. I filed a claim with the VA and received a small disability for a period of time. I have had several reoccurrences of malaria over the years.
I stayed at UMD for one year and then decided to do something else for a while. I went to work for B.F. Goodrich and after a while I was transferred to Austin, Minnesota, where I became the Operating Manager of that store. I did not like that assignment, so I returned to Duluth and took a job on the Northern Pacific Railroad as a brakeman-switchman. I worked on the railroad for eight years. The railroad business dropped off and I did not work year round.
I was working on the railroad when I met Shirley Stenberg. We were introduced through friends. By that time I was beginning to be able to hide my troubles and not talk about them. I kept them to myself. I was able to convince Shirley into believing in me. We were able to develop a relationship in spite of my troubles and we married on May 5, 1956. We now have two daughters.
My wife noticed an ad in the local newspaper stating that the city was looking for police officers. I took the civil service test and ended up seventh on the eligibility list. The city hired six officers off this list so I ended up number one if they hired more officers. Six months went by and when the city hired six more officers, I was appointed to the position of patrolman on January 1, 1959. I worked in the patrol division for four years and was transferred to communications, where I worked as a dispatcher for six years. I was then transferred back to the patrol division. I had done this for two months when I was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. I was then transferred to the detective bureau and spent most of my career there working bad checks, forgeries and embezzlement cases.
While I was employed at the police department, the federal government passed a law called the Federal Omnibus Crime Bill. This law was designed to help law enforcement educate police officers. It also paid college tuitions for officers who wanted to further their education. I took advantage of this and went to night school at the University of Minnesota for five years, where I studied psychology and sociology. I retired in 1993 after 34 years of service on the police department.
I now live in a small community in northern Minnesota on a small farm. I have 42 acres and I have an apple orchard. It is called Buttercup Creek Orchard. After I retired from the police department I did not have any plans to find another job. We have a cottage on a lake in northern Minnesota, and my plans were to spend more time up there fishing and taking care of projects around the house.
One day after I had been retired for a few weeks, my daughter asked me if I would be interested in a part-time job as a court bailiff. It was in another county, but not that far away and it would be an easy commute for me. She told me that it was not good to retire and not have something to keep me busy. I talked this over with my wife, and we decided that I should give it a try. I applied for the job and was told to report to the court administrator's office and fill out the paperwork. I did that and also picked up my uniform shirt and trousers. They told me that I would be on call and that I would be working one or two days a week and also filling in for vacations, which would mean sometimes working a full week.
I worked with a full-time bailiff for a week and learned what the job entailed. It included posting the court dockets to the bulletin boards outside the different court rooms, filling the water pitchers for the judges and attorneys, making coffee, court room security, taking prisoners to the county jail, making sure that the public went to the right court room, etc. The job worked out fine. It meant putting in more time than I wanted, but it was working out for me.
One day I was assigned to sit in on a court trial involving a felony case. The defendant was being represented by a high profile attorney out of Minneapolis. The defendant happened to be a Vietnam veteran. As the trial proceeded, I could see that part of the defense strategy was to show the court that the defendant was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and to show the court that the defendant had an unpredictable personality disorder and that he had suffered these conditions at the time he was accused of committing this crime. The defendant's attorney made it very clear to the jury what PTSD was. This attorney used the court's blackboard to write down all the symptoms of PTSD and how each one affected his client.
The following is a partial list of PTSD conditions that the attorney wrote down:
As I was in the court room reading the list of PTSD conditions, I realized that during my lifetime I had experienced all of the things that were on the list. I had heard the term of PTSD-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder before when I had filed VA claims, but I knew very little about it. The court case with the Vietnam veteran spiked my curiosity, so after work I went on the computer to look up PTSD and see how it affected a person. I found out as much as I could about this condition. I thought about this PTSD condition for a long time. Then one day after court I went down to the Veterans Service Office right in the court house and picked up a pamphlet on PTSD. I took it home and studied it carefully. I must have read it over five times.
One day after work I stopped into the Veterans Service Office and talked to the Veterans Service Officer. I gave him a brief history of my military service. He advised me to file a claim, stating that I was suffering the symptoms of PTSD. He filled out the paperwork and submitted the claim. The VS Officer told me that I should get in contact with a veteran's counselor that was providing counseling to veterans. I followed his advice and got signed up for the counseling and eventually group counseling. I was started on my way to recovery.
As I mentioned earlier, when I arrived home from Korea, I wanted to tell people what I had been doing. When I found out that no one wanted to hear it, I determined it was better to forget about it. It was not good to talk about these things. I worked to bury my memories about Korea. I tucked them away. I tried to put them in a place where they would stay locked up forever. I thought, "Why think about things that are eating away at you?" If I had a bad day, I found a way to be by myself. But at all costs, forget about Korea. Counseling helped me begin to unlock the secrets of my personal wars that I had tucked away, locked up in my secret memory bank.
After a few months of counseling and interviews by the Veterans Administration people, I was diagnosed with 100 percent PTSD and started receiving compensation from the VA. I should point out here that the VA also takes care of all of my medical issues. Before I was diagnosed with 100 percent PTSD, I had filed other health-related claims. Around 2002 I filed VA claims for frost bite, shrapnel scars, and a back injury. In the process of claims, I was first diagnosed with 50 percent PTSD. My final award reads: 20 percent for frost bite injuries for each foot; 40 percent for a back injury; and 100 percent for PTSD. This brings the total to 180 percent, but a veteran can only get 100 percent of the award payment.
With the help of several great counselors and VA psychiatrists, I have been able to understand the conditions that I had that were working against me and keeping me from developing. I am being led out of the depression and sadness. I am now on my way out. I can talk about my experiences. The guilt is going away.
In 2003 I met another Korean War combat Marine. We were attending the same group counseling session and I could see how troubled he was. When you have PTSD, it seems that you can see it in other people. As part of my treatment for PTSD--as an outlet to help me with my own healing and to help me get my thoughts out, I wrote to Robert, telling him about what I was experiencing emotionally upon my return from a combat zone:
Still looking for answers, I wrote another letter to Robert:
This particular incident happened when we were taking supplies to Easy Company one day. I was the last one in a column going up a hill when a Chinaman suddenly appeared and motioned for me to come to him. Just by the expression on his face, I knew that he was going to kill me. When he raised his weapon up, I took him out. I faced imminent death that day. I think that's why his face is so vividly clear to me nearly six decades later.
Another time I wrote to Robert:
Not long ago, my wife and I were at the supermarket picking up some groceries. Being retired, we can pick a time to shop when we know the store is not going to be busy. We picked up our cart and started through the store on our usual route, taking us first through the produce section and then to the deli and so on. As shoppers do, we worked from a list of things we wanted to pick up, and crossed them off when we had the items in the cart. Most people are intent looking at the shelves and checking the list and the prices. However, for those of us with hyper vigilance, it is a different story. I rounded a corner of an aisle and immediately saw this guy looking at me. He was a full 100 feet away from me down by the bakery goods. Our eyes met. I walked toward him and still our eyes were on each other. As I got closer to him, I saw that he was wearing a cap with a Marine Corps insignia on it. Then I knew he was one of us. I walked up to him and introduced myself to him. I asked him if he knew a certain VA counselor and his reply was that he did. We were both doing what we had been trained to do and we cannot get rid of it.
My strongest memories of Korea are the conditions of war, the hardships, the bravery, the battles, the hunger, the cold, the sadness, learning what the human body can take, and how to adjust to the most trying conditions and survive. This war caused tremendous suffering and loss of life--not only that of the combatants, but the civilian population as well. Think of the heartache that Korean families suffer by having their country split in half, tearing families apart with no visitation.
A friend, Jerry Couture, also served in Korea with the 7th Marines. In 1993, he and I went to Korea on the revisit program paid for by the Korean Veterans Association. The only cost we had was the air fare and spending money while we were there. Neither of our wives wanted to go. It was just Jerry and me. At that time one of my daughters worked for Northwest Airlines and that meant that I could get a round-trip ticket at a discount. I was able to get a round-trip ticket in Executive Class at a very good price.
Jerry and I were on the same flight going to Korea. My seat was on the upper deck and when we were about an hour out after taking off from Seattle Sea-Tack airport, the steward came around and asked me if I wanted a drink. He suggested champagne and orange juice, which sounded good to me. He asked me what my travel plans were and I told him about my revisit trip back to Korea. I told him that my buddy Jerry was on this same flight and was down in Tourist Class. He then asked me if I wanted to go and get him and invite him up to have a drink with us. We went down and located Jerry right away and asked him if he wanted to join me for a few drinks upstairs. He was all for it. Jerry spent about four hours with me. Needless to say, it was quite a party. We took Jerry back down and put him in his seat. I think he told me that he slept all the way over to Korea after the party we had.
We had a good friend, Thomas Marron, living in Korea at the time. Thomas had been Jerry's foxhole buddy in Korea and they were both in Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines. After the war, Tom went to college and became a teacher. He did not like teaching, so he applied for a job with U.S. Customs. Tom worked his way up through the ranks and eventually became the Assistant U.S. Customs Attaché to Korea. He was second in charge of U.S. Customs in Seoul. We stayed with Tom for a few nights at his home on Embassy Row on a military base in downtown Seoul. We had a chauffeur-driven car taking us around, and when we came back to the base in the evening they saluted us right through the main gate.
After staying with Tom, we spent the rest of the time living at the Hotel Sofitel. The Korean Veterans Association picked up the tab for all of our meals. They also had tours planned for us every day. One day we went to Panmunjom. Another day we went to an old Korean village and saw a great folk program with a troop of Korean dancers. The Koreans were very good hosts. They had a formal banquet for us that was very elegant. They also honored us by presenting medals to us that night. We were treated royally.
Our trip to Korea lasted two weeks and we had a delightful time. The highlight of our tour of Korea was the Korean War Memorial. It is a large area and the grounds are pristine. We got to see the formal Changing of the Guard. The soldiers were outstanding. Their uniforms were of the highest military order. This was something I will always remember.
South Korea is a very strong nation. Their industrial growth has surpassed all expectations with a Gross National Product of 1.3 trillion in 2009. As an example, they are out-producing countries like Canada, Australia, Belgium and Argentina. The South Korean government has implemented an educational system that is very advanced compared to other Asian countries. Test scores of South Korean students confirm this.
The United States is doing the right thing by continuing to have a military presence in South Korea. This confirms that we support them and will stand with them if they are attacked. This also signals other countries that the United States has strong commitments there. The United States and South Korea have recently ratified new and stronger trade agreements designed to strengthen both countries' economy.
The Blur of War
As I am writing about my combat now, it seems like I have a deeper understanding of what was going on personally with me while I was in Korea. I had really never considered the concept of war when I was growing up. I read about World War II and saw newspaper articles about it, but I had no idea that I would ever be involved in combat. The politics of the Korean War never entered into my realm of thought. I was there to save my own ass and the Marines that were there with me. I received the Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds received in combat on 10 June 1951, but I did not get the actual medal and certificate until I was home and discharged.
At the time that I was actually in deep combat, my thoughts were distorted with fear and denial. All of the death and killing going on around me clouded my thoughts even to the point of, "Am I really here? Is this actually going on? How did I ever get myself into this?" When I was doing the things I had to do to stay alive, part of my psyche was lost or had gone away. You could call it the blur of war. To eventually make it out alive is a God-send, but I have had to work hard to repair my broken mind and to try to make it back to the place I came from. I know some Marines that made it back but could never adjust to a life they once had.
The term "The Forgotten War" is not well received by veterans from around the world who served in Korea. When you total up the number of people that were killed or wounded in that three-year war, and the number of people that were displaced during that period, you wonder why someone would put that tag on it. Maybe the war was not covered in the news that well. Figures show that the war in Korea was one of the most violent wars of modern times. Someone called the war in Korea "a police action." This term did not reflect the scope of our presence there.
Temple of Lost Souls
I have to tell you what I saw when I was at the Veteran's Clinic in Superior, Wisconsin. I call it the Temple of Lost Souls. I saw old soldiers sitting there with blank expressions on their faces. All of them were once proud military men with important jobs: machine gunners, pilots, tank drivers, Sea Bees, rifleman--all of them with a military history lost. They were heroes at one time. They answered the call, went into the military, and did what was asked of them. They went through Hell.
This is an example of where they stand now. I asked an adult son of one of the vets in the room what his dad did in the military. His answer was, "I really don't know. He may have served in Europe." I asked him what his job was. He replied, "I don't know." What a sad thing it is. Here are old veterans that put their life on the line, and now they are forgotten men with lost souls because no one cares what they did--not even their children. Once proud soldiers now sitting there with blank looks on their faces. Their history lost in time and old age. Their stories will never be told or remembered because they are in the Temple of Lost Souls. How it hurts me to see them.
At My Side Always
While writing the stories of things that I remember after 60 years and reflecting on my memories of the Korean War, I thought how personal they are to me. I wondered, "Why should I tell my stories and maybe open myself up to criticism?" But after talking to friends and others about how important it is to get the stories out, I decided to go for it and do the best I could. There are, however, some personal stories that I cannot part with because of my religious beliefs. Others I do not care to write about for personal reasons that will have to stay with me. Some were not written about because they could hurt others.
Once I decided to do the interview that resulted in this memoir, my resolve from the very beginning was to be as straight forward and honest as I could. Anything less would defeat the purpose. As I wrote my experiences in answer to the interview questions, my memory heightened, bringing back things that I had forgotten about. I have to admit that some of those memories brought back the pain and hurt to me.
I have talked to friends over the years about Korea, but I learned very soon after I came home not to get too graphic about my personal involvement in war. When I talk to non-veterans about Korea, I keep it light. I talk about dates, conditions, times, who I served with, or how long I served. I keep the combat part out. I have only talked about combat with people who were there. One of the reasons combat veterans do not talk to non-combatants is that they do not understand the magnitude of what goes on in war. It may also be that it hurts us to talk about the bad things.
This memoir has been about my own personal experiences in Korea. As such, my readers have seen the words "I" and "Me" many times throughout this manuscript. Before I close, however, I want everyone to know how important it was to me during my year in Korea to know that I had the support of all Marines, knowing that they would stay with me and be at my side always, under all conditions and without equivocation. The training I received in the United States Marine Corps, particularly weapons training, was a strong factor in my surviving the war, but I also learned from the very beginning that Marines work as a team. You never leave a Marine that is in trouble.
A war hero is a soldier that has fought off his fear and is able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the men of his unit and to continue to fire his weapon at the enemy and to be able to keep reloading and keep firing until he has defeated his enemy. This is a real hero. This guy should receive the badge of courage with oak leaf clusters. This guy does not have to be written up and his actions do not have to be reviewed by anyone. This guy earned the badge of courage with the men of his unit as witnesses. They are the Brotherhood of Warriors.
The 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines received three Presidential Unit Citations while I served with them in Korea. The dates are 21 through 25 April, 16 May through 30 June, and 11-12 September 1951. A unit receiving a Presidential Unit Citation must display such Esprit des Corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions so as to set itself apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign. I am honored to have been a part of the defense of Korea and to have served my country.
The Final Inspection
He hoped his shoes were shining,
The Marine squared his shoulders and said,
And sometimes I've been violent,
Though at times I shook with fear..
If you have a place for me here, Lord,
There was a silence all around the throne,
' Step forward now Marine,
Walter - 13 December 2010