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John William Gates

Benicia, CA-
Korean War Veteran of the United States Navy

"The Marine officers and the Naval officer would not let me leave with the yeoman until I told them how I had gotten to the British sector from an island off of the North Korean coast to the ComNavFe building without being detained. They considered my trip a breach of security and wanted this information so that this situation could not occur again. They wanted to know about my uniform."

- John W. Gates

 


Born 6 August 1924, in Arizona, John William Gates joined the US Navy as an apprentice seaman on 17 October 1942, in Los Angeles, CA. His duty stations from 17 October 1942 to 16 May 1962 were as follows:
  • US Naval Training Station, San Diego, CA
  • US Naval Hospital Corpsman School, San Diego
  • Mare Island Naval Hospital, Vallejo, CA
  • US Naval Station, Shoemaker, CA
  • US Naval Disciplinary Barracks, Shoemaker
  • US Naval Hospital, Portsmouth, VA
  • US Naval Hospital, Long Beach, CA
  • USS Gheradi (DMS-30
  • USS Henry A. Wiley (DM-29)
  • US Naval Shipyard, Philadelphia, PA
  • USS Noble (APA-218)
  • US Naval Amphibious School, Little Creek, VA
  • US Naval Air Station, Norfolk, VA
  • US Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, NC
  • Third Marine Brigade, Camp Pendleton, CA
  • USS Paraie (AD-15)
  • USS Pedimount 9AD-18)
  • USS Dixie (AD-14)
  • HMS Craine
  • CTE 95.2.2 (North Korea) (Army/5th Marine Air Wing)
  • Commander, Naval Forces Far East, Tokyo, Japan
  • US Naval Hospital, Yokosuka, Japan
  • US Naval Station, Long Beach, CA
  • US Naval Hospital, Oakland, CA
  • US Naval Air Station, Brunswick, GA
  • US Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, FL
  • MCB 3, Cubi Point, Philippines
  • 5th Marine Regiment, Camp Pendleton, CA
  • Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, CA
  • Retired

Ratings Held:

  • AS,
  • HA3/C,
  • HA1/C,
  • HM3/C,
  • HM2/C,
  • HM1

Beginning

I had just completed field medical school at the U.S. Marine Corps base camp, Lejeune, North Carolina when I was assigned to the Third Marine Brigade, Camp Pendleton, California for further training. During the training with "C" company, Third Medical Battalion, I was called to brigade headquarters. The Brigade Medical Service Officer (MSO) instructed me to show my Marine uniforms and report back to him in four days with my sea bag, dressed in my Navy uniform.

After reporting back to the MSO, as ordered, I was told that I had been assigned by BuMed (Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Washington, DC) to the United Nations Blockade and Escort Forces. Transported to the El Toro Marine Corps Air Base, I boarded a bomber and off we flew. We landed at Alameda Naval Air Station in California and went directly to a PV2Y flying boat, the MARS.

With all passengers settled in, we were off to Hawaii. The flying board landed on the bay, then taxied over to a float. I got out and as I entered the terminal, was met by two Air Force military police. They drove me to Hickam Field Air Force Base and after a quick meal, I went aboard a C-54. We stopped at Johnston Island, Kwajalein Island and while refueling I had a nice meal. Then we took off and landed at Kaneda Air Force Base. During the ride to the train station, I was told that someone would meet me at the Sasebo station.

When I arrived a couple of shore patrol met me and we drove to the Navy fleet landing. I boarded an officer’s gig for transportation to the USS Paraie (AD-15). Upon arrival, the Deck Officer had me escorted to the galley for the evening meal. During the meal, a ship’s master-at-arms waited while I finished, then took me up to sick bay where I was to bed down. When awakened, I took a shower and had a quick meal. I got into a whale boat and was taken to the fleet landing. I climbed onto a truck and was off to the US Army Supply Depot. An army sergeant issued me cold weather clothing from head to foot. It filled three duffle bags. I was also issued a rifle, a 45 caliber automatic, a helmet and all the necessities that are carried by a soldier. All the while, I was thinking, I’m supposed to be a Navy corpsman!

It was on the return trip to the Paraie that the anxiety and apprehension began to come over me. When I got back to the ship, the chief master-at-arms sent me (with help) below to change into the Army clothing that I had been issued and reported back to him with my sea bag, duffle bags and "necessities." I was told that my Navy sea bag would be shipped home, which I was to find out later, caused panic with my wife, children and my father, who had a mild heart attack, thinking I had been killed in action. While I had the time, I went to the personnel office and was told that I had been assigned to the British Navy and my military records would be maintained on the Paraie.

Soon a boat came alongside and I, with all my gear, was transported to H.M.S. Craine (a British Frigate). As I was standing on deck, the Craine upped anchor and got underway. I was assigned a space for my "cot" and my gear. I will not comment on British food but I will say that I survived on tea, toast and Baby Ruth candy bars. I did enjoy the British tradition of a "ration of rum." While we were in transit (six days) up the coast, we would occasionally run in and fire our main guns, and then we would turn away and continue the trip.

When we caught up with the H.M.S. Belfast, a British cruiser, it took help to get me and all my gear up the steep ladder to the main deck. I was told to stand fast as there would be a small boat that would be picking me up "in a jiffy." In due time, a boat arrived that looked like an elongated San-Pan with a gray marine engine and 50 caliber machine guns mounted fore and aft. Just as I settled into the boat, it took off at a good pace.

Hours later, we came to an island called Paengyang-Do and as the boat tied up to a small pier, I saw a Naval officer approaching. I stood up and we both saluted. I noticed that he had a good-sized beard and the gold braid on his hat had turned green. When he turned to point at a tent, I saw an acorn on his collar that indicated he was a doctor. He told me to go to the tent for a hot meal and then report back to him. The doctor and the meal put me at ease but the apprehension and fear that I had felt was soon to return. When I reported back, they told me that I was going further north. The medical supplies, my gear and I filled the H-5 helicopter that was to take me to my destination. Hours later, we arrived at the island of Sak-Do in the British sector, CTE 95.2.2, North Korea.


Introduction

When settled, I went to the officer in charge, a Lt. Colonel, to introduce myself and to determine my responsibilities. He told me I would be responsible for:

  • Health and welfare of the Army personnel that operate the large radar on the lee side of the mountain.
  • Air Force rescue facilities for personnel and downed pilots.
  • Two U.S. Navy personnel that operate an LSM (M-boat).
  • A small detachment of U.S. Marines patrolling the perimeter of the island.
  • North Koreans who were formed into raider groups with names such as "Donkey", "Whiskey", etc. Also, assisting two (North Korean) doctors who were with the raider groups.
  • A squad of U.S. Marines on the island of Cho-Do.

And, unless I was needed somewhere else, I was second loader on one of the 30 caliber machine guns. He finished by telling me that morale was low. Then he called the master sergeant to show me around the perimeter and outside areas.


Perimeter

The perimeter was on a point overlooking the ocean facing the mainland of North Korea. "Our village" included small huts for officers, the radio shack, the ammunition bunker, the trenches, and barbed wire. There were two tents which were buried in the ground for the Army. The Army personnel were settled in and well concealed. Because of their equipment and material, life was made easier. The helicopter pilots who shuttled daily from Paengyang-Do and the two Navy men that operate the M-boat shared a tent with the Marines. The second tent was used for storage of C-rations and a makeshift kitchen. I thanked the master sergeant for the tour and told him I had a lot of work to do.


Changes

I went to the Colonel and gave him a rundown of my inspection. I could find no fault with the Air Force area or the Army campsite. Inside the perimeter, I found that the men had poor hygiene and sanitation was equally bad. I explained the condition of the bathing facilities, slit trench, garbage and waste, purification of fresh water, and the area of food preparation. I told him I would like to build an outhouse and an area for washing and shaving. I wanted to build a shower with hot and cold running water. We would need an area marked out so that garbage and waste could be buried each day. I wanted to install a sink and have someone made responsible, at each meal, to see that the dishes, containers and utensils were disinfected.

Cold-water barrels could be provided for an immersion burner making continuous hot water and we needed a covered barrel, for fresh water, which I would test for purity. I wanted to have tables and benches and perhaps a stove. I told the Colonel I wanted to use an area in the tent to set up a sick bay. The Colonel agreed and gave me the go-ahead. He sent me a Sergeant to ramrod the projects. I explained to the Sergeant what needed to be done and why. The sergeant went into the village and got some Koreans who were too old to be raiders. He got some of the Koreans to start digging a hole for an outhouse and others to fill in the slit trench.

The Sergeant was very careful when he used C-2 for explosives to break up rocks. He got the last group of Koreans to dig a large, wide hole for garbage and waste. The group that covered the slit trench was sent away for lumber to build a wash stand and a framework for the shower. I got permission to use the M-boat to go out to a ship, procure medical supplies and four 55-gallon barrels.

I talked with a pipe fitter, explaining that I needed to provide hot and cold water for showers using the barrels and another barrel, cut lengthwise, to make a sink. He said he would clean and steam the barrels. With a plan that I gave him, he used a torch n the barrels and cut one length-wise. I told him to cut the bottoms from two barrels and on the "length cut" to have the bungs pointed down for drainage. The pipe fitter said he would have them ready in a week. When I returned, the pipe fitter had the barrels cleaned, cut, and fittings on the bungs. He said he could go with me to the island to do the pipe fitting for the shower and drain. When he had installed the hot and cold knobs on the shower and the drainpipe for the sink, I complimented him on his work. I said that I noticed that there were no sharp edges; he smiled, stepped into the M-boat and was gone. He never said, "thank you", "good-bye" or anything. He just took off.

The Sergeant was able to get two immersion burners. The sail from a rubber raft was to be the door for the shower. Someone came up with a footplate to avoid the mud. I taught two Koreans how to light the burners, as these units could be tricky. They would be responsible for keeping the barrels full and to clean the sinks (helmets) after each use. The Sergeant was able to come up with a mirror that would allow two men to shave at the same time. The cut barrel was mounted on a wooden frame and with the bung and pipe fitting, the water washed right out of the tent. The Sergeant went to the Army camp and returned with a stove that had an oven. I got two mama-sans to work in the kitchen and taught them to use clear water for cleaning. Later, the Sergeant took off with a group of Koreans. They were gone for hours. They returned carrying small tree trunks that became lumber for the tables and benches. One of the Marines volunteered to be the cook. It was amazing what he could do with C-rations. I could see that the improvements had really raised morale!


Raiders

I treated a North Korean raider only once, to control bleeding. Apparently, they had follow-up treatment at other facilities. I asked the interpreter "why am I treating only walking wounded." He told me that the men with serious wounds are left on the mainland. One day, I was treating a man with a gunshot wound to the shoulder when I noticed the man had a healed wound on his chest. The wound had a blue tint around the scar and when I turned him over, he had a scar on his back. When I finished bandaging his shoulder, I asked the interpreter about the man’s old wound. He said the man had been shot through the chest and had never received treatment.

Early one morning, I watched a group of raiders in small boats entering the bay with cattle lashed to the boats. The cows’ legs had been tied together. When the boats reached the water’s edge, a man with a large sledge hammer began to hit the cows on the head and a second man began cutting their throats. The water turned bright red. There was fresh meat for everyone.


People

The villagers lived in adobe huts with thatched roofs. I found them to be pleasant and respectful. I got along with them and some of them, especially the children, liked to call me "doctor." After each shelling, I would go to the village and try to assist the two Korean doctors. I would supply them with bandages and medicine. As many times as I assisted the doctors, I could not understand their reasoning for covering the wounds with leaves.

The children always ran to meet me, laughing, playing and wanting to touch my beard. They always knew when a plane was making a delivery and they would stand outside the perimeter, waiting. I would take candy out of the crates, break it into small pieces and fill my gas bag with it. Children would follow me down to the village where I would pass the candy out to all of them. Some would take the candy home to share with their families. They were always polite and very respectful.


Papa-San

My papa-san could not speak English nor understand it. He was at the sick bay door early in the morning with his clothes neat and clean and when he left at sundown, he still looked as neat and clean as he had come that morning. The interpreter only had to tell him once and he would remember what to do and how to do it. He would keep the sick bay clean, make my bed, shine my "jump" boots and clean the area around the tent. I had instructed him, through the interpreter, that he would be responsible for the two men who cleaned the "wash basins" and kept the shower water tanks full. The men would be with my papa-san in the early mornings and would haul water from the well, as needed. They left the perimeter at sundown with papa-san. I also noticed a change in appearance of the two men. I am sure it was influenced by papa-san.


Altered Uniform

Army uniforms that had been issued to me at Sasebo Army Supply Depot were standard issue GI uniforms. The color was olive drab and brown. The uniform is not designed for summer wear, so I had them tailored to a more comfortable fit. The shirt-sleeves were cut 3 inches above the elbow and the bottom of the shirt was cut off at the belt. Trousers were cut off just below the pockets. My papa-san’s wife hemmed the shirts and trousers, washed and ironed them. I forgot to mention that my papa-san would take my dirty clothes each night and return with them cleaned and folded the next morning.


Cho-Do

As I had mentioned before, there was a squad of Marines on the island. I would occasionally check the health and sanitation conditions of these men. One day, I received word that some of the men were ill with diarrhea. When I got to the island, I found that nine of the twelve men in the squad were ill and could not get out of their sleeping bags. I sent the M-boat back to get blankets for me. I had the Koreans take hot water and bathe them, then we covered them with blankets, top and bottom. I asked other Koreans to reverse the sleeping bags and wash them. Able Marines were recruited to check the C-rations to find canned food that could be turned into soup. The sick Marines were started on antibiotics and some badly needed IV’s. After checking the sleeping bags, I asked the Koreans to wash them a second time. Then the bags were laid out to be dried in the hot sun. The next day, with soup and the antibiotics, the sick men started feeling better, but some were still too weak to eat and had to be hand-fed.

I went to the well and found that it was contaminated. I noticed spillage around the concrete wall. I saw a Korean walk through the spillage and step onto the concrete edge. I could see liquid dripping off of his sandals. I knew the spillage was seeping into the well. I told the Sergeant to build a fence around the well, using barbed wire, if he had to, to keep people away from the well edge. Hopefully, this would keep it from becoming contaminated, again. I suggested that he appoint one man to check the well and the water barrel, each day. That trip turned out to be a very busy week.


Overnight

A few days later, I received word of a wounded Korean on the south side of the island. With the Colonel’s permission, the interpreter and I started out in the jeep. Due to the terrain, it took us hours to find the injured man. It took more time to treat his wounds and splint his leg. When we started back, we found that we wouldn’t be able to return to the perimeter due to a high tide, which measured twenty-five feet. The interpreter found a nice family who agreed to put us up for the night. The next morning, when we arrived back at the perimeter, the Colonel was very upset. I was hungry!


Shotgun

When the Colonel asked me if I needed any supplies, I replied that I did. He said, "Be ready in fifteen minutes, and bring your 45." As I approached the H-5 chopper, I saw a strange man in one of the seats. His arms and legs were wired to the framework. I was told that a VIP North Korean was being shipped south. I was to hold my 45 to his head and, if he even moved, blow his head off. My arm got tired from holding that 45. It was that long a trip.


Crash

It seemed that someone knew a pilot who flew a C-47. When the Marines asked the Colonel if they could have some beer flown in for morale, he agreed. It was arranged so that the beer could be flown in on the next flight and the date was set. The next week, a message was sent clarifying the date and ETA. We prepared some food and water for the trip, boarded a boat, and headed for the other side of the island. We heard the plane coming in from the west and on the pass-by, the pilot wiggled his wings, which told us that he had the beer. His ship disappeared over the mountain and would make a turn to come back over the mountain for his landing approach. Everyone was watching the top of the mountain and as the plane appeared, the C-47 suddenly flipped over on its back and was gone. As I turned around to yell, I could see that everyone was in a state of shock. It had happened so quickly; the plane was there, then it was gone.

The coxswain quickly turned the boat around, passing over the coral to take a short cut to the crash site. He was traveling at full throttle. When we reached the plane, the tail was the only part sticking out of the water. The water was about 20 feet deep and was turning green from the dye kits that were used to deter sharks. We used the boat pole to probe inside the plane and were able to remove the bodies of nine Marines. They had to bring in an ATF ship to remove the three dead crewmen. It was sundown when we got back to the perimeter. No one was talking about beer.


Burp Guns

One morning the interpreter and a North Korean raider came to sick-bay to tell me a story about an event that happened before I came to the island. They told me of this man and others in his group who had become trapped on the mainland and had to call fire in upon themselves to avoid capture. An American destroyer responded. It came so close that the ship was able to use its 20 and 40 millimeter guns. This group of raiders believed that because of the rapid response and close-in rapid fire from the destroyer, they were able to escape with only a few casualties. They wanted to show their gratitude for the saving of so many lives by the destroyer’s crew. So, during the past several months, they had been accumulating Russian burp guns. They had collected eight guns and wanted me to take the guns to the American destroyer. I told the raiders that I would be pleased and honored to deliver the Russian weapons. I believe that the destroyer was named the USS Brush (DD745).

The next day, the two crates were loaded aboard the M-boat and we were off to find the Brush. It was a beautiful day, large billowy white clouds, a calm sea and we could see for miles. When we located the Brush, we approached on the starboard side, and as I stepped aboard, I saluted the American flag aft and turned to face the Officer-of-the-Day who was standing in the mid-ship passageway. I saluted him and requested permission to come aboard.

He slowly saluted and didn’t take his eyes off of me. It was then that I remembered my appearance. I stepped forward quickly and introduced myself, explaining that I was a Navy hospital corpsman and I would like to speak with the Captain. He looked me over and asked for identification. I gave him my Navy ID card.

Without taking his eyes off me, he had the watch go get the Executive Officer. I looked up at the gun deck and saw that a crowd had gathered. The exec looked at my Navy ID card, then turned and asked me to follow him. As I stepped through the hatch to the passageway forward, I noticed that the crowd had gotten larger. I supposed that the crew were taken aback by my appearance. Non-traditional uniform and a beard that had been growing for months, they had never seen a Navy corpsman who looked anything like I did. With a single knock, we entered the Captain’s quarters and the Exec introduced me to the Captain as he handed him my ID card. The Captain wanted to know, "What unit are you attached to?" "How long have you been on the island?" "Who was in command?" "Why are you in that uniform?" "Why have you come out to my ship?" "How long have you had that beard?" I answered each of his questions and told him that I had been involved with hundreds of North Koreans and that perhaps, the beard would save my life, if anything unexpected happened.

Then I told him about the Russian burp guns. He wanted to see them and when we stepped out on deck, I believe the whole crew was standing about the ship from the "flag bags" to the aft gun turrets. I asked a few of the men standing nearby to lend a hand and twenty of them stepped forward. They all wanted to get a better look at this "Navy corpsman." Four of the sailors stepped down onto the M-boat and when they handed up the burp guns, four sailors on deck received them. The four receiving sailors carried the burp guns into "officer country." That’s the last time I saw the guns.

The Captain asked me if there was anything he could do for me. I said, "the men on the island would be grateful for anything that you could spare: bread, canned fruit, meat, milk, flour, bacon, and anything else you could find to give us." I asked for candy for the children. That night, we had pizza for supper! I told the cook he was the greatest chef in the world.


Air Force

There were several occasions when I worked with the Air Force. One day we received a "May Day" that a pilot was bailing out near our position. While watching the pilot in his parachute, the coxswain headed out under full throttle in the M-boat. The downed pilot landed about half way between the island and the mainland. You could see the water angrily jumping around the pilot from the machine gun fire coming from the mainland.

As the boat came alongside the pilot at full speed, the coxswain slammed it into full reverse and he side-slipped the boat to give cover to the pilot while we were trying to get him aboard. I wrapped my legs around the cleat and, with a seaman holding onto my legs, watched the pilot as he went sliding down the side of the boat. Just as he was about ten feet from me, I grabbed him and swung him up against the steel plating to get him out of the enemy gunfire.

As the coxswain turned the boat around, we got the brunt of the machine gun fire. We were able to ease the pilot into the well deck just as the boat started heading for home. I wrapped the pilot in blankets and other than a chill from the cold water, the pilot took his harrowing adventure as just another day’s work. Those pilots were brave men.

Another time when I assisted the Air Force was on the west side of the island. A pilot had radioed that his Sabre jet was going down and that he would have to eject. With my gear in hand, I boarded an H-19 helicopter that was warming up. Another chopper, an H-5, jumped up and was gone. When we arrived at the site the smaller chopper was lowering its sling line into the water. We watched as the pilot slipped into the sling. We could see that as he was being hoisted aboard the helicopter, the pilot’s legs had become entangled in his parachute lines. The H-5 pilot dropped the nose and the tail came up. As the pilot increased speed, the parachute billowed out. This caused the H-5 to crash into the bay.

The pilot of the helicopter, in which I was a passenger, hovered over the crash site. We could see that the Sabre jet pilot was in a lot of pain and had been in the water for more than ten minutes. A person would die from hypothermia if they were in that water for more than 20 minutes. The other two men from the H-5 were swimming away as she sank. There were two of us on the H-19, the hoist operator and me. So, I jumped into the water near the downed pilot and was clearing the lines from his legs as the sling reached me. I got into the sling and told the pilot to put his head into my chest and hang on. I reached around him, wrapped my legs around his legs, and we started up in the hoist.

When we reached the hoist operator, he swung us in and while I was tending to the pilot, the hoist operator lowered the sling to the other two men who were in the water. The Sabre pilot was cold and exhausted. I covered him with blankets and helped the hoist operator with the other men. The pilot of the H-19 took me to the island, dropped me off, and flew to Paengyang-Do. I was standing alone, cold and wet, thinking, a "Thank you, corpsman," or "Nice job, corpsman," would certainly help me overcome the coldness and the long walk up the hill to sick bay.

There were times, at night, when we would watch the C-47 "Lightening Bugs" take off in the distance toward Pyongyang-Do, the capital of North Korea. The plane would drop Mark III flares that would light up the sky for the night fighters. Once, we received a "May Day" from one of the Lightening Bugs. We could hear it at first; then it crashed. The next day, we searched for it for hours, but could not find a trace of the plane or any debris.

Sometimes the men would get comfortable lying on the ground, watching the MIGs and Sabres having "Dog fights." They were at 20,000 or 30,000 feet and, at that distance, you couldn’t tell who was shooting at whom. We could clearly see the smoke from the machine guns, but it was minutes before we heard the sound. I was told that the island radar would pick up the MIGs on their screens and relay the information to the fighter planes. Two groups were sent up to engage the MIGs. The first group would cause the MIGs to use up all their fuel and ammunition and then the second group would engage the MIGs when they tried to head for home. I was told that many MIGs were shot down this way before they could get to the Yalu River, an area known as MIG alley.


Aquaplaning

Being a corpsman doesn’t mean all work and no play. One hot day, I got an idea. I realized that the army had lumber and tools. I drove up to the army camp and told the Sergeant that I needed some lumber, a saw, hammer and nails. He told me to help myself. I went back to the perimeter and built an aquaplane. It was well braced with nails and I used a bayonet to punch two holes in the front. I asked the Colonel for permission to use the M-boat to get some supplies. I took a list from the cook while the coxswain warmed up the boat. I was able to bum some medical supplies. The cook’s list included bread, canned peaches, canned tomato sauce and ice cream. Then, I went to the chef bosun and asked for 150 feet of hemp rope. When I returned to the island, I gave the food to the cook and stored the medical supplies. I took the rope and laced it through the two holes I had made in the front of the aquaplane and tied it off.

The next day, I told the Colonel that I wanted to check on the men at Cho-Do. I cut the legs off of my cold weather underwear and made a bathing suit. After tying about 70 feet of the rope to the M-boat, I waved for the coxswain to "GO!" It took a few minutes for me to get my balance, then I enjoyed the ten mile ride to Cho-Do. A few of the Marines at Cho-Do wanted to take a ride on that aquaplane when they saw me come in.

I took many trips to Cho-Do. One hot beautiful day with a calm sea, I hooked up my aquaplane and headed off for Cho-Do. When we were about half way to the island, I saw the seamen waving at me, then pointing at me. I turned around and saw a splash, like a water spout. I didn’t hear any sound due to the boat engines and the sea-water rushing by. I pointed left and the boat turned out to sea. The enemy was shooting at the boat, not me and the shots were falling short. When I returned, the Colonel was not amused. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was to get someone to help me chop up my aquaplane!


Gone Fishing

We would go fishing to feed the people in the village. We used the M-boat and nets. A papa-san would take us to many good fishing sites. We didn’t have fishing poles or hooks, so we used hand grenades. The pin was pulled and the grenade was thrown into the water. The explosion stunned the fish and we scooped them into the nets. It usually took about an hour or so and we would have a load of fish for the village. One day, while fishing, we noticed the boat was tilting to port. The boat was taking on water, so we raced to the water’s edge and onto the hard sand. The pontoon had puncture holes on the port side caused by the hand grenade explosions. A crew from one of the ships was able to repair the holes. We still went fishing, but with more care.


Surgery

You already know what our Marine cook could do with C-rations. Well, he came to sick bay one early morning, bent over, his legs apart, and with a painful expression on his face, said, "it’s hemorrhoids." After examining him, I found two inflamed, protruding hemorrhoids. I told him that he would have to go to Paengyang-Do to have the hemorrhoids removed. He asked if I could do the surgery. I told him I could do it, but didn’t have authorization to do the surgery, as it was not considered an emergency. He pleaded with me until I just didn’t have the heart to refuse him.

The Colonel was scheduled to go aboard an LSM-R, rocket launcher, the next night. I knew that he would be gone for a few days. I asked the cook if he had eaten breakfast and he said no. I told him to eat nothing but liquid soup or broth. I gave him a small bottle of mineral oil and told him to take it, three times a day, for the next two days. No cooking, either. The next day he was still in pain and experiencing a lot of discomfort.

I told him to come to sick-bay at 1900 hours and not tell anyone about the surgery. I prepared a table by putting a stretcher across two large shipping crates with a lantern hanging overhead. With sterilized instruments, sutures and petrolatum covered gauze packs, I was ready. I opened a large sterile packet used for wounds and spread it out. I put the sterilized instruments on the pad. I took another large pad and put it over the sterilized area. By this time, my patient had arrived. I had a procaine syringe ready. I laid him down on the stretcher and with the help of my papa-san, lifted him onto the stretcher. I taped his hands and legs to the stretcher so he wouldn’t fall off and taped each side of his buttocks to the sides of the stretcher. After washing the area with hot, soapy water, I dried the area with sterile 4x4 bandages.

The procaine syringe (with a sterile needle) was used to anesthetize the area around the hemorrhoids. My papa-san had the hot water ready so I scrubbed my hands and arms with soap. I had cut a bag that held sterile rubber gloves and reached in carefully to remove a pair of the gloves and put them on. I removed the pad that had been covering the sterile instruments. Taking a forceps and clamping off both hemorrhoids, I used sutures to tie the two hemorrhoids. I took a scalpel and cut off the hemorrhoids. I released one of the forceps to check for bleeding. I took the gauze pad that was saturated with petrolatum, rolled it, and powdered it with sulfadiazine. I slowly eased the rolled up pad into his rectum. While I was taking the tape from his buttocks, I explained to him that when the anesthesia wore off, it would feel like a football was in his rectum.

We carried him back to his cot and gave him antibiotics and a pain pill. I said I would be back to check for bleeding. After thanking my papa-san for his assistance, I had the guard let him through the gate. I went back to sick-bay and cleaned up. Returning to check on the patient, I found him sound asleep. There was no evidence of bleeding. The next morning he was awake and he asked me, "How big is the football?" I gave him a makeshift urinal (a bottle) and told him to drink a lot of fluids, also some hot soup. He was to remain on a liquid diet for the next few days. That afternoon, the patient was fine, but wanted to know when I was going to "remove that football." Of course, the Colonel was back by that time. I knew he was awake, so I went to his office, poked my head inside his door and asked if I could speak to him. He waved me inside; I sat down. I told him what had happened during the past twenty-four hours. He looked hard at me, then asked me why I hadn’t sent the cook to Paengyang-Do. I explained to him that the cook was in extreme pain and discomfort. The Colonel asked me if I had ever performed that surgery before. I told him no, but that I was a surgical corpsman and had assisted doctors many times with the same procedure. He asked me how the cook was feeling and I said there was no bleeding. I said, "I should have him back cooking in two days." The Colonel said, "I will court-martial you if he gets an infection."

That evening, I removed the "football" with no little amount of growling by my patient. I had the interpreter get the half-barrel (with wooden chocks) placed near the cook’s cot. It was filled with very hot water. I told the cook he must sit in the barrel every half-hour on the hour for the next four hours. I told him he would be re-examined in the morning. He was informed that if he wasn’t back cooking by that evening, we would both be court-martialed. He was back cooking the next day and even made a cake to celebrate!


Going Home

A message came from the radio operator that I was to board a plane that would land on the beach the next morning. I was to report to the Dixie (AD-14) in Sasebo, Japan, end of message. Time was spent saying my good-byes to the two Korean doctors, the villagers and especially the children. Some of the children cried; I hugged them and cried with them. I sorted through my clothing and filled a ditty bag with necessities. I said good-bye to my papa-san, giving him the clothes I was leaving behind. Early the next morning, the cook fixed a special breakfast and told me he was sorry to see me go. I made the rounds, saying goodbye to the Marines and the Colonel. He shook my hand and told me, "You do good work; you certainly improved the morale around here."

I climbed into the jeep with my rifle, 45 automatic and ditty bag. When we got to the beach, I thanked the driver with a handshake and a wave. I had an odd feeling, standing on the beach, as it was the first time I had been alone. The feeling passed quickly when I heard the plane coming. I was watching the ridge of the mountain for the plane’s approach. The plane’s engines got louder and louder. When I turned around I realized that the plane was flying in the wrong direction. The pilot was trying to land "with the wind." The pilot dropped his left wing. I thought he was going to stall. He dropped down, leveled off, made a hard landing and came to a stop.

Two men jumped out of the plane and asked for my rifle so they could shoot sea gulls. I believe they were Greeks who couldn’t speak English. I gave them the rifle and they shot until they had used up all the ammunition. I tried to tell them about the tide, and had to show them the water was almost up to the wheels. We climbed aboard the plane and shut the cabin door. A C-47 transport is not big, but it looks like a C-5 when you are the only one in it!

When they started the engines, I strapped myself down because I could see that they were taxing in the wrong direction. They revved up the engines, the plane vibrated, then shook and I felt the brakes release. The plane began to move. I bent over and said a prayer. As we lifted off, I had an image of the mountain, the plane seemed to stall, but the pilot dropped the nose and leveled off.

The pilot had the plane only a few feet off the water, as there were MIGs at 30,000 feet. About an hour later, we landed at Seoul (K-16). I went to the air group headquarters to find some transportation. As I stepped into the large office, everyone stared at me. I had forgotten about my appearance. I showed my Navy ID card to a Captain, who asked me what I was doing there. I told him I was trying to find transportation to Sasebo, Japan and that I needed to report to the Navy. I told him that I was hungry and he had me escorted to the mess hall for the noon meal.

When I returned to headquarters, the Captain said he had a plane for me and it would be leaving in an hour for Brady Air Force Base in Japan. They drove me to the plane, another C-47, so I got aboard and found a place to sleep.

When we landed at Brady, I had the same problem: "Who are you?" "What are you doing here?" "What do you want here?" I told them I had to get to Sasebo. Two military police escorted me to the train station. I didn’t have any money, so they gave me a handful of Japanese yen.

I bought a ticket and boarded a train with my rifle and the 45. The Japanese just gave me quick glances. I think they were afraid of me. When the train arrived at the station, I stepped off and was arrested by two Navy Shore Patrol. I told them I was to report to the U.S.S. Dixie (AD-14).

They put me in a "paddy wagon" for a ride to the fleet landing. A boat took me out to the Dixie. She was a large ship and I needed help getting up the gangway ladder. When on deck, I saluted the flag aft and saluted the officer of the deck--who was dumbfounded! I handed him my Navy ID card and he asked for the rifle and 45 automatic. I turned them over to one of the sailors on watch.

While this was going on a crowd began to form. The deck officer had the word passed for the chief master-at-arms to lay to the quarter deck. The officer in charge of the deck was entering me in the ship’s log. I asked him to enter the rifle and the 45 for the record. This would relieve me of responsibility for the weapons as I was tired of hauling them around, anyway.

The officer asked the chief to have one of his men take me down to the mess hall for a meal and while I was waiting for my food, I believe that every man on that ship (possibly 800) walked through the mess hall. After the meal, they took me up to the sick-bay and showed me where to sleep. It was a large, soft bed used by patients who were sick or wounded.

After a hot shower, I washed my clothes. The corpsman gave me pajamas to sleep in. The next morning I woke and a corpsman handed me a hot mug of coffee. I put on clean clothes and shined my jump boots. I went to breakfast with the corpsman and enjoyed a nice meal with friendly people. Of course, they wanted to know more about me but I explained that it would be a very long story and I was to report to the personnel office, as I was going home. I was lead to the personnel office by the master-at-arms and a yeoman told me, "We do not have your records here. You are to be transferred to the Sasebo Naval Station for an investigation." This came as quite a shock. I told them I was due for rotation to the "states" from a combat area.

A boat took me to Sasebo and when we arrived, two shore patrol met me and took me to the personnel office where I went through all the same questions again. While the personnel officer was interrogating me, there was a shore Patrolman standing on each side of me. I told the officer that I was due for rotation to the United States for reassignment. He had the Shore Patrol escort me to the U.S.S. DuPage (AP-41), an old ship that was used for billeting. I was angry and tired. I found a bunk away from people so that they would not stare at me.

I slept for hours. When I awoke, a shower and change of clothes made me feel better and I was more relaxed. It was time for supper and I was hungry so, I decided to go ashore to have something to eat. I was stopped by an armed guard at the gangway and told that I couldn’t leave the ship because I was not in the uniform of the day. I showed the guard my ditty bag as I walked down the ladder. I told him to shoot me, if that was what he had to do. He must have called the Shore Patrol because they were waiting for me…I was arrested and escorted to the Officer of the Day. I told him I was under investigation by the personnel office and that I had been arrested because I wasn’t wearing the proper uniform. I told him what I had been through. He had the Shore Patrol take me to the mess hall, get me fed and returned to him. I went to the head of the line with the Shore Patrol. All the sailors were staring at me thinking that I had done something wrong. By this time, I didn’t care what they thought. I just wanted to get out of there.

The Shore Patrol took me back to the officer of the day and while he was trying to find my military records (no luck) another Officer came into the office. He took a good look at me, then stepped up to me and said, "Do I know you?" I said, "My name is John Gates. I served with you on the USS Henry A. Wiles (DM-29)." We shook hands and he started talking to the other officer. They agreed that I be sent to ComNavFe, Tokyo for processing.

The next morning, I was put aboard a plane and flown to Tokyo airport. There was no one to meet me, so I took a taxi to ComNavFe. I walked up the steps, through a large door and into the entryway when two armed Marines grabbed me and took me to a small room. One of them made a phone call and the other told me to sit in a chair. While they were standing over me, a Marine officer entered with his gun drawn, and stood there, looking down at me. I knew that I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I was beginning to get a little rattled at their behavior. Why all the attention? I just wanted to get rotated back to the "States."

The Officer began asking me all kinds of questions. He made a phone call and another officer came into the room. They all asked me questions, but I was angry, and wouldn’t say a word. After a while, they got louder, even threatening. Finally, I asked them to get me a Navy yeoman. When the yeoman arrived, I gave him my ID card. He left and was quickly back with my records. The records showed that I had been AWOL for three months. I supposed that was what this was all about, it appeared that I had been a deserter!

The Marine officers and the Naval officer would not let me leave with the yeoman until I told them how I had gotten to the British sector from an island off of the North Korean coast to the ComNavFe building without being detained. They considered my trip a breach of security and wanted this information so that this situation could not occur again. They wanted to know about my uniform.

I told them about the Marine uniform, the Navy uniform, and the Army uniforms. They asked me when I had left the United States and wanted to know how I traveled and with whom. When they released me, I went to the personnel office and asked the yeoman if I was going to be rotated to the States for reassignment, thinking that all the confusion had been cleared up. He told me to come back the next day for an answer.

The next day, I was told that I was needed in Japan because of my "special training." I would be reassigned to the Navy hospital, Yokosuka, Japan. The next day, I went to the pay office where I was paid my back pay, my travel money and my per diem pay. I did not qualify for combat pay because nobody kept appropriate records. I went to the post office to send money to my wife. When I asked for a money order, I was told that I could only send fifty dollars per month.

They sent me to the financial section officer for authorization to send my money home. He said I get my authorization if I tell him my whole story. Two days later, I was transported to Yokosuka Naval Supply Depot and I received a complete issue of Navy clothing. I was asked to shave off my beard. When I reported to the Naval Hospital, Yokosuka, I was told by the Medical Service Officer that I would need my civilian clothing from home as I would be working with the Japanese health department as a VD (venereal disease) investigator. My wife didn’t clearly understand why I would need my "Civies" but she sent them, anyway.

I had to learn the areas of the city called "Bonchi"—the areas by the ocean, the areas in the mountains, the streets and the location of the hundred or so "Houses." They had photographs of three thousand girls who lived in the city and an additional one thousand transients. My assignment was to interview the Naval personnel and pick up the girls who were infected and take them to the Hokenjo (clinic) or to Bioagara (lock-up) depending on the type of disease that they had. I could write a book about my assignment as a VD investigator in Japan.

About four months later, I received a notice from the American Red Cross that my wife had been diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer. I was granted a thirty-day leave and was able to get a ride with the Flying Tigers to Travis Air Force Base, California. While in flight, a stewardess noticed the address on my suitcase and asked me how I was going to get to Los Angeles. I told her that I didn’t know. She said she would ask the Captain and in a few minutes, she returned to tell me that the Captain said it was OK for me to fly with them to Burbank, California, but that I would have to clear through customs.

When we landed, I raced to Customs with my suitcase and was waved through. I re-boarded the plane and the stewardess asked where I lived in Los Angeles. I told her it was near the Los Angeles International Airport. She told me that when we landed at Burbank, I was to find the limousine that went to the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles and pay the one dollar fare. It took just one hour to go across town and only cost two dollars.

When the limousine let me out, I called my sister who lived six miles from the airport. I got home in time to take my wife to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. My wife underwent treatment with two radium ampoules during a seventy-two hour period. So I went to the Eleventh Naval District and was able to talk with the Medical Service Officer. I told him about my wife’s condition, the treatment and the convalescence for six weeks from the radium plus the major surgery that was to follow. He said he could not help me, but would give me a phone number and a code number to the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. I stood up, shook his hand, and he said, "I didn’t give you a phone number or a code number." Later that day, I took home a very sick woman.

When we got home, the Red Cross was there to care for my wife and children. I called the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery and spoke to a Lt. Commander. I started to tell him about my problem when he stopped me and asked for full name, rank and serial number. He said he would call me back in an hour. Within the hour, he called back and asked me where I would like to be stationed. I replied, "I would like to be stationed at the Long Beach Naval Station." He said, "When you report back to Treasure Island, you can pick up your orders for the Long Beach Naval Station."

When my leave was up, I reported to Treasure Island but my orders were not at the personnel office. I explained the situation to the chief and asked him if he would call BuMed. I gave him the phone number and code number that had been given to me by the Medical Service Officer at the Eleventh Naval District. I asked him to call the personnel office at the Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan. He said, "No", and walked away. The next day, I was on draft, listed to return to Yokosuka. The Chief told me that I was to go back to Japan. I refused and he had the Shore Patrol take me to the stockade to await a Captain’s Mast.

Two days later, I stood before the Captain and explained my wife’s condition, that I had talked to BuMed, and related all this information to the Chief in the personnel office. I said that I had asked the chief to call BuMed after I had given him the phone and code number and asked him to call the personnel office at the Naval Hospital in Yokosuka. The Captain turned to the Chief and asked him if he had called BuMed. The Chief said, "No Sir!"

The Captain then asked the Chief if he had called the naval hospital in Yokosuka. The chief again said, "No Sir!" There was a pause, the Captain’s face turned red and he started in on this chief. When he finished, he ordered the Chief to send me on a seven-day emergency leave and said, "When Gates gets back, you will apologize to him."

When I picked up my orders and military records, the Chief did apologize. Reporting for duty at Long Beach Naval Station, I went to the dispensary to introduce myself. The Chief master-at-arms said, "We can’t grant you emergency leave because you have no days on the book, but we can give you a seventy-two hour pass. I was to report to him every third day until I had taken care of my affairs. It just goes to show that there is more than one way to skin a cat, even in the Navy!

And that Medical Services Officer in the Eleventh Naval District said he couldn’t help me…


I WAS HOME!

 

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