Back to "Memoirs" Index page

Al Gale outside quarters at Camp Haugen - Nov 1951
(Click picture for a larger view)

Alfred Gale

San Diego, CA
Korean War Veteran of the United States Army

"I didn't really mind the fact that I was going back into the Army. I felt that, since I had been too young to see combat in World War II, it was my turn to go in this one. Also, I thought it was the duty of everyone to serve his country when called, especially those who are young and single, and besides, I was running out of money to go to school."

- Alfred Gale


[The following memoir was submitted to the Korean War Educator by its author, Alfred Gale.]

Memoir Contents:

Back to Memoir Contents


After reading some of the memoirs, I hesitated to add mine because my service was so much easier and less dangerous than many of the stories. However, I decided to add my story because it was a very important time in my life, even if I wasn’t in any large battles and didn’t see any infantry combat. I certainly didn’t do anything heroic, but I tried to do whatever I was asked to do to the best of my ability. Maybe someone else will find it interesting.

I am proud of the fact that I went back into the Army when my unit was called, although I could probably have obtained a student deferment. I didn’t ask for a student deferment, primarily because I don’t believe in them, and secondarily, because I needed the money I would be able to save to continue my education. I think that student deferments unfairly benefit those who have the money and the ability to go to college on the dubious premise that a college graduate will somehow benefit the country more in the future than having a college student in the armed forces now.

I had things easy for a number of reasons. First, I was an officer--which meant that my pay and living conditions were better than those of an enlisted man. Second, I was in the artillery--which beat being in the infantry (although I was originally trained as an infantryman). Third, I arrived in Korea when things were quieter than in the early days of the war or in those last furious battles before the armistice.

So, here it is.  It will sound like a soft life to some, but to those who didn’t experience the military life, I can assure you that there was plenty of discomfort, fatigue, “camping out”, boredom, chickens..t, and minor amounts of terror. In addition, there was the lengthy separation (15 months) from family and friends in the days before convenient and affordable international telephone service and e-mail.

Back to Memoir Contents


I was born in Prescott, Arizona, on August 9, 1927, the youngest child of Alfred H. and Florence Gale. I had a sister nine years older and a brother seven years older. My father had served in the Army for a few years after graduating from Pennsylvania Military College in 1911, but later resigned his commission to enter the practice of law in Arizona, where he met and married my mother. When the United States entered World War I, he returned to active duty and saw action in France as a member of the 60th Field Artillery Brigade of the 35th Division. (Capt. Harry Truman commanded Battery D of the 144th Field Artillery, which was part of the 60th FA Brigade. There is no record of whether or not my father had any contact with Captain Truman.) At war's end he was a Lieutenant Colonel of Field Artillery at the age of 29. He again left the Army and resumed the practice of law in Prescott.

Shortly after I was born we moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where my father contracted spinal meningitis and died before my first birthday. My mother moved us to Southern California where she had relatives. A few years later she married Le Roy Anderson, also an attorney.  I spent most of my growing up years in Arcadia, California, a small town about 16 miles east of Los Angeles.

I had almost completed my freshman year in high school when Pearl Harbor was attacked. My older brother Bob was already in the Army, having been called into federal service with the 40th Infantry Division, California National Guard, in March of 1941. Because of Bob’s involvement, I was very interested in anything to do with the war and eager to learn anything about the Army. When Bob went to Officer Candidate School at Ft. Benning, Georgia, I even subscribed to the Infantry Journal so that I could learn as much as possible about infantry tactics and doctrine and read accounts of infantry combat. During my last couple of years in high school, I began to consider applying for an appointment to West Point, but decided that I would enlist in the Army first as long as the war was continuing.

Back to Memoir Contents


I graduated from high school in January 1945, during the final months of World War II. I wasn't yet 18 and couldn't go directly into the service, so I joined the ERC (Enlisted Reserve Corps) in a program called the Army Specialized Training Reserve Program that would send me to college until I was 18 and, therefore, old enough for active duty.

Immediately after graduation I was sent to the University of Utah, where I studied engineering. We wore uniforms, were subject to military discipline, and had military training in addition to our academic subjects, but we weren’t paid.

Toward the end of this term, we were given a language aptitude test and those of us who scored well were given the opportunity to go to the University of Pennsylvania to study Japanese. Most of us thought it would be fun, so we signed up. It did turn out to be interesting, although in three months we weren’t anywhere near fluent.  It turned out that what we learned would be useful later. In addition, we westerners got a chance to see a little of the east coast, including Washington D.C. and New York, as well as Philadelphia. I was in Philadelphia celebrating my 18th birthday on the day the second A-bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. At this point, most of us were ready to quit studying and go to basic training.

Back to Memoir Contents

Basic Training

On September 15, 1945, I entered active duty and soon was in Infantry Basic Training at Camp Roberts, California. I was pretty gung-ho in those days and enjoyed most of the experience, especially since the possibility of going into combat was now removed. Because of my previous military training, I was made an acting squad leader. This gave me quite a few perks, like not getting KP duty. We normally got passes from noon on Saturday until Monday morning unless we didn’t pass inspection. Since the war was over and gasoline rationing had ended, I went home and brought my car (a 1932 Plymouth) back so I had transportation to go home on weekends.

Near the end of our 13-week training cycle, my best buddy from ASTRP days talked me into applying for OCS (Officer Candidate School) against my better judgment. I wouldn't have applied if I thought I might end up leading troops in combat. Ironically, I was selected and he wasn't. I didn't think I would make it through the course but I thought it would be good experience if I decided later that I wanted to go to West Point as I had thought I might when I was in high school.

Back to Memoir Contents

Benning School for Boys

In February 1946, I reported to the Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia. It was a very demanding 17 weeks, both mentally and physically. I did well on all the Graded Tests (GTs), but was concerned that because of my youthful appearance I might be a candidate for the “Hockey Team”. The Hockey Team was the term applied to candidates who were deemed to be questionable for graduation and were selected to act as commanders in the field problems. Messing up on one of these problems would mean almost certain wash out status.

I made it through all of them without being selected for a command position until we got to the last problem in the course. This was “The Rifle Company In A Night Attack”, and I was selected as the company commander. This was the most complicated and difficult problem in the entire course in that it involved a company-sized problem rather than a platoon, and it took place at night with the additional problems in visibility and control. Apparently I did okay in my orders and tactical decisions because, much to my surprise, I was still there at the end and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant, Infantry, on 3 July. I realized later that the standards for graduation may have been more relaxed now that the war was over and so many veterans were anxious to get home, but we still had commitments for officers in occupation duty.

After some brief, temporary assignments, almost the entire class reported to Ft. Lawton, Washington, for overseas shipment. We were puzzled when we learned that we were destined for Korea, as none of us knew where it was.

Back to Memoir Contents

Korea Between the Wars

MG car - Our first clue that all was not peaceful in "The Land of the Morning Calm" came when we saw a flat car with a heavy .30 cal machine gun crew in front of the engine and another one at the end of the train.
(Click picture for a larger view)

We set sail on 13 September 1946 for Inchon (then known as Jinsen) on the SS Williams Victory. After 21 mostly uneventful days and an overnight stop in Yokohama, we reached Inchon Harbor and, just as many did in later years, went ashore in landing craft and were transported to the Replacement Depot at Yongdongpo. About half of our group was sent to the 7th Infantry Division in the northern half of South Korea and the rest of us were loaded on a train for the trip to 6th Infantry Division headquarters at Pusan. We got an indication that all was not peaceful when we saw that our train had an empty flat car followed by another one with a sand-bagged heavy .30 caliber machine gun and crew in front of the engine and another one at the end of the train. It turned out that the communists were making trouble wherever possible and there were frequent riots in various towns around the country.

After an overnight stay, three of us got back on the train and made a 24-hour journey back to Taejon, then west to Kunsan, the home of the 63rd Infantry Regiment. Our camp, Camp Hillenmeyer, was located on a former Japanese air base on the shore of the Yellow Sea. (Kunsan became a US Air Force base during the Korean War and remains so today.) I was assigned to Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, the second officer in the company. I won't bore you with the story of my nearly year-long stay there, although I had a few interesting times. I got to travel around the country a little doing various chores and even went to a one-month mess officer’s course in Japan.

My company commander, with whom I shared quarters, was a West Pointer, as were three other officers in the battalion. They were all very fine people and good friends, but I soon concluded that the life of a career Army officer in peacetime was not for me. In addition, our living conditions, and especially our food, were atrocious. Conditions for the enlisted men were even worse.  We were at the end of a very long supply line at a time when the Army was "downsizing" as we do at the end of every war. Everything was in short supply--rations, clothing, equipment, spare parts and personnel. In short, we were probably in worse shape as far as combat readiness was concerned than the occupation troops in Japan. If the Korean War had started in 1947 instead of 1950, I’m not sure that we would have been able to slow the North Koreans down any better than the South Koreans did.

After I got home, I noted with interest that we withdrew our occupation troops from Korea in 1948. On 1 August 1947, I got the long-awaited orders home, but this time we sailed from Pusan and arrived in San Francisco and were processed through Camp Stoneman. As we left Pusan, I recall saying, “Thank God I’ll never have to see this place again.”

After some terminal leave I was a civilian again on 1 October 1947, about a year later than my buddy from ASTRP days. I had decided that I wanted to study electrical engineering when I got home, so I looked into the entrance requirements for several colleges. My first choice was Cal Tech, but their entrance exams were only given in May so I got a job and took a course at a local junior college that I needed to meet the entrance requirements. I also indulged a long-held desire and got a private pilot's license. The Cal Tech entrance exam was a real killer.  It was a three-hour session each in math, physics, chemistry and English over two days, with over a thousand applicants competing for about 140 positions. I wasn't sure how I did when it was over, so I really sweated out getting the letter with the results. It came about a month later and I was on Cloud Nine when I found that I had been accepted. I entered as a freshman in September 1948.

Back to Memoir Contents

Back in the Army

I was financing my college education by a combination of the G.I. Bill and savings that I had accumulated during my occupation duty in Korea. At the beginning of my sophomore year I could see that I would need some additional income or I wasn't going to make it through four years. I had read in the paper that they were looking for people to join a new California National Guard unit in Arcadia (my home town) so I went down to check it out. It was a Field Artillery unit and I had always been more interested in heavy weapons than in infantry tactics. They paid a full day's pay for a two-hour drill one evening a week and they said I could attend the Basic Artillery course at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma the following summer to become qualified as an artillery officer. I would make more money in 13 weeks on 2nd Lieutenant's pay than I would be likely to make in a normal summer job, so on 1 November 1949, I signed up in Battery A of the 980th Field Artillery Battalion, 40th Infantry Division, California National Guard.

The first glitch in my well-thought-out plan occurred when I was told in May that the funds for sending people to school had run out, so my summer job disappeared. Then, on June 25, 1950, we were having a weekend drill doing an RSOP (Reconnaissance, Selection and Occupation of Position) in the dry San Gabriel River bed when someone happened to turn on a portable radio and heard that the North Koreans had invaded South Korea. Everyone said "Where in the hell is Korea?" I was the only one who knew and recalled that I had said exactly the same thing when I got orders to go there in August of 1946.

It wasn't very long before the announcement came that the 40th Division would be called to active duty on 1 September 1950. That summer I didn't get a job. Instead, I spent a good part of it at my parents' weekend mobile home at Treasure Island Trailer Park in Laguna Beach. Each evening we would watch the television news about the fighting and the news was invariably bad. The U.S. forces were taking quite a beating. This wasn't too surprising since they had been enjoying the soft life of occupation duty in Japan for years. The units were under-strength, under-equipped, and under-trained when they were hurriedly shipped to Korea and thrown into the battle. It's amazing that they were able to slow down the advance of the North Koreans as well as they did. I definitely empathized with them because I remembered thinking that we would have been in just as bad shape if the war had started three years earlier.

When I wasn't enjoying the sun and the surf at Laguna, I volunteered to make numerous trips to the National Guard Headquarters at Camp San Luis Obispo to pick up equipment or vehicles. (This was the camp that my brother Bob had been sent to when he was called up with the 40th Division in March of 1941.) So it was a leisurely and relaxed summer before the rude awakening to come. I didn't really mind the fact that I was going back into the Army. I felt that since I had been too young to see combat in World War II, it was my turn to go in this one. Also, I thought it was the duty of everyone to serve his country when called, especially those who were young and single.  Besides, I was running out of money to go to school.

On August 1st I was surprised and pleased to be promoted to 1st Lieutenant. During my previous service, I had always been the junior officer in my unit, and therefore got all of the additional duties that nobody else wanted, such as mess officer, pay officer, bond officer, recruiting officer, safety officer, etc. Now, suddenly, I was no longer the junior officer and didn't have to take so many of those annoying little extra jobs. Except for a minor increase in pay, that was the most noticeable advantage to the promotion.

On September 1st we left our Armory in Arcadia at about 5:00 a.m. and my mother came down to see us off. I have often wondered what was going through her mind as she saw another loved one off to war. She had sent her husband to France in 1917, her elder son Bob to the Army before Pearl Harbor and overseas to the Philippines and Okinawa, and me to the Army in my turn, including a trip overseas. Fortunately, all of us returned unharmed, probably due in no small part to her prayers.

Our truck convoy wound its way slowly to our new home, Camp Cooke, near Santa Maria, California. (It is better known as Vandenburg Air Force Base today.) Camp Cooke was a real eye-opener. It apparently hadn't had a bit of maintenance since it was closed at the end of World War II. The old wooden barracks had leaky roofs, broken windows and plumbing problems. I remember that our Italian-American mess sergeant was able to whip up a very tasty pizza for evening chow that night using our field ranges, since none of the equipment in the mess halls was working.

We were soon very busy trying to convert our under-strength, under-equipped, under-trained units into some semblance of a functioning military organization. First, there was the massive clean-up necessary to make our barracks livable. Before long we were assisted in this by civilian contractors who made the necessary repairs and even painted the buildings. The next order of business was to begin refresher training in basic military subjects. Early in the game, our division commander, Maj. Gen. Daniel H. Hudelson, decided that all the officers needed a refresher course also, so we were required to attend a two-week course that resembled a sort of condensed Officer Candidate School.

General Hudelson had served with Patton's Third Army in Europe and was obviously modeling himself after "Old Blood and Guts", including an attempt at copying his histrionics. He gave the introduction to our refresher course, vowing to make us all "killers". Naturally, the course was thereafter referred to by us as "Killers' School". I'm afraid that none of us took it very seriously until we were told that if we didn't have perfect attendance and satisfactory performance, we would repeat the course until we did. That made a big difference in our attitudes.

As we began to be able to function as basic soldiers, the next step was to get us to function as an artillery unit. We started by having many hours of gun drill, formally known as "Service of the Piece" and informally known as "Cannoneer's Hop" or "Cannoneer's Boogie". Our weapon was the sturdy and reliable 105mm Howitzer towed by a two and a half-ton prime mover. We spent many hours pulling into position, uncoupling the Howitzer, preparing it for action, and running through simulated fire commands followed by "Close Station, March Order" . After a few hours of this, we were happy to hear the final "CSMO" for the day.

A little artillery trivia:  The difference between mortars, Howitzers, and guns is based on the length of the tube relative to the caliber. Mortar tubes are 10-20 calibers in length; Howitzers are 20-30; and guns are over 30. The 105mm Howitzer used semi-fixed ammunition. The projectile and brass shell casing, containing seven powder bags, were packed separately. After any excess powder bags were discarded, the projectile was placed in the casing and the round was loaded as one piece. Anything bigger than the 105 used separate loading ammunition--that is, projectile and powder bags were loaded separately.

Many of my fellow officers were in the same boat as I was, in that they were not trained artillerymen. This problem was being solved by sending a few at a time to the officer's basic course at Ft. Sill--the school I had wanted to attend during my summer vacation. I wasn't included in the first few contingents, so in order to be able to function with my battery I began to study the appropriate field manuals on my own. I was intrigued by the problem of how to hit a target that was out of sight. When I got stuck on something that wasn't clear from the manuals, I asked questions of my fellow officers who were supposed to be artillerymen, and it soon became apparent that most of them didn't have very many answers. This was because they were trained during World War II and the system of artillery fire control had been completely changed after the war.

The only formal training I received during this time was a two-week gunnery course conducted four hours per day by a single, very good, instructor from Ft. Sill. It was all classroom work.  We didn't get to shoot a round or do anything except with pencil and paper in the classroom. However, at least I could ask questions about the subjects that weren't clear from the manuals. A by-product of this course was that I gained a lot of respect for the people who reduced a very complex problem in physics, mathematics, meteorology and surveying to something that could be done using nothing more than grocery-store arithmetic.

At the conclusion of this short course I found that I was about as knowledgeable about gunnery as some of the officers who were beginning to return from Ft. Sill. I still wanted to go to the "real" school, however, so that I could learn some of the finer points and because nobody could claim to be an artilleryman if he hadn't been to THE SCHOOL. At this point, my initiative backfired on me. When I asked when I was going to be sent to school, I was told that I would be sent after all the others who didn't know as much as I did had been sent. Before my turn came we were shipped overseas. Although I was somewhat annoyed that my extra work had actually prevented my going to the school I wanted, I recognized the logic of the decision from the battalion commander's standpoint. I even began to take a somewhat perverse pride in being the only battery executive officer in the entire Division Artillery who hadn't been to Ft. Sill.

For the non-artillery types, the battery executive officer or “exec” in a field artillery battery, in addition to being the second-in-command of the whole battery, commands what is known as the "firing battery". As its name implies, the firing battery is the part that actually shoots.  At that time it comprised six Howitzer sections and a firing battery headquarters, including the battery fire direction center. The rest of the battery contained the cooks, mechanics, clerks, supply, communication and survey sections, battery headquarters and three forward observer sections--in short, everyone necessary for a functional unit except the shooting part.

During that fall and winter I seem to remember the weather alternating between dense fog and high winds, but I'm sure it wasn't really that bad. Our ranks were being filled by the draft and a few enlistees and recalled Reserve Officers, and slowly we were becoming more of a unit. Occasionally we were able to fire our 105's on the little postage-stamp range on the base. This was a place where I didn't enjoy being a safety officer. The battery doing the firing used their regular exec and NCOs to supervise the gun crews, and the battalion fire direction center converted the observer's corrections to fire commands; but an officer from another battery was assigned as safety officer with the responsibility for insuring that no round was fired outside the limits of the range. This was a real challenge at our state of training and the configuration of the range.  It was quite small and had about five doglegs or notches on each side.

The safety officer first had to be sure that the fire commands were safe.  They didn't have to be correct, just so they wouldn't put a round outside the range. In addition, he had to be sure that none of the six gun crews made the famous "100 mil error" in deflection or elevation and that they didn't leave any extra powder bags in the shell casing. This had to be done without delaying the firing too much. I never had any trouble, but I recall one day when my battery had finished and a few of us were standing by the side of the road waiting for another battery to finish when a shell exploded about 200 yards from us. Needless to say, it got our attention, and that battery exec and safety officer had a long session with the battalion commander.  That brought out the story of the time in World War II when (legend had it) a 37mm armor piercing (i.e., non-explosive) round was accidentally fired into the dining car of a Southern Pacific train running down the coast.

Life at Camp Cooke wasn't really too bad. Unless we had "the duty", we were able to go home at noon on Saturday and weren't required to be back until reveille on Monday. Of course, that meant that everyone partied hard on Saturday night and most put off their return trip until the last possible minute and had to make the three-hour drive without enough sleep. The roads weren't as good in those days as they are now, and State Highway 1, which was the last part of the trip, was nothing but curves and hills, often with foggy patches. It seemed that a weekend didn't pass without one or more traffic deaths. A lot of lives would probably have been saved if we had been stationed too far from home to make it back on a weekend pass.  One particularly tragic case involved Lieutenant Fisher of C Battery. He and his wife and their two small sons were on their way to Ft. Sill in their car when they had a very bad accident.  Mrs. Fisher was the only survivor.

The time passed quickly at Camp Cooke. The routine of training, rushed weekend trips home, and the occasional stint of weekend duty continued. At Christmas I got the duty because I was single and the men with families got leave.  However, I got leave over New Year's Day. On 21 January 1951, I, along with nine other officers in the division, reported to the Naval Amphibious Base at Coronado, California, for a two-week course in Naval Gunfire Support. This was a pleasant interlude since the course wasn't very demanding and we got to go aboard a few ships and learn a little bit about the Navy, including how to climb down a cargo net from the deck of an APA (Assault Transport) into a landing craft bobbing up and down in five-foot swells. We learned how to talk to the Navy by radio and request fire support during the early phases of an amphibious landing before our own artillery was ashore.

We field artillery types were very impressed with the amount of firepower available from a relatively few guns, since they had a lot of machinery to load and pass ammunition--things that we primitive folks did mostly by hand. We were particularly impressed with the LSMR (Landing Ship, Medium, Rocket) with 20 automatic launchers which could empty its cargo of 5,000 five-inch rockets in 15 minutes. They weren't very accurate, but they could certainly saturate a large area. We were also impressed with the statistics of the 16" guns of the battleships. We didn't get to see any of these first-hand, but they claimed that an armor-piercing round from a 16" gun would penetrate 30 feet of reinforced concrete. I don't know how they determined that, but we were all quite impressed since it was so much greater than anything in the field artillery. On the other hand, we learned that naval gunfire wasn't as accurate against horizontal targets as our weapons because of their much higher muzzle velocity with its accompanying larger range dispersion. Also, naval guns had difficulty hitting targets on reverse slopes because of their relatively flat trajectories.

It was about February when we were sent to Hunter Liggett Military Reservation, a little bit north of Camp Roberts and toward the coast from King City, where there was a decent artillery range where all the Division Artillery Howitzer outfits (three 105mm battalions and one 155mm battalion) could fire at once. This was supposed to be a kind of graduation exercise and we were dispersed tactically and dug in. We had one good day of firing, and then that night it started to rain.  I mean it poured. I was awakened about midnight by water dripping on me from a leak in the roof of the CP (Command Post) tent. Soon the gun pits began to fill with water, so we had to pull the guns out. Some of our two and a half-ton prime movers got stuck in the process and had to be winched out. We didn't get much sleep that night, and nearly everybody got thoroughly soaked, but by morning our guns were no longer in danger of being submerged and we were ready to shoot again.

Firing continued in the rain until about mid-morning, when we got word from the OP (Observation Post) that a bunch of cows had wandered onto the range. Unfortunately, by the time we got the word to "cease fire", a battery volley was "on the way". At least one of the cows was killed and a couple more were injured. The order was given to suspend firing until someone could get word to ranch headquarters and some cowboys could come out and round up the survivors. In the meantime, some of our more enterprising officers with farm backgrounds decided that we shouldn't let all that fresh meat go to waste. Lieutenant Griffin of C Battery and some volunteer butchers jumped into a 6 x 6 (two and a half-ton truck) armed with axes and knives and headed out to the impact area. About the time they had a couple of carcasses in the back of the truck, the cowboys showed up and rounded up the rest of the herd.

Unfortunately, as our guys were leaving the area they got stuck in the mud up to the axles. They had the foresight to take a radio with them, so they quickly called for help and the battery sent another "deuce and a half" to pull them out. The word soon came back that they were both stuck. They then upped the ante and sent out a four-ton wrecker. It wasn't any time at all before the word came again--they were all stuck. By this time the battalion commander was fit to be tied because the cows and cowboys were all out of the area and his own people were preventing the entire Division Artillery from resuming the shoot. Finally someone located a bulldozer working on a nearby road and got him to come and pull all three trucks out. Of course, by this time the range was closed for the day and our firing schedule was totally disrupted. Colonel Liebrecht was so furious that he ordered that all the meat be thrown away. All of it wasn't thrown away, however.  Some of us had some steaks, but uncured beef isn't all that wonderful.

Back to Memoir Contents


In March we got the word that we were shipping out. We loaded all our vehicles, guns and equipment onto flatcars and headed for Camp Stoneman at Pittsburg, California. Soon we were all loaded on transports and sailing out of the Golden Gate, destination--Japan. The voyage was more enjoyable than my previous ones. Our troop ship had previously transported dependents, so the officer's dining room had white tablecloths and real silver. The troop accommodations and chow were also much better than on the other ships I had been on. We had three excellent meals a day and spent the rest of our day on deck or reading. I don't know why we didn't gain about twenty pounds each, but we didn't seem to.

About four days out of Yokohama, an announcement came over the public address system that an extremely important broadcast was about to be made by United Nations headquarters. We were all speculating as to what it might be, and the most prevalent theory was that the Soviets had entered the war. However, it turned out that the announcement was that MacArthur had been relieved as United Nations commander. We didn't think that this was great news, but it was certainly better than the thought of facing the Soviet Union in Korea.

We landed in Yokohama, got our equipment and vehicles unloaded, and proceeded to our new home, Camp Whittington, located in the country a few hours from Tokyo. (Note: There was no place in Japan that could accommodate an entire division, so the units were scattered around in smaller camps. The 980th Field Artillery Battalion was the only unit at Camp Whittington.) I don't know what unit had occupied Camp Whittington before us, but as I remember, it was at least as nice as the quarters at Camp Cooke. Furthermore, we could get to Tokyo occasionally on the weekends.

We began training immediately, as we were told that we would be taking the Battery Test soon. I didn't have the faintest idea what that mean, so I started to study what we would have to do. The Battery Test was designed to test everything that a field artillery battery was ever likely to be called upon to do independently. In a normal situation, fire commands for the firing batteries were computed by the battalion fire direction center (FDC).  But in the battery test, each battery had to compute its own firing data using its own small FDC. The test scenario started with the battery on a road march when it got a radio message requesting immediate fire support. The battery had to then find a suitable position, move into it, and fire a mission accurately within a given time. Then, the battery had to conduct a base point registration--i.e., fire at a known reference point to determine corrections. Following that, there were a number of exercises just for the FDC, and then one last fire mission.

As I read the instructions for the test, it became apparent that most of the points in the test would be won or lost by the firing battery.  The rest of the battery was just along for the ride unless they did something silly. In addition, over half of the points would be won or lost strictly by the FDC, and most of the rest of the points were dependent on the FDC first and the gun crews second. Based on this information, I started intensive training of my battery FDC. The battery FDC consisted of me, the HCO (Horizontal Control Operator) who determined deflection and range, the VCO (Vertical Control Operator) who determined elevation, and a recorder/radio operator. My HCO and VCO were two draftees from New York City. I drilled them every chance I got, including after duty hours. They were really sharp and didn't seem to mind the extra work.  After a while, they got to be very good.

Of course, we drilled the gun crews very hard, too. We got so we could be roaring down a road, move into a position, and be ready to fire in just a few minutes. This isn't as easy as it sounds. First, after the battery commander had designated a general area, the driver of each prime mover, under the direction of the section chief and the Chief of Firing Battery, had to pull into a good position.  Then the crew had to uncouple the Howitzer, spread the trails, mount the sights, unload the ammo, and string a telephone wire to the FDC. Meanwhile, the exec picked a spot where he could see all the guns, shedded helmet, pistol and anything else that would affect a magnetic needle, and set up the aiming circle (something like a miniature, ruggedized surveyor's transit) and centered its compass needle so that the instrument was oriented in the direction of fire. Then he had to "lay the battery" so that all the tubes were parallel and pointed in the direction of fire. Finally, each Howitzer section had to set out its aiming posts, their reference points for deflection. Soon we got so that we were pretty good at this, due in large part to a great bunch of NCOs like my Chief of Firing Battery, MSgt Ken Kunow, and all the Chiefs of Section.

Finally the big day came. All our hard work paid off. The gun crews, and especially the FDC, were great. Battery A got the second highest score in the 40th Division Artillery and the highest score of the nine light (105mm) batteries. The only one who beat us was one of the three medium (155mm) batteries, the favorites of the Division Artillery Commander. Needless to say, there was a big celebration that night.

My triumph was short lived, however. The next morning, 30 May 1951, I awoke with a real pain in the rear.  It was extremely painful for me to walk or sit. I went to the battalion surgeon, who diagnosed me as having a thrombosed external hemorrhoid and decided I had better go to the hospital in Tokyo to have it taken care of. The three-hour trip in a GI vehicle over very rough roads was one of the longest trips I have ever made.

When I got to the Tokyo Army Hospital, I had a hard time getting anyone to take my problem seriously. Apparently, when they saw "hemorrhoid" on the diagnosis, they didn't think it was a real problem. After a couple of hours, I got a doctor to examine me and he admitted me to the hospital immediately. A surgeon operated on me that afternoon in the ward office.  A couple of snips and it was all over. I thought that it was all pretty easy until the anesthetic wore off. I have often said that there may still be a bed in the Tokyo Army Hospital (if there is still such a place) with my hand prints in the bed rails. I spent a couple of very uncomfortable days, but nothing was comparable to the first bowel movement. This has been accurately described as similar to passing broken glass. My best relief from the pain was taking frequent Sitz baths.

As the days passed, I began to get a little more comfortable and to be able to walk almost normally. A few days after I entered the hospital, the battalion went into the field, so my stay in the hospital was a little longer than normal since it would be a little difficult to take a Sitz bath in a steel helmet. During this time I ran into another patient, 1st Lt. Richard Duea, who had been in my OCS class in 1946. He had stayed in the Army instead of getting out as most of the rest of our class had done, and had been wounded while serving in Korea with the 2nd Division. My extended hospital stay also made it possible to meet my brother Bob, who was passing through the Replacement Depot at Camp Drake near Tokyo on his way to Korea. Bob, who had spent five years in the infantry during World War II, including some combat time on Okinawa and the Philippines, had been placed in the inactive reserve when he got out of the Army. That meant that he didn't attend drills or, of course, get any pay or promotions. In spite of that and the fact that he was married with a small child, he was recalled to active duty, sent to a 30-day refresher course, and shipped overseas as a replacement officer (1st Lieutenant, Infantry). There were a lot of officers in his shipment who had similar stories.

(NOTE: In recent years, I suddenly came to the realization that, if I hadn’t joined the National Guard and been recalled to active duty, I could have been recalled as a 2nd Lieutenant, Infantry. Considering the normal life expectancy of a rifle platoon leader, I reached the conclusion that joining the National Guard may very well have saved my life.) At any rate, because of my extended stay in the hospital, I was able to find out that Bob had arrived and to get out to see him briefly. It was the first of several reunions while we were both in the Far East.

A few days after I saw Bob, on 8 June 1951, the doctors decided that I could return to my unit. The battalion had moved to a new location on the slopes of Mt. Fuji, where we were housed in tents. It wasn't quite like camping out because the tents had concrete floors and we had Quonset huts for mess halls, but it was a far cry from the semi-luxurious quarters at Camp Whittington. We were engaged in battalion exercises as the next step in our training. This was an interesting and challenging period, but my condition made it rather painful to bounce around the countryside in a jeep, which I did most of the time. A friend, 1st Lt. Cramer L. Williams, the CO of Headquarters Battery, loaned me a nice thick cushion for my jeep, which helped a lot.

It wasn't all work during this period. We were living in a beautiful area of Japan, near Lake Kawaguchi, a popular Japanese resort area. On weekends we could often get away to the resorts, where I discovered the benefits of the Japanese bath--which was the next best thing to a Sitz bath for my condition. In a few weeks I was back to normal. We also were able to visit Kofu, which is famous for its crystal jewelry. We even ventured as far as Tachikawa Air Force Base looking for bargains in their BX (Base Exchange). Even when we were training we had beautiful scenery to look at. It was always interesting to see the unusual cloud formations around the peak of Fuji-san.

On 20 July 1951, Colonel Liebrecht made me a Liaison Officer (Ln O), who was a member of the battalion staff and was the liaison between the artillery and one of the infantry battalions we were supporting--that is, the advisor on artillery support to the infantry battalion commander. This was ostensibly a reward for doing so well on the battery test, and it was a captain's position, although there wasn't any chance of being promoted to the rank. This was another job that I didn't know anything about and would have to learn on my own.

In those days, a field artillery battalion normally supported an infantry regiment, which had three battalions. A Ln O was assigned to each of the three infantry battalions and a fourth one to regimental headquarters. After a few more weeks of battalion exercises, we made a road march over some very bad roads to an artillery range for some advanced firing exercises. After the batteries were in position, we waited until dark so we could do a night high-burst registration--the only one I ever witnessed, before or since. This was done for the same purpose as a base point registration--to determine corrections by firing at a known point. However, at night, when the target couldn't be seen, the procedure was to fire time-fused shells set so that they burst about 200-300 yards in the air. The survey sections set up instruments at each end of a long baseline. The location of each burst was determined by triangulation so the corrections could be determined as if the fire was at a known target.

We finished up about 11:00 p.m. and crawled into our sleeping bags for some well-earned rest. Sometime before dawn it began to rain. As the morning progressed, the rain got harder and harder, accompanied by lots of wind. Soon the rain was practically horizontal and we were all standing around in our ponchos, soaked to the skin, watching the rain run off our helmets. It turned out that this was the tail end of a typhoon.  Since it didn't appear that it was going to end soon, the decision was made that we should return to camp. So we loaded up and started the road march home. I think it took us about four hours and I don't think it was more than 20 miles.  When we pulled into camp, we were even more miserable. Many of our tents were blown down and lots of our belongings were soaked. Some of the corrugated iron was even blown off the mess hall Quonset huts.

Shortly after this episode, before the mud in our streets had completely dried, we packed up again and loaded our gear on the train. This time our destination, along with the 224th Infantry Regiment, was in the northern part of Honshu, north of the town of Hachinoe at a former Japanese air base now known as Camp Haugen. This was more like our quarters at Camp Whittington, with permanent barracks. The officers were quartered in the former dependent housing area. I shared a three-bedroom duplex that was really nice with two other officers.  After the tents that we had lived in recently, this was the height of luxury.

Camp Haugen was a nice post. Our quarters were wonderful and the weather when we arrived (I think it was July) was very nice. However, the only artillery range available was at the extreme northern tip of the island of Honshu, about 70 miles away. At this time, someone decided it would be excellent training for the four liaison sections to go up to the range and camp out while the firing batteries came up for one week each. Each of the four sections consisted of the Ln O, a sergeant, and a driver. There were no facilities at all at the range, so we were definitely on our own when one of the batteries wasn’t there. It was kind of fun except that we had to live on "C" rations when we couldn't eat with one of the batteries. On the weekends we would drive in to the nearest town and go to a hotel where we could get a Japanese bath to get clean.

It was a very interesting month that we spent there. We could look across the Tsugaru Straits and see the island of Hokkaido. We made ourselves useful during the times the batteries weren't there by conducting informal classes and blowing up unexploded artillery rounds that we found out on the range. This was where I picked up the expended 105mm smoke projectile that I still have. It landed in soft ground at such an angle that it ricocheted up in the air and landed on the surface without even crushing the fuse.

On 4 August, Lt. Jim Smith and I were picked from the 980th to be on a team of umpires from 40th Division Artillery to give the battery test to units of the 45th Division (Oklahoma National Guard) who were stationed at Camp Chitose on the island of Hokkaido. This was a very interesting trip because we were taking our own umpire vehicles on flatcars on the train which would be put on the ferry from Aomori on Honshu to Hakodate on Hokkaido, an overnight sea voyage. The train continued on from Hakodate to, I believe, Muroran where our train cars were shunted onto a siding. We were quartered in the sleeping cars that we travelled in. We spent about 12 days there (including my 24th birthday) and found that the 45th Division Artillery was a pretty good outfit. Incidentally, of the eight National Guard divisions called to active duty during the Korean War, only four went overseas and two of those went to Germany. The 40th and 45th were the only ones to go to Japan, and later to Korea.

It wasn't long after our trip to Hokkaido that I was picked to do some more umpiring, this time for the 674th Field Artillery Battalion of the 187th Regimental Combat Team (an Airborne outfit) on Kyushu. I was pleased to get this chance to see the other end of Japan. I set out again on the train, stopping at Sendai long enough to join up with the rest of the team from Division Artillery who were stationed there. This time we had the experience of travelling from Honshu to Kyushu via the railroad tunnel that runs under the Tsushima Straits. At that time it was, I think, the longest underwater tunnel in the world. We arrived at Kitayufuin, the nearest train station to Mori Range, on the evening of 19 September 1951.

The 187th Regimental Combat Team had made a combat jump in Korea and, of course, they weren't too thrilled at being judged by a bunch of "straight leg" National Guardsmen. However, we found that they weren't nearly as hot as they kept telling themselves. They did pass the battery tests, though. In between tests, we were able to spend some time in nearby Beppu, which is known as the "Naples of the Orient". Not having seen Naples, I don't know whether or not that is an apt description, but it was very scenic.

Soon after we returned from Kyushu, Bob wrote that he was coming to Tokyo on R & R. I was able to get a few days off and took the train down to spend a couple of days with him. He was exec of a rifle company at that time, but was soon to be placed in command when his CO was wounded. This was so strange to be seeing Bob in downtown Tokyo not very long after seeing him at Camp Drake. I have reflected often on the fact that I saw him more often while we were both overseas than I have seen him since because he lives on the other side of the country. This was another of those all-too-brief visits. Little did I realize at the time that we were going to have another reunion in the very near future under different circumstances.

Fall arrived and the weather began to turn cold in our northern locale. I don't recall too much about the next few months except that we began to wonder if we were ever going to be sent to Korea. We were certainly trained by now.  In fact, we were probably over-trained, if anything. As I recall, the truce talks restarted at about this time, so the combat action was greatly reduced. For Bob's sake I was profoundly grateful about this. I didn't know it at the time, but he had already seen quite a bit of action and had been put in for a Silver Star, which he was awarded after he returned home.

Sometime in October, Colonel Liebrecht was transferred and we got a new battalion commander, Maj. Ralph J. Eubank. He was a big improvement in personality over Colonel Liebrecht. He was very sharp and I was very impressed with him. His only fault that I knew of, in common with a lot of officers at this time, was often drinking to excess. I think we all had a lot more alcohol than we needed, but booze was so cheap ($1.25 for a bottle of good bourbon or gin) and the ill effects so much less well-known than they are today, that we all figured that we “couldn't afford not to drink”. I also have to credit John Mensinger with introducing me to martini's, which I developed too much of a taste for, at this time. Without a lot of more healthful activities to pursue, getting drunk was a fairly regular weekend pastime.

Soon the snow began to fly at Camp Haugen. I think it was about the end of November or early December when the entire battalion went up to the range for an exercise. We were supposed to be "tactical". That meant that all vehicles had their tops down, windshields down and covered, and there were to be no lights at night. We had no sooner arrived at the range at about nightfall than it began to snow. I recall having chow in the pitch dark, not sure of what I was eating, and then throwing my bedroll down in a couple of inches of snow. Fortunately, I was well-prepared. My bedroll consisted of a heavy canvas cover inside which was a cheap commercial sleeping bag, an air mattress, and a GI down-filled sleeping bag with a wool liner inside that. I could sleep comfortably in that bedroll no matter how cold it got. This is one of many reasons I was glad to be in the field artillery, where we didn't have to carry everything on our backs. We didn't have any cold weather gear at this time, so everyone had to improvise to stay warm. When the exercise was over, we had a hard trip back to camp. None of our vehicles was equipped with chains and many of our drivers, being from California, had no experience of driving in snow and ice. Every mile or so a vehicle would go in the ditch. There was no room for a wrecker to get by the rest of the column on the one lane road, so we just had to bypass them and leave them for the wrecker at the end of the column. Obviously, the progress was extremely slow. I was fortunate that my Liaison Sergeant, S/Sgt Hale Thomas, was from the east coast, so we didn't have any trouble.  But it took us all day and into the evening to make a trip that normally took two or three hours.

Back to Memoir Contents

Korea Again

I think it was just before Christmas 1951 that we found out that we were finally going to Korea. We had almost concluded that we were going to spend the entire war in Japan--not that we would have complained about that. About ten of us were going over with the advance party to prepare for the rest of the unit to follow. I remember packing all of the stuff I wouldn't need in Korea in my footlocker to be stored until we returned, whenever that was to be. We were to take only what we could carry--a small pack containing a down sleeping bag, a change of clothes and our toilet articles, plus our individual weapons. The rest of our gear would come over with the main body of the battalion.

We left around New Year's Day by train to Yokohama to board a transport. The trip to Inchon took about two days. We scrambled down the cargo nets into a landing craft the next morning, and after reaching the shore were trucked immediately to the railroad station. We got on the train about noon, having driven through scenes of incredible devastation. The last time I had seen the city of Seoul, some five years earlier, it was pretty squalid, but at least it was intact. The train trip was uneventful but slow, arriving at the railhead at Chunchon just before midnight. Here we transferred to open 6 x 6's. The temperature was 5 F and we had no real cold weather gear--only combat boots for footgear and trench coats over our uniforms. I have never been so cold as I was on that six-hour ride from midnight until 6:00 a.m. In addition, there was the natural apprehension about racing around these mountain roads in the dark with only blackout lights, plus all the stories we had heard about Chinese ambushes. Besides that, my eyes watered from the cold and my eyelashes froze together so I couldn't even see. I would take my hands out of my pockets long enough to thaw my eyelashes and then my hands would start to freeze, so I put them back in my pockets and the cycle would start over again.

After what seemed an eternity, we made it to our destination, the 555th (Triple Nickel) Field Artillery Battalion headquarters. When I jumped out of the truck, I couldn't even feel my feet. We were taken into the officer's mess tent, which had an oil stove burning, and we all huddled around it for an hour or so. I forget when I found out that the Triple Nickel was the battalion supporting Bob's regiment (5th Infantry). I think it was before we left Japan, but I'm not sure about that. At any rate, after I thawed out for a while I found a field phone and called Bob's company. When he answered I said, "I'm here. Come and get me." Within an hour, he drove up and I got permission to go with him on a tour of his company's position. We drove as close as we could to the L Company position on the MLR (Main Line of Resistance), and after parking the jeep had a fairly healthy climb up the steep hill to the actual position. When I stopped on the way up to take a breather, we were passed by a Korean "chogie bearer" carrying two full five-gallon water cans on an "A frame".  He didn't stop once on the way. Since I was carrying nothing but a carbine and a canteen, I was immediately shamed into pushing on.

When we got to the company positions at the top of the ridge, I was struck by the similarity with movies I had seen of World War I trench warfare, except it was in very rugged, mountainous terrain. The company was very well dug in with trenches connecting bunkers with overhead cover of logs and sandbags. Their firing ports looked out on the Chinese positions on the next ridge and they were at least as well entrenched. It was clear that neither side would be able to advance without a lot of casualties. They spent the day looking at one another and the nights sending out patrols to be sure no one was sneaking up on them, while the "peace talks" droned on in Panmunjom.

I was amazed by an innovation I had never seen --a .50 caliber machine gun fitted with a sniper's telescopic sight. The machine gun was set to fire single shot and was sighted on one of the Chinese firing ports so that if anyone showed his head, he would lose it. Each rifle platoon took turns on outpost duty out in front of the MLR for a week at a time. Not only was this more nerve-wracking as the Chinese were also patrolling at night, but they had to eat "C" or "K" rations instead of getting two hot meals a day as they did on the MLR.

Needless to say, this visit convinced me once again that I was fortunate to be in the artillery instead of the infantry. [NOTE: I will refer to the enemy as Chinese, since those were the troops facing us rather than North Koreans. At this stage of the war, most of the enemy were Chinese. There were only a few North Korean units over near the east coast.] That night we bedded down on some ammunition boxes in a squad tent in the 555th area. Our GI down sleeping bags weren't really adequate for the near-zero temperature we had again, and the oil-fired tent stove kept going out because the diesel fuel became too viscous because of the cold to flow through the feed hose from the tank outside. In addition, I was still somewhat apprehensive because of all the stories we had heard about Chinese infiltrators. These stories, I found out later, were true, but the incidence was, fortunately, fairly rare. At any rate, we slept very fitfully because we were so cold. I could hardly wait for my big, comfortable bedroll to arrive.

I was also intrigued to see in practice something I had read about in reports. When there was an overcast, as there was that night, they would position a battery of 60-inch searchlights (something that was obsolete early in World War II) behind the MLR and bounce the searchlight beams off the bottom of the overcast to illuminate the area in front of the MLR. It was easy to understand why the infantry really liked having the area lit up at night to prevent people sneaking up on them in the dark.

The advance party spent the next week getting familiar with the area and the situation so we could ease the transition when the rest of the battalion arrived and began to relieve the 5th RCT. As it turned out, Bob's outfit would be there for a few weeks after I arrived, so we had a chance to see one another several more times.

One thing about the area that we were in struck me as very unusual. The nights were cold enough so that the ground was frozen solid and when vehicles were driven over the roads, they raised clouds of dust. In the middle of the day, it was warm enough that the ground thawed and became muddy. During the first winter, the troops discovered that vehicles had to be parked with the wheels on logs to prevent the wheels sinking into the mud during the day and being frozen in place during the night so they couldn't move. Many vehicles were lost this way when the troops had to "bug out" in a hurry.

Soon after we arrived, Major Eubank was transferred to Div Arty (Division Artillery) Headquarters, and so was I. In my case, I think, although no one ever told me this, the transfer was arranged because the CO of the 224th Infantry, Col. James R. Richardson, thought I was too inexperienced to be an Ln O (which was probably true). I didn't really mind because the position I was being transferred to was Air Observer, which not only allowed me to ride around in an airplane, but paid $100 a month extra in flight pay. There was a slight catch, however. I was told that I would also be expected to pull a night shift (and an occasional day shift) in the Div Arty FSCC (Fire Support Coordination Center). I didn't even mind that if I could have something to do with airplanes. The only down side of this arrangement was that I had to live at Div Arty Headquarters instead of back at the air strip several miles to the rear where the rest of the Air Section lived and the chow and the living accommodations were considerably better.  I also had to do most of my sleeping during the day when I wasn't flying.

My duty in the FSCC wasn't too demanding. Requests for fire support would come in over the radio or field telephone from the FO's (forward observers) or AO's (air observers), and I would make a decision on which battalion would provide the support based on the type of support requested and the size and location of the target. Sometimes if the target warranted it, I would request one of the Corps Artillery units, the heavy artillery (155mm gun or 8 inch howitzer). I was glad that I usually didn't have to deny the request because ammunition was fairly plentiful and we didn't have any really large actions which depleted our supplies quickly. The one exception was illuminating rounds (brilliant parachute flares which were ejected from the projectile over the area to be illuminated).  They were always in short supply because of the desire to have the front lines lit up at all times. The FO had to have a really good story to get an illumination mission. I really felt for the poor FO in those cases where I had to turn them down because I knew that if our positions were reversed, I would have wanted the place lit up like daylight. It got pretty spooky on a pitch black night when the tin cans full of pebbles hung on the barbed wire out in front of you began to rattle and you didn’t know if it was someone coming to kill you or just the wind or a foraging rat.

Bob came by Div Arty Headquarters one day in February and said that they were pulling out. They were going back to the rear area for a while and he would soon be eligible for rotation back to the States. I was glad to see him out of the front lines at last, but I would miss the frequent visits we had been able to have for the past nine months. Not long after that someone in higher headquarters, probably our gung-ho division commander, decided that we needed to conduct a reinforced-company raid "to destroy enemy forces and positions and to capture prisoners". The task fell to Company L., 224th Infantry, which had just relieved Bob's company about a week earlier. To assist L Company were other elements of the 224th--parts of Tank Company and Company M (the heavy weapons company), a platoon of the Heavy Mortar Company, a platoon of the division's AAA Air Wing Battalion with their Quad 50's, plus some combat engineers. The attack was set for February 18.

I remember that part of the artillery preparation was a TOT by all the battalions within range. (A TOT or time-on-target was when all the batteries timed their fire so that all the rounds landed on the target at the same instant.) I climbed the hill near the FSCC to watch what I could.  Although I couldn't see too much, it looked and sounded devastating. However, as our troops discovered in World War II, a well dug-in enemy could withstand a terrific bombardment. The attack never got to the crest of the ridge occupied by the Chinese. They came under heavy mortar, artillery and automatic weapons fire and when they started to get close to the top, the Chinese rolled grenades down the hill on them.  After quite a few casualties, the word was given to withdraw. Colonel Richardson, the regimental CO who had expressed serious doubts about the operation beforehand, accompanied his troops.  When his radio operator was mortally wounded, he carried him down the hill.

This operation cost seven KIA (Killed In Action) and 41 WIA (Wounded In Action). Among those killed was a platoon leader from L Company that I had known during my days as an Ln O in Japan. Although the casualties were not heavy by large scale combat standards, I thought it rather senseless to lose anyone for what seemed no good purpose. Of course, the Chinese did the same thing quite often with much higher casualties, most likely to gain some advantage at the peace talks. In most cases the artillery chewed them up badly before they got into assault positions, but still our infantry took casualties.

I went on flying status on 27 February 1951. The procedure was for the pilot to fly up from the Div Arty airstrip a few miles behind us to the forward air strip across the road from Division Artillery Headquarters.  I would then jump in and we would fly to our half of the division sector. The Div Arty Air Section consisted of two planes plus two from each of the three light and one medium battalions for a total of ten planes. They kept two in the air during all daylight hours (weather permitting), each responsible for one half of the division sector. The plane was designated the L-19, manufactured by Cessna, and was a big improvement over the liaison planes of World War II, which were just civilian light planes painted olive drab. The L-19 was all metal with a very big engine for that size plane (213 horsepower), a climbing prop, and large, barn door-type flaps. It could get in and out of some amazing places in the hands of a good pilot. The pilot flew from the front seat, but the observer in back could, if allowed, put a control stick in the socket on the floor in front of him, unfold a pair of rudder pedals from the floor, and fly from the back seat. I think most of the pilots were happy to have someone in the back seat who could get the plane home if they were hit and unable to fly it themselves. Some of the pilots would even let me try a landing from the back seat. This wasn't too easy because there was absolutely no visibility from the back seat in the forward direction, including the instrument panel, but by looking out the side windows, I was able to put it on the ground a few times without bending anything.

Our tactics were entirely different from those of the air observers in World War II because of the different terrain. In Europe, for example, they flew about 2000 feet above the ground over the front line units.  But in Korea, because of the rugged terrain, we couldn't see anything from that position so we flew directly over or beyond the target. Also because of the terrain, we couldn't use the traditional time fuse to get air bursts, so we used the VT (variable time or proximity) fuse to produce a nice uniform height of burst. Since VT fuses exploded when they got within 25 yards of the ground (or an airplane or even a cloud), we were careful to stay away from the trajectory. Of course, being this close to the bad guys, we did fly a little higher--like 5000-8000 feet above sea level, depending on the boldness of the pilot. This was possible because they couldn't keep any heavy caliber anti-aircraft guns within range of our artillery. That meant we didn't normally have to worry about anything heavier than .50 caliber or 20mm shooting at us. Furthermore, they didn't use tracers because, if they had, we would be able to see where they were coming from.  That made it pretty hard for them to hit even a slow-moving light plane a mile away. They often came close enough, however, that we could hear the "crack, crack, crack" of the bullets passing by us over the noise of the engine. In those cases, all we could do was look for the muzzle flashes, which weren't easy to see. When we occasionally did see them, we usually got anything we asked for in the way of artillery. Our favorite weapon in these cases was the 8" Howitzers from Corps Artillery. They were so accurate they could almost drop two rounds in the same hole and they were big enough (240 pound projectile) to do a lot of damage if they even came close. In fact, when the rounds exploded under us, the concussion would give us a real kick in the pants.

Many pilots and observers had some form of personal armor. I know I felt pretty naked up there when I heard someone shooting at us, and it definitely increased the "pucker factor". One of the pilots scrounged a large steel ring gear which he slipped under his seat cushion. I used a folded up "flak jacket" which I sat on. (I said it was to raise me in the seat so I could see better.) The rugged terrain caused another modification to normal procedure. Because it was easy to lose the first round of an adjustment in the steep canyons, it was standard practice to request, "First round Willie Peter" or white phosphorous. WP rounds produced a dense cloud of white smoke when they burst as the phosphorous ignited on contact with the air. (It also produced nasty burns if a fragment of it contacted the skin.)

I never got tired of the view from the air. The terrain reminded me of the San Gabriel Mountains of California near where I grew up, but on a smaller scale. That is, it was very rugged and steep with little vegetation. Of course, it was snow-covered when we arrived. During daylight, when we were flying, almost no activity could be seen on the Chinese side. Everyone was under cover and the open trenches between the covered positions were empty. Occasionally one or two soldiers would venture out in the open, but not for long. In other words, there was normally a great scarcity of targets.

One incident demonstrated to me how well the Chinese knew the maximum range of our artillery. One day we spotted a large column of troops--about 250 men, marching south down a main road in our sector but out of range. I radioed for a fire mission at maximum range "at my command". That is, we were all set to fire when I gave the word as they came within range. A few hundred yards before they reached the concentration I had requested, they all stopped, took a break, and then got up in twos and threes about 200 yards apart and ambled down the road. I had them fire a few rounds just to shake them up a little, but I am pretty sure we didn't do any damage. Just to keep the Chinese from getting too complacent, we would occasionally move one of our longer range guns--a self-propelled 155mm gun from Corps artillery, up into the front lines. These had a maximum range of about 35,000 yards. Of course, that meant that our airplanes had to venture quite a long way out in order to look for targets. Unfortunately, in this area, there was some real anti-aircraft, 40mm and 90mm.  So when out this far, the engine went into "automatic rough". I only drew this mission once, and that was enough. While we were looking for suitable targets, we suddenly saw a stair step of little white puffs that we judged to be 40mm reaching up toward us. It appeared that they had pre-set time fuses set to explode at different altitudes. We later were thankful that they didn't have anything more sophisticated than that. If they had radar fire control they might have been a lot closer on their opening bursts. My pilot nearly pulled the wings off the airplane getting it turned around and to a safer area.

A big problem during the winter months was the danger of frostbite. Most of the infantry wore Shoe-Pacs, which were well insulated rubber and leather boots. The good news is that they kept the water out and the bad news is that they kept the moisture in. They worked fine if you changed to dry socks and insoles every 24 hours. If you didn't, the moisture would build up in the insoles and the feet would freeze. I once wore them on a two-day trip to Yongdongpo to pick up replacements, and I nearly froze my feet before I could change mine. For people like me who normally didn't spend very long periods outdoors, the combat boot was a better choice because it allowed the feet to breathe.

The extreme cold was also responsible for an incident that cost the life of one of the 980th's forward observers. He was a former Air Corps pilot who had somehow joined the Reserve and gotten into our unit. He never quite got up to speed in the artillery. He was living with an infantry company on the front line when he may have tried to make an improvised gasoline stove to heat his bunker. At any rate, there was an explosion and he was severely burned. He was taken to the nearest MASH where it took him three days to die. That's one reason it took me a long time to get to appreciate the TV program M*A*S*H, because I thought it treated the subject a little too frivolously.

Personal hygiene wasn't very easy, even for us "rear area types". Once a month we were allowed a visit to the Quartermaster mobile bath unit. There we could take a real shower in warm water and trade our dirty uniforms for clean ones.  What luxury. Between those rare visits we had to use the standard GI steel helmet for shaving, bathing and washing underwear and socks.

In March the division was moved a few miles to the west, replacing a ROK division near the village of Kumwha, one corner of the Kumwha-Chorwon-Pyonggang "Iron Triangle". I'm not sure what the rationale for the move was, but it did give us Air Observers a lot of new targets for about a day and a half. You see, a ROK division didn't have as much artillery as a US division, and no airplanes, so the Chinese facing them weren't used to having observers looking down on them. The first day that we were up over their positions, they stood in open trenches and looked up at us. They soon got out of that habit after we dropped a few battery volleys of air bursts over them. It took them a little longer to get out of the habit of moving around in the open behind their lines, but they eventually gave that up when they discovered that it was quite "hazardous to their health".

Shortly after we were settled in our new position, Division Artillery Headquarters was one of a handful of units selected for a test to see how well we could dig in to protect ourselves from a possible nuclear attack. I guess someone was considering the possibility of the Soviets entering the war and escalating it by using atomic weapons. All of our tents had to be dug in up to the eaves and all vehicles dug in so they were completely below ground level. It so happened that at this time my tent mate had been transferred and I was all alone in a six-man mountain tent. That meant that in between night shifts and flying, I had to dig my tent in by myself. It was a somewhat sobering exercise, besides being very hard work. I fervently hoped that we wouldn't need to do this for real, because I didn't think our puny efforts would be very effective in protecting us from an atomic weapon.

I think it was a week or two later that I observed a potentially tragic incident while on a mission. We had an air strike in our sector from a flight of four Marine F4-U's (Corsairs). They were obviously new to the area because they began making runs on our own front line units. We couldn't believe it at first since, because of our air superiority, our units didn't bother much with camouflage and they all had large bright orange recognition panels prominently displayed all over the place. Fortunately, the planes didn't carry any napalm or it might have ended badly. As it turned out, they merely scared a lot of people with rockets and .50 cal before someone got them turned off.

This incident was hard to excuse, but a month or so later there was an even less excusable incident, also involving a flight of four Marine Corsairs. They came over our Division Artillery airstrip just after dawn and made a couple of passes firing rockets and .50 caliber again. This time they killed a poor GI in our Quartermaster company, supposedly one of the safest places to be. This was an even more glaring example of sloppy navigation and target recognition, since the airstrip was about five miles behind the front lines with dozens of tents and lots of vehicles and aircraft with big white stars on them scattered all around without any camouflage at all. On the second pass, one of our AAA units got a quad .50 mounted on a half track into action and fired a few bursts at them.  That finally woke them up and they broke off the attack.

Our forward airstrip had a couple of episodes involving Air Force planes. On the first one, a T-6 Mosquito had some kind of a mechanical problem and had to make a wheels-up landing. They had to take the wings off that one and haul it out on a flat bed trailer. The other one was an F-51 that took a hit in the cooling system, causing the engine to overheat. The pilot put that one down very skillfully on our very short strip, wheels down, without putting a scratch on it. It was repaired and flown out again about a week later.

Back to Memoir Contents

Rescue of Mosquito Observer

The most amazing thing I witnessed during my time in Korea occurred about two weeks before I left the country. I didn’t learn the details of this incident until I started researching it in 1992. In this research I was greatly aided by Ron Gorrell, who started the 224th Infantry Association. I am reporting these details now as we found them during this research.

On 27 May 1952, my pilot, 1st Lt. James F. (Sandy) Sanders and I were flying a normal artillery observation mission in the eastern half of the division sector when we saw a “Mosquito” (a T-6 single engine trainer used to perform target reconnaissance and marking of targets for close air support aircraft) crossing much of the division sector from east to west at very low altitude. The Mosquitoes were flown by Air Force pilots and carried a ground observer in the back seat. We could see that it was taking a lot of ground fire and was taking violent evasive action. Just as it appeared that it would get clear of the hostile fire, the plane did a wing-over and went vertically into the ground. The pilot, 1st Lt. Charles McBride, was apparently hit and died in the crash.

We were amazed to see a parachute pop open and immediately hit the ground about 100 yards in front of the Chinese positions and about 1000 yards from our lines. The chute had landed in the area of the other Division Artillery plane, but we flew as close to the area as possible without interfering with them. We soon heard a call in a distinctly British accent on the UHF survival radio channel. The call was immediately answered by another Mosquito piloted by Air Force Captain John Payer who was in the area training a new observer. Captain Payer immediately took charge of the operation and diverted some F-51’s and F-80’s to hit the area around the survivor, keeping the Chinese away.

I later found out that the observer was British 1st Lieutenant W.P.R. “Peter” Tolputt from the 14th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. Peter had essentially crouched in the back seat and pulled the rip cord and the parachute had pulled him out of the aircraft at an altitude of about 400 feet. He hit the ground with considerable force, but without breaking any bones--only twisting his knee. He assembled his survival radio and was in constant contact with Captain Payer. We monitored all their conversations as well as those of the other artillery observer who, in between fighter strikes, called in fire missions to keep the Chinese from snatching Peter as they were very anxious to do.

The CO of Company E, 224th Infantry, 1st Lt. Arthur Belknap, observing this drama unfold, quickly got permission to attempt a rescue mission. He then called his platoon leaders to find volunteers for a patrol. At 1525, just a half hour after the Mosquito went down, the patrol crossed the MLR (Main Line of Resistance). In addition to Lieutenant Belknap, the patrol included:

  • 2nd Lt. Edward C. (Shy) Meyer, who had just arrived five days earlier
  • SFC Peter T Croghan
  • SFC John Dolenshek
  • SFC William J Hughes
  • SFC Roger Lemire
  • SFC Lorenzo Velasques
  • SGT Roy Black
  • SGT Benjamin Conness
  • SGT Charles Kanovsky
  • SGT Robert Lawrie-Smith (Medic)
  • SGT Ramon Pina
  • CPL John Appleby
  • CPL Neal Froese
  • PFC Jack Tidd (Medic)

Recounting their advance, Lieutenant Belknap (who retired as a Colonel) stated that as the patrol approached the downed observer, they came under fire from the right front.  When the patrol reached him at 1610, they came under fire from the left front. SFCs Dolenshek, Velasquez and Hughes and Corporal Appleby suppressed the enemy while the medics got Lieutenant Tolputt ready to travel.

Throughout the return to friendly lines, the patrol continued to exchange fire with the pursuing enemy forces. SFC Dolenshek had the stock of his rifle shattered by an enemy bullet and received splinters in his hand and cheek. SFC Velasquez suffered a bullet burn to his forehead and nothing more. These were the only injuries suffered by the patrol.  Their most traumatic time on the return occurred when they received a radio call from an adjacent company that they were in an unmarked mine field! The patrol spread out and moved quickly toward Easy Company’s hill. Colonel Belknap remembers being knocked on his backside by SFC Velasquez to prevent him from stepping on an anti-personnel mine. The patrol reentered Easy Company positions at 1650 where a helicopter picked up Peter and evacuated him directly to a MASH unit. After preliminary medical treatment, he returned to K-47 airfield at Chunchon, where the Mosquitoes were based. All the members of the patrol were awarded the Silver Star for this action.

Back to Memoir Contents

Home Again

Al Gale home again - July 1952
(Click picture for a larger view)

The word came in late May that I would be leaving for the States with the next group so I was allowed to move to the rear airstrip with the rest of the air section for the last couple of weeks. I flew missions up to and including the day before I left. I must confess to being pretty jittery on those last few, but I think most "short-timers" were that way. I guess I was being overly dramatic because in all the missions we had flown only one of our planes had been hit, and that was a .50 caliber in the tail. We hadn't had anyone even scratched.

Sure enough, we left on the 5th of June and spent a couple of days in Chunchon before getting on the train and travelling all the way to Pusan on the southern tip of the peninsula. There we got on a ship for an overnight voyage to Sasebo in southern Japan. In Sasebo we were quartered in barracks for about ten interminable days before finally getting on a ship headed for Ft. Lawton, Washington. The only thing I remember about Sasebo is that I finally was able to buy a good camera in the PX--an Alpa, a Swiss-made camera.  I had been trying to buy a Nikon or Canon ever since arriving in Japan.

The voyage must have been uneventful.  I don't seem to remember much about it. When we got to Seattle a band was playing on the dock and a large banner read, "Welcome Home, Defenders of Freedom."  That wasn't a lot, but it was a lot better than the Viet Nam veterans got a number of years later.

Since those of us from the 40th Division were all going to Southern California, we chartered an old war-weary C-46 to take us to Burbank. We had a few days leave and then Lt. Buzz Barton and I drove up to Ft. Ord to be mustered out. We were civilians again--and just in time for me to start my junior year at Cal Tech.

I stayed in the National Guard for a few years, but, unfortunately, I didn’t stay long enough to retire. It seemed like a good idea to get out at the time because I was married, had a young family, and the pressures of work and family life made it difficult to keep up with the National Guard obligations. After graduation from Cal Tech in 1954, I worked in the aerospace industry for over 35 years, primarily on infrared sensors for satellites and on ground data processing of satellite data. I continued working for my old company on a part-time basis for another six years before retiring completely in 1995. For the past 15 years I have spent my spare time doing volunteer work with the U.S. Coast Guard in vessel inspection.

Back to Memoir Contents

Final Reflections

The passing years have reinforced my belief at the time that intervening to stop the communists from taking over South Korea was the correct decision, and I agree with those that now say that Korea was the first victory in the Cold War. However, I think it was a monumental error to stop our advance when peace talks were first proposed. By giving the communists time to resupply and dig in, they improved their positions to the point that they couldn’t be dislodged without unacceptable casualties. When we had them on the run as we did in mid-1951, had we continued to keep pushing and not allow them to resupply and fortify their positions, I firmly believe that we could have had a cease fire much earlier and saved thousands of lives.

National Guard units have often gotten bad press from Regular Army units, but the 40th and 45th Divisions performed at least as well, and perhaps better, than the regular divisions they were fighting alongside. I attribute this to the fact that both divisions trained with most of the same personnel for over a year so that squads, platoons and companies knew their buddies' strengths and weaknesses. I realize that it's usually not possible to give units the same time to get up to fighting efficiency, but I believe that commanders should try to avoid the practice of sending replacements up to units engaged on the MLR. It would be preferable to pull a unit off the line and add replacements while not engaged to give leaders a chance to evaluate new members and get them to work as a team with their buddies.

I am very glad I needed a little extra money to continue my education and joined an artillery unit of the National Guard instead of possibly getting recalled as an infantry platoon leader as my brother did. Fortunately, he survived, but the average life expectancy of an infantry platoon leader in combat is often measured in days or weeks.

Back to Memoir Contents

Photo Gallery

(Click a picture for a larger view)

I had a little time to visit an OCS classmate in Seoul on my way to Japan for a one month course.

I met my brother in Tokyo when he was on R&R
Nov 1951.

My brother Bob greets me on my arrival in Korea - Jan 1952

Battery A Fire Direction Center training for the Battery Test - Japan 1951

Battery A howitzer section ready to fire preparing for the battery test -
Japan 1951

One of the many unusual cloud formations atop Mt. Fuji - Japan 1951

Mt Fuji after a big storm
June 1951

Al Gale with L-19 aircraft

The most prominent and heavily fortified enemy held terrain in our area. Hill 1062 (1062 meters above sea level) nicknamed "Papa-san" near Kumwha.

Looking north into North Korea from over Chinese positions.

T-6 aircraft getting ready to be hauled away after a wheels up landing at our forward air strip.
40th Division airstrip -
May 1952

Left to right; Lts. Gale, Sanders and Pierson ready to depart for home -
June 1952


Back to "Memoirs" Index page back to top

| Contact | What's New | About Us | Korean War Topics | Support | Links | Memoirs | Buddy Search |

2002-2012 Korean War Educator. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use of material is prohibited.

- Contact Webmaster with questions or comments related to web site layout.
- Contact Lynnita for Korean War questions or similar informational issues.
- Website address:

Hit Counter