|Back to "Memoirs" Index page|
William James Fisher
"As to acts of bravery in Korea, being there was brave enough. Anyone who's been in combat is brave. It's hard to distinguish between those who are the bravest and those who are doing their job, especially those World War II veterans. They knew what they were doing."
- William James Fisher
I was born in Wilmar, California, which is near Los Angeles, on September 16, 1927. My father was Robert Joseph Fisher and my mother was Atala Arvizu. My father had been a World War I veteran, and he had been gassed, so he actually didn't work. He died in 1933 at the veteran's hospital here in Tucson. My mother was a widow with six children. As you know, 1933 was during the Depression. My mother then received a veteran's pension, and we were "swimming in money".
My oldest brother is Robert Fisher. The rest of my family includes Gilbert Fisher, myself, Henry Fisher, Oscar Fisher, and Norma Fisher. I went to school at Davis Elementary, Safford Junior High, and Tucson High School. I actually went to high school for two years. In those days, high school was 10th, 11th, and 12th grade, but I did the three years in two. I wanted to graduate before my 18th birthday so I could enlist in the service. During those wartime days, I had various jobs--delivering papers, working in a shoe store, and working in grocery stores. The last two years of high school, I worked at Consumers Grocery Store. I started out as the package boy, but then they made me a sales person.
During World War II, my oldest brother, who was two years older than me, was a Marine. He spent more than two years overseas from 1943 to 1946. After the war ended, they took the Marines to China, so he was in China for about four or five months. My brother Gilbert was in the Army, and on his first battle in Okinawa, he got shot in the leg and became a disabled veteran. My brother Oscar joined the service—the Air Force—in 1948, and spent 26 years as an airman before he retired from the Air Force.
I remember that while World War II was on, there were many activities to support the war. Some people picked cotton. We used to have drives to pick up iron and copper and things that were needed for the war effort. Sometimes they picked us up in the morning at school, drove us to the cotton fields, and we picked all day. It was like a picnic, but we picked cotton. It was good because we all wanted to help this war effort.
I volunteered for service in the Navy about the 10th of August in 1945. (If the truth were known, Hirohito found out I had enlisted, and he then surrendered on August 15--at least that's what I tell myself!) I enlisted in the Navy because my girlfriend thought I would look real cute in a Navy uniform. Actually, what I wanted to do was join the Air Force, but sometimes women have strong powers over us, so I ended up in the Navy. I didn't have anybody else joining with me at this time. It was in August and like I said, I had been going to school for 24 months and did three years in two years of school so that I could enlist. I had my mother sign my papers about the 10th of August, but I didn't actually get called in until the 26th of August. That's when I went to boot camp.
I went first from Tucson to Phoenix for a physical and preliminaries. Then a group of about eight or nine of us went by bus from Phoenix to San Diego boot camp. We got picked up by a military police group when we got to the bus depot. The first day at the naval base was not hectic, but they gave us physicals, shots, a haircut, and clothing. Some of it fit and some of it didn't. They fed us, and then we ended up in some tents as our first sleeping assignment.
When we first got to boot camp, we were given our clothing. If anybody had any kind of bottled perfume, shaving lotion or whatever, those things were taken away from them. The same went for our clothing. We could either send them home or just leave them there. When we had been in boot camp for a while, the first thing that we did when we had the chance was to buy some aftershave lotion in the PX.
As far as the camp itself, we started out in tent camps and we were there most of the time. It was September and October and the weather was fine. We didn't have any trouble with either insects or pests. It was hot in the daytime and cool at nighttime. About the seventh or eighth week, we moved into a two-story barracks. It was great. We even had clean sheets.
When we first arrived at boot camp, we had to take proficiency tests. I guess they wanted to know what our IQ was. I thought I did well. I also took the EDDY test because I had taken some physics and chemistry in high school. At that time, I also had applied for flight training. The word came out that they had a need for pilots and high school graduates could apply, which I did. I got my transcripts back and everything else. But for some reason or other, they said my scores for high school were not high enough. I was in the Navy for about two weeks in this pre-flight training school, but then I got bounced out. Those were about the only two tests that I took while I was in boot camp.
The drill instructors in the Navy were a little bit different than those in the Marine Corps. In the Navy, they were just instructors. One of them was a chief petty officer who was in charge, and then he had junior enlisted men helping him out. They were usually guys who had just finished their training who were selected or who elected to help run the platoons. They were only a few months ahead of us as far as being in the Navy. They did a pretty good job. Some of them—the chiefs, of course, had been veterans of World War II. So were many of the officers. But the ones who were actually in charge of us, which would be corresponding to a Marine drill instructor, I guess, were these young sailors who had volunteered to be instructors. As far as appreciating our DIs or instructors, they were okay. In fact, one of them, Anderson, came in as a corpsman in Astoria, Oregon, after I was transferred there. As far as black recruits, I didn't see any while I was in San Diego boot camp.
They kept us for about ten weeks. Our training was mostly drilling, going to some classes, learning some nautical terms, identifying aircraft, and identifying ships. Some of it was in classrooms, and other times it was out in the field. It was pretty interesting. They had mock-ups there to help us to train. We also had training in fire drills. We got out there with hoses and we put out fires. We were required to watch a lot of films in boot camp. Some of the films had to do with the identification of planes—our planes and Japanese planes--as well as ships. We also had some films on firefighting, as well as films on venereal disease. The ones that really stand out in my mind are the ones on how to identify planes. We also went through a gas-filled room to get some feeling for wearing a gas mask and to find out what it was like in a room when there was smoke. All in all, it was pretty satisfactory training. At one point in time, we also had training at Camp Elliott with a rifle. We snapped in and got a chance to shoot a few rounds. But that was about the only weapons training we ever got. We did have mockups for "ak ak" guns and 20 millimeter guns on the simulated structures they had for ships, but we didn't get a chance to fire any of those.
We got up about 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning to "shit, shower, shampoo" and everything else. Then we went to meals. We marched out of the drill hall and down to the mess hall. At that time there were several thousand men in boot camp, but the chow line went real fast. The food was great and there was enough of it. Everybody was well-satisfied. Sometimes we had food that none of us had ever tasted before, like eggplant and succotash and a few other things. The guys who used to suffer the most were the Jewish guys when they had bacon or ham and things of that nature. Those are foods, of course, which they didn't eat. But there was a lot of ice cream and a lot of desserts and all the milk you could drink, so that was good.
Our instructors were not really strict. They did jump us around trying to get us into shape mentally and physically. But Navy boot camp was not as rough and tough as Marine Corps boot camp, as I understand it. I never went to Marine Corps basic training, so I can't really compare the two. But my Navy training was good. There wasn't too much corporal punishment. The most was if someone misbehaved, talked back, or something like that. Then they made the recruit being punished pick up his sea bag and run around the grinder a couple of times. I was only personally punished one time, and that was after boot camp. I'll explain what happened a little later in this memoir. We rarely saw any unit or platoon being disciplined as a whole. Discipline was usually done on an individual basis. We didn't have any troublemakers actually in the unit I was with. The guys were pretty squared away. Most of them were high school graduates. It was 1945 and they were pretty well-behaved people.
We did get the chance to go to church and were encouraged to do so. I went there. I had been baptized, but not confirmed. When the chaplain found this out, he gave me some lessons and then one night he sent me and one other person to go see the bishop. The bishop did the confirmation, and the bishop even gave us $5.00 to go have dinner, so that was real good.
Navy camp was really clean. It was located right next to the Marine Corps MCRD. Every morning we could hear the Marines out there doing calisthenics, marching, yelling, singing, and doing all kinds of things that Marines do. We were a little bit different. We were not quite so boisterous, but it was a clean atmosphere. During the evenings when we had some free time, we could go down to the slop chute and get ice cream and things of that nature.
I don't remember anyone not making it in boot camp or basic training at San Diego Naval Training Station. The only one I remember was a kid who left the first week we were there. Apparently he had applied for Annapolis and made it. He was only there for a week when he got orders to report to Annapolis.
Boot camp was actually fun. It wasn't too much of a problem, especially after we left boot camp and came home on leave. I was not really sorry I had joined the Navy. It was a good experience. When you're 17 or 18 years old, anything like this is great. It's just something to do. The hardest thing in boot camp, I guess, was in being away from home and my girlfriend for two months. But there was really nothing hard about Navy boot camp. When I first joined the Navy, I weighed maybe 120 pounds. In fact, I thought I might be too light. I was only 5'5". My boss at the grocery store told me to eat a lot of bananas and water. I fattened up a little bit in boot camp. By the time I left there, I felt real nice and trim because of the good physical training that I had never had before.
Once we completed our training, all we did was get ready to go home on leave. We spent about three or four days after our training to help the new recruits coming in to get their equipment. We also did some type of kitchen work, like cleaning pots, serving mess, and things of that nature. Then came the day we were through, and they told us how to go home. In my case, instead of taking a bus, I had to take a train, which took twice as long. But the Navy took care of all the details for us.
I went home on leave and spent Thanksgiving with my family. I wore my uniform all the time—still proud of it. At this time, there were a lot of veterans coming back from their World War II service, so it wasn't really that much of a novelty seeing someone in a uniform. I met some friends who had been in the service who were older than I was. I liked showing off being in that Navy uniform.
After being at home for about ten days, I had to go back to San Diego to the recruit depot and wait for an assignment. While I was waiting, I worked in a laundry cleaning blankets and things of that nature. The only time I was ever punished in the Navy happened at this time when I was still in San Diego. I went to visit some friend of mine. I returned late for chow so I went to another chow hall instead of my regular one. Some chief stopped me. I guess he recognized me because of my hair or something. But he stopped me and he asked me what I was doing there. I said I was going to eat. And he said, "Well, you can't eat here. You don't belong here." I got a captain's mast for eating in the wrong chow hall. That was sort of strange. While we were at captain's mast this little kid was standing next to me and he whispered to me, "Hey, you got any cigarettes?" I did, and I gave him a couple of them. I don't know what his problem was, but like I said, I was there because I got accused of eating in the wrong chow hall. I think they were going to give me a week's punishment or restriction or something like that, but it didn't come through because the next day I left for corps school.
One of the things that they had asked us before we left boot camp was what we wanted to do while we were in the Navy. I chose photography or corpsman. The reason I chose corpsman was because I had this friend who had been a corpsman in the Pacific, and he told me a lot about it. It sounded like it was something that would be great to do. As far as photography, I had taken some photography courses in high school, and I thought that that would be interesting.
Naval Corpsman Training
I don't know how I got chosen for corps school. Maybe they just flipped a coin or something and said, "You, you, and you." I remember the day I got pulled up. We lined up to be assigned to schools or to our next assignment. I thought I might be going to photography school because there was a group going to Anacostia, Maryland. But no, I didn't get chosen that day. The next day when we lined up again, I got chosen for corpsman school. I knew quite a few of those chosen for corpsman school who didn't want to go. They were actually disappointed that they had been chosen to go to corps school. They either wanted to go to sea to be seamen or whatever. But anyway, they were disappointed.
As far as any pre-med training, I didn't have any. I don't think I even knew how to put a bandage on, but it was something I figured I could learn. At one time, of course, like everybody else, I wanted to be a doctor. You know, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Because of corps school, I did get some medical training at least. I ended up at corps school in San Diego. Actually, it was right across the street from Main Side Hospital there in San Diego. It was in Balboa Park. That's where the lions and tigers were once upon a time. The zoo had been taken over by the Navy hospital corps, and that's where we went to school and got the training. And when I went there, I was satisfied with my training.
It lasted for about eight weeks. We had classroom studies—mostly different materials such as anatomy, physiology, medicine, pharmacology. You name it. Most of it was lectures, although there was also some hands on, especially when we were doing bandages or things of that nature. The instructors were mostly either veterans with the rank of second class or first class. Some, however, were chiefs who had been in the service for a while. Actually, a lot of them were waiting to be discharged. I learned that one of them was actually a pharmacist. For some reason or other the Navy didn't give out commissions to pharmacists. I couldn't understand that.
The training was great. Like I said, we were in Balboa Park. There must have been a thousand of us, I guess. We had beds that were stacked six feet high. One of the things that we noticed right away was the caliber of the instructors. The capability of most of them was pretty high. They had high IQ's. They were guys who were well-motivated. Just by talking to them you could tell they were intelligent people.
Some of those who didn't want to be corpsmen fought it badly. I think that they would have taken a court martial to get out. They didn't want it. I know a couple of times they went up for captain's mast. I think they finally did get them out of corps school because they were so completely opposed to being a corpsman. Most of the time, however, the Navy didn't care what you wanted. It was what the Navy wanted. It was unusual that a couple of them actually got out of corps school.
During the training in Balboa Park, we got liberty. Both ways. We either went out the main gate or out the "back gate," which was under the fence. We were right next to downtown San Diego. Sometimes, for whatever reason, I think they had port or starboard liberty. If you wanted to leave, you could go out the back way. Once in a while somebody got caught doing that, which wasn't too good.
While I was in corps school, my brother came back to the States from China. I think I found out through my mother, who told me he was on a ship or something like that. I read in the paper that this ship was coming in to San Diego, so I went looking for my brother at MCRD. They said, "No, he's not here. He's up at Pendleton." Then I got a bus to Pendleton and I finally got down to the main gate in Pendleton and told them who I was looking for. The guy said, "Well, he's down at 14 area." So I said great, and I started walking in. The guard said, "Where are you going?" I said, "Well, I'm going down to 14 area." He said, "Walking??" I didn't know how big Pendleton was. I'd never been there. The next time a car stopped by there, the guard asked the driver if he was going to 14 area. The guy said yes. The guard asked him, "Do you want to take this corpsman with you?" The guy said, "Sure." So that's how I got into Pendleton. I saw my brother. I hadn't seen him since he left in 1943. We had a real good time. In fact, when he left there and was discharged in San Diego, we were able to spend a couple of days together, and then he came home.
Another thing that happened while I was in corps school was that I got cat fever. That's what they called something when they didn't know what it was. I had to go to the hospital. I was there about a week as a patient. That was good because while I was waiting to be reassigned, it gave me a chance to visit the hospital and see some operating procedures. But as far as working in a hospital while we were in corps school, we didn't get the opportunity. When I got back to corps school, they asked me if I wanted to start all over again or continue with the group. I said I wanted to continue with the group. I graduated with them.
Once we graduated from corps school, myself and—gee, there must have been fifteen or twenty of us—were put on trains and sent to Los Angeles. From LA, I ended up in Astoria, Oregon, at the Naval Hospital as my first assignment. How prepared was I for it? I'm not too sure if you would call it "prepared." I remember the first time in the ward we were taking care of the patient and the doctor said, "Give me some 4x4s." I took the lid off this glass jar and put my hand in there. The doctor just jumped all over me because I had ruined the sterilization. After a while, it became routine. The nurses were nice. The staff was nice. The doctors. The patients. It worked out well, and I learned a lot. I ended up in a dirty surgery ward. Since a lot of people were getting discharged (this was about April or May 1946), there were a lot of openings. I was then assigned to run the EKGs and the BMR machines. These were situated where the X-ray department was. And that's what I did for the next three months. I specialized on the BMR (basic metabolism rate) machine and the EKG (electrocardiograph). I also learned a little bit about doing some x-raying.
We used to have movies in Astoria. One of the things that happened during my stay there was apparently the projector operator got discharged. So they asked me if I wanted to be the projectionist and I said, sure. That projectionist job paid $30 extra per month. Man, that was like money from heaven. I did that for about three months.
Duty on Guam
Astoria was great—Seaside, Portland—we had some great times there. But in December of 1946, I was flown to Seattle, Washington, Pier 91. I spent a few days there, and was flown from Pier 91 to San Francisco. I spent Christmas and New Years in San Francisco. Luckily, I had this old girlfriend, and she had a family there, so I was in pretty good hands for those days. In early January 1947, we shipped out to famous Guam, Marianas Island. I spent 18 months on Guam. Wonderful place. I really enjoyed it. When I got there, I started to work somewhere on a dependency ward. Things worked real good and I learned a lot there. Working with dependents was a lot lighter duty than working in the regular wards.
One Sunday when most of the visitors came, we had this 14 or 15-month old boy who apparently had drank some diesel in a coke bottle. He was there as a patient and we were waiting for his parents to show up. I decided I was going to give him a bath. I got a large tub and put in some warm water. I was giving him a bath when all of a sudden my commander came by and said, "Fisher, what are you doing?" I said, "Well, I'm giving this child a bath." And he said, "Who told you to?" I told him, "No one. I just thought it would be great." "Okay." Boy, I thought I was going to be in hot water. I gave the child a bath, his parents came, and everything was fine. The next morning, the commander called me in and said, "You like to take care of babies?" I said, "Fine. I don't have any problem with it." So he said, "How would you like to work in a maternity ward? They are going to build one right next to the dependent's ward." He said it would do wonders, delivering babies. So I said fine.
I became the only corpsman working in the maternity ward. All the rest were doctors and nurses. Actually, I ran the place for well over a year. I did all the autoclaving, the ordering, making the packs, the cleanups. I even did some of the helping in the delivery room by being a floating nurse. Sometimes when the doctor and I were the only ones there, I even administered some gas. It was a real nice independent duty, and I thought it was great. I really enjoyed it, and the work was interesting. Sometimes I got called out in the middle of the night, but it was real rewarding with the kids. We had one cesarean, one set of twins, a couple of stillborns, and one breech. It ran the gamut. I guess the total was about 100 babies all the time I was working on the maternity ward.
I got invited to the weddings in the villages when the gals found out that I worked in the maternity ward. They invited me because if anything happened in the village, I would be there to help them out. And then I'd always go with a lot of iron pills and a lot of vitamin pills and give them to the natives. It became a real nice way to meet people. Guam was real nice. Nice people. I had the advantage that I spoke Spanish. Some of the old timers also spoke Spanish since Guam belonged to Spain until 1898. That's when we acquired it during the Spanish-American war. Any of the old timers in their 40s or 50s could speak Spanish quite well. So the fact that I could speak it gave me another key to get into the villages and meet people.
I must say, working in Guam turned out real good. Those months I spent on Guam running the maternity ward were probably the most gratifying times of my life, especially as a young 20-21 year old individual. In fact, I even got offered a job by one of the construction companies to stay there as an aid man to help them out. But no, I wanted out of the Navy when my time was up, so I didn't stay there. In fact, at that time I got a Dear John letter like everybody else. I was down in the dumps. About this time the commander came to me and said that I had to take a test to become a corpsman second-class. But I said no, I didn't want to do that. I was afraid that if I did that then I'd want to stay, but I actually didn't want to stay. I wanted to go home and go to school.
Originally, corpsmen were Pharmacists Mates before and during World War II. One of the interesting things that happened at this time was that about 1948 they changed it from Pharmacists Mate to Hospitalman. Originally we wore the red cross on our uniform, but then we switched to the caduceus. And then it divided between corpsmen and dental technicians. I think that besides the caduceus, the uniforms of dental technicians have a D for dental.
That Fatal Mistake
I left Guam in August of 1948 and got discharged after 2 years, 11 months, 27 days. My brother Bob was a Marine who had helped start the reserve company here in Tucson. He recruited quite a lot of them. And while I was still at home, he talked me into joining as a corpsman in the Marine Corps reserve. It was a "fatal mistake." I was a 3rd class corpsman, attached to the Marine Corps Easy Co., 13th Infantry Battalion, USMC Reserves. I went to a few meetings, but I never did go to boot camp or summer camp or anything like that, although I got my clothes and learned a little about the Marine Corps ways of doing things. We used to meet every Thursday for two hours in those days. That was a chore sometimes. After the meeting, we got together in some bar and boozed it up.
I went to school but couldn't cut it, so I dropped out. I also went to visit relatives in Mexico City. When I came back, I worked for a while in a fish market and went back to school. I did okay. Then in 1949, I took the civil service test for the post office. I passed it. I worked that Christmas of 1949 at the post office. In January they offered me a full time job, but I was still in school, so I asked them to wait until the semester was over. I started working in the post office full time in February of 1950. Meanwhile, I met a nice lady and fell in love with her.
On the Fourth of July 1950, we got married. Then lo and behold, on the 20th of July, my reserve unit got activated. If I had known we were going to get activated, I don't think I would have gotten married then. I would have probably waited. The war in Korea started the 20th of June, but we didn't think anything of it. Wars are going on all the time. But come the 20th of July, we were activated. So actually, I'd been married two weeks when we got called in for active duty and had to leave for Pendleton.
I was a third class corpsman who had already been in the service. I was a veteran. They said fine, fill out the forms for dependency and whatever forms they needed us to fill out. Unfortunately, they were all Marine Corps forms. They told me to just scratch out USMC and put in Navy. That was supposed to have taken care of it—but it didn't. My wife didn't receive an allotment of money or anything until almost January of 1951 because I hadn't filled out the right forms. More on this subject later.
The other guys were asked how long they had been in the reserves—one year or two. They were also asked how many summer camps had they attended. I think if they had attended one summer camp and been in the reserves for two years, they were considered to be "trained." Those who hadn't gone to any summer camps were sent to boot camp. But a lot of the guys found this out and lied. They said they had been in two summer camps so that they could end up with all their buddies. You have to realize that at this point a lot of them had had no Marine Corps training. A lot of them were 16 or barely 17 years old. But they didn't want to be separated from their buddies. Another peculiar thing about this whole situation was that there was this rule, I think, that brothers weren't supposed to be serving in the same combat zone. My brother Bob ended up in the 1st Marines in Korea, and I ended up in the 5th in Korea. There were a lot of brothers and cousins, however, who were in the same outfits. I guess they didn't screen that too well.
With no training and being young, we all started on our trip to Korea. In my case, I had no Marine Corps training. Nor did I have any field med training as a corpsman. When asked, "What did you do in the war, Dad?", my answer has always been, "I delivered babies." I didn't really know anything about field training. Corpsman schooling at Pendleton would have been nice, but I was never in combat corps school or field medical training. I certainly did need it. Even when I got to Korea, I couldn't convince anybody that I had had none. But there, of course, you were a warm body and that's all that was needed.
A lot of corpsmen didn't like it when they were assigned to the Marines. They fought it. There were disparaging remarks about shanker mechanics and things of that nature in the states. But once you are in combat, the corpsman is king. He is treated as royalty. There's nothing those guys won't do for a corpsman who cares for them. They would do anything for you--and I mean anything. My experience as a corpsman was most gratifying. They took care of me. If I needed something, they got it for me. The reason for that is because if something happened to them, they knew that I would be there for them. And most of the corpsmen expended their life doing their best to try to take care of their men.
Trip to Korea
I checked into what date I left for Korea. It had to be about the middle of August 1950. As far as the ship, I don't remember its name, but it was an AKA I think. That's a transport ship. How many men were onboard I couldn't tell you, but it had to be a couple of thousand. They were all Marines except for the ship's company. As far as cargo, I imagine we had our own gear. Other gear I'm not too sure. I had been on a large ship before when I was in the Navy from 1945 to 1948 and I had gone from San Francisco to Guam in 1947 and came back to San Francisco in 1948. I never experienced being seasick, but I certainly saw plenty of it around me, especially the first time I went overseas. At that time, I went with the Navy, but we had a huge number of Army guys going with us. And man, you couldn't go through the gangways there because of guys laying on the floor throwing up all the time. A lot of them did get sick on our way to Korea, but not in such a great amount that one would say everybody got sick.
As far as the weather, it was pretty good sailing. Nothing to complain about. It must have taken at least ten days to cross. We left about the middle of the month and got to Kobe, Japan about the end of the month. With that many Marines, there wasn't much we could do in the line of entertainment. About the only thing we could do was play cards, play pinochle, or read books. Reading books was the thing. There were so many guys aboard ship to eat in the morning for breakfast that we would get up with a book in our hand and get in line. By the time we got through eating chow, we had to get back in line to eat lunch because if we didn't, it would take a long time to have lunch. Then when we got through with lunch. we got back in the line and then we had supper. And all this time if we had a book to read, it certainly made the time pass by.
Other than waiting in line for meals, actually not too much happened on the way across except that we didn't have any money and they wouldn't sell us things like cigarettes at the ship's store. In those days, we could buy a carton of cigarettes for 50 cents. But we didn't have money, so they didn't sell them to us. Also, the ship was real clean in the sense that there weren't any cigarette butts lying around. Guys picked them up right away if there were.
I knew some of the people aboard the ship. One was then Captain Morris Holiday. He had been our C.O. here in Tucson and we were on the same ship. I was probably one of the first ones there from Tucson, so this chief had me help him set up the sick bay. That was real good because, while we were loading and getting ready for other troops to show up, I sat in the mess hall with the ship's company. There, meals were served to you and it was great. But about two or three days out, since I was wearing a Marine Corps uniform, the chief said they wouldn't let me eat in the chow hall with the ship's company because they were all sailors. I said, "Well, I'm a sailor." And he says, "Yeh, but you're with the Marines," so I had to move out with the other guys. Meanwhile, I could sleep in the sick bay. It was real nice with clean sheets and everything else.
We did not go straight to Korea. We had a layover in Japan. We arrived in Kobe, Japan, maybe about the last day of August. We got there early in the morning and then this huge typhoon hit us. I mean it really hit us hard. A couple of the other ships that were moored there started slipping off their mooring and almost collided. It was really bad and everybody was really scared. That night we pulled liberty. How some of them got back, I'll never know because they were drunker than a hoot owl. Some of them came back sick. It was a nice introduction to Japan.
The next day, other medical corpsmen and I came off the ship and we got onto another ship. We were going to pull out the next morning for Korea. I met a friend of mine from Tucson. Actually, he wasn't a friend. He was just a kid who said he was from Tucson and he knew that I was from Tucson. I asked him if he had any money and he said sure, what did I need. I said, "Well, I want to buy some cigarettes." He gave me $2.00 and I bought four cartons of cigarettes with it. I took them back aboard ship and gave them to my brother Bob who was aboard one of the other ships there. That was good because, like I said, most of the guys didn't have any money and didn't have any cigarettes. It was a nice gift.
We left port and got to Korea in the early morning through the islands there. The sea air was great, but the first impression I got of Korea was the smell of, well, actually--shit. That's the only way I can express it. It's hard to combat that smell. But that's how strong it was. We got used to the smell after a while, but it took a couple of days.
Brigade in the Perimeter
When we got to Korea, we unloaded the ship and I was assigned to the brigade. It was staying there on the wharf. I met my Lieutenant, Byron Magness. I found out much later that he had been a pilot in World War II. It seemed strange that in Korea he was in charge of a platoon, but I learned that after he was discharged following World War II, he went to the Marines Officers Training Platoon Leaders Course and came out 2nd Lieutenant. Lieutenant Magness stayed in the Marine Corps and became a full colonel, at least he was when he retired. The 1st Sergeant, who was a gunny sergeant actually, was Max Stein. He was real good. I actually saw Stein years later. He made Warrant Officer. I saw him at Pendleton one time. The commanding officer of the unit was Poul Pedersen. Pedersen was a sharp looking Marine. Tall, thin, mustache, well-mannered, soft-spoken, talked with authority, and knew what he was doing. He had been in combat during World War II on the islands. He was a well thought of officer. His manners were a little bit off, but he was competent. Captain Jones also became a colonel and he retired. Poul Pedersen became a colonel and he retired from the Marine Corps. Some of the other people didn't stay in but they were very well-trained, good officers. They led. I would suggest that the only thing I ever saw as far as Marine officers were competent officers. I never found any that I would call not good or not able to do their job. I remember that when I first got to the company, the lieutenant looked at me and said, "Get a haircut." That was a nice introduction to the real Marines.
I couldn't explain to them what I was doing because I didn't have any weapons or nothing. I did have my first aid Unit One. The first thing the lieutenant wanted me to do was get a weapon. I didn't know that corpsmen carried a weapon, but he said yes. He found an old carbine with no spring and he gave that to me to carry. I remember that there was a vendor selling holsters for .45s. Why I decided to buy one I'll never know, but I did buy one made out of leather. It was a junky little thing, but it made me feel important. I thought maybe one of these days I would procure a .45 and use that instead of the carbine that had no spring in it. I couldn't have fired it even if I wanted to because of that missing spring. Also, I had fired weapons when I was in the Navy—an O3 on the rifle range--but that was the only shooting I'd ever done.
After joining the company, I went looking for the medical company and talked to the doctors about what to do. Some of the corpsmen hated it at the beginning. Afterwards, I think most of them would serve again. But there was a lot of difference between working in a hospital—clean sheets, good chow—and being a corpsman out in the field--being a grunt. Quite a difference. We developed the esprit des corps that the Marines have only because of the way that they treated us. Remember, I'd never had any training as far as field training with the Marine Corps. But I did know enough about medicine to get bandages and whatever else I needed to take care of the troops.
We went around town. It was noisy. We could hear some shooting on the far end of town. Pusan was a large place and there was a lot of activity. Korean people were all over the place. Every once in a while we'd find the guys lined up at this one little shack. Inside there were two or three girls doing their thing. I guess every person in Pusan was a native. The Koreans were all refugees because it was packed with a lot of people. It's a sea port, but imagine all the people that had come from as far north as Seoul, all bunched up there in Pusan. As far as having any Korean military or non-military attached to our units, we didn't have any yet.
There were a lot of Army guys there, too. They were in the Pusan Perimeter—the last spot where the United States had any troops. They had been run out of the rest of Korea, and everybody was bunched up in Pusan trying to survive. Who they were or what they were doing, I don't know. I didn't really have too much contact with them. I never saw any animosity between the Army and the Marine Corps. For one thing, we didn't really mix. The Marines were in one area, the Army was in another, and the Navy was in another, so there wasn't too much mingling except when we went into town.
We were stationed at the docks. During the first night in Korea it was strange because we were on this wharf and we could see huge rats. I mean, these were the biggest rats running all over the place. Also, for the first time I had the chance to try C-rations. I had never had any. They were pretty good. After a while I developed a taste for certain things like beans and frankfurters. I wanted to avoid such things as ham hocks and ham. They were lousy. Packets had chocolates and cookies, and lo and behold, one of the packets that I got had a packet of Lucky Strikes with a green. If you remember in World War II the slogan that Lucky Strikes had was, "Green went to war." They switched the packs from green to white, and in fact, they're still white now. So you can imagine how old these C-rations were. They had to be done before 1942.
The next day, we had a nice breaking in by going on a 20-mile march to I think Masan, a city out in the boondocks away from Pusan. It was tough. Luckily I had been working in the post office for about six months, so walking was no problem except that my shoes were pretty worn down. But I made it. I was able to keep up with them. And as a corpsman I could walk towards the front and towards the back. I had no really set place in the platoon. I managed to survive that first day of marching. We weren't close enough to the Naktong river to see it because we were still in the Pusan Perimeter except for that one walk to Masan.
After this training we went back to the docks, and they had some instruction on machine guns and M1s and things that I had never been exposed to before. I sat in and listened to them and learned about the tactics. The guy that really tried to help me out the most was Sergeant Stein. He was an old Marine gunny sergeant who had seen a lot of action. He was real helpful in trying to break me in. But I couldn't convince them that I had had no field training. They thought I was kidding or something. The other thing was that I was the only Reserve. All the rest were guys from all over the United States who had been brought to Pendleton. They were Regulars. It was a little odd to find one Reservist among the hundred and some guys there in the company. Those raw Regulars had been trained so they knew what they were doing. Everybody was just waiting to find out what we were going to do. There were some old salts in my units because they were Regulars. As I mentioned, Sergeant Stein had been in World War II. There was this PFC Smitty who had been in the Marines about eight or nine years and he was still a private. And there were some other people there who had been in the Marines four or five years. But I think a lot of them had signed up maybe in 1948 and 49 and this was going to be their first war zone. Before Korea, they had been stationed in different places all over the United States.
As for me, to tell you the truth, I didn't think my medical training would be enough once I got to Korea. Remember that I had spent 20 months on Guam. My answer to, "What did you do in World War II, Dad?", was that I helped deliver 100 babies in the maternity ward. I was the only enlisted man there. The others were all doctors and nurses. So that was my medical training. That I could do. But as far as field training, taking care of wounds…. Common sense is what I'd learned at corps school. It was the only thing that I had going. There was a course at Pendleton where they trained Navy corpsman for combat, but I never was able to get that schooling. I had seen dead people before coming to Korea when I was on Guam. One time I remember walking down to one of the sheds on Guam and a Navy guy had apparently fallen off of a ship. He had been in the water quite a number of days because he was bloated and his body must have been about two feet high. Fat, dark, black skin. Also, we had people die when I worked on the hospital wards in Astoria, Oregon. We had had veterans from the death march in Bataan. We also had guys that had come in off of ships and once in a while one of them died. On Guam we had the same thing. A couple of civilian dependents died in the maternity ward. So death wasn't something new to me.
The weather in August in Korea and the first of September was hot and humid. It didn't really affect most people there because they were used to it by then. And as I said, the guys that I was with were all Regulars and they could hold their own. What we did do in Korea was pass out salt capsules to the Marines so they could stand the heat. If there was anything wrong with the weather and they got dehydrated or something like that, the first thing to do was to get canteens of water and soak them all up. But the weather there at this time wasn't really all that bad.
My personal role as far as taking care of casualties there was nil. We didn't have any. Not yet anyway. About all I ever did was once in a while get a chance to go down to the medical battalion and talk to the doctors to get some idea about what to do. We were still using sulpha for wounds, and we had the morphine surettes to inject. I got some ointments--something for calluses on the feet because the guys sometimes got bad feet--and I got iodine. I gathered up the normal stuff: bandages, ace bandages, and anything that would be useful to stop someone from bleeding.
As far as the enemy in Korea, at the time of my arrival we weren't out there in the zone where the enemy was surrounding us. We were in Pusan and the enemy was still miles away. My company didn't engage the enemy in the Pusan perimeter, so I didn't have a chance to look at any of the enemy there. We weren't in any position to meet any. We were actually just in a staging area getting ready. Our unit wasn't assigned to any specific area for defense or for going after the enemy. I guess by that time preparations were being made for the Inchon Landing, although we didn't know about it at that time. Since we didn't have any reason to be out where the battles were, we didn't have any air support or artillery or tanks in the area fighting. There were some there that were being cleaned or armored, or getting all their ammunition ready. Again, why they were doing that, we didn't know at that time.
We finally loaded aboard ship, and our designation was changed from the Brigade to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.
I guess in a sense I was like everybody else in that I thought war was like the image of John Wayne. But that changed very soon. When we left Pusan aboard ship, we didn't know where we were going. We didn't find out exactly where we were going to go until almost a day or two--well, maybe three days--before we hit Inchon because by then they had classes anticipating where we were going to land, who was going to be on our left and our right, what wave we were going to be in, what to expect, and what our objective was when we made the landing.
During these training sessions, I learned a lot about what they did in the Marines. I listened to all of them because I didn't have any training to help me. I had to do everything by on-the-job training. One of things that we knew was that we were going to have to take ladders because part of Inchon had a wall on it. There is a huge river that empties into the sea at Inchon and if you go in at low tide it's all mud for miles. So you have to come in at high tide so that you can have the landing ships come in close to the shore, and then you have to climb over the wall there at the beach. To do this they constructed ladders so we could climb over the wall. They taught me how to use a net. I'd never been down a net with full gear, and all the corpsmen took a stretcher with them as well as a full pack. It was different.
I don't remember the name of the ship that took us from Pusan to Inchon. It took us a couple of days at least to get from Pusan to Inchon and I remember that we waited around to convoy with all the other ships that were going to make a landing. Most of the people going to make the Inchon landing were from Japan since most of the units had come across the Pacific and gone to Camp Otsu to train for the invasion. The Marines who were there in Pusan were only a couple of ships at the most, so that we had to join up to make the landing.
When we woke up in the morning to make the landing, there were hundreds and hundreds of ships and all the shelling and all the planes and everything else. That part was just like the movies. Very interesting. The kinds of ships over there, you name it, we had them. We had destroyers. We had aircraft carriers because we had a lot of planes in the area. About the only thing that we didn't see there was submarines, but then I don't doubt that we had those there, too. But there must have been hundreds of ships--all kinds. And we had planes in the air all the time. Before we got there they'd been apparently bombarding that and Wolmi-do for days.
I don't know what other troops participated in the invasion. I would suggest that at that point it was just the American troops. As far as the tide, like I said, we had to wait until it was at high tide, otherwise we'd be bogged down in the mud on the river and it would be real tough to try to do anything. To get off the ship we had to come off of it with ladders and come off with stretchers. We went up, met, and got into the landing barges or LSTs or whatever they were and we rendezvoused, making circles out there in the ocean until we got in line. After the waves had gone in, we came in. What wave we came in, I don't really know. They did brief us on these things aboard ship but not being too Marine oriented at that point, most of the things were above me. I didn't really know what an invasion was like or what to expect. I just remember getting aboard a landing craft and heading toward the beach and then rendezvousing with the other crafts and making a wave. But we weren't the first wave.
The weather was great for a landing. Great for fighting. Great for dying. The enemy resistance wasn't too big. In fact, it was less than we expected. There were a couple of kids in our company that did get killed. We also had a couple that were wounded, but I only took care of one or two wounded around this time period, and I guess it was when we were going through the city street fighting and going up to the hill near Seoul. That's when they got shot.
When we got there and crossed the stone wall, our objective was the cemetery. There wasn't too much for me to do as a corpsman on the day of the Inchon Landing. Everything was running smoothly for us. Some of the other platoons—the 1st Marines--landed on the wrong beach and some of them didn't land where they were supposed to, but we had no problem. We got where we were supposed to. Our objective was taken that night and secured. We got there at nighttime almost and we dug in. We didn't know where we were at except it was a cemetery. We didn't take any prisoners that night at all. Some other platoons or companies did, but we didn't. When we got up in the morning there were these huge mounds where they buried their dead, and here we were digging in next to them.
When it came to the Hollywood version of war versus the reality, reality was different. The only picture that I can think of that is as close to reality as you can get would be, "Saving Private Ryan"--the first 25 minutes of the movie where it's D-Day on the beach and all that killing. I think that's true, although our experience at Inchon wasn't that bad. We actually had a pretty easy time getting off the beach at Inchon. We didn't have any of the resistance that they had at D-Day. But I did see corpsmen taking care of some wounded. We didn't have any doctors with us as far as I could tell. Most of the doctors came in later.
Although I wasn't a seasoned combat veteran at that time, I didn't really have a problem. We weren't green troops in the sense that these were all Regulars except for me. With respect to Inchon itself, I can't remember too much. We were not really paying too much attention when we were in combat. We just tried to stay alive more than anything else, and tried to keep up with the company. That was the big part. Not bunched together, but going in the direction we were supposed to be going to reach our objective.
I saw my first enemy in Inchon. When we were going over the stone wall there, we had some guys get knocked over or wounded. The first dead Marine I saw in Korea was on the walls that day. Apparently he must have been shot going over the wall. When I went to him I touched him and he was dead, so there wasn't much I could do about it. And we were moving because the guys were trying to get up into the town. Seeing this dead Marine didn't affect me. As I mentioned, I had seen this before, so I knew what to expect. And I had seen movies on how people get killed in war, so it wasn't something that I dwelled on.
The first casualty that I took care of was one of the men in my company who had been shot in the shoulder. I took his pack off and I gave him a shot of morphine with a morphine surette. I put an M on his forehead so they knew that he had morphine. I took his pack off and bandaged up his wound and then led him to the beach where they could get him aboard ship. The other corpsman that I sort of buddied with coming from Pusan aboard ship to Inchon was a corpsman whose name I forget. I didn't see him again. In fact, I didn't see him until I got shot and I was in Japan at Otsu and he was working there. How he got there I'll never know, but I think that what happened was he must have taken some sick guys aboard ship and for some reason or another stayed there and never made it back to his unit.
Kimpo to Seoul
I should mention that I woke up on the 16th of September to celebrate my 23rd birthday. What a way to spend your birthday. We got up the hill and started walking--I guess maybe towards Seoul. From Inchon we started going into Kimpo Airport and Seoul, walking most of the time. Walk, walk, walk. During this walk we came upon a farm and somebody yelled for a corpsman. I went up and asked what was wrong. They said there was a lady going to have a baby. Ha ha. Just my speed. So I went up and there was a mamasan and a papasan and a couple of kids. And there was a lady who was going to have a baby. But she was only about seven months pregnant. There wasn't really too much that I could do. If she was ready to deliver I could have helped. But I just gave her some aspirin you know and said goodbye and we took off.
Another time we got behind a couple of tanks, moving behind them for protection. We did have some skirmishes, but not too many. Actually, the walking was very uneventful, but we could hear firing and shelling at some distance away. It took us a while to get to our objective. Hill 105 was actually where we were supposed to go. And we finally did make it. We had some skirmishes there with the enemy. Everybody hit the deck. But with the tanks there, it was pretty safe.
Most of the fighting was in the daytime. We hardly did much fighting at nighttime. We did bivouac one night, I remember. The orders were to get a platoon and go search out this radio station. That was at nighttime and that was scary. The lieutenant must have known which way it was or used a compass. It took us about five hours. When we finally did get to the station we secured it. Coming back, somebody started shooting at us. We hit the deck right away and nobody was hurt.
One of the things I also remember about our march to Seoul was that some of the guys complained about having sore feet. I tried to take care of their feet, but some of them needed to see a doctor. Some of them were pretty bad. Maybe it was because of bad shoes or they weren't used to walking. A lot of these guys were out of garrison doing office work and things of that nature, although Marines are supposed to be able to become infantryman—in fact they're always infantryman. Some of them weren't really up to snuff as far as the physical aspects of being in combat. I talked to the lieutenant and told him that they had to see a doctor. There weren't any close by, so he said when we got to Seoul then maybe I could take them to go see the doctor. Meanwhile, I tried to put iodine or something on their feet to harden them up. And I told them to make sure that they changed socks and when they rested to take their shoes off and air them because that way it would make them feel better.
I put out APCs and things of that nature. It was a real good experience as far as trying to take care of thirty some men—39 men and the officers--but I was able to do it. There was a corpsman to each platoon and there were three platoons plus a headquarters company. There were roughly about four of us. The one I remember the most is George Dunn because he was the one that I buddied with and exchanged ideas about what to do in certain situations. I remember one day we were moving ahead and we were casing the enemy. We could hear the bullets and all that. Anyway, I had an urge—a definite urge. Here we were being shot at and I could feel the bullets singing, but I had to go. I took down my pants and did No. 2. I said, if they're going to shoot me or hit me, at least I won't be all full of crap. But I think it wasn't so much that I had to go. I think I was scared, real scared. The worst part was that I sort of lost contact with the other men of the platoon. But I'll never forget that--taking my pants down and taking a good one in the middle of a combat mission.
I don't remember too much about Kimpo. After we left there we started moving again toward Seoul. On that trip we had some scrimmages, but it was mostly following tanks. Nothing really exciting happened as far as I was concerned or that I knew about. It's funny about all of this—I keep trying to remember, but there are some vacant spots in my memory. I don't remember exactly where we were at, when it was, or how long it took because, at the time, I wasn't really paying attention. All we were really worried about was a place to sleep, staying out of danger, and getting enough to eat. This was my first contact with C-rations, so that was a big thrill. There isn't too much that I can explain about what happened during this time.
Was war everything I thought it would be and more? Well, it was scary. It was a brand new experience. We weren't sure what we were doing and I didn't even exactly know where we were. I knew where Korea was, but as far as the country, I knew nothing about it. I can't even tell you I knew some history about it. I didn't. Korea was just something different.
The next day, we had a tank outfit with us. I happened to see Art Cocio and James Bocboa on the tank. They were from Tucson. I had a chance to swap stories with them. They were always asking if I'd seen my brother Bob and I said, "Well, I haven't yet." We continued walking toward Seoul.
At Hill 105, which was outside of Kimpo, we had some engagement with the enemy. But we did finally take the hill and spent the night there. Nothing too much happened that night, but the next morning we got the word that the 1st Marines were going to take our place there and we were going to move out. My brother Bob was in the 1st Marines and so were a lot of the guys from Tucson, so I decided to go over by the river and wait for them. I was sitting there on my helmet and these guys were coming across in Amtraks. When they got to the shore, all of these gung ho Marines came rushing out of them in a fighting mood. They had been told that they were going to secure this hill, not that it was already secure and that they were going to replace us. They thought they were going to have to fight their way through.
I saw Raul Reyes, Hector Leon, and a few other guys—all friends from Tucson. They said, "What are you doing here?" I said, "Waiting for you guys." I walked with them for awhile...the things that stick in your mind.... There was this burned-out enemy tank that apparently we had shot all up, and there was this Korean laying there all burnt up with his ying yang sticking up. After walking and talking with them for a while, I turned around and came back to my unit. As I passed by this same tank again, I noticed that his ying yang wasn't sticking up anymore. Some Marine had cut it off.
Liberation of Seoul
As we moved up through the main streets of Seoul, there was street fighting, planes dropping bombs all over the place, tanks all over, and the enemy firing down on us. We did have some hand-to-hand combat, but it didn't last too long. When I got to this one area, somebody yelled for corpsman from way on the other side of the street. The streets were real wide—something like Mormon towns—real wide streets and some of the buildings were burning. But somebody yelled for corpsman, so I moved up. He wasn't part of my platoon, but whenever they yell for corpsman you just move. So I ran into this one building that was burning down and there was this huge Marine about 200 some pounds with a full pack laying on the ground. He'd been shot in the shoulder. I tried to pick him up, but I couldn't. I said, "Get up, you son of a bitch. The building is burning." So he finally tried to stand up. I got him in a fireman's hold and I got him out of there. As I left the building, there was this tank in front of me, so I got behind it and started to give the Marine first aid and morphine. I figured that it was a real nice place to stop and take care of him. That's what I was doing when all of the sudden the tank moved out. Talk about getting scared. When that tank moved, I felt really small. I could hear those "zing, zing, zings" over my head, so we just laid there flat hoping nobody would hit us. Finally, a couple of guys came by with a stretcher and we pulled this Marine out of the way. It was a good moment when I knew beyond doubt that I had saved a Marine's life.
Moving out, we ended up in a school. We started to clean up and get our weapons ready and all that. We were in the yard and the Koreans started coming over to wash our clothes and try to help us out. I was going to have my field jacket taken care of. When this lady saw me, she said, "Ooh Ahh." She saw all this blood on me. She thought I had been wounded. So when I took my shirt off, I showed her that I hadn't been wounded. It wasn't my blood. They did wash our clothes and this one lady gave me a shave. That shave must have lasted me two weeks. The skin on me felt like a baby face skin. It was really nice. I'd never had a straight razor haircut or shave.
We were there for awhile and had the chance to write letters home and things of that nature before we got the orders to move. Also while I was there, this other Marine and I saw this huge building. We went into it and it was apparently some kind of headquarters like a subway going deep into the earth. We walked it for about a half hour with a flashlight. At one time there was a huge complex there that they had used for a command or something. It was built of cement and steel girders and everything.
Our orders were to move out into the hills because they were expecting MacArthur to come in and they wanted us to protect him. We started moving out, marching out to the hills. At that point we had had a few casualties, but they were replenished in Seoul when replacements joined our company. We'd been pretty lucky. We hadn't had too many guys killed. At this point, I remembered that while we were coming from Inchon to Seoul, some of the guys had complained about their feet hurting. They needed shoes and they needed some kind of treatment for their feet. They were swollen and some of them had blisters. So I stopped and I said to the C.O., "Sir, you said that once we got to Seoul I could take the men and get their feet taken care of and get them some shoes." In fact, I needed shoes too, because mine were all busted up and were useless. Reluctantly, he let me stop the company. I took about 13 guys back to Seoul with me and we found a place where they could take care of their feet. I found a medical battalion and they took care of them. Meanwhile, I found a place where they had supplies and we also got shoes for them. I also got a pair, so that was pretty good. But I don't think the lieutenant liked the idea that I took all those guys with me. But he had promised that once we got to Seoul we could do that.
After we left there we went back to the company. We didn't have too much problem after that. We stayed up in the mountains until MacArthur had left. We were up in the hills that night, and then the next day the orders were to fall in—that we were going back to Inchon to board ships.
I had experienced being a corpsman for almost a month now, first in Pusan where we didn't really do too much, then the Inchon landing, the taking of Seoul, and coming back to Inchon. I didn't really feel that I was inadequate as a corpsman. I didn't have too many experiences so far and the ones I did have were pretty positive. I hadn't had anybody die on me yet. That was pretty good. I was able to hold my own. As far as teaching me the ropes, every time I got a chance I tried to find a medical battalion. I tried to find some of my friends there that were corpsmen and find out what was going on. But most of the stuff was just on the job training. I did have a chance to talk to some of my friends there in Seoul—a corpsman I had been attached to and worked with. I also got a chance to talk to one of the doctors and get some stuff that I needed replenished—morphine surettes especially. I never had enough of those—that and bandages and sulfa. I had a kit full of stuff that I might need as we pulled back on trucks to Inchon.
Operation Yo Yo
We thought great, we're going to be leaving the area. I don't really remember too much about going back to Seoul except we were trucked out of there to Inchon. As far as any trouble or engaging any enemy, they were pretty scared about this time. It was a little easy trip back to Inchon, with one incident standing out in my memory. One night we were taking this hill. Fighting the enemy. A grenade or something dropped between about six or eight Marines and they yelled for corpsman. There was a little hill there. The guys pushed me up to that darned hill and I got in there. About two or three of them had been hit in the guts and one of them in the arm. I was trying to give them help. These guys were hysterical actually. The Marines were yelling, "Help him, help him." I tried to use some triage, taking care of the guys wounded the least first and tried to get them out of the way. But these guys insisted I had to take care of the other ones, which wasn't very feasible because once someone got a wound in the gut like that, there wasn't too much anyone can do for them. But what I did do was give them morphine and try to quiet them down a little bit. I finally yelled at the other Marines, "Get out of here you son of a bitches. Leave me alone. Move out." So they finally left me alone. I took care of the ones I could, but the two or three who had the gunshot wounds in the gut, they died.
All of the Marines were already assembled at Inchon, and I got a chance to see my brother and all the guys from Tucson. I hadn't seen him since we had left the States except when I gave him those cigarettes in Kobe, Japan. There were well over 50 of us all together. In fact, we have a picture that was taken at the time. It was published in the newspaper here in Tucson. It shows all of the guys from Easy Company who had been activated in July of 1950 to go fight in Korea. I have a copy of it. It was a great feeling when we got together and talked. There were guys from the motor transport, from weapons company, from the tank battalions. We had a gay old time reminiscing. Some of these guys had been in World War II, but the majority of them were reservists that were 18 or 19 years of age, some even 17. They had survived the first few days of war, so that was good.
We spent a couple of days there and then we loaded up ship. We found out that we were going to the east side of Korea to make a landing. It was supposed to be at Wonsan. I don't remember the name of the ship, but that little trip turned out to be called, the "Yo-yo Exercise" [circa October 20-25, 1950] because mines had been laid in the harbor at Wonsan. We couldn't get in there to unload, so we had to go up north and then come back south and go back up north and south….That's why they called it YoYo.
While aboard ship, there were a couple of guys that I knew but I hadn't really spoken to. Every time the roll call was called, this guy Morals would answer "Yo." I found out that he was a Puerto Rican from New York. And there was another kid there by the name of Reyes whom I talked to. I found out that he was a Mexican-American from Omaha, Nebraska. Little things like that were interesting. There was also this kid Kovak who used to hypnotize, and he was good at it. He hypnotized a couple of guys and had them bark like dogs and walk on all fours. It was a gay old time. It was a nice bunch of guys that I got to be with. They were good fighting Marines.
Anyway, up and down we sailed. We finally did land and we found out that the day before, Bob Hope had been there entertaining the troops and here we show up. We were supposed to invade the thing, but there was nothing to invade. The place was cleared. We finally did land in Wonsan. There was a walk to get off of there because apparently the Army and some of the other troops had been there.. Bob Hope put on a show for them. We missed it, of course, because we were out at sea. And when we were out at sea, things got a bit raunchy. We hadn't showered or shaved or everything else for so many days. The food was running out. All the supplies were being eaten up fast. It wasn't too good aboard ship.
From there we started going north to Hamhung. In Hamhung, it was something different. The weather turned from hot like it had been in August and September to colder. And, of course, the farther north we went, the colder it got. That's when we started hearing rumors about how we would be home for Christmas. That was a big lark. This was about the latter part of October or the first part of November 1950. We boarded a train and started going up to Hamhung. The weather then wasn't too bad. It hadn't started to get real cold and we didn't have any snow yet. As we were going north we did have contact with some of the other units, but as far as fighting we didn't have too much.
As far as casualties, some I knew. Some were killed in action. Some were wounded in action. The first three months when I was with Charlie Company, 1st Bat, 5th Marines, I got to know some of the guys. We did lose some. Someone threw a grenade on this one kid. He was fortunate. He was able to pick it up and as he picked it up it exploded and ruined his hand, but he was okay.
About this time, we took a hill but found out the Marines were already up there and we had been shooting each other. I remember we shot this one kid and he was still alive. We got him in a poncho and started dragging him down the hill when lo and behold, there came an Amtrak passing by. I stopped it and asked, "Do you know where there's a medical aid station around here?" He said, "No, but we'll find one." I got him aboard this Amtrak and I covered him with my field jacket and put my arms around him to try to keep him warm. We were driving down the road and all of the sudden I get this cold feeling. The kid died on me. Man, I felt bad. Real bad. We shot one of our own and he died. I did get him to a medical aid station and left him there, but that was tough. That was very tough.
One of the other things that happened about November 10 was that I got word from my wife that she hadn't received her allotment yet. Here it had been umpteen months since I'd been in the service (since July) and she hadn't received a dime. So I asked permission from Lieutenant Magness to go back to division at Hamhung to get things squared away. When he gave me permission, I went back. When I got down there they asked me what I was doing there. I said, "What do you mean, what am I doing here?" They said, "Well, yeh. How did you get here?" So I said, "Well, like everybody else. I came up by ship." He said that the medical department wasn't supposed to have been called out when the war broke out. Apparently what had happened was that when they called in the reserve unit that I was attached to in Tucson, they took the whole company, including the medical department, which apparently they weren't supposed to do. I said, "Great. I'll be willing to go back." But they said I couldn't go home. It was too late. Fine. At least they did straighten out my allotment. What had happened was, at Pendleton when we were filling out these forms, they had given me Marine forms and I had just scratched out Marine and put Navy on there like my superior officer had told me to do. Obviously that didn't work.
When I got back to the company that night (about the 10th of November--the Marine Corps birthday), one of the platoons had gone out looking for the enemy and apparently they had been ambushed in this valley and had spent the whole night there. They couldn't get out. We were waiting for it to get early morning so we could jump off point to go rescue. When we got into this valley, sure enough we found weapons all over the place and quite a few Marines. One of my buddies—HM3 George Dunn, a corpsman—had been taking care of the platoon all night long. Anyway, the first one I saw was this boy with his two eyes shot. His eye socket—the balls and the muscles—were hanging down to his waist. Apparently he'd been hit with a concussion grenade and his eyes were just hanging out there. The first thing the kid said was, "You got a cigarette?" So I gave him a cigarette. I didn't know what to do. I put a triangle bandage around his eyes and tried to keep them clean. I went up to the CO who was Captain Jones. I asked him if we could get a helicopter in there. Well, you know how well that went. They said no they couldn't get one in there. I think that if they had got a helicopter it would have been much better, but as it was, we walked this kid out. I never found out what happened to him, whether he lost his eyesight or what. But it was ungodly to see these two long muscles with his eyes hanging from his eye sockets. I never saw anything like it.
The weather continued to get colder. It was not only cold, it was also windy. By the 28th of November it was snowing. We had days where it snowed and the wind blew and it got 30 to 40 degrees below freezing. We Arizona boys don't know too much about snow, but I remember it was deep in North Korea. I think the first time I ever saw snow was when I was in Astoria, Oregon. It snowed in the mountains in that area. But I had never actually lived in snow, so it was sort of a novelty for me in Korea. I couldn't tell you whether it affected our weapons or not, since I never fired mine. Cold weather goes affect you in some ways, but I really can't think of any way that it affected me in the sense that I wasn't there that long. But I don't remember too much about that. I was just lucky.
Some of the food soon began to freeze. The morphine surrettes froze, too. That's when I started putting them next to my body inside my blouse so that they would stay warm. Even then, before I could inject anybody I had to pop it into my mouth to unfreeze it. Some accounts of the Chosin Reservoir campaign said that in 40 below zero weather some took their clothes off to do their necessities. But I never tried it. How I did it, I'll never know. Usually I waited either in the daytime when it wasn't too bad, but I don't remember going to the bathroom too often. But I sometimes did. Taking off all those layers and layers of clothes was a difficult thing and some didn't make it. They weren't fast enough. A lot of guys walked around with their clothes all wet with urine and then it would freeze up on them and really make it bad. Maybe I was just lucky. For some of the Marines, it was tough. They weren't used to the cold.
We didn't have any good cold weather gear. Some of the gear they gave us must have been used in the Bulge area in Europe, but the shoe packs weren't very good. The parkas were nice and warm. They were handy. Shortly after I got a brand-new parka--I'd had it for a couple of days maybe, I procured about a dozen eggs by exchanging them for cigarettes. I had them in my parka. It was a brand-new parka. The word came out for us to saddle up, so we jumped on these 6x's. As I got into the 6x, I slid and I landed on all those eggs. You can imagine what eggs smell like after they've been in your pocket for a week. I couldn't throw my parka away because I couldn't get another one. So there were those slimy eggs in my pockets. Ughhh.
Talking about food, I remember one time we were in this mountain area south of the Chosin Reservoir. There was a beautiful lake and stream there. We threw some percussion grenades into the water and the fish—about 50 of them—flopped over. Big trout. One of the Koreans waded into the water—and it was cold—and brought back a whole mess of fish. We had procured a couple of gallon cans with margarine in them and we were cooking them. We had cleaned the fish and sliced them up and all that jazz. They were just about ready to eat when the word came up, "Saddle up." The guys just grabbed whatever they could in their hands and they started loading up in the trucks. What a waste after all the cooking and cleaning of the fish.
After that, we kept going north walking and in trucks, but mostly walking. It continued to get cold. We were there at the Chosin Reservoir. We had tents that we used to sleep in. When I say "we", I mean the officers and the gunny and myself. The other troops were in foxholes or pup tents. They had these huge drums with oil or whatever. We'd use them as warm-up tents. Man, it was nice. At nighttime we cut some reeds or branches or whatever and we laid them down. Then we took our poncho and lay it out over that. Then we got our sleeping bag and slept in that. When we got up in the morning, we woke up in a puddle of water. Those tents got real hot and the stove turned a bright red, it got so hot. The guys took turns coming in spending maybe an hour or so in the tents and then going back to their foxholes. So that was some comfort.
All of a sudden, it was the day before Thanksgiving. Besides being the corpsman, I was the company scrounger. We were able to get a couple of large boxes of extra food for the troops for the next day. (We never let a good day like that go to waste.) So we had Thanksgiving with all the trimmings and a lot to spare. Boy, did we have a feast. Everything.
We actually didn't have too much resistance as we were going north. But we did have to contend with huge mountains, rain, wind, chill, and no roads. I know that we were close to the Yalu River. That was our objective. The next thing I remember was that we were pulled back from the hills to this town—I guess it was Hagaru. We hadn't heard too much about Chinese being in the area. There were rumors about it, but we had never seen any.
That night when we pulled in to there, I got some mail. I'll never forget. I got this gold medallion that my wife had sent me. Like a darned dope, instead of putting it on I put it back in the box and put it in my first aid Unit One kit for later. That's when the Chinese hit us. We heard that the Chinese were all over the place and so we spent the night there. We saw some of the wounded come in and I went by the aid station. There were doctors working there under the lights, working on some of the people who had been wounded.
What really went against the Chosin Marines was the fact that the Chinese didn't have to carry anything except their weapons and what little chow they could carry. The Chinese didn't have any artillery. They didn't have any big trucks and things like that. They just walked or else, some of them had a horse, I understand. The advantage probably was the fact that Marines had good leadership. They had a lot of material and they didn't leave it behind. General Smith knew what he was doing. Wouldn't leave his dead or his wounded behind unless he had to. He carried a lot of Marines that were wounded out of the area in C-47s out of Koto-ri. In fact, he even brought back some people that were dead, which did not please Almond so much when he brought some of the dead ones back in planes. But this is his creed in the Marine Corps. The creed that you don't leave your buddies behind unless you have to. They always take care of you.
That morning at the crack of dawn, we started moving up. We were up there—it couldn't have been too long—maybe an hour or so--when somebody over the crest of the hill yelled corpsman. So I ran up there. As soon as I got to the top, I got knocked down. I heard this big explosion. At first I thought they'd missed me because I could wiggle my toes and everything else. I started to get up and I could feel pain from my head to my toes. Apparently I had been shot in the left leg near my family jewels. But it was a clean wound. I didn't know it at the time, but it missed the aorta and it missed the bone. Later when I checked the pockets on my parka, I found a piece of shrapnel in one of them. I had been wounded, but I was lucky.
I gave myself a shot of morphine and then I laid there for a while. Luckily I had my parka and all the other stuff that they had given us earlier, so it wasn't too bad. Finally somebody picked me up. I'll never forget that as they carried me off the hill, I kept singing this Mexican song, which is called "Ay, Jalisco No Te Rajes!" It means, "Jalisco, don't give up." It's supposed to be a song about being brave.
When I got down to the bottom of the hill, my buddy corpsmen came over. Each one gave me a little two-ounce bottle of brandy. I must have had about six bottles. I was feeling great. Finally, the helicopters got there. They took two guys out at a time on the ski stretchers on the side. The one that took me was one of those dome-type helicopters. One of the corpsmen told the pilot that I had to go with one of the guys so I could feed him intravenously. It was a joke. He just wanted to get me into the helicopter so I could get out of the area and be safe. They flew me out of there down to Hagaru. When we got into Hagaru, there were a lot of tents there. A lot of guys were wounded. They took good care of me when I got back to the aid station. I spent a couple of days there. I remember at nighttime seeing firing all over the place. It felt like Christmas there. You could see the lights. It looked liked stars.
One of the things that got my goat was that there were about eight or ten of us in a little tent there. There was this lieutenant in the Army who had been shot apparently in the shoulder. He was laying there. Next to him was this poor kid who had been shot a couple of times in the chest and in the legs. He couldn't move and turn. He had to urinate. The kid asked for help and the lieutenant wouldn't help him. So I went over and helped the poor kid urinate because there would be nothing worse, especially with that cold now, than urinating and having it freeze on you. Because at night time, it got cold.
Finally, the air strip was finished there. C-47s came to air evac the wounded and the planes started to land. At first they had a heck of a time because at nighttime there was fighting all over. Everybody was fighting. As the old saying goes, if you're a Marine--I don't care what job you have--you're a rifleman. So the office clerks and everybody else, even the cooks, were on line all night defending. In the morning we saw hundreds and hundreds of bodies where the air strip was. The planes came in and landed and they started loading them up. But once in a while they couldn't make it because they hit all these bodies which were frozen. It made the take off and the landing real hard. But they finally did clear the bodies off and they were able to take off.
They finally got me on a plane and from there I was flown to Hamhung at the Naval Hospital there—our division hospital which had been set up there after we'd left. From there I was flown to an Army hospital in Japan. Where it was I don't know. But I do remember that when I got there I wasn't sleepy in the morning. I woke up because I smelled bacon and eggs. And man, I was hungry. I hadn't eaten in a couple of days. So this Army medic, I guess, came by and I said, "Hey, when's chow?" He said, "You'll have to wait your turn. We're feeding the officers first." I said, "What? Where in the hell were you when I got shot?" So I said, "Where's the mess hall in this joint?" So he pointed it out to me. I got up and walked over down there and ate and ate and ate. I must have gained five pounds just eating that breakfast that morning.
When I got through I went back to my bunk. I finally took my clothes off and took a shower. I must have been in that shower for an hour. Oh, it felt good to have a clean shower with fresh water. And pajamas and all that. That was great. I stayed there about another day and they finally put us aboard a train going to Yokosuka. I'll never forget that on the train there was a reporter. The reporter asked questions and he asked me something about the war. I said that well, I guess that men were getting themselves clobbered. And he said, "Would you think they ought to drop the atomic bomb?" I said, "Yes, they ought to drop it and get this thing over." Of course, we never did.
By the time I saw a doctor at the naval hospital, he said, "What are you doing here?" I said, "Well, I've been shot." He said, "Well, you're almost cured." It had been about a week since I'd been shot. Meanwhile, my leg had pretty well healed. No complications. In fact, I think about a day later I even went into town. I was walking in town and who did I see but some guys from Tucson. One of the guys was Art Cocio--one of the famous Cocio brothers from Tucson. All of them had been in the Marines. I hadn't seen him since we were at Inchon. He was with a tank battalion. So we had a good time. We went down and ate and drank and boozed it up a while. Then I went back to the hospital.
A few days later they moved us to Otsu and at Otsu there was a section where all the corpsmen slept. There were about 30 of us. Some were going to go back to the States. Originally I thought that when I got shot in the leg that I'd gotten one of those million dollar wounds and I was going to go back to the States. But no. No such luck. My wound was a good wound. It healed well. If the truth were known, it was probably the luckiest wound I could ever get. I think it saved my life. I have a lot of the books on Korea and the pullout from the Chosin Reservoir to Hamhung. And I listen to the old Marines tell about their exploits--those that had made the pullout from Hagaru-ri to Hamhung and aboard ship. It was tough. Some of these guys really had some harrowing experiences. And it was so cold. I remember that some nights it was 40 below zero. A lot of kids got frostbite. Some were wounded. Some got killed. I don't know how I would have survived those ten or twelve days that it took them to go from Hagaru-ri to Hamhung, but I don't think I missed anything. To hear some of these guys tell, that was the worst part of being in Korea—the Chosin campaign. As I mentioned before, I got shot on the 28th of November. We didn't know anything about where the Chinese were or that we were surrounded. After that, we didn't know what really happened. But reading some of the books, it wasn't any fun. There must have been a lot of Chinese. Prior to that we hadn't had too much word about it. They kept saying that there weren't any. If nothing else, MacArthur had said that there weren't any Chinese there.
I stayed at Otsu from maybe about the 10th of December until about the 5th of January. Meanwhile, replacements were coming in at Otsu. I met Eugene Suarez, who was a combat photographer, as well as some of the guys from Tucson who had gone to boot camp and were now replacements. I met this other buddy, Leon, who married my cousin. So it was a good get-together. When I was at Otsu in the hospital, I also met Lieutenant Magnus. He had apparently been shot or had frostbite or something. I saw other guys from C Company—Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.
I don't have any further disabilities associated with the Korean War. Getting wounded in it was just one small part of my life. Nothing has changed. Nothing drastic that I cannot live with. I don't have any disabilities, but I just signed up at the VA Hospital. As a Purple Heart recipient I get some privileges there. They've got an excellent one here in town and I'm able to go to that. There are no problems with receiving medical care. In fact, the VA has been real good to me.
Back to Korea
One of the MPs in Otsu at the time I was recovering from my injury was James Brady. I remember at the Biwako Cabaret there was a fight one night. He was in a jeep and got me out of the area so that I wouldn't get in any trouble. I spent Christmas and New Year's in Otsu. We got the orders that we were going back to Korea. I said, "What?!" Sure enough, they gave us winter clothing. They also gave us a new carbine that had been stored in cosmoline. We cleaned it up by putting it under hot steam coming out of the building where the showers were. We boarded ship—some stinking, dinky Japanese barge or something. From there—I guess it must have been Kobe, we went back to good old Pusan. And then from Pusan, we went to Masan.
One of the finest officers that I ever knew was Colonel Morris Holliday. I served with him when I returned to Korea in January. He had started out as a lieutenant. When we left Tucson, he was the company CO. He was made a major in January of 1951, shortly after he got the Navy Cross for action at the Chosin Reservoir. Then he became commanding officer of 3-5, which I was attached to for a while when I went back to Korea. He was truly a leader. When he walked, it was hard to keep up with him. He was a good Marine.
When I got back to Korea, we were under the 10th Corps. I remember that one night we were brought in to replace the Army. We got into foxholes and in the early morning we started smelling bacon and eggs. We heard this whistle and all the Army guys got up, went down to a chow line that was set up in huge tents there, and started having breakfast. Well, you know, we were in the Marine Corps. I don't think I had had more than a couple of hot meals while I was in Korea. Mostly it was C-rations--which I didn't mind--but here was this hot chow. Three or four of us decided that we would go down there and join our buddies in the Army. You know those jerks wouldn't feed us?! They said it was for the Army--that they thought that we had C-rations--talk like that. The armed forces definitely needed integration.
I had a clipboard that I always carried, so a little while later I went around the back where the galley was—the kitchens—and a sergeant was there. He asked me what I was doing. I said, "Well, the Army has been complaining about some of these guys getting sick with dysentery and things of that nature and they thought that maybe the cause of it might be something wrong with the kitchen, so I'm here to inspect it. He said, "What? But you're a Marine." I told him, "Well, no. I'm actually a Navy corpsman." He said, "Oh, what's that?" I said, "Well, I'm a Navy hospital corpsman. I'm a medic." He said, "Oh, a medic. Okay, so what do you need?" I told him, "Well, I just have to make sure that everything is nice and clean." He said, "Oh. Sure if you want to walk around. Is there anything I can do for you? Do you need anything?" I said to him, "Well, some of my buddies are out there. I guess we could use some extra chow if you've got any." He said, "Oh yeh. How about ham?" I replied, "Yeh, that would be good. You got any bacon?" "Sure." "Jam?" "Sure." "Bread?" I took two boxes. I had to call one of my buddies outside the tent to come in. We took two huge boxes of food to feed the guys who were up on the front line. That was tremendous.
Another time we were in the hills and I don't know why, but I had procured some flour. I got one of those huge 15-pound cans of lard and a couple of cans of onion flakes and butter. I used the lard can to put the wood in and in the top I figured I could make tortillas. So with lard, margarine, and the flour, I started making flour tortillas. Little flat ones. Not the big ones, but the flat ones. That aroma must have killed everybody. Some of them had never eaten tortillas. There weren't that many Mexicans around me in the 5th Marines. So they all came over. I must have made about 30 or 40 tortillas, I guess. I made the dough inside my helmet—the steel helmet. I took the insides out and threw the ingredients in there. Then I made little balls and flattened them out. We put the wood inside the 15-gallon of lard and used the top of the 15-gallon can to cook the tortillas on. Man, they were delicious. Some of these guys, as I said, had never tasted tortillas before and they just went wild. We had a real good time. That was out of this world.
But the most memorable thing in Korea, I guess, was one night in 1951. I'm a little bit vague about when I went back to Korea because I can't even tell you what company I was with, who I was with, or what I was doing. It's more or less a blank most of the time. But this one time in the hills, some of the guys started singing campfire songs and Boy Scout songs and stuff like that. All of sudden on the other hill, a group down there started singing. Christmas songs. You name it. And then the other group started. Pretty soon we had the whole valley singing and serenading to each other. That was the most ungodly feeling. It reminds me—I've seen pictures of World War I where at Christmas time the Germans and the French and English and American troops serenaded each other. Of course, at this point it wasn't Christmas. It was just the idea that there we were God knows where in Korea in the mountains and we were serenading each other. It was unusual.
One time, I was in one of the Med Companies. I was walking down to the tents where there were guys that were wounded who were either getting ready to be flown out or getting trucked out of there. I got by this one guy who looked like a mummy. He had his face all covered up and his shoulders and all that, and lo and behold, it was Gilbert Romero from Tucson and Easy Company. He must have been shot about 12 different times. Head, shoulders, chest. You name it. And he recognized me. I talked to him as well as I could. He couldn't talk back. The doctor came by when I was talking to him. I looked at the doctor and the doctor shook his head. I knew that this guy wasn't going to make it. Well, it just so happens that my wife had just sent me a brand new scapular—the church thing that you hang around your neck—Catholics wear them all the time—they're made out of cloth. So I took it off and I put it around him. It had a string attached to it. I put it around him to carry. Well, he got pulled out of there. Five months later when I was in San Diego, who do I see walking down the hall but Gilbert Romero. He had survived. To this day he swears that this scapular saved his life. He still has it. He has it in a little plastic bag and he tells everybody that what saved his life was the scapular that I gave him. So those are some of the best things I remember about Korea. Good friends. Some good days. Some bad days. But in my mind, all I can think about are the good days. There weren't too many bad days.
Like I said, some of the best times I ever had was when I was able to get a hold of some of the guys from Tucson—my brother especially. We'd get together. A lot of the guys were in motor transport and every once in a while they would tell me, "Hey, your brother Bobby is back there at so and so. Do you want to go back there?" I'd say sure. I'd get permission from my lieutenant, and sometimes I wouldn't even get permission. I'd leave for a day or two. I'd tell him that I was going to go back for mail or something. Anyway, I got a chance to go see them. And we'd get together a dozen or two out of motor transport. Especially Tommy Price. He was sort of the guy in charge there. A couple of days before that, they brought in some pilots. This pilot came in with two cases of Canadian Club, and Tommy was able to put one case aboard one truck and the other case aboard the next truck. When they finally got to their destination with this pilot, the guy wanted his two cases. Tom only had one and he couldn't tell him what happened to the other. When I went to see my brother Bob he said, "Hey, Price is over there." So we went up there and saw the guys from motor transport. They brought us these bottles of booze and we had a gay old time. In fact, one of the guys, Felix, got into a fight with another guy there and they almost tore the place apart. It was a 40-man tent that they slept in, and they almost knocked the thing down. But those were good old times. Every time I got to go see my brother, it was sure worthwhile. Bob had been in the Marines in World War II. He'd been overseas and in China. He was well-liked and he knew what to do. He was in charge of a machine gun squad. Some of the guys owe their lives to him.
Most of the times when we were assigned objectives in a battle we were able to do it. We didn't make too many mistakes. The officers we had had good control of the company and we had enough experienced men so that it was pretty good. Once the battle was over, we just stopped and thanked God that we were still alive. We were thankful that no one really got hurt or nobody got killed that we knew. There were times when I prayed to be home, to get out of this mess, to come out of it alive, and that everything would turn out. I'm Catholic. I can't say that I am a real dyed in the wool hard practicing Catholic, but I don't think there are any atheists in war time. Once in a while we did go to Catholic mass, maybe two or three times while I was in Korea, but we did a lot of praying--especially when this one Marine got killed in front of me and we hit the ground. The first thing that hit me was thank God it wasn't me. Everybody gets religious in combat. You can't really avoid it. You're scared. You've got to believe in something.
One of the things that used to bother me more than anything while I was there was the fear that someone would yell for corpsman and I'd go up and it would be my brother or some friend of mine. But mostly my brother. That thought occurred to me lots of times while I was in Korea. I don't know how I would have reacted if that had happened. Luckily it didn't. My brother was in World War II from 1943 to 46 and then had been in China. He never got scratched. He then spent a year in Korea and never got scratched. Well, not really. As we were pulling out of Inchon when we left in June of 1951, we were playing football or some jazz like that. He ran to get a ball and he hit his leg on a spike that was holding up one of the tents. He got cellulitis on the leg and he had to be in the hospital for the next ten days aboard ship. That was the only "wound" he ever got. The only buddies I actually ended up with in Korea were Gunny Sergeant Stein and Lt. Magnus, the company and platoon commanders there. I didn't make friends with too many of the others. Actually it wasn't a good thing to become too friendly with them because if they got hurt or something like that, it would really bother you. The guys from Tucson were actually the people I was more friendly with in Korea, so if any of them got killed it set me back some. That was always a traumatic experience.
As to acts of bravery in Korea, being there was brave enough. Anyone who's been in combat is brave. It's hard to distinguish between those who are the bravest and those who are doing their job, especially those World War II veterans. They knew what they were doing.
All Things Medical
My job in Korea was of a medical nature. As far as medical supplies, I didn't have any problem with that. Any time I was running short of anything I went to the battalion medical headquarters or one of the aid stations and got all of the stuff I needed. Most of the stuff I carried with me was sufficient to take care of all the wounded. The medical teams at the stations or battalion headquarters consisted of all of the doctors and corpsmen, and it was a pretty well run situation. They had everything one needed there. Most things that could be taken care of were patched up and the wounded were then sent to either division or to Japan. I think the equipment in the medical tents was real good there. They had the beds and if they didn't have those they would lay them down onto sleeping bags. They took care of the casualties very well. Most of the tents were for 40 men, so they were big tents.
I've just been reading this book by Stephen Ambrose and in it he has a chapter on medics in World War II. Pretty good. I don't know too much about the medics in the Army, but the way he described it they're not too much different than the medics and corpsmen attached to the Marine Corps. I didn't realize this. I thought that they were a little bit different. They're different in the sense that they have nurses up there in the front lines or near the front lines and they have doctors. I don't think I saw the doctors up there in Korea more than a couple of times.
I was never assigned to a surgical unit. That was back at Battalion in one of the medical companies, so I was never associated with them except when I went back to Korea in January of 1951. For about a week I was attached to one of the medical battalions, but I believed that if I had to be in Korea I didn't want to be in a rear area so much. So I asked if I could go back to the front lines. That's when they sent me to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines.
The only time I rode in an ambulance was one time when I went back to medical battalion I met this chief corpsman who was from Tucson. When I got into the ambulance I looked at him and said, "Aren't you from Tucson?" And he said yes. Well sure enough, there are four Mexican families with Anglo names well known here in Tucson. His name was Ford. It went real good. In fact, I was able to procure three bottles of medicinal brandy from him. Most of the time, of course, we used jeeps to bring the kids out of the area--when there was enough flat terrain there to use a jeep. The other mode of taking them out was by helicopter. Remember, that's how I was taken out when I was shot. I would suggest that about the only thing that would have been good along the lines of treating the wounded in Korea would have been more helicopters that could have taken out more wounded like they did in Vietnam and they're doing now in Iraq. They didn't really start using the helicopters too much to carry the wounded out of a war zone until after the Korean War.
As far as what was learned medically in Korea, it was understood that the sooner we could get somebody to an aid station, the better the chances were for survival. And I don't think we really had too many people who complained about the medical care they got because it was fast as well as could be expected in Korea. What we learned as far as the doctors, I'm not too sure. I'm assuming that they learned that certain wounds are more difficult than others and those that couldn't be taken care of in the field were moved out to an area either in Japan or to the division hospital so they could be taken better care of.
I think triage was the hardest part of a corpsman's job in Korea more than anything else. It's hard when you have to take care of those that are the least wounded so they can defend you on the perimeter and then go to the ones that are the hardest hit. It's hard because if there's anybody there watching you, they want you to take care of their buddies that are hurt first. But we learned that if we did the best we could and we took care of those who were least wounded first, we could then better help the ones that were more wounded. Corpsmen were just "average guys" like everybody else, so sometimes it was hard to adjust to a death. If we knew the guy, it was real difficult. If we didn't know him, it was still difficult. The worst part was when someone was killed in front of you. That happened to me. One time we were on patrol and the guy in front of me got shot and killed. When he hit the deck, the first thing that entered my mind was, "It's a good thing it wasn't me." The guy that was shooting--the sniper--couldn't care less who it was. He just pointed his rifle at the one guy and shot. He could have picked me as well as the other guy. Those things are scary and just something we had to put up with when we were in Korea.
We tried to take care of all the wounded as much as we could and evacuate them, and we tried to take care of our dead. We didn't leave any dead behind unless we had to. The only ones that I know of were when they were making the evacuation from Hagaru-ri to Hamhung. They tried to bring them all back, but they had so many that were dead they had to bury some of them, thinking they could dig them up later.
Everyday Life in Korea
Most of the things that I remember about Korea were the everyday things that were fun, like fishing. Finding fish there in the big streams and trying to cook them. Or procuring food. Every once in a while we were able to borrow from the Army or the Marine Corps. I was pretty good at scrounging stuff. One of my strongest memories is when I had procured those dozen eggs and I slipped and fell and smashed all of them in my brand new parka.
We didn't keep clean too often. I know that Lieutenant Magnum used to shave quite often, but it was dry shaving more than anything else. When I think about it, I can only remember one time when we had a bath and clean clothes. Next to a stream they had set up this shower unit and they hustled us all in there. We had to be out of there in about five minutes. Then we got clean clothes and underwear. But that didn't happen too often. We had lice all the time.
On the front lines we had C-rations. I liked them except for a couple of them. Frankfurters and beans were pretty good and some of the other things. Chocolate was good. The cookies. Sometimes when we were in the reserve areas we had hot chow. I can't describe how great it was to eat something hot. As far as eating the native food, no. I never did. In fact, I jumped all over a couple of guys for eating radishes that they had found. Why? Because the Koreans used human fertilizer and things of that nature in their gardens. The produce wasn't something the Marines should be eating, because it would make them sick. But some of them ate it anyway and sure enough, they got sick. I told them it was their own fault.
The best food I ever ate in Korea was on Thanksgiving Day in 1950. All the works. Man, that was great. It wasn't too cold and we were able to procure some other stuff to carry back to the platoon so we could have something for the next day. The other time we had pretty good food was when we were attached to X Corps and we were next to the Army and I "inspected" their kitchen. I guess the food I missed the most would have to be Mexican food. Tacos, tamales, enchiladas, all the kind of food that we Mexicans get every day. Beans, chili con carne. Mother was a good cook. (She had to be since there were six of us in the family.) She did a real good job and the kinds of things she cooked were the kinds of things that this Mexican kid missed in Korea.
I think I remember the light moments more than anything else. You sort of block out the serious stuff. The lighter moments were when we got mail. That was always the best time. Maybe somebody would get a Dear John letter or somebody got something to share. The bad news that we got from home was usually that someone had been killed or someone had died, some relative or something like that. That is something you had to expect. After all, we were away from home for some time. Someone was bound to either get killed or get in an accident or get divorced or get married for that matter.
The mail came in pretty regularly. In my case, I was real fortunate in that I was able to go back to the company area. Or, if not, it came directly to us. Most of the mail I got was from my wife in Tucson. My mother didn't write English too well so I wrote to my wife in Spanish and she read it to my mother. I did get that once-in-a-while letter from my sister and from one of my brothers, Gilbert. I remember getting a few packages, although I never did ask anyone to send me something while I was overseas. My brother Gilbert sent me a Mexican knife at one time. I wore that for some time and then I lost it. It appeared that most of the stuff that was mailed got there in pretty good condition. I know some of the guys received packages in cans that had been vacuum-packed and they were pretty good. Once in a while something like tamales would come out a little green, but we used to scrape off the leaves. They weren't needed anyway. And usually when someone did get something they shared it amongst us that were there. We always shared everything.
There were other light moments. Bartering with some of the locals there to get cigarettes or canned goods for eggs. I think I mentioned that I got so scared I had to do #2 while I was being shot at. I took my pants down and did my necessities. This one time also when we were out in the mountains and there were a lot of trout there, we went fishing. We were able to eat some of the fish there. And once in a while there were real nice moments when we used to get together with my brother or some of the guys from Tucson, especially the ones from Motor Transport. Since they were the ones driving all over, they knew where my brother was and where all my other friends were and those were the times we were able to get together. And there were other times too when we got together and we sang. Somebody always had a guitar and we were able to sing songs and share ideas and home. That always made it nice. It was a pretty good time to share some of the humor in contrast to all the fighting and shelling we were doing.
I never saw either the Red Cross or the Salvation Army when I was in Korea. If they were there, we didn't know anything about it. The reason for it may be that we were in the front lines where we wouldn't expect to see the Red Cross or the Salvation Army or anybody else who wasn't in combat there. About the only high ranking official in Korea that I saw was Chesty Puller. My brother Bob was, as I said, in the 1st Marines and one time when the 5th and the 1st were joined together, I saw Chesty Puller. That's about the only one. When MacArthur came into Seoul to give Seoul back to Sigmund Rhee, we were pulled out of there and we went up into the mountains to protect him. Of course, I did see our own company commander, Jones, but not too many others.
We had little contact actually with Korean nationals. The only ones we had were the ones who were attached to our unit or who were there as our interpreters. As far as the native people, most of the time we weren't in situations where we were in contact with them except when we got into Seoul, Hamhung and Inchon. Most of the time we were up in the mountains and there weren't too many people around. But what we did see about the natives was that they were very primitive. They were mostly farmers grazing their fields or doing their work. Even when we were in combat they were around us someplace and we saw them. They were still doing their work. We called the natives "gooks"--a term that was quite prevalent in the services at the time. But as far as prejudice toward them, I don't know if there was any. It was more or less that we didn't know anything about them. We didn't know anything about their culture, their language, their history. In fact, if anyone had asked me where Korea was before we got sent there, I couldn't have told them. It wasn't something common to know that Korea had been split after World War II into North and South Korea, the northern part being dominated by the Russians and the southern part supposedly by us and South Korean people. I have since found out that some of the first book printing was done in Korea, and I found out that they also had large gold mines and there was a lot of prospecting there. In fact, one time when I was with Easy Company, I understand that the commanding officer, Colonel Holladay, went gold panning in one of the streams and found a few little nuggets.
We were hardly ever in reserve, but when we were, we slept, took it easy, and ate in our leisure time. When we were on the line, we always had to be alert. We had a duty to do. I went around checking to see if anybody needed any help or if anybody had any cuts or things of that nature. I tried to take care of them. At nighttime, I had to help with the telephone watch, too, so there wasn't too much leisure time. As far as entertainment, they said there were USO shows in Korea, but we never saw any. I mentioned already that Bob Hope was at Wonsan before we arrived, so we missed his show. And as far as R&R, I didn't even know what that was. I don't know if they had R&R when I was in Korea or afterwards. We never had too much time off.
The only American woman I saw in Korea was the reporter, Marguerite Higgins. She was on one of the ships I was on. I guess she was writing stories. When we were in the perimeter in Pusan, it was a large town. There were a lot of prostitutes there and a lot of the Marines did partake of it, I would imagine. A lot of them, of course, couldn't because they didn't have any money. In fact, aboard ship it was the cleanest ship anyone would ever want to sail on because of our lack of money. When we ran out of it, we also ran out of cigarettes. We couldn't even find cigarette butts on the deck because the guys rolled them and made them into cigarette.
We drank whenever we could find booze. In fact, when I left Japan and was going back to Korea, I bought four quarts of whiskey with me so I could share with my brother. I smoked all the time. I've smoked Lucky Strikes since 1942. Maybe once or twice we were able to gamble, but not too often. I was a smoker, a gambler, and a drinker before I went to Korea and I still am. But when we were in Korea we didn't really have too much use for money. We had script, but very little of that. We didn't get any money actually until we left Inchon to go to Japan and then come back to the States.
Twice while I was in Korea I met somebody that I knew before the war. They were two corpsmen. One of them a Shue from Texas. He and I were on Guam together. We hadn't seen each other since 1948 when I left Guam. It was good to get the chance to talk with him. The other was a corporal in the Army. I saw him in the hospital when I was being treated there. He had also been on Guam when I was there. I got a chance to talk to him, too. He had apparently left the Navy and then had joined the Army where he was still working as a medic. And then one time when we were out on the town in a local bar, there was this African-American 3rd class mechanic there. He had been a patient when I was on Guam and I used him to help me clean up the ward when I was in charge of the receiving room there on Guam. I had a chance to talk to him. I also went on liberty one time and met up with Art Cocio. He was wobbling down the street there in Kyoto. He and I got together and pretty well got plastered the whole day together. Sometimes we did meet people in Korea and Japan that we didn't expect to see. Besides my brother Bob, I also had a relative who was in Korea the same time I was there. Jimmy Ward was in motor transport.
One day I woke up in the morning and they were rotating drafts and my name was on it. I just packed up my gear and waited in line with the rest of them that were going out. From there we went to Inchon. I was glad to be going home. Back when I got shot, I thought I would be going home. But the Navy didn't think so because they sent me back to Korea. I was glad to finally be leaving good old Korea. We went by trucks to Inchon. When we got into town, there was my brother and a few others from Tucson. We had a gay old time. In fact, we were playing football there one time and a company of new replacements came in. My brother went up to the second lieutenant and tackled him. Everybody went "ooh, ahhh". Well, he had been a PLC in Tucson when the Korean War started and he finished up school and got commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. But he had been a private when my brother was a sergeant in the Marine Corps, so they were good friends.
I left Korea about the 1st of June 1951. The rank I held was the rank I went in with-- Hospitalman 3rd class. A lot of guys in Korea got promoted, but for some reason the Navy didn't care too much about us. I knew of nobody who got promoted while we were in Korea. There were no replacement troops coming in when we were going out, so we didn't really have a chance to converse with them. They came directly through us and out to the different line places.
I can't tell you the name of the ship that took us back to the States. From Korea we went to Japan. The ship was packed with guys rotating back, a lot of them to Tucson. And of course, everybody was just in a mood. It was great to be heading home. Once we were in transit, we were just part of the cargo. We didn't have any duties at all. All we did was get up in the morning with a book in hand. Get in chow line with a book in hand. Eat chow. Get into the chow line again with book in hand. Get lunch. And then get in the line again and have supper. Because if we didn't, man, we'd be in the tail end of the chow line and sometimes the leftovers weren't that great. So we just spent most of our time in line if we wanted to eat. I was fortunate in the sense that I could go down to sick bay and meet up with a lot of the corpsmen down there. We traded sea stories. There were a few of the corpsmen that I knew from previous times when I was in the Navy, so that was a pretty good deal.
The weather was pretty good on the trip home. We spent a little time--a day or so--in Japan. We didn't go straight to the States. It gave me a chance to go ashore. In fact, I got money from a lot of the guys that wanted to change all their money into script so they could buy stuff in Japan. In Japan, we could only use script. So I changed several hundred dollars and was able to buy some stuff to bring home. In fact, I bought a complete set of 12 servings of Chinaware and I think I only paid about $35 bucks for it. It came in two huge boxes. I was also able to buy my brother a couple of pearls for his wife because when we were getting aboard ship he got cellulitis on his leg there and was in sick bay.
Coming across the ocean to the States was okay. We played cards. That was about all we were able to do. Once in a while some of the guys got together with their guitars. The rest of the time we ate and slept. I think we went directly to San Francisco. I had gotten discharged in August of 1948 from Treasure Island, so I'd been there before. In fact, I had an old girlfriend there. There was nobody waiting for us in San Francisco. Most of the guys from Tucson didn't have the chance to tell their folks to come and meet them. It was a great, emotional thing going under that Golden Gate. We really knew we were home. As far as getting off the ship, we just got our gear together and walked off. We made it back from there on buses to Treasure Island to be processed. After we got processed we had liberty. The first thing we did was find this friend of ours from San Francisco. He worked for the civil service there in San Francisco. We got together to go to a steam bath. Ahhh. That was great. We spent hours there. And from there we went to Chinatown to get some good Chinese food. And then from there we went to the Clairmont. The thing about the Clairmont was that we were in uniform and all our pogie bait on our chest and we couldn't buy a drink. Everybody bought drinks for us. So we had a gay old time. And then the following day I called this family that I knew--this old girlfriend in Daley City. They invited us to dinner and so my friend and my brother and I went and had dinner at this old girlfriend's house. That was real nice. And felt real good. Home cooking. And they were glad to see me. They hadn't seen me since I left there in August of 1948. In fact, they didn't even know that I was in Korea until I called them. So it was a good time and a good homecoming.
After we got processed, I got assigned to Naval Auxiliary station in El Centro, California. Then I came home for 30 days leave. At the base in El Centro, I worked in the dispensary like all the rest of the corpsmen. There were about ten corpsmen there. We just did the regular things: the morning sick calls, once in a while a cut, just waited around for business.
I don't know about guys going wild after returning from the war, but I don't think I did. I had only been married two weeks when we got called into Korea, so coming home was pretty sedate. But I did go to El Centro. And I had lived in Calexico. It was only about 15 miles away and I had relatives there so I used to spend a lot of time there. Finally I got discharged. I left El Centro and went to San Diego and got discharged in the early part of September. Then I went home. My enlistment didn't end until a couple of years later. After I was discharged from the Navy I figured if I ever had to go to combat again or go to the service I was going to be able to shoot back. So for some crazy reason I switched over from the Navy to the Marine Corps. The commanding officer again was Colonel Holladay and he talked me into switching over to the Marine Corps. I put in a total of 31 years reserve time--4 years active duty, 3 years in reserve in the Navy, and the rest of the time in the Marine Corps. I finally got discharged in 1976 as an E-8 Master Sergeant.
I got home on a Saturday, and Monday morning I reported back to the post office. I had been working there when I left and I had just started out so I was on probation. But when I got back, I had been made permanent. So I went back to work two days after I got home. It was great. I didn't have any trouble adjusting to civilian life after leaving the Marine Corps. As I said, two days later I was back at work as if nothing had happened.
When I got back to the States, I saw the parents of a couple of buddies I lost in Korea. By the time we got home, things had calmed down. Those that had come from Korea had been with their family for a while. Some maybe got discharged six months later. Mothers and wives and daughters met at church once a week. After that it just calmed down.
The government owed me almost 36 months of schooling, so I worked at the post office and took college classes at nighttime. I had already put in just one semester when I got called into the service. I dropped out to work at the post office. But I kept going. A course here. A course there. I used to be paid for that. I think it was $80 for going full time and $40 for six units. So sometimes I'd take six units at nighttime to make extra money. And then with the Korean GI, they used to give you a flat fee and then you paid for your schooling.
I was older than many of the other college students. I never really had too much chance to discuss the Korean experience with them. They asked me if I had been in the service and I told them, yeah, twice. That was unusual. But we never discussed too much what we did in the service. After 14 years (I started in 1948), I graduated with a BA in elementary education in 1962. I got a master's degree in education in 1966 and I got a PhD in education in 1988, so I did finish school. Meanwhile, I worked for the post office for 12 years as a mail carrier.
I had gotten married in Tucson on July 4, 1950 before I left for the war. My wife was from Mexico. In fact, when I left for Korea and the war, she was still in Mexico because we didn't have the papers signed to let her come to the United States. But we got that arranged a few months later. We've got two children. My daughter was born in 1952 and my son was born in 1953. She's got a PhD in early childhood education and is now a school principal. My son is a lawyer in Phoenix and has his own law firm there.
After I left the post office in 1962 to become a teacher, I taught for about seven or eight years and then I became a principal. I retired at the age of 61, so I've now been retired since 1988. I'm doing very well. I did have a part-time job with a nonprofit organization, but otherwise I've been reading. I used to have the habit of every time I went to some college I'd buy a book. I was always going to read them someday, but I never got the chance. Now that I am retired, I've read most of them, and have been buying more books ever since. I do a lot of reading. We travel a lot. We have been all over the world on tours, especially Mexico.
Going to Korea did not change me in any way. Not really. I don't think so anyway. I had just had another experience in life. We have many of them. Two of mine were not only being in Korea, but also getting shot. It's something that not everybody did, but I don't think it really changed my viewpoint on what life is all about. For me, Korea was a new experience. I had never been in combat and I didn't know if I could cut it. I had had three years of experience in the Navy as a corpsman, but not in combat. I guess the strongest memory I have of Korea is that I was able to help some wounded. I was able to take care of some that died. And overall, I did my job as a corpsman. The only training I got as a medic corpsman was in corps school in San Diego in 1946. I went to Korea with no training. No training as a Marine. No training as a combat corpsman. No field training. I never even fired a weapon, except when I was in the Navy we fired 50 rounds. So I knew nothing about the Marine Corps, what it does, and how it does it.
To be honest with you, I didn't think that Korea was a country worth fighting for at the time. I had no reason to think that Korea was worth almost anything. It was a foreign country in Asia. We knew little about it. We had no interest economically or otherwise. So was it worth fighting for? No, not really. But I don't think the US government considers those things when they send troops out to fight in foreign lands. Thinking back, I'm not too sure why we were there. I know that we had an obligation to defend them after World War II, but it seems that we have a lot of those commitments, especially now with Bosnia and Iraq and Afghanistan. And I don't understand really, especially in Iraq, why we're there. We keep saying that it's to make a democracy--especially in Iraq, but why does every country have to emulate the United States? Why do they all have to be democracies? Let them fight it for themselves. We shouldn't be imposing our values on them. I still think it has an awful lot to do with the oil, especially in Iraq. Regardless of where we send our troops or why, once they're there, they deserve our 100% support.
Our unit was in five different skirmishes in Korea and received battle stars for it. The only thing I got was a Purple Heart. I was very proud of that and wore it all the time. That was for getting shot in the leg when the Chinese hit us on the 28th of November. I didn't actually receive the medal until I was in El Centro air station in 1951. I have a picture of me receiving my Purple Heart.
About the only war hero I can think of is my brother. And the reason I say my brother is because a lot of guys told me that they owed their lives to him. As I have mentioned, he had been in World War II for three years. He was an old salt and knew what he was doing. He was in charge of machine-gunners, and he took care of the guys. He had recruited most of them into the Marine Corps Reserve, so he's my idea of a hero because he knew what he was doing. Let me put it this way. If you were there, you were a hero. There's no other way to put it. Being there was enough to make you a hero.
I guess for me, the hardest thing about being in Korea was being in Korea. When I got out of the Navy the first time, the last thing I thought was that I was going to be going back into the service for active duty again. So the hardest thing was being there. And I guess it was the separation. I had just been married two weeks when I got called in to Korea. That was always on my mind. In fact, my wife was kind of dejected because she wasn't pregnant when I left. We waited until after I got home in 1951 for us to start having a family. Just being so far away from home, that was tough.
People who stand out in my mind after all these years are Gunny Stein who became a warrant officer and Lieutenant Magnum who retired as a full colonel from the Marine Corps--probably because I spent more time with him than anybody else because we usually slept in the same tent. The other was Paul Pederson. The reason I remember him was because about ten years ago we were going to have a conference with the Chosin Few. I was going to go to it and I heard that Colonel Pederson wasn't feeling too well so I sent him a Christmas card. I asked him if he remembered me. I'll never forget what he said. I've got his letter still. He said, "How could I forget you? Every time I saw you, you had lost your weapon. You could never carry one." So he did remember me, which is pretty good for a 1st Lieutenant to remember a lowly 3rd class corpsman after almost 50 years.
Looking back, I think that MacArthur should have gone past the 38th parallel as he did. We should have gone to the Yalu and, in fact, like him, I think we should have kept pushing north and maybe as the reporter suggested, use the atomic bomb if we had to. I think that once we got blasted by the Chinese, we should have gone full bore and got her over with. But they went back to Pusan and after that it was a stalemate until 1953. Nobody won. In fact, I think it was a waste of time. I think if we had settled it once and for all rather than just a cease of fighting we would have been better to decide one way or the other. Because we didn't win the war. I think we lost it. I can't think of any good that came out of the Korean War except that, now the Koreans are real independent, they make a lot of money. Their standard of living is pretty good compared to other Asiatic countries.
As far as having troops in Korea, I don't know what we're still doing there. It's been 55 years almost since we started there. We've got a big huge amount of troops there. We've got more troops there now than we did between 1945 and 1950 and for what reason I don't know. The economy like it is in Korea, I don't know why we're there. And then every once in a while they demonstrate against us, so that's usually the thanks we get for helping them out. One of the things that has come out of this is the North Korean threat of nuclear atomic war that Korea keeps throwing at us. We keep playing around it, but I think we'd better be finding out for sure one way or the other. Either they're going to have the ability to use atomic weapons or they're not.
I've never revisited Korea. One time I wanted to, but time has now passed me by and I don't think I'll be able to do it. One time they had these trips and some friends of mine went to Korea and found it very interesting, but there was always some conflict when I needed to go there. I was either working or on a trip someplace. Since I've been retired, we've gone almost all over the world. We went to Europe a couple of times, South America, the Caribbean, Hawaii, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Ecuador, Bangkok, Bali, Africa, Canada, Alaska.
The Korean War's place in American and world history is that it was just one incident among a hundred that we've had problems with. The United States has been in these small isolated places all through its history. The Barbary coast. Nicaragua. The Caribbean. In Mexico. We've been taking care of everybody's business for a long time, even in Asia with the Boxer Rebellion. The Philippine War. World War I. World War II. Korea will just be another footnote in American history. I think that the Korean War carries the name "The Forgotten War" because, as Truman said, it was "only a police action." It was short. Three years is short for a war. There weren't that many troops engaged really in Korea. The negotiations ran almost as long as the war. There were no national emergencies here in the United States. No rationing or things of that nature. That's probably one of the reasons why it is the "forgotten war." Not too many people remember it. "Korea what?"
I've told family members about what I did as a corpsman, a Korean veteran, and my experiences in the war. I didn't really have any experiences in the war. I was just there. I worked when people were wounded or dying, otherwise, I was just there. I've told my son about it and my daughter and my wife. And then once in a while we get together--the Korean veterans of Easy Company have an organization. A local unit. From 220 guys who went to Korea, there's still about a hundred and some of us still left. We meet every last Thursday of the month. We have lunch together and then we have a fundraiser to raise money. Now that we have this war going on in Iraq, when we have a local Marine or his family that need help, we try to donate at least a thousand dollars to the widow or the family. We're incorporated now as a non-profit organization so we can do those kinds of things. We had one in July when we celebrated the 55 anniversary of being called into Korea.
I think our government is doing an excellent job in trying to locate the missing in action from the Korean War. It's a real hard job. Sometimes there isn't too much left of someone if he was hit by a bomb or incoming mortar or things of that nature. So I think the government does pretty well in their recovery efforts. I hear every once in a while that they discovered bodies. I know that when we left Chosin and came down to Hamhung, they had to bury people there in mass graves. But I think they have since located those, because they had them well-marked.
Some say that World War II veterans are treated with more respect than Korean War veterans. Well, in a sense they should be. It was a longer war. More casualties. Spread all over the world. A lot more people died. Got hurt. I think that Korean War veterans should get a little bit more respect, but I don't think that World War II veterans are treated with more respect. They're remembered more because there were a lot of heroes there--like Audie Murphy. It was a longer war. The longer a war lasts, the longer people think about it and the more people are involved. Because of that, maybe World War II veterans get better treatment.
My first three years as a Navy corpsman--especially on Guam--were different. The one year in Korea was certainly different, but the only affect that it had on me was that I decided that if I was going to go to war again, I wanted to be able to shoot back. So I switched from the Navy and got into the Marine Corps as a buck sergeant. I was a lousy Marine though. It was my good Navy training, but as far as being a Marine, I wasn't very good at it. The only advantage I had was that I was their No. 1 scrounger. Like I used to tell the officers, "You tell me what you want done and I'll do it." But this idea of being led or being told and don't question it, it wasn't really my training in the Navy. In the Navy, when you had something to do you did it because you saw it. In the Marine Corps, at least when I was in it, you were sort of expected to follow blindly, and that wasn't part of me.
I think it's true that "once a Marine, always a Marine." In my case, I was a Navy corpsman. I just happened to be in the Marine Corps. The way I did things, the way I responded, the way I took on responsibility was always as a Navy corpsman. When I was in the Navy corps school, we were taught to take the initiative and do what had to be done. Don't expect someone else to tell you what to do. Review the situation and react and do what you have to do, especially when you're out in the field and you're the only one there who is trying to save somebody else's life. You don't have anybody to guide you. Once a Navy corpsman always a Navy corpsman. I wish I could say that I was an outstanding Marine, but no. Even still, it came out real well because after 31 years and at age 61, I retired from the Marine Corps. I have all the privileges and all the goodies that come from being retired military.
Easy Company veterans meet once a month in Tucson. We also have Easy Company reunions once a year. "E" Company had over 220 members and over 70 percent were Mexican Americans, many like me with English names--Price, Hughes, Greenblatt, Eldridge, Daley, Hale, etc. I have been involved in the Chosin Few and I've gone to a couple of their reunions. I've also gone to reunions of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. I went to Atlantic City and I went to San Diego. I haven't gone lately, but every time I've gone it's been a real good reunion. I remember some of the guys. Of course, we've all changed, but that's the way the ball bounces.
To sum up my time in Korea in a nutshell: "I came, I saw, I conquered." I didn't leave anything in Korea. It was a year in my life. Now I'm 78. I can't think of too much else to say about being in Korea except that it was a well worthwhile experience. Nothing big, but at least now I know that I survived in combat and was able to do my job.
(Click a picture for a larger view)