[Jon Genrich and Lynnita (Sommer) Brown exchanged questions and answers about his Korean War
experiences in 1999. In February 2002, Jon published Ghost in the Night, a book about his military
experiences. The following memoir is a combination of the interview and Ghost in the Night.
The copyrighted text is reprinted as Jon's memoirs on the KWE website with Jon's permission.]
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I seemed to forget about everything that happened during my Marine Corps career and during my tour of duty in
Korea for about eight years, and then I started to remember. In 1961, I decided to write a book, but after
three chapters I quit. After September 11, 2001, I decided to finish writing it for my sons and daughter,
plus family members and a few Marines who served with me fifty years ago. I am fortunate to have had almost total
recall of most of my life in school, the Marine Corps, and in the business world. I can remember events and
picture them in my mind like they are the present rather than the past.
I hope this will help my family and friends to know me a little better. If anyone who reads the book can
relate to anything in my life, they will realize that we all have doubts, secrets and concerns about the present
and the future. The book is about the forgotten war crowded in between World War Two and Vietnam. The
Korean War seldom made the papers, but in three years it had more soldiers killed than Vietnam had in thirteen
years. Some magazines list different casualty numbers in the nineties. All numbers were far too high
in Korea and Vietnam. It is difficult to believe that more artillery rounds were fired in Korea than in all
of World War Two. On September 11, 1951, Howe Company, 3rd Battalion Seventh Marines was on what we called
Bloody Ridge. I was there and believe the following account to be an accurate description of the events that
took place while I served in Howe Company.
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Rand McNally Atlas
Korean War/Vietnam War Casualties
- Korean War Killed - 54,246
- Vietnam War Killed - 49,193
- Korean War Wounded - 103,284
- Vietnam War Wounded - 153,303
Communist Regiments & Guerillas
North Korea & Chinese Killed & Wounded
Source: U.S. Department of Defense, per Rand McNally Atlas, VFW Magazine, and Old Breed News 1st Marine
[KWE Note: The Rand McNally Atlas figures quoted above are not limited to the Korean/Vietnam
theater of combat. They are world-wide casualty statistics for each war.]
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A dream that repeats itself over seven or more years makes one wonder what it means. I have had a
recurring dream with images clear and never seeming to change. I wish to share them with you so that you may
create your own meaning. I will try to paint a picture in your mind to remember.
You are on top of a mountain looking down the hillside at a valley between you and the next mountain ridge
across from your location. You are inside a bunker that is covered with large tree logs and sand bags with
an aperture about three feet wide and one foot high. You are sitting behind a light machinegun, looking
out the aperture with a barbed wire fence in front of the bunker about 15 yards down the side of the hill.
The hillside is partly covered by trees with many of them broken off from artillery fire. The deep snow is
three to four feet deep on the side of the hill. The white snow and the moon lights up the night and you
see hundreds of Chinese soldiers coming up the hill. They are dressed in quilted winter uniforms and fur
caps with dog-ear flaps hanging down over their ears for warmth.
I am firing my machinegun, as is everyone along the front line as the Chinese come up the hill. There
are countless Chinese bodies lying all over the hillside. I notice their leader keeps coming and nothing
seems to stop him. I fire directly at him, but he keeps coming and then he is climbing over the barbed
wire fence and running toward my bunker. I have to stop him somehow, but then I see his face and it is me!
At this point, I always wake up with confusion and wonder what it means. Will I be killed or destroyed by
my own hand? Or could it mean that he is doing his job for his country just like I am and maybe we are not
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My name is Jon Charles Genrich of Greenville, Texas. The name Jon came from one of Charles Lindberg sons
and Charles came from mother, father, or Lindberg--I'm not sure which. I was born October 16, 1932, in Gage
County, Nebraska, a son of William Nicholas and Cora Ethyl Packer Genrich. Both of my parents were born in the
USA--Mother about fourth generation and Father first generation. His father and mother came from Germany in
My mother was a homemaker. Father was a farmer until 1945, and he later worked with the U.S. Soil
Conservation. I lived on the farm in Gage County until I was age 13 and then in Beatrice, Nebraska through
High school. The people in Beatrice were German, Polish, French, Irish, African, and Jewish, but they were
all American. We lived through the Great Depression. The same as most people at that time, we never
starved and we had a roof overhead. We never thought we were poor, but by today's standards the government
would think so. People were healthier back then because of good food, hard work, and fewer doctors!
I have brothers and sisters Kenneth (born 1922), Eleanor (born 1923), Inez (born 1926), Dale (born 1927), and
Judy (born 1945). We attended country schools and I graduated from Beatrice High School, Beatrice, Nebraska,
in 1950. While in school I carried newspapers and worked as a janitor cleaning Ed Smith's dry goods store three
hours before school so I could be free to play sports after school. I was a Boy Scout from 1945 to 1948,
where I enjoyed friends and working together to accomplish goals. I loved camping, building fires, cooking,
using the bow and arrow, rope climbing, and swimming contests. I participated in school sports and was a
football running back/line backer. I also ran track relays, 880 yards and mile. I participated in
Drama and B Club, the varsity letter club.
I was in school at the time World War II was going on. I remember all the patriotic plays and music.
Father saved iron for army trucks to pick up. Gas, shoes, and certain foods were rationed and some colors could
not be used in packaging, but it was no great sacrifice for most people unless they were spoiled. I
collected a truckload of paper (one ton) in Scouts and received the "Eisenhower Medal" for this effort. I
followed every battle in the war as I had several cousins in the service. Some received medals and
My oldest brother Kenneth was 6 foot, 3 inches and about 220 pounds. He tried to enlist in the Marines
and then the Army, but was turned down because of a punctured ear drum. He heard plenty of comments about that.
My brother Dale ran away from home at age 16 to join the merchant marines and than the Marine Corps at age 17 with
only five months left in the war. He was six feet, six inches. I was called the runt at six foot tall.
When the war was over, a few people shot off guns in the air, but there was not too big of a celebration.
I was well-behaved as school was very easy. I loved our church. I had many friends and loved to
party and became the designated driver at 16 years old. Most fights were with bullies who picked on the weak, not
me. My cousins and friends have said I would never turn down a dare regardless of the danger or back
away from anyone regardless of age or size. I loved girls (and still do).
Since my family had military tradition, I wanted to follow it and be the best, so I joined the Marine Corps in
Omaha, Nebraska, on February 19, 1951. My friend Joe Nicholson joined with me. Mother was glad I
joined the Marines because she felt that I would be safer. Many years later I wrote a book about my Marine
Corps experiences. It is entitled, "Ghost in the Night." In it I wrote about the Marine Corps and
Korea, and have granted permission to the Korean War Educator to reproduce it below.
"Ghost in the Night"
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The Confusion of Youth
The sun shined bright through the window as I awoke thinking that I had overslept and would be late for work.
Thank heavens I remembered that today was Saturday and I wasn't supposed to be at work. Life was becoming
more of a bore every day. I was 17 years old and graduated from high school. I had ran away to
California, came back, and was still looking for something different or exciting in life. I guess many
teenagers go through the same thing, but we all think we are individuals and not like anyone else in body or mind.
Some of the guys had planned a poker game for Saturday night, which sounded dull. It got old listening to
the same old jokes.
The bright spot was El, as I considered him my best friend. We had known each other since Sunday School
and in the scout troop while I still lived on the farm. He was smart in school, very well behaved, and a
little bashful. I tried to be like him most of the time, but my wild streak came out occasionally. I
began to wonder if this was a preview of the future. What could I do for some excitement or a chance to get
out of a small town in Nebraska and see the world? I thought maybe I could drive to one of the smaller towns
nearby and spend a couple of hours loving up one of their local girls who seem enchanted with boys from our
notorious town. Some of these girls were nice to talk to as they made us feel important. After my high
school senior year of football, I had hoped for a scholarship to continue playing football, but only a few small
schools showed any interest. I felt a little left out as many on our team had received a scholarship.
We were the top team in the state my senior year. It had been an honor to play with the team. I was
not one of the stars of the team, but I still had the dream that I could be in the future. Many of the guys
still around had little direction in life and I felt everything I had worked for in school and sports was gone and
my life seemed like it was over at seventeen.
My friend Joe Nicholson was in college and talked about joining the Marines after the first semester was over.
He wanted me to go in with him so he wouldn't be leaving alone. It was still three months off so I sort of
agreed, which gave me another reason to party every chance I got. Little did we realize that once we joined,
we might never see each other again after boot camp. My brother had been in the Marines and he had traveled
to China, Hawaii, California, Guam, etc., so I became more interested in joining. I thought about it every
day. Maybe this was my chance as it sounded better than my life in the present situation without much
excitement or future. The Korean Conflict or War, whatever you would like to call it, had started in June
1950. Our Congress and military leaders never seemed quite able to figure out as to what it should be named.
Since I wasn't 18 years old, I was going to wait a few months as my parents might not understand my joining the
Marines. Besides, my friend Smokey Joe wanted to finish the college semester. My parents had done a
good job teaching me respect for God, morals, and the law. I had always tried to live a decent life with
passion for everyone. The last few months I had not lived up to what they had taught me as I drank, raced
cars, and made love every chance I had. I realized later that young men seem destined to destroy their
morals or life at this age. These young men make the best fighters at age 18 to 21, as they want to live
fast, dangerous, for fun, and excitement. Live fast and die young while not being worried about family,
death, or the consequences of their actions.
My reckless behavior in the recent months was for attention and recognition by my peers. I wanted to be
more than just another person without any identity in life or purpose. I had overcome the stigma of being
from the farm after my first year of school in the city. This was because of sports and friends gained from
church and Boy Scouts. The next few years I became more accepted in high school and thought those were the
days I never wanted to end. I tried to talk to some of the farm kids to let them know that I wasn't like the
other jocks or preps. I realized later this was for my own conscious. If I had really cared, I would
have spoken in their defense. When we are young the desire of being accepted is the most important thing in
life. We fail in life until we realize that to accept others is more important than being accepted
ourselves. Only then will we have peace of mind and true friends.
Now that high school was over and many of my friends were gone, I really felt the need for something in my life
to feel accepted and needed. The thought of joining the Marines gave me the feeling of a new hope. The
next three months were a time for work, family, parties, and falling in love for the first time. The time
seemed to go so fast and the time grew shorter each day, not allowing for completion of my goals.
The girl I had met was the most wonderful person in the world in my mind as she idolized me. This
girlfriend gave me confidence in myself and ended up writing me several times a week while I was in the Marine
Corps. This, along with letters from several other girls from high school and friends, kept me going and
thinking positive. The letters seemed to give purpose to life for both of us as we looked forward to a life
together. However, it never happened as we both changed and grew in life. Later in life I married the
second woman that I really fell in love with and couldn't live without.
The last few weeks before leaving was filled with parties and friends, and created some doubt as to whether I
really wanted to join the service. All of my old friends seemed to be more special as the days became
shorter and our relationships closer each day. My good friend El thought that I had let Smokey Joe talk me
into it and said, "You can always change your mind." I then realized that I wanted to make this change in my
life more than Joe did. My recklessness had increased. I began to wonder if I would be in trouble with
the law. My passion grew for fast driving, racing, drinking, and they all seemed to be out of control.
The day to leave for the service finally came on February 19, 1951 on a cold winter morning in Nebraska.
Joe's folks drove him and me to Fort Omaha at Omaha, Nebraska, for physicals and induction into the United States
Marine Corps. The day went pretty fast, but it was interesting. We had our physicals, took
intelligence tests, etc. Smokey Joe had high blood pressure. I thought, "What if he doesn't make it?"
They allowed him to lie down for a half hour and took his blood pressure again and he made it. The test they
gave us seemed about 8th grade level and one of the guys failed it. I couldn't imagine that since I had made
almost a perfect score. The recruiting Sergeant came in and explained how he was going to help out the guy
that failed by changing a few answers so he would pass. He said we couldn't say anything or he would get
into trouble. I always wonder if the guy thought it was a good favor after he was in boot camp a few weeks
I felt that I had a certain family honor to live up to in the military service. I come from a military
background. Grandfather August Genrich was born 1854 in Berlin, Germany but he was Prussian, not German.
He was considered huge for that period of time. He was about six feet, two inches and weighed 225 pounds.
My grandfather was a Prussian military man for seven years. He served at the Kaiser summer palace as a
coachman. He came to America in 1886. My Uncle Gus had been a hero in the First World War and died
shortly after from mustard gas. Willis Genrich, a cousin, had served in the Army Air Corps in Europe in a
bomber. Herman Genrich was in Company C Reserves and was taken into the Army in October of 1941 as a PFC. He
spent several years in Europe and was on Omaha Beach, in the Battle of the Bulge, and many other battles. He
received two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and a Silver Star and came home as a 1st Lieutenant. On my
mother's side of the family (the Packers), one nephew was at Pearl Harbor as a Lieutenant over anti-aircraft, Don
Packer served in the Air Force, and one cousin Eldon lost his leg at the knee in combat. This was a lot of
tradition to live up to in the family and the honor to defend my country.
They swore us into the Marines and I was put in charge as I had the highest test score. I was made
responsible for seeing that they all made the train on time for 8 p.m. departure for Marine Corps boot camp at San
Diego, California. We were in the Marines and a new life was before us that none of us could have ever
dreamed about. There were about 12 recruits from Nebraska, South Dakota, and Iowa on the train. Joe
Nicholson and I were among them.
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Marine Boot Camp
The train pulled into San Diego, California and we had a nice trip. The next thing we heard was yelling
to move out and get on the buses to Marine training depot. The nice guys were gone. The NCOs were
yelling and insulting recruits. Little did we know this would be the start of the psychological training to
change our lives and thinking forever!
We arrived at our temporary barracks and then ran about a half a mile to the mess hall for the evening meal.
After we finished eating we ran to another building and were told to empty our pockets as we were not allowed to
keep anything. One kid from California flipped the sergeant a left-handed salute. The sergeant slapped
him across the face and yelled, "Don't insult me. I'm not an officer." It became very quiet and
everyone paid attention. We were told our Drill Instructor would pick us up in the morning. When we
got back to the barracks it was lights out, but several of us talked in the dark and wondered what we had gotten
into by enlisting. (I remember that a major national news columnist of the time closed each day by saying,
"If you know a Marine in Korea, write to him. If you know a Marine in boot camp, pray for him.")
The other recruits in Platoon 82 and I met our drill instructors the next morning. They were Corporal
Cook from Texas and Sergeant Harris. Neither of them were World War II veterans. After a few verbal
insults about ancestors, intelligence, appearance, etc., we spent the rest of the day running all over the base.
We had physicals, haircuts, and they supplied us with uniforms, a scrub brush and soap to wash them, and toiletry
supplies. We now had everything we needed and returned to our barracks. We learned how and what we
were supposed to do and to never speak unless spoken to. From this day forward we would never go anywhere
unless all eighty men in the platoon went together. If two recruits, or "boots" as we were called, needed to
wash clothes, all eighty recruits went and stood at attention and waited. There was no church, no movies, no
PX, no free time.
Boot camp was eight weeks of team work, discipline, weapons training, learning hand-to-hand combat, and strong
mind control to break us down and build us into a Marine. The first seven weeks our DIs were particularly
strict. Some feet were stomped and some rifles were banged against heads. We were insulted because of
the way we looked, our place of birth, etc. This was part of the psychology used in the Marines. Both
individual and collective discipline was used. The entire platoon worked to straighten out individuals.
When the discipline was done by platoon members, it got the message across. One or two recruits were kicked
out as undesirable for being unable to march or for not following orders. They were physical or mental
Our days start at 0500 and end at 2200--unless someone messed up. If that happened we all would be up
half the night. We cleaned up the barracks and head after use. Some recruits were scrubbed by others
to teach cleanliness. Lights out was at 9:00 p.m., but sometimes we were awakened in the middle of the night
as harassment to keep us alert. We learned to work together as a team, and close order drill taught us the
discipline to follow orders without even thinking about the results. The most difficult thing was not being
able to use the heads after they were cleaned up at 0600 hours until 1300 hours. This created kidney and
stomach pains. We learned to live with all kinds of pains such as bruises, sprains, muscles, and abrasions
without slowing down in our training.
Corporal Cook was a hard but fair head drill instructor from Texas, but his assistant drill instructor was not
too sharp. One of them slept in the barracks every night and sometimes both of them did. They lived,
ate, and worked with us 24 hours every day as we were on a short training schedule. The platoon was made up
of four squads of twenty men each and they picked squad leaders to lead each squad. The flag was carried by
what was called the "right guard".
The squad leaders were the ones allowed into the PX to buy toothpaste, etc. for the recruits in their squad
while the rest of the platoon waited in formation outside. Each platoon had its eight or ten recruits with
ROTC or other experience that the DI used to help train others in the platoon. The makeup of the platoon was
a few experienced recruits in front of the main body of the platoon, about 55 men who would become real fighting
Marines, and 10 to 15 at the rear of the platoon called "shit birds" for their many mistakes. Everyone was
yelled at daily, told about what they did wrong, and shown the right way until it sank into the brain tissue.
We watched documentary and educational films about weapons, war pictures, and venereal diseases. There
were some feet stomped for not knowing the left foot, and rifles banged against heads for carrying the weapon
wrong. Again, we were insulted for our dress uniform and place of birth. Both individual and group
discipline was used so the entire platoon would work to straighten out individuals who were doing something wrong.
The DI used collective-type discipline as a last resort to get the message across when disciplined by a platoon
We had about eight men with two or more years of college and they all said they would never be changed
psychologically. It was interesting to see them one by one become and believe they were the lowest living
creature on the face of the earth. This is what we all became after about five weeks, and then they started
to build our self-esteem and bodies to be invincible. The second week, six of us from Platoon 82 and Platoon
81, which both started the same week, were called out to take a test for a school at Great Lakes. We had all
scored high on the intelligence test. We were told we needed to score a minimum of 75 to be considered.
I only scored a 64, but felt good since it had a lot of college math and I was the only one without at least two
years of college. None of the six recruits taking the test passed and this made me feel better as I had
always considered myself an average student in high school. Maybe if I had studied I would have done better,
but school had been so easy and other jocks called you a brain or teased you in those days. The Marine Corps
was telling me I was smart, and this helped to build my self-esteem. I realized that I could do anything if
After the first two weeks, we fell into a routine of taking care of our body and uniforms and marching daily.
Once we started to think we knew what we were doing, they issued rifles to us. The two platoons fell out of
the barracks and they told us that after boot camp we would go to Camp Pendleton for advanced military training.
After completion of advanced training, we would leave for the Far East on approximately July 12, 1951. I was
amazed later when I boarded the Cavalier APA ship on July 12 just as they had stated.
Learning to march with rifles while doing the manual of arms was all new and like starting over. If we
didn't keep our elbow tucked in to the body and the rifle wasn't straight, the DI slammed it up against the side
of our head. This was very effective and caused most of the platoon members to work harder on doing it
right. We were all surprised that by the sixth week we could do all kinds of maneuvers without an error,
including throwing the rifles over our head while marching in a circle and catching the rifle from the man in
front of us without dropping one single rifle. We continued to improve every day in our appearance,
marching, and learning from the many classes on weapons and military procedures. We still got chewed out
occasionally because of a fourth-inch long thread hanging from a buttonhole or for not digging our heels into the
concrete hard enough when we marched. We now strutted when we passed newer platoons to show those shit birds
what a real Marine looked like. The DIs even let a little smile creep on their face when we completed a
difficult maneuver to perfection.
We now wanted to learn more on how to be the best Marines possible. We were told that we would move to
the Camp Matthews rifle range the following week into tents. Although there were rattlesnakes at Camp
Matthews, this training what we had been waiting for, as it would be our chance to prove to ourselves that we were
ready. The two weeks at Camp Matthews would go fast, but we would learn about all the weapons and how to
field strip them. We also finished up on swimming classes, which we had started at MCRD in San Diego.
The first week we went out to the range and were assigned a rifle range instructor. The instructor told
the DIs that they could either leave or shut their mouths as the range instructor ran the range and training.
The Marines take firing weapons very serious and consider every man a basic rifleman first and a cook, truck
driver, typist, pilot, or whatever as second priority. The Marine Corps was the only branch of service that
increased base monthly pay by five dollars for qualifying as a sharpshooter and ten dollars for expert. This
may not sound like much money, but the monthly pay for a PFC was seventy-five dollars per month.
The range instructor showed us how to adjust the sling for a tight fit to hold the rifle still in all the
awkward positions for standing, kneeling, sitting, and prone for firing a rifle. We spent about five hours
every morning in dry firing without ammo. We got into position, aimed, and practiced squeezing the trigger.
The range instructor spent time with each man making sure he was in the right position so the rifle couldn't move.
He slapped down on the barrel to make sure the rifle bounced back into the correct position. He also worked
with each recruit on holding his breath for two or three seconds and squeezing the trigger very slowly.
After five hours of lying in this dirt in positions our muscles didn't know, firing without ammo, it was a
relief to stop. We spent the afternoon in a class learning about other weapons or undergoing swimming
instruction. The swimming class was different from the first time when our platoon was still at main side.
Main side had consisted of eighty naked men taking showers and then going to the pool side for 45 minutes of
pushups and other calisthenics. None of us ever had a chance to get into the pool or touch the water.
We finally made it into the pool and all swimmers were required to go off the high board, whether they knew how to
swim or not. The non-swimmers that didn't want to go off the high board were thrown off. They were
told they should try to swim to the side of the pool. When several went down for the second or third time,
the instructors would say that they were not going to get wet for any boot. If any of us wanted them to go
in after them, we could.
The requirements were to swim at least 50 yards. The instructor threw an old rusty M1 rifle into the
nine-foot deep water, and each man had to dive in to pick up the rifle from the bottom and swim to the side.
If one was an average swimmer, he could pass. But poor or non-swimmers had trouble. Some finally made
it and some didn't. The weapons classes were more interesting, as we were shown how to field strip several
weapons and put them back together. We were told what some common problems could cause the weapon to fail to
fire. This helped to prepare us for any problems in a combat situation and taught us how to resolve jams or
We had to sit in a Quonset hut with gas masks on and then tear gas was set off and we had to take our mask off.
We were allowed to walk out only when the drill instructor walked out. The DI still worked with us on close order
drill after the evening meal so we would not forget before returning to MCRD in San Diego for our final parade and
graduation. I believe we only lost three or four recruits along the way to sick bay or for an undesirable
We also learned valuable new terms and strategy from our head DI on how to requisition or to confiscate for the
good of the Corps. The head DI had us fall in one night before lights out and he explained that we were six
blankets short. He said that he would have to pay for them if we did not find them. The tent sides
were rolled up at night because of the heat and about midnight a group went out to a far off location. They
grabbed the blankets off other platoon recruits while they were sleeping. The next morning the DI found ten
blankets on the landing of his tent. He explained that day that he didn't know what to do with the extra
When in Korea this training helped to save a lot of Marines. The Marines are quite often the first to be
asked to fight, but the last to receive the equipment needed in battle, while other military branches have more
supplies than they will ever use. The Marines in Korea often confiscated Jeeps, trucks, boots, ammo, and
even machinegun barrels from other outfits that were over-supplied. We had one Marine who had a hole through
the sole of his boots for a month in the winter. They said none were available from supply. He walked
about eight miles to an army supply center and begged for a pair of boots (which they had in supply). He was
told no by the supply sergeant. The sergeant finally offered to sell them to him for more money than he had.
He came back without boots, but someone got the boots for him one night. This was not stealing, but
confiscation for the war effort. (We learned many things in boot camp, some maybe better than others.)
The second week at Camp Matthews we received live ammo and started to fire fifty rounds each day at
targets--ten rounds offhand or standing at 200 yards at "A" targets, ten rounds rapid fire for fifty seconds at
dog targets. ten rounds slow fire sitting and kneeling combined from three hundred yards, ten rounds rapid fire
from the prone position, and ten rounds slow fire from 500 yards at baker targets to finish. The total score
possible was 250 with 190 required to qualify, 210 for sharpshooter, and 220 for expert. We soon learned the
standing position was the most difficult. If we lost too many points at the start, it was difficult to make
it up at other positions and distance.
Each day everyone seemed to improve a little. We had less harassment from the DIs as they would be judged
along with the rifle range instructor on how many qualified. The third day was my best score on the range,
but only Friday would count for qualification. The fourth day everything seemed to go wrong and my score
fell about twenty points from the previous day. I was frustrated and the range instructor realized it
because he told me not to worry or think about it and relax that night. The fifth day we fired for
qualification and I fired a 204, which was a few points under the third day. I qualified, but missed
sharpshooter. Later in the service while in Cuba, I qualified expert and was an alternate for the rifle team
that fired in competition. I qualified with the M1 .30 caliber, carbine .30 caliber, light machinegun .30
caliber, and .50 caliber machinegun. I believe if possible I must have qualified with grenades, as I threw
several hundred in Korea. Although I learned to fire a 60mm mortar and a .45 pistol, I never qualified on
either of them.
We had now finished at Camp Matthews and returned to MCRD in San Diego for our last week and graduation.
We had two more casualties in our platoon. One was from South Dakota who had enlisted at Omaha, Nebraska.
He went a little berserk at Camp Matthews. Another refused to get out of bed one morning after being ordered
and he was taken to the brig.
We returned to the Main Base at San Diego and were allowed to wear our dress greens for the first time. I
didn't feel like I was a Marine yet. I had a lot to learn because I wanted to be the best. I had self
confidence to do anything, however. We had come to appreciate our DI, and even took up a collection for a
new motor for his car.
We spent our last week in spit and polish for the finale parade and graduation. The head DI inspected us
all the last day before graduation and when he stopped in front of me he asked me what my name was. After I
told him he said, "Have you been in the platoon all along?" He didn't remember me. This hurt a little
after all the abuse and training. I later thought, "How could I be the only one he didn't remember?"
There were the few he had always praised and the shit birds he had constantly yelled at 24 hours a day. The
rest he had corrected and yelled at a few times each day.
The parade went perfectly. We got a picture of our platoon, received our first pay, and were given our
next duty station orders. I had a ten-day leave before reporting to Camp Joseph H. Pendleton for advanced
military training. Only about twelve men received orders for other camps for training and Smokey Joe was one
of them. He would go to Barstow to play in the sand with amphibious landing craft.
The last night at the recruit depot several of the recruits were gambling and the assistant DI caught them
and wrote them up for a possible court martial. When the head DI came back from town, he found out.
We only heard the yelling between the two DIs and what sounded like some busted furniture in the office. The
head DI yelled, "You're not going to destroy their careers now that they have graduated." We found out later
that the report had been left while the officer of the day was out. The head DI went over and snatched the
report off the officer of the day's desk before he could see it.
The next day we left the base and got airplane tickets to Nebraska. We then made a short visit to
Tijuana, Mexico for drinks and entertainment. We were now looking ahead to our next assignment and felt
proud to be Marines. I had had no regrets during boot camp at joining the Marine Corps. I only wanted
to "major up" like with a championship football team. We flew home from boot camp and had the hardest DI at
San Diego on the plane with us. I sat at attention on the flight.
Back to Memoir Contents
Advanced Training at Pendleton
Back home, I discovered that Nebraskans were proud of their servicemen. I started to feel proud and like
a Marine. It was good to see my family and friends, but I realized that I was not the same person that had
left just eight weeks before. The ten days seemed to go fast as I tried to spend time with friends, family,
and girlfriend. My friend Joe and I had come home together, but were going to different camps so we didn't
make plans to leave together when we left to report back to our next duty station. I caught a ride to take
the train back to California and Camp Joseph H. Pendleton. The second day on the train I ran into Joe in the
club car as he was on the same train. We were both surprised and spent a lot of time talking about boot camp
and being home with the family. Joe got off the train at Barstow and I went on to Los Angeles to catch a
ride to Pendleton. Once I checked into the barracks, it was like old home week as John, Kenneth, and Lester,
all from Texas and in my platoon from basic were there. We had about 200 men in the barracks and about 30
were from boot camp.
We were told that we would be sent to Tent Camp Three, which hadn't been used since World War II when it had
been used for training by the Marine raiders. We were going to help clean up the camp to get it ready, as
well as start our training. When we arrived, we found that the mix of men included Marines from reserves,
Camp Lejeune on the east coast, San Diego on the west coast, and some men left over from previous training.
This ten-week training period began in April of 1951. We learned military tactics, grenades, the BAR,
etc., by the hands-on method. We did not have any cold weather training, but we underwent some
amphibious training on beach landings. Our instructors were mostly Korean War veterans and some World War II
veterans. Advanced training was different than boot camp training in that there was less emphasis on
discipline and more emphasis on working together as a team. My biggest challenge of this infantry training
was fear that they would find out that I had a football knee that could lock up.
The non-coms were rough during training, but friendly off duty, which made our training hard work, but fun.
We started working on maneuvers in the field with squad and fire team formations. In the Marines everything
is in three's with three fire teams in a squad, three squads in a platoon, and three rifle platoons in a company.
The fire team is the smallest entity, made up of fire team leader, scout, BAR man and assistant BARman. The
four men move in a diamond shape or other configuration with five yards or more between each man. This was
for safety and gave the unit control and contact between members of the fire team. The three fire teams have
similar formations in the squad. Hand signals are used in the field and each group leader stays in contact
with the next larger unit group leader.
We also started running the obstacle course first thing in the morning and last thing at the end of the day.
We spent hours in the Colonel Biddel Knife Fighting School where we learned how the Russians, Orientals, South
Americans, and street fighters used knives. We also were taught a combination of judo using the other man's
strength and dirty fighting. The objective was learning to kill with our hands or whatever we had available.
They also showed the many Japanese atrocities during their war with China and the Second World War. We
learned about Japanese soldiers having fun throwing babies in the air and catching them on bayonets and some of
their methods of torture, such as bamboo sticks under the finger nails, etc.
This woke us up to realize that war was not about just fighting and heroes, but also about killing or being
killed. They talked about prisoners taken by Koreans found with their hands tied and shot in the head.
I decided right then that I would never be taken prisoner, but die fighting to the end. I often thought
later that Americans could never win a war on their own soil because fair play, understanding, and compassion
would only get them killed. I hoped I was wrong, but thought that if many Americans were too soft in the
fifties, by the turn of the century we would have only a handful ready to die with pride. How would Congress
and the public respond if a million or more were killed on their own homeland?
We worked hard on training and were too tired to go off the base during the week. One of the guys was
named Lester. He was married so he never went off the base, but he was a good friend and always wanted to
take me to the PX and buy me a strawberry malt. Lester was a raw-boned, six foot one, 190 pound former high
school all-state running back from Texas. He had received a full scholarship to Southern Methodist
University, but after one year he left to join the Marines. John and Kenneth had gone to high school
together in Dallas and they wanted to get off the base just as I did. We did not get paid, as our records
were lost per the Marine Corps until just before we finished advanced military training. Since we had no
money, we decided to take turns wiring home for money each weekend. I had sold my car for $300 before
joining, so I had my folks wire me $100 on three occasions. The three of us would then hitchhike to Long
Beach or San Diego each weekend and make a hundred dollars go a long way. Kenneth was about five nine and
165. He was the "ladies man" as he had an ability to meet girls. John was more like me as he was about
six foot and about 210 pounds. I was about the same, but 15 pounds lighter. We always kept Kenneth out
of trouble as he would do or try anything to meet girls, even if they had a boyfriend along. John had played
high school football in the state playoffs and talked about playing football until the first of December.
When we didn't have money to go out on the weekend, John and I spent hours in the dirt working on judo moves
and dirty fighting techniques. We were caught up in the training and wanted to be the best. They also
had three-round boxing matches they called smokers and they wanted John and me to box one weekend. John had
boxed a little in Golden Gloves but I had never boxed other than playing with bigger brothers. They finally
talked me into fighting and we went the three rounds. They called it a draw. I had caught John on the
chin a couple of times and protected my head so I didn't get hit in the head. John had pounded me in the
ribs about 60 times and I was pretty sore. I thought, "If I feel this bad in a draw, what would it be like
to lose?" This was a better sport than what a lot of the guys did on the weekend. It was a big deal
for some of the guys to go rattlesnake hunting. They had a money pool in which the guy with the largest
snake took all the money. I had no love for snakes. Since our area was loaded with them, it was bad
enough to run through the tall grass and hit the ground during maneuvers. Out of about a thousand men
training, only one guy was bitten. Another one froze one day halfway to the ground because he saw a rattler
coiled on the ground. It was hard to believe he could stay in that position.
One day we decided to go off the base after maneuvers and about 16 miles of hiking. It was the middle of
the week and we were coming back to camp at six in the evening. We were about a mile and a half from Tent
Camp when John, Kenneth, and I ran up to the front of the company. We asked the officer for permission to
double-time the rest of the way into camp. The officer said that if we were that gung ho to go ahead.
The rest of the company was tired and thought we were crazy. When they marched into camp, we were already in
the showers. This saved us an hour of waiting in line to shower and gave us a head start off the base.
We were learning every day in training. I had always thought that I was in good shape while in sports,
but had never been in this good of condition in my life. We were getting better at the obstacle course and
each day we were timed on how long it took the whole platoon to finish. Some of us went down and practiced
and tried to help some of the Marines having trouble with the course. The rope climbing and clearing the
ten-foot solid wood wall were the hardest for me, but I figured out how to do it the right way.
One morning we woke up and Lester was not in our tent, nor had his bed been slept in during the night. We
fell out for roll call and Lester was not around. We wondered, "Where could he be?" Since he never
went off the base hardly and saved his money to send to his wife, we were all confused. The Sergeant
questioned those in the same tent to see if we had any information or ideas on where he had gone. About five
days later, Lester was back in the tent when we came back from the field. He didn't say much except he said
that he had to go see the company commander for office hours. When he came back from the company commander,
I asked, "What are they going to do to you?" He said nothing. Then later he told me in his slow, deep
voice what happened at the office hours hearing. He said the Captain asked him why he had gone absent
without leave. Lester said, "I told him that I heard my best friend was messing around with my wife. I
just went back to Mesquite, Texas, and hit him over the head with a two by four a couple of times and came right
back." He said the Captain just smiled and said, "Promise me you will ask for permission next time."
Lester agreed and the Captain told him to return to training and nothing would be on his record. Hey, this
was great to hear and showed that officers could be human after all, since we were all in this together.
I was from a small town in Nebraska and I think the hardest thing for me to understand was some of the names
people were using to describe other recruits. I heard a little at the end of boot camp, but a lot at Camp
Pendleton. At first I didn't understand what they were talking about. I heard names like wop, kike,
spic, spade, kraut, head, frog, none of which I had ever heard before. Once I understood what they meant, I
was even more confused and started to think about what nationality or religion everyone I went to high school with
had been. I decided, "Who cares?" The black people from my home town were mostly small business owners
and highly respected. Otis P.W. once had an article written about him in the Omaha World Herald newspaper
that said he had one of the best memories that they had ever heard about. We also had Art T., who owned an
auto repair garage. He coached the American Legion baseball team with only one black player. We were
lucky to have Art as a coach since he had played professional baseball for the Kansas City Monarchs.
Everyone in my hometown was judged on what he or she did and how they lived, not on religion or race. I then
realized it was lack of knowledge on their part since they never took the time to know the people. I'm not a
saint because I have met white, black, brown, and yellow people I didn't like. I found many more of all
groups of people that I did like. I normally like people who like me and do not like people who don't like
The good thing about the Marines is that they judged every man on how he performed. Those who used the
name-calling were only a small percent of the recruits. We were becoming a well-trained fighting team and
realized that we had to rely on each other to protect ourselves in the field. We were doing some marches
without any water in our canteens. We had learned that putting a small stone in our mouth kept saliva glands
working so we wouldn't get thirsty. Our training broadened to firing mortars, throwing hand grenades, and
attaching detonators to explosives. We also continued to run the obstacle course daily and occasionally the
bayonet course. This was fun as, besides jabbing the bayonet into the straw dummies, we also tried to knock
the heads off of the dummies with the butt of the rifle. If we broke our rifle stock we were in for a good
bit of trouble with the non-coms in our platoon.
We also walked up the ditches lined with tall grass and they would have pop up targets to see how fast we
reacted. We graduated from knife fighting school and the instructor gave a speech saying that we were the
best trained knife fighters in the world. He said to remember that we may have to take a knife cut to make
the kill. He also said that the best defense if not trapped or cornered was to drop our skivvies and run
We tried to get off base more every week as time grew shorter. John and Kenneth had graduated from high
school with a friend whose dad had married a big name movie star and they were living in Beverly Hills.
Their friend invited them to come up to Beverly Hills one weekend and they asked me to go along. I was a
little intimidated and declined, making up some weak excuse. When they told me later what a good time they
had over the weekend, I felt a little sorry that I hadn't gone.
The next weekend I went to meet a friend from my home town who was working in California on a summer job.
Jim had been one year behind me in school but we were about the same age. We had gone to several Boy Scout
camps together and played a lot of sandlot baseball and football. He had lived about two blocks away from me
on the same street, and he was one of my many junior friends. When I was a senior in high school I was
younger by almost a year than most of the senior class. We spent the weekend together and fell asleep on the
beach and burned the back of our legs real bad. I told him that I was concerned since I couldn't go to sick
bay as I could be court-martialed for damage to government property. This was a regulation. The next
three days I never missed any training, but the skin came off the back of my knees. I was scared that I
would get an infection and I was lucky that none occurred and that I never missed a beat on my training schedule.
I could have done without some of the vaccination shots. We were required to have twelve shots before
going overseas. I didn't mind shots that bad, but each time we had them a few Marines were gone out of our
unit. The Marines way was to give them to everybody again rather than just to the persons who had missed
them. I ended up receiving three complete sets of shots over about three weeks and felt I should be immune
for the rest of my life.
The time was growing short at tent camp before we would go back to main side to prepare for debarkation on
ships to the Far East. Kenneth had met a girl at Long Beach that he had gone out with several times.
John and I went with him and she brought along a couple of nice girl friends. We didn't have much money, but
just enjoyed talking to Sandy as she was a very nice person from Alhambra, California. She said she would
write to me when I went overseas, which sounded great as I had about six girls to write to me and getting mail was
always good. The next weekend I went to San Diego and met two young ladies in a restaurant who were married
to naval officers. We sat and talked for about two hours and Barbara said she would write to me in Korea.
I said okay and she gave me her address. Some people wouldn't understand that just talking to a woman
whether single or married was nice for a change. I got tired of all the Marines on base and the many hours
We had a very good squad leader from Chicago during our training. Al was an older married man about 21 or
22. He worked with us and he was always very fair and understanding. When we got carried away with
horseplay around the tent camps, he ignored it as long as we performed well in the field. Al was about six
foot two, weighed 210, and was very strong. He was a good-looking man who tried to be hard on his troops,
but never came across that way. He would save my butt later in Japan from getting into trouble, which I will
go into at a later time.
We were now finishing up our final week at the tent camp and on the last weekend we ran the obstacle course for
the last time. Our platoon had the fastest time that last day and I was amazed at myself as I came over the
high wall at the end. A Master Sergeant told me to drop down and do push-ups on my finger tips. I was
able to do 50 on my finger tips after running the course and had never been able to do that many in high school or
training before. We also went through the live fire course where we crawled under barbed wire with
explosives going off around us. We had been warned not to panic and jump up, as the machine guns would be
firing at about forty inches high with live ammunition. When I finished, the gunny sergeant asked me why I
was always covered with more dirt than anyone else. I told him because I tried harder when on an obstacle
course. We were now finished with our training except for a two day and night combat training exercise in
the field against former combat experienced Marines. When we got back to main side at Pendleton, we prepared
for the combat exercise, which would include blanks and random explosions for artillery.
We started on a long march and ended up in a wooded area to make camp for the night. We made foxholes,
ate C-rations, and prepared for the night as it was getting very dark. Later we were "attacked" about 11
o'clock. They ran through our area firing blanks. Some of our guys got mad at them for firing so close
to their face. They started grabbing some of the attackers, pulling them down into the foxholes, and beating
the crap out of them. This would later come to hurt all the ratings of our outfit. The colonel in
charge of the aggressors was mad about his men getting beaten up. After the attack we moved out at night
about midnight walking over hills.
I sprained my ankle real bad coming down a steep hill in the dark. They asked if I needed to be
transported back and I said, "No, I think I can make it to the next area." They took off after telling me to
follow the dirt path and that the camp was about five miles ahead. I walked as fast as I could, but dropped
behind and soon couldn't hear the troops moving ahead of me. I thought that I had to be quiet so I wouldn't
be captured. It was a funny feeling just like I was already in a combat area and the enemy was out there.
I finally caught up to them just before dawn where they had made camp. In about a half an hour, they said
they were moving out. My ankle felt better and was not hurting as much. The corpsman said he heard
that exercise was the best thing for a sprain as it kept the blood flowing. This sounded good whether true
or not and by noon I had no pain in my ankle.
We continued on moving and while moving up a hill on the run and weaving back and forth, my left knee went out
and I took cover behind a tree. I worked on my knee for a couple of minutes and it popped back into place so
I continued to the top of the hill. My squad leader mentioned that I was a little slow and my ankle must
still be bothering me. I didn't want him to know the truth--that I had had trouble with my knee since
football in my sophomore year in high school. I was afraid that it would keep me out of a combat outfit.
Besides, it only happened at random. Sometimes every six months or maybe in two weeks or less my knee would
act up. It hadn't bothered me on the obstacle course or in all the running and maneuvers, so why now?
I didn't want to jeopardize my fellow comrades in combat, but felt that I was more competent than most of the
troops. I didn't want to end up in some office job or to be kicked out of the service, which would be a
We were now only a week from leaving for Korea and would have our last weekend off the base and a barbecue and
beer party on the beach the following week. When I came back from my weekend, I noticed that about 25
percent of the unit had not come back to base. During the next couple of days most of them showed up,
but a few didn't make it until the day before we boarded ship. We had a big day on the beach with games,
food and beer. I figured they wanted to wine and dine us before throwing us to the lions.
I was surprised nothing happened to the Marines that had come back late. Many had gone home for a few
days to be with family and friends. One of the guys who came back late said, "What can they do to us?
If they put us in the brig we won't get to go to Korea, and that won't hurt my feelings." I didn't agree
because I wanted to go to Korea and I didn't have the money to fly home. The idea of seeing family and
friends now wouldn't be good as my mind was prepared for what was ahead. I looked forward to front line duty
and doing my job. My biggest concern was not for myself but my fellow Marines. I did not want to let
them down and cause them to be wounded or killed.
We packed all of our gear on July 11 so we would be ready the next day when we would be transported to the
ships for loading. I remember how we had all jumped off a 50-foot platform with life jackets during our
advanced training so we would be prepared in case we had to abandon ship. The biggest thing to remember was
that when we stepped off we were to cross our legs to protect valuable property. We had to grab the top of
the lifejacket and pull down hard so it wouldn't break our neck when we hit the water. We hit the bottom
pretty hard in nine feet of water. We were worried about safety when we jumped and not how shallow the water
was in the pool.
The next morning we were ready early as was customary in the Marines. Then we sat and waited for several
hours until the transportation arrived. The trip to the ships in San Diego was crowded and long, but we
finally arrived at the pier. We boarded the Cavalier, which was said to be the most decorated APA in the
Navy. The only problem was, I think that they forgot to repair the ship after it had taken hits during the
Second World War. We were guided down either four or five levels to store our gear. The bunks were
canvas stacked five levels high, with about 18 inches in between each rack. This was adequate space to store
equipment--if we didn't plan to sleep in the rack. It was very hot and stuffy in the hole, so John, Lester,
Ken, and Phillips headed for the deck with me. We wanted to get air and a last look at San Diego women.
Phillips had also been in our basic training and advance training platoons. Phillips was a square-faced,
bronze-skinned man, about five foot eleven and 195 pounds. He looked like he was as solid as granite.
We went to the mess hall (or galley, as the Navy would call it), and ate our evening meal, which included beans,
and then went back to topside for air and scenery.
We learned fast that the hold where our racks were started to stink terribly after a couple of days, especially
since the galley served beans for every meal as a side dish. Once we set to sea it was smooth, but a lot of
the men started to get seasick and throw up while eating. The smell was terrible so we stayed on deck all
day. At night we tried to crawl back behind large pipes and sleep. We were successful at this for
about five days and then they caught up with us and put us on a work detail to chip paint. One of our guys
figured out that the room behind where we had started to work was filled with sailors that were trying to sleep.
They had been on duty all night and had just gotten to bed. We decided to bang on the steel walls as hard as
we could. In a few minutes one of the sailors came out and said, "Knock it off. We're trying to
sleep." We told them that we didn't want to get in trouble and were just doing what we had been told to do.
About five minutes later an officer came down and told us to stop working for the day. We never got caught
for another work detail.
The next day at daylight we could see the other two ships in the convoy steaming off into the distance. A
short time later they announced our ship had a broken rudder and had been going in circles for the last few hours.
This was followed by the Cavalier blowing a boiler a couple of days later. We had to limp into Japan the
last two days at about four knots and the trip took two days longer than normal. That doesn't say much for
being on the oldest and most decorated ship.
We had a bad incident several days before reaching Japan. A bunch of the guys had been in an all-night
poker game and got caught by the officer on watch. He started to confiscate the money and threatened to
bring charges against several players. One of the men was from Orange, Texas. He was about six foot
tall and about six foot across the shoulders and would make some apes look anemic. He grabbed the officer,
picked him up above his head, and walked out on the deck and threatened to throw him overboard. It was about
two in the morning on a dark night. Several of the guys talked to him, trying to convince him to put the
officer down. They finally succeeded. I believe he could have held him all night as strong as he was.
They finally locked him up in the brig until we reached Korea, and then they let him go to a front line company
rather than stay in the brig. They were very strict the last two days aboard ship on any men on deck or
playing cards. We finally steamed into Kobe, Japan, for a three-day layover. We were told that we
would get one day of liberty in Japan. We didn't know it at the time, but we were going to help save the
Marine Corps from becoming extinct!
Back to Memoir Contents
Howe Company: The Beginning
After the Cavalier had been docked at the pier, the gangplank was let down and we had our first view of Kobe,
Japan. This was something a young kid from Nebraska had never dreamed possible--that he would be in this far
off country which he had heard so many war stories about. We were told that evening that half of the Marines
would be allowed to go on liberty from 1000 hours to 2300 hours the next day. I was lucky that I was on the
list for the first day of liberty.
The following morning we were ready to go early and couldn't wait to run down the gangplank and see the sites.
I was with a group of about ten Marines that decided to go together. We walked to the end of the pier and
when it opened into the streets there were about 100 Japanese girls in kimonos singing, "Come on to my house.
I have something nice for you." We had been given strict guidelines to what was off-limits for the military
and where we could go, but this hadn't been included. We had to exchange our currency first, and then we
became tourists riding in rickshaws, trying Japanese beer, etc.
We soon learned the places we were told we could go were dance halls and bars. They were not that great
but they had lots of women and so were designed for servicemen. The off-limits places were the nicer hotels,
restaurants, department stores, etc., and they didn't want servicemen. This was just the opposite of what we
had expected off-limits to be, as the dives were where they wanted us to go.
We went to several bars by early evening. John, Ken, and J.C. broke off from the group, toured several
stores, and ended up in a very nice restaurant and bar which was off-limits. We talked to some of the
Japanese businessmen who spoke English. We stayed at the bar for about one hour before going back to the
ship. The following day my name was not on the duty list, but instead was on the list to go off the ship
again. I decided to go into Kobe alone. Since I was alone, I visited a few stores for gifts to send
back home as they had told us on the ship that they could mail items. I eventually ended up back at the
off-limits restaurant and bar from the previous day. I got a good meal and had a few beers at the bar while
talking to several Japanese men. They told me that the hardest thing to find in Japan was a Bible.
They said they would pay me if I would send them some Bibles and they seemed very interested in Christianity.
I told them there were organizations that gave away Bibles in America and I would contact them. They gave me
their names and addresses as to where to send the Bibles. Before I could leave the bar, an officer with
several shore patrolmen came in and started to question me. They asked why I was in an off-limits
establishment. They had a Marine MP with them, and it was my squad leader Al from Camp Pendleton. They
started to arrest me and Al spoke up and said he would escort the prisoner back to the ship. He took me out
and we walked several blocks before he asked me to do him a favor. He wanted me to buy a silk kimono for his
wife and asked me if I would do it for him. I agreed and he gave me $20 and told me to get lost and he would
see me back at the ship. Five days later I was in a front line company and had lost the address for the
Japanese men. I always felt that I had failed the Japanese men and hoped they would understand.
The next morning the ship sailed for Pusan, Korea, and we arrived the following day. We departed the ship
to move to a tent camp holding area for incoming troops. We had left our duffle bags, dress uniforms, and
all personal property in Kobe, Japan. The second day we were loaded on airplanes and flown north to the
nearest airport on the front lines. We were then loaded on trucks for about a fifteen-mile ride to a little
valley where we unloaded our gear and were told to sit down on the side of the road. We sat there for
several hours. First, a sergeant came up asking if anybody could type as they needed a typist at battalion and
regiment headquarters. I had taken typing in high school and was afraid they would find out and I wouldn't
make it to a combat company. Another sergeant came up and he needed about fifteen men for Howe Company.
They took us by alphabetical order with last names starting with G's.
We picked up our gear and followed him down the road to the reserve area bivouac where the Seventh Marines were
located in a valley. I was assigned to a machine gun squad. I had been trained as a rifleman and
learned all the maneuvers and weapons used by riflemen, but knew nothing about machine guns. The machine
guns were attached to the rifle companies all of my tour of duty and I never met or heard of anybody from a
The section leader was Sam, a Cherokee from Oklahoma. The two squad leaders were Pres and Murphy. I
soon learned that I was lucky to have them to train me the next two weeks. Sergeant Sam knew combat and
machine guns better than anyone in Howe Company did. I came to realize this at a later date when I felt that
I was the best machine gunner. Some of the men talked about him getting drunk when in reserve area, but I
listened to him and learned the things to be successful in combat. Sergeant Sam made all the new men attend
his class on field stripping the machine guns and putting it together and setting headspace on the barrel.
The headspace could cause the gun to fire sluggish--or not at all. We learned that every gun works a little
different with each new barrel. When we field stripped the gun I was a little slow, so Sergeant Sam made me
stay and we worked until dark. He said I should learn to do it in the dark, as it may save my life one day
in the future. The two squad leaders in the second section were very outgoing men and they talked to us
about throwing away gear and anything heavy. They said, "When you start climbing mountains with two 20-pound
cans of ammo for the machine gun, plus your rifle, ammo, helmet, water, trenching tool, sleeping bag, etc., you
won't want any extra weight."
The next three weeks was an opportunity to learn about a machine gun section and the men that made it up.
J.B. was a very friendly and talkative Texan. Richard was a young man from Indiana not much older than I
was. Big Mac was about six foot six from Texas and had served in China. He reminded me of my brother
who had been in the Marines. The first section had a gunner and assistant gunner from California who looked
like Hollywood poster men. We had an ammo carrier named Ed from Wisconsin who had several months with the
section, as well as two other new ammo carriers--Vic from Pennsylvania and Gluck from New Jersey. and me.
Kit was the second squad gunner with about eight months in Korea. He kept to the previous members of his
squad. He did not talk much and ignored the new recruits.
I heard the many stories about some of the battles and heroes who gave all they had for God, country, and
fellow Marines. The one that I remember was about what they called Guinea Hill, named after the hero of the
battle. To save his platoon and fellow Marines when overrun, he stayed behind so the platoon could escape.
They told how he was behind a rock wall in a field, firing his Browning Automatic Rifle, killing a dozen or more.
When out of ammo they saw him from a distant hill, standing on the rock wall, shot several times but using his
entrenching tool to kill more. This was a hero who gave all for his fellow men with pride.
The section leader of the third section talked to me several times because he heard I was from Nebraska.
He had spent some time in Nebraska in the past and wanted to know where I was from. I liked to fool some of
the Texans by telling them I was from Dallas. They would not believe me at first, but after describing White
Rock Lake, the Majestic theater, Lovers Lane, and a few other locations, they started to believe me. I had
spent so much time with Texans in boot camp and advanced training that I had heard all the stories.
We slowly came to know everyone in the second section and many of the second platoon's riflemen that we would
be working with in the field. My greatest fear was not learning enough about my duties, but rather the fear
of falling another Marine in combat. I was a replacement, so several in my squad and section offered advice.
Most were reservists with little training, so I accepted or declined their advice on gut feeling.
I have always been known as a talker, so I asked many questions about the front lines and firefights. I
drained all the knowledge possible from the mouths and minds of the experienced Marines. We had a lot of
activity going on at the camp as they had a General hold a formal inspection of the troops. The new men were
not required to stand inspection for some reason. I thought maybe our dungarees were too new and clean
compared to the other troops. One of the men called Bookie got in a discussion about the war with the
General and a lot of the older troops were laughing about Bookie. They also held a field day, holding sport
competition with food and prizes the week before we moved to the front lines. I stuck my foot in my mouth
when I commented on a chubby little captain that won the football passing. He didn't look that good, I told
everyone. I later found out that it was Eddie LeBaron who played professional football before and after his
tour of duty in Korea. Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox and Jerry Coleman of the Yankees were also called
into duty for the Marines in Korea.
The last few days before moving out were used for checking equipment and wondering if we would see the enemy
and under what conditions. It started to rain the last day as we loaded up on the trucks. They drove
for several hours in the rain and mud. We were all soaking wet sitting in the open bed of the "four deuces"
trucks, as we called them. When they stopped and dumped us off to walk in the rain and deep mud, we realized
that riding in the rain wasn't really that bad.
Korea was a country with very rugged mountains with heavy forest. There were valleys in between with
rivers and rice paddies and the occasional one or two houses located in the valley. We must have walked four
or five miles when we came to a river with rushing water. We were told to take a break while the officers
decided what to do in order to cross the river. We heard that the river was knee high in the morning when
the Colonel checked the river, and now it was five feet deep or more.
It was decided that we would cross the river in groups of six to eight men with arms locked to hold each other
up. The bottom of the river was covered with large, slick rocks. Each man was carrying 60 to 90 pounds
and it could be fatal if anyone slipped and fell. The first dozen groups made it in good shape, but then one
group fell when several slipped at one time. The river seemed to be rushing faster and the men were swept
down the river. Some were able to discard some of the weight and make it to shore a couple of hundred yards
downstream. Two of the men were swept further downstream with Marines running to try and pull them out of
We waited for our turn to cross the river. Big Mac said he would carry the gun and asked me if I thought
that I could keep my footing. I said I felt I could do it. We put a shorter Marine between us and
locked arms to hold each other up in the water. When we started, Big Mac said, "If anybody feels like he is
slipping, yell out and everyone else should stop and hold their footing." We started across and when we got
to the middle the water was knocking us around. We stopped several times to straighten our line or to get
better footing. We finally made it to the other side and stopped on the bank. We found we were
standing in mud and water six inches deep. We were told they had stopped looking for the two men that had
washed down the river. They had followed them about a mile down river and had lost sight of them. They
only allowed a couple more groups to cross the river behind our group and then they decided to wait until morning.
We were told to bed down where we stood and they placed several watch guards toward the ridge in front of us
with the water to our back. We were hungry, wet, cold Marines, lying in a mud hole with the water soaking
through the sleeping bag. Every ten minutes we would roll over and it would feel dry for a few minutes, but
we could not sleep so we prayed for the morning to come.
The next morning the rain had stopped and the sun came out. We moved about a half mile up the ridge and
hung up the sleeping bags and clothes to dry. The river had gone down during the night and the rest of the
Marines were able to cross over the river. We were told they had found the two men in the river about one
mile down the river. Both had drowned. One of the men had been in the Coast Guard and was an excellent
swimmer, but couldn't get the pack and ammo loose from his back.
Howe Company reorganized and we proceeded about another mile up the ridge and set up camp for the night.
They set up the machine gun and the rest of the squad was deployed for protection of the gun in case we were
attacked. I felt that this was more like camping out than war as we hadn't seen the enemy or heard any
artillery or gunfire.
I noticed a lot of talking and some arguments between the squad leader, gunner, and several of the previous
squad members. The new men were not included in the discussions and we couldn't hear what they were talking
about. I felt left out and concerned. I realized that being left out was a lot worse than knowing even
bad news or what to expect.
Back to Memoir Contents
The next morning we woke up and were told to be ready to move up and to keep our eyes open for snipers.
We didn't move over about a half mile and were told to disperse down along the hillside. Some of the company
(I believe one platoon and a machine gun squad) moved on up the path. We moved about thirty feet down from
the path and noticed it seemed to be steeper the further we moved down the hill. We spread out and the new
men looked at each other as if to ask, "What is going on ahead of us?" We sat there on the hillside for
about a half hour and then heard small arms fire and what sounded like mortars up ahead.
After about 15 minutes of the sound of battle, the Sergeant said, "Move out on the run up the hill. They
have overrun our troops." We moved up fast, ready to fire, and when we arrived we saw only two North Koreans
left on the left flank. It seemed that everyone fired at once and they went down. We saw more bodies
lying around. The Marines were scattered out in shallow holes and seemed to be holding their own. The
machine gun had been overrun and the gunner and assistant gunner were dead.
The first thing was to set up the perimeter for the next attack wave of the North Koreans. Big Mac asked
me how my arm was and I said that it was pretty good. He threw me a sack of hand grenades. We later
heard that Big Mac had beat down the first wave by throwing several grenades and rushing the Koreans firing until
he had killed five or six. Big Mac later took over the machine gun with Richard as his assistant gunner.
The hole behind the gun wasn't deep enough with the two dead Marines still in the hole. Big Mac told Richard
to help throw their bodies up along the gun for protection so they would have more room to get behind the gun.
Richard was concerned about putting the bodies up in front of them and told Big Mac. Big Mac said, "They're
dead men and nothing is going to hurt them anymore." The two machine gunners killed were the two from
California who had looked like models. Someone spoke up and said that they were two great men, and that it
seemed that the good are always the first ones to die young.
Before we had time to think or fully prepare, the next attack came at us. I was in a shallow hole about a
foot deep and fifteen feet behind the gun. I raised up to fire my rifle but I couldn't see the enemy because
of the terrain. We were on a point in the 20-foot wide dogleg of the hill with the machine gun on the very
corner. The area widened to about 50-foot wide as we moved back about 50 feet from the edge. I grabbed
the sack of hand grenades, dumped them out, and started throwing them over the edge of the hill into the trees.
I threw the first grenade to the right, one straight ahead, and the last to the left like mortars. I felt
this was my mortar fire and kept throwing until the grenades were gone. I heard Big Mac yell as he was
firing the machine gun, "This is the most fun I've had since my grandmother got her tit caught in the wringer."
Big Mac thought a lot of his grandmother from Tyler, Texas, and talked about her more than anyone in his family.
We had beaten them back the second time, which had been difficult since they had come out of thick trees and
brush only 20 yards down the hill. The first 20 yards dropped down about 15 feet or more and they were
difficult to see until they were almost on our position. The Company Commander called in artillery from the
rear command post and the first round was short. The white phosphorus exploded on our location.
Several hit my leg and burned right through my dungarees and into the leg. I grabbed at the phosphorus to
pull and knock them off and my index finger was burned. (It had no fingerprint for several years
afterwards.) I then remembered to grab dirt to smother the phosphorus. The burning went away and I
felt in fine condition. After the artillery found the range, they pounded them for what seemed like 15
minutes. We stayed ready for the next attack, but it never came. We relaxed as more Marines moved into
A sergeant came up and asked, "What happened to all the grenades?" I said, "I threw them all until they
ran out." He wasn't too happy with me and said there had been at least 60 grenades. I felt that I had
done the right thing, so I didn't let it bother me. I knew that the grenades were made to be thrown in
combat, so why save them for war scrap?
We started to clean up the area, picking up weapons, dead bodies, and extra ammo. I stopped to look at
several Korean bodies. I had heard that one of the riflemen had been saving gold teeth to make a necklace
for his wife. I called one of the other new men over and told him to get pliers out of the maintenance kit
from the machine gun. When he came back, I told him that I would pry their mouths open with an entrenching
tool and he could pull out any gold teeth to give to the rifleman. He thought that I was crazy, but I
convinced him to do it anyway. I wondered in later years how someone who never liked to hurt anyone, who
believed in Christ and had been raised in the church, could have done this. I guess I never thought of the
enemy as humans. Instead I considered them more like wild dogs trying to kill my fellow Marines. I
never did believe that anyone was trying to kill me as an individual. I thought they were after all the men
We started to dig deeper foxholes and clear some of the brush in front of our positions. While we were
digging, I noticed my squad leader Murph sitting down and digging around a large dud mortar round. I yelled
over at him, "Isn't that dangerous?" He just kept hitting the ground around the dud and never looked up.
I said something several times, then tapped him on the shoulder and took the entrenching tool. I told a
medical corpsman and he and an officer came over and took the squad leader away to talk to him.
The next day we started cutting trees down to build roofs for the bunkers. We also set up defenses with
flares and land mines. The Korean Marine Corps, or KMC as they were known, moved through our position and up
the dogleg ridge to the left. They were moving up the ridge to higher ground to attack a hill in the
distance. We could see the hill about a mile away and it looked almost straight up and solid rock. The
artillery shells and many air attacks with napalm had left the face of the hill barren. We realized that
they had a very difficult battle ahead of them without cover or concealment.
We were getting our position in good condition to defend it against whatever troops came at us. One of
the men spotted North Korean women on another hill. They set up knee mortars, fired at us, and then moved to
cover. The Japanese in the Second World War had developed and used the knee mortars. I was surprised
to hear that women were fighting on the front lines. We had heard of women carrying supplies for the North
Korean army, but not of them being involved in combat. It was now fairly quiet except for a few mortar
rounds fired mostly for harassment of our troops.
That day we received mail for the first time since we left the reserve area. I had several letters and
one was from my oldest sister who scolded me for not writing more often. She said my mother was concerned
when she didn't hear from me very often. I wrote on toilet paper from C-rations and told her that was all
the paper that I had. Actually, I was spacing my letters out. I would tell my mother that I was in a
reserve area until just before we left the front lines. Then I would write her and tell her that we were
going to move up to the front lines and that a week later I would be back in reserve. I didn't want her to
worry, as I was not the same person she thought she knew.
One of the Marines was bitching about college students as he had newspaper clippings about panty raids at some
of the colleges. I had friends in college and didn't approve of his comments and told him, "You dumb shit.
That's why I'm over here fighting for the right to freedom. When I go home I want to do crazy things and
feel that our way of life is protected in the future." I felt that the Marine was just jealous and he wished
he was in the states doing something crazy!
I no longer felt left out as a new recruit. I had tasted my first battle without fear and now felt
invincible. I was glad to see my squad leader back. It was explained that he had been worried about
his younger brother at home. I understood that he hadn't heard from him in awhile and he felt responsible
for his brother. It was common for servicemen to worry about family, wife, or friends back home more than to
be concerned about themselves.
The next few days the KMC attacked the rock cliff every day and the casualties were very heavy. They kept
trying to rush the positions of the North Koreans with no cover or concealment. When they pulled back,
artillery and air strikes would blast the hillside until we wondered how anything could survive. The KMC
never gave up until every one of them was dead or until they took the hill.
We kept busy chopping down trees and cutting up more logs while we watched the KMC's from the distance.
The gunner Kit, who hadn't been too friendly earlier, was working with me on the big bunker. We stopped to
talk to Big Mac one day and he said he was going to walk down to see some guys in another platoon. Several
hours later we heard he had been killed by a burp gun. It was hard to believe this giant of a man who had
seemed so invincible a few days before could be dead. He had thrown grenades, fired his rifle to kill over
half dozen North Koreans, and had beat the last to death with his rifle butt. Some thought he should have
gotten the Medal of Honor, but this requires an officer to write it up. They never seem to be around when
one was needed.
My biggest concern was my feelings. I felt close to Big Mac and would miss him, but I didn't seem to have
any compassion for the dead. Kit started to talk to me while we were working and said he knew he would be
killed on the next hill. He had to do something so he wouldn't have to go up another hill in the Punchbowl.
He kept talking and I didn't pay much attention as it was hot and the work was hard. He finally asked me if
I would smash his hand with the back of the axe. I was upset that a Marine could even think of such a thing,
as this was being a coward. He then kept begging me to smash his hand because he said he knew that he would
be killed on the next hill. I finally told him in disgust that if he wanted out that I would use the sharp
edge of the axe and chop his whole damned hand off. He didn't want that and never bothered me anymore.
I heard smashed his hand with a rock a couple days later. A day later, the company clerk remarked that Kit
had said that I had accidentally smashed his hand. I told him that I hadn't smashed his hand and didn't know
how it happened.
The KMC's continued to attack the big rock-faced hill a couple times per day and they finally took the hill.
They had many casualties and moved the dead and wounded down through our area. They would stop and show us
their wounds and where bullets had hit their rifles. They were a fierce-fighting, proud group that wanted to
live up to the U.S. Marines. They had shown they were every bit as good as our outfit.
We heard a lot of firing in the distance with some artillery fire. We were told that a Marine patrol had
been hit the day before and that they had to leave a couple of dead Marines. The company had attacked
another ridge with a larger force close by the first so a squad of Marines could sneak up and get the dead bodies.
The Marines never leave their dead, even if they take additional casualties to get them back. For some crazy
reason, that seemed important to those who were alive, but it's difficult to understand as the dead wouldn't know.
We had taken Able hill around the first of September and they were now talking that we would attack a higher,
larger hill. I always felt Korea was like "king on the hill" and that each side wanted the tallest hill.
We had taken casualties in Howe Company and I was told that some men from the twelfth draft had been added, but
none were in machine guns that I knew about. We would never get to know any of these men as the coming days
would take them to heaven or to the hospitals in the rear. We now had two squads of six men instead of the
normal eight, with just three ammo carriers in the second squad--Ed, Vic, and me. We were told that we would
leave about 0500 the following morning and were going down the hill from the side where we had been attacked from
the first day. We all had learned that the enemy couldn't see any better than we could in the dark.
The truth was, a reinforced company of about 200-plus men would make a lot of noise going down a steep incline.
We would have to carry heavy loads because of the extra ammo, and this would probably cause us to slip and fall as
we moved down the hill--a sure sign to the enemy that we were coming.
The next morning as we moved out, everyone seemed quiet and tried their best to keep the noise down as we
worked ourselves down to the winding river. The river was not very deep now, only about 18 inches deep.
The noise level increased as we looked up at the first faint light on the horizon above the treetops on the
mountain. It looked like too beautiful of a day for so many young men to die.
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We were on the move until wiped out on Bloody Ridge on September 10-13, 1951. We went up the hill on the
10th of September at 6:00 hours and were on the hill about 102 hours from the start. This may not be what
the history of the division shows, but most of the history was written some time after actual events.
In the dim morning light we started up the ridge on the trail. The climb was very steep the first several
hundred yards. We were spaced out about ten feet apart, which didn't seem like very much space as we
followed the path. After climbing about half an hour, we stopped and everyone took a little break. We
figured they must have had a patrol scouting ahead of the company. I was somewhat surprised as this didn't
seem like the way we had been taught in training to advance on a hill.
Everyone seemed far too relaxed and there were some quiet conversations. A few even broke out a can of
C-rations. After about ten minutes we were told to move out and keep a distance between each man. We
proceeded up the trail, unable to see much for about a half mile because of the tall trees and wooded area.
Then everything happened at once. The enemy pinned us down with automatic gun fire, trimming limbs from
trees and pounding us with mortars, mostly hitting the main body of the company. It reminded me of an
amphibious landing on a beach as they let the first few waves "land" and then tried to blow the remainder out of
the water. The few closing in on the enemy were in a heavy ground fight.
We had heavy automatic fire coming from our left flank and mortars exploding all around. We hit the deck
and the little branches rained down on us from the heavy firepower chopping up the trees. They yelled, "Machine
guns up" and the squad leader, gunner, and assistant gunner moved out up the path. I looked at Ed, the first
ammo carrier, and he looked back at me and just laid there. The other ammo carriers didn't move either.
I thought they only had two or three boxes of ammo with the gun. I grabbed an extra can of ammo, dropped my
pack, and started running up the path with my rifle and three boxes of ammo. Gunny Sergeant Studebaker
yelled, "Get down. You're going to get hit." I yelled back, "They don't have ammo for the machine
guns," and kept running. Brave? No. I was just doing my job. The limbs and twigs kept
falling all around, but I felt the squad was depending on me.
I didn't know how far ahead they had gone but I finally caught up with them. They had the gun set up on
the left flank, firing at a smaller ridge about 200 yards away. I dropped the ammo and told them I didn't
think the rest of the ammo was coming. Murph said for me to get back behind them and start digging a hole as
they needed cover. They hadn't been able to dig in yet as the exchange of fire was heavy with J.B. and
Richard on the gun. I started digging, but it was mostly solid rock with just a little dirt. In what
seemed like hours, but was more likely about ten minutes, I had a hole two feet deep.
The squad leader told me to go down and find the other ammo carriers, so I took off on the run to where I had
left them. It was only about 150 yards from where the gun was up front. They were no longer at that
location. I was told some men were carrying wounded down the hill. I gathered up about four cans of
ammo and my pack, and it was all I could do to lug them back up the hill. The distance seemed much further
with the load. The gunner and his assistant were in a small, shallow hole behind the gun. I noticed we
were only about 40 feet from the edge of the trees going up the hill. In front of the trees was barren,
clay-like ground for about 75 yards to the top where the tree line started again.
Several attempts had been made by rifle squads to rush up the hill, I was told, but they had been shot up
pretty badly. My squad leader went to help out on another gun and this left J.B., Richard, and me with the
gun. I later went back down the hill to pick up some gear left behind. While I was coming back up, I
saw J.B. coming down the hill with part of his hand shot off. He had also been hit in the shoulder. I
asked him if he needed help and he said, "Get up there and help Richard. He is all alone." J.B. had
needed help since we were surrounded and he had to lie all night at the bottom of the hill before he could get
medical aid the next morning. He was lucky that he didn't bleed to death. I realized that J.B. was
right about Richard needing help. I realized even more that if we didn't hold our positions, everyone would
When I got to the gun, Richard was firing. I jumped down in the hole to help load the gun and assist him.
The mortar rounds seem to mostly be hitting further back down the hill, but we had a half dozen hit close and
throw rocks. Several pieces of rock hit my left hand on the back and I got three or four minor cuts that didn't
amount to much. I heard later that a sergeant and a private in a foxhole back down the hill had a direct hit
by mortar fire. We heard they picked them up in a body bag, not knowing how to separate body parts. We
fired off and on as they fired at us, but we couldn't see too much because of the trees and large clumps of bushes
on the other ridge.
After about a half hour, they zeroed in on our gun again with automatic gunfire. I saw the bullets
kicking up dirt about 15 feet in front of our gun and they walked them in on us. Richard ducked down in the
foxhole and I saw the bullets hitting the back of the hole right where he had been. They couldn't have
missed me more than 18 inches. I grabbed the gun, started firing, and told Richard, "You're now the squad
leader. Let me take over the gun." I may have wasted several hundred rounds the next hour, as I
started firing for where I thought they could be concealed. There were several groups of heavy brush about
30 feet long and six feet high still covered with heavy foliage. I searched and traversed back and forth at
different heights firing bursts, and then fired up in the trees the same way for possible snipers. It seemed
to quiet down for a while after that. Maybe the enemy was waiting for me to use up the ammo.
We settled in. There was a little rise to the left of us and I couldn't see any of our men, but could
hear them firing. To the right about 20 yards away were two riflemen in a small hole. They were about
ten feet from the edge of the tree line before the open ground area going to the top of the hill. This was
all we could see from our position, but we could feel and hear other Marines around.
The darkness started to settle in and I ate my last can of C-rations, which I would have saved had I known it
was the last food for four days. After dark a runner came by and said all squad leaders were to meet in half
and hour at the company command. Richard, who was now the squad leader, went down to the meeting and when he
came back he told me of the heavy casualties. The only officer left was the new 2nd Lieutenant from Brooklyn
who had joined Howe Company about five days after I had arrived.
I went from ammo carrier to gunner in about five hours. The assistant gunner became the squad leader as we were
the only two left in the squad. Richard was a little depressed for the first time. He said they
outnumbered us 50-to-1 and could overrun us any time they wanted. I was young and new and said, "Never!
We're Marines. Nobody can beat us!" This was some of my brainwashing leftover from stateside training.
I told Richard that I had to take a crap and I was going to go down the hill in front of the gun. He told me
to do it on top of the hill near the foxhole. I said that I didn't want to smell up our area and went about
20 feet down in front of our hole. We later heard after the hill was secured that they had over 2,500 land
mines on the hill and not one Marine stepped on one. I guess they didn't expect us to use the path on the
way up the hill.
When I speak of "hills", they should actually be called "mountains." They were rough and rugged, covered
with pines and other trees. Most of the hills on the east coast were only 3,000-4,000 feet high, but when
starting at near sea level, that was tall. We soon learned that going up was easier than going down.
When it got too steep going up we could go on all fours. The problem going down carrying 60 to 80 pounds was
that if we lost our footing and fell, we knew we would probably only be stopped when we hit a tree 20 or 30 feet
down the hill. All we could do was hope that we would survive.
The first night about 2200 hours they started heavy mortar fire and it shook the ground all around us. We
knew we couldn't sleep at night anyway, and learned that the ones that we heard before they hit would miss us.
Daybreak brought constant air cover from the Army, Navy, and Marines from daylight to sundown. We had
Mustangs, Corsairs, and I believe some hellcats. As one group left, the next group arrived. They
dropped bombs and napalm, and fired 20mm's and machine guns at the enemy positions. Some of our guys thought
they were being hit when the empty 20mm casings fell on them.
We had yellow and red banners lying out on the barren area so they would know where we were located. They
flew so low they almost touched the tops of the trees and we could see their heads like the size of a softball in
the cockpit. The jet fighters were not useful at low levels because hills 3,000 feet high were only six to
eight hundred yards apart. The Marine Corsairs had a very successful combat record against jet MIGs in
Korea. The Corsairs would dive down into valleys between hills. The MIGs would follow, but were unable
to pull up fast enough, and crashed. When the jets were used, they would drop their payload from a couple
thousand feet up and were not very accurate at hitting targets. Some years later, I was in a VFW club and
heard an ex-Navy pilot who had been in World War II and Korea talking about a mission. He said that for
three days they bombed and strafed one hill constantly. Even when running low on gas they were told they had
to wait for the next group to arrive. I introduced myself and met "Jiggs", who confirmed that he was talking
about our hill in September of 1951. He said he felt sorry for those Marines on the ground.
The word was out that we were surrounded and they would be dropping ammo from planes, but no food or water.
One of the guys found a water spring down the hillside and they went down in the dark to fill canteens. We
were told that only about 35 men were left on the hill. Why be concerned? I still felt we would come
out on top. The second day we had a little sporadic fire, but with the planes overhead it was much calmer.
They dropped ammo to us, but two-thirds went into enemy occupied areas. I noticed by noon time I was getting
hungry, but it wasn't that important under the present conditions.
That evening after dark, Richard went to another meeting at the company command. He came back and told me
that the Lieutenant was going to take one rifleman down the hill to try to make it to headquarters. They
left about 2300 hours to try to get back to battalion. The company commander in his absence would be a
corporal from one of the rifle platoons. We still had a sergeant left in third section machine guns, but
they were only attached to the company so not in the direct line of command.
I must admit in my mind that I felt that the Lieutenant was bugging out while he still could and I didn't
expect him to come back. In the late night I was getting very hungry and wished that I felt secure enough to
sleep a few hours. Richard had told me to catch some sleep, but with just the two of us I felt I needed to
keep him company. When daylight came I felt better as the hunger from the day before had gone away.
There was a higher ridge on our right flank and the 5th Marines were attacking the hill with battalion strength or
greater. Richard mentioned that this would maybe take some of the pressure off our position if the enemy
needed men and supplies on the other hill. The airplanes were back attacking both hills and the napalm lit
up the skies.
Sometime around the middle of the day, Corporal Nash from another machinegun section came over to our gun.
He said two enemy machinegun bunkers were giving problems to the 5th Marines. One machine gun was on the
right flank firing at the bunkers, but they needed help. I believe it was the gun that Jack was on from
third section. We moved our gun to the top of our ridge so we could see the larger hill more clearly.
We started to set the gun up on the hard rocks and Nash said, "You need sand bags or you'll never hit anything."
Sorry, but we didn't have sand bags, and I chipped away at the rock with my entrenching tool. I finally had
a few notches in the rocks and set the tripod down into the notches. Richard helped me set the gun up and
Nash said it was about 800 yards. I took aim at the higher bunker on the left, which was almost straight
across from my position. I looked at the aperture and aimed at the top of the bunker about two feet directly
above the aperture.
I fired the first burst of about five rounds and the tracer round went right into the aperture the first time.
The machine gun in the bunker stopped firing for about 15 seconds. When it started firing again, I fired
five or six bursts and we saw a couple of tracers go into the aperture again. The enemy gun stopped firing
all together and we switched over to the other machinegun bunker which was lower on the hill and further to the
right. The angle wasn't very good so after about 20 minutes we decided to leave it to the third section gun
and move back to the left flank position. This would be my proudest hour in Korea for hitting the bunker on
the first burst at 800 yards. When new men joined our squad in the future and it was mentioned once or
twice, I played it down as no big deal. I knew I was lucky and had used a little Kentucky windage that is
not approved of in the Marines.
We set our gun up in its original position and the random exchange of fire had almost ended. We felt
better and Richard was more confident that we would take the hill. We heard that we were no longer
surrounded and hoped to have more ammo and food delivered the next day.
We were told Item Company had moved up the hill to move through our positions. I never saw Item Company,
so they must not have made it up to where we were located. All the survivors at our reunions talk about Item
coming up our hill on the 11th and getting hit real bad. I was almost at the top of the hill with a couple of
rifleman, as well as our machine gun, and Item Company never made it up the hill to my location, so I'm only
taking their word for it.
The Lieutenant who had gone down the hill the night before returned about 600 hours during the night of the
13th. He was gone about 36 hours to battalion. When he returned, he called all squad leaders back to a
meeting to tell them that George Company was coming up on the left ridge, but I was not aware of that until later
the next day. Richard had gone back to another meeting with the squad leaders still left in Howe Company.
I was sitting behind the gun the next morning and the sun had been up about one hour when I saw North Koreans
jumping up and running. It had been so quiet that I was very surprised and started shooting as two, then
three more jumped up and ran toward the higher part of the hill. Richard was back at the command station and
I kept firing. I hit four or five but it should have been a dozen. Since I had been caught by
surprise, my accuracy wasn't as good as it should have been. Then I saw several more figures under a couple
of huge shade trees at the far end of the ridge where it had a steep drop off. I turned and fired several
bursts at the figures in the shadows and then I saw a couple move into the sunlight. They were Marines and I
stopped firing in almost shock. I later found out that they were from George Company. We were on the
front perimeter and some of our troops hadn't been told that Marines were coming up the other ridge on the attack.
Richard got back and I told him what happened. He said, "You had no way of knowing." I prayed to
myself that I hadn't killed any Marines.
Since the North Koreans had taken off, we grabbed the gun and raced up the barren open area to try and beat
George Company to the top of the hill. This is something that I had heard when I first arrived--that
machineguns in final assault of a hill tried to be the first to the top. They had been on several hills
before and we were trying to be the first on this hill. Several riflemen beat us to the top before George
Company made it up the hill. We were happy it was part of our Howe Company. We had finally taken what
we referred to as Bloody Ridge. The Marine historians called it something else and I later heard that army
troops were on a different ridge that they called Bloody Ridge. Hell, we didn't have much respect for either
of them anyway so I figured we could call it what we wanted. The history of combat in Korea is almost
non-existent or is lacking in accuracy. I heard one historian who questioned two or three men about what
happened after a battle. He said their comments could be anything depending on where they were located and
what they saw.
Once we were on top of George Company, what was left of Howe Company set up defenses. We had a large hole
on the reverse slope that gave a good field of fire for the machinegun. The Lieutenant said he wanted
experienced men on the machinegun and he had Nash come over to be with Richard on "my gun." What did he
think I had been doing the last three days, 24 hours a day? It did hurt a little bit as I had very likely
(and pretty successfully) fired over 3000 rounds-plus the last few days. Richard was pretty good to me and
suggested there was room for all three of us in the foxhole.
Someone came up with a couple of trip flares and I talked a Marine into going with me down the hill. I
needed his rifle for protection. We went about 75 feet. We were on the side the enemy had retreated
from and most likely the way they would come back in a counter attack. It was just starting to get a little
dark and I set the trip wires for the flares in two open areas between trees. We crawled into our foxholes
and took turns catching an hour of sleep each until about 2300 hours, when somebody thought they had heard a
noise. We were all alert when we heard a bugle start to blow a charge. I laughed with disbelief
because they had told us about the blowing of bugles before a charge during advance training. The next
minute one of my flares went off and everyone started firing down the hill. Then the second flare went off.
I felt better about my contribution to the battle. I was satisfied that my flares had both worked and had
given us a little light the first minute or longer. After I fired off my eighth round clip, I reloaded and
decided to wait just in case some Koreans broke through on our flank. I thought I might need a full clip to
protect the machinegun. The new Lieutenant was running up and down the ridge, throwing bandoleers of ammo to
the men while the firefight was going on. I felt that maybe I had judged the Lieutenant too hard over the
last few days.
We sat back and waited for the next charge while the artillery lay in a barrage. The first two or three
rounds were short rounds that hit the tree tops with an air burst. Several men were hit with shrapnel and I
heard more were hurt in George Company. This was not too surprising as the maps being used in many areas had
been made by the Japanese during their occupation of Korea. Several errors were often found in maps when
trying to drop artillery shells just over the ridge. A few feet of height or tall trees could cause rounds
to explode in tree tops above our troops. The second charge never came, so maybe the artillery had zeroed in
on their troops who were further down the hill organizing for the second charge, which was normal.
The rest of the night was quiet. We received some food. The first C-rations were all fruit cocktail
and I had two cans and felt stuffed. I have always liked fruit cocktail ever since that day. The next
morning they were talking about Howe Company being ready to move off the hill into a reserve area. At about
900 hours the company was relieved and they started letting the Marines from Howe Company go down the hill the way
they had come up four days before. The Lieutenant from George Company said they didn't have a machinegun to
fill our position and could we wait until they had another gun available. Cpl. Richard Loucks and I stayed
until a machinegun relieved us and we then went down the hill later on the 14th of September. I was carrying
my machinegun down the hill. I had heard that there were 27 left on the hill in Howe. Another source
said 35 and one book said 45. This must have included all the stretcher-bearers who never made it back up
the hill. Even today I can still picture every hill and where each man was located around me in the battle
for Bloody Ridge.
An article in LIFE magazine my sister had read said the troops had looked old and haggard coming off the hill.
I know that I was all smiles and even skipped a little going down the hill with the gun on my shoulder. When
we got to the river there were amphibious ducks waiting to take us down the river. Richard and I were the
only ones on ours besides the operators. Most of the company had left a couple of hours earlier so we
arrived later at the reserve area and didn't march in with the company or make roll call.
Bob, who had come over in the same draft as I had, was there. He had a pup tent set up and looked cleaned
up. He said, "Why don't you bunk in my tent as we are getting ready to go eat." Bob had been in the
reserves and had been a college professor at Durango, Colorado, before being called into the service. He was
a pretty good guy and we got along pretty good so I said that it sounded great. Our tent was close to the
Company Command tent and we could hear two of the officers always in arguments about something not important.
It was funny, Bob said. Neither of them spoke English as one was from Brooklyn and the other was an Aggie
I usually received three or more letters a week and couldn't understand what was wrong. Everyone was
getting mail but me. It had been a week or over since last mail call. I waited a few more days then
went and complained. About two days later, I received about seven letters marked KIA on them. I guess
that since we came back late and never made roll call, they thought I was a casualty.
We didn't do much but sleep and eat the first few days and then we heard the 13th draft would be coming in to
replace our losses. I heard someone say, "That's why the Chinese call the 7th Regiment the Ghost Regiment.
They think they have killed most of us off two or three times, but we keep coming back with new Marine
replacements." The 7th Marines also carried the flag for the First Marine Division since they had fought the
rear echelon against several Chinese divisions in the Chosin Reservoir pull back. We had a lot of pride to
live up to for the men who went before us.
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Rest and New Blood
The corpsman checked all the men when we arrived into the reserve area. I showed him my cuts on the back
of my hand and the burns on my legs and fingers. He asked me if I wanted him to write me up for Purple Heart
and I said no way as they were only scratches and were already healing up. We had too many men shot up and
blown to pieces on the hill for anyone to get a Purple Heart for scratches. The 13th draft arrived and we
got several men to fill in our squad--Frank or Mac from Pennsylvania, James from Nebraska, and McM from Ohio.
They all seemed like pretty good men. We were also going to get a couple of men who had been wounded in
Bob Whitehead from Durango, Colorado had a Brownie camera and we took a lot of pictures of all the old and new
men in our section. The officers visited a lot with Bob and tried to talk him into a commission. He
was a college professor called up in reserves. He said he wasn't interested and didn't even want to make
corporal as he just wanted to finish his time and get out of the service. The two Lieutenants that were
always arguing always came to Bob for the correct answer as to who was right. Most of the time it was
neither of them. They argued for something to do. Bob was moved to company headquarters when we moved up to
the front lines the next time. He used the little camera to take a picture of the first major movement of
troops by helicopter the first of October 1951. The major news syndications did have such a picture and
contacted Bob for a copy that they used on the front page of many newspapers in the United States.
He sold or gave me the camera and I took many pictures of the front lines. I had about 150 pictures, most
of which got destroyed in storage in later years. I used it to take a picture of Ken from boot camp when I
went to visit him where the 1st Marine Regiment was bivouacked. Ken had received a Purple Heart from a
scratch on his forehead. He claimed a bullet hit his helmet and only left a scratch. He lucked out, as
he was later transferred to 7th Regiment Headquarters and worked for a major who looked after him. He
received two or three stripes during the next eight months while troops on the front line almost never received
promotions. I liked Ken, but felt that he fell into something too good even for him.
While we were in reserves I volunteered for a patrol with a rifle squad that was short on men. We
patrolled for many miles. We came up on two small houses and were fired on by rifles from both the houses.
We returned fire, firing a hundred or more rounds into the houses. The officer and two men moved up to the
houses to check them out after the firing had stopped. I never heard if there were any civilians in the
houses, but in war who knows who is friendly or enemy.
We started back on patrol and soon became lost because of poor quality Japanese maps. The map showed a
river on top of a mountain ridge but several of us finally convinced the officer it had to be wrong. We
finally arrived back at camp just as it was getting dark. This had been a fun day and better than sitting
around camp. I had received the honor earlier of digging two six-foot deep heads (latrines). I was now
the gunner, but we were short of men and I was still one of the newer members of Howe Company.
We started to have more work details but we were now receiving our beer rations, so we didn't mind the work.
We received two cans of cheap beer per day and kept them in sacks in a cold mountain stream. The company was
told they were moving out in the next couple of days, so we retrieved our beer to drink before leaving the area.
We picked up our camp and all of our gear and we were moved out by helicopter to an area just a few miles back of
the lines. We were still way short of men, but Corporal Haskell joined our section and another guy, PFC
Gary. Both had been wounded and had a couple of scars. Haskell was from Amarillo and a loud-mouthed
Texan. I had not ran into any like him before. The section with Sergeant Sam as the section leader was
reorganized. Richard was still the squad leader of my squad. Corporal Haskell was gunner, and I was an
assistant gunner. We stayed this way until we moved up to the front lines.
We were told that the hill we were camped out on was the lower part of Bloody Ridge. We were there in
case of a major enemy attack on the lines. I question this, as it didn't look like the same hill we had gone
up a couple weeks before. While we were there we worked with the new men and listened to Sergeant Sam's
advice. He told us that he knew when the enemy was coming at night because he could smell them. I had
my doubts until several months later when I smelled a faint, musty odor like wet blankets that had been lying out
a week or longer. This happened just before an attack and I knew then what he had tried to tell us.
The clothes the enemy wore had a strong odor.
I also made a couple of trips down the hill to see the doctor. The first was for a carbuncle on the back
of my neck which they cut out for me. They sprayed a cold substance that froze my neck and then cut a hole
about an inch in diameter and half of an inch deep. They then stuffed it with cotton and I felt no pain.
I often thought in later years why doctors in the states didn't use this magic painkiller. I later had a
bayonet thrown at me by a fellow Marine. It hit my brow just above the eye, stuck there for a second or two
and dropped out, and I started to bleed. The doctor fixed it up, put a couple of stitches in, and said I was
lucky that I had a thick skull. (This would be hard for anybody who knows me to believe.) Right after
the incident, I stood there with my .45 in my hand. The Marine that threw the bayonet said it was an
We spent nights on watch and laid around during the daytime. We moved up to the Kansas Line for a couple
of days and had to bury a pile of Chinese that had a very ripe odor. They had been lying there for some
time. I was reminded of late summer and the six hundred Chinese soldiers who had marched up a hill while
tanks and machine guns fired on them. After it was all over, our troops discovered that the Chinese all had
new uniforms and were sixteen or seventeen years old. They also had drugs on them and must have been stoned
out of their minds. They never took cover or stopped marching until they were all dead.
I enjoyed our time on the new Kansas Line for a couple of days and nights as there had been a breakthrough in
the lines and we were acting as a net to catch any North Koreans. They never came to our area, but we spent
all night talking on the phones back and forth with other outfits. We used it so much calling other units I
can remember that our call signal was "wine cellar three." We finally moved back to our previous location as
a back-up for other front line units.
We decided one day before going back up to the lines to take a bath in a pond that was fed by mountain streams.
I took off my clothes and dove into the pond. The water was so cold I froze up and couldn't move my arms or
feet. I finally forced myself and started to swim, but the experience scared me more than any enemy conflict
on the lines. It was hard to believe, but we found out later that the water temperature was only about 40
This time in reserve and moving up to the new Kansas Line had given all of the squad a chance to really get to
know each other. McM was a tall big man. James was stocky and strong, while Frank was slender and
wiry. I felt that the new men would become better Marines than the two retreads we had received.
We finally prepared to move up to the front lines on October 16. We loaded onto trucks after having our
last mail call. I had received a red devil chocolate cake from my mother. (It had taken only five days
in the mail to receive it.) It was my birthday so I opened the package and passed it around to sixteen or so
Marines on the truck. We were in full fighting gear with weapons, so each man dug in with his hand and
pulled out what cake he could. When the package arrived back to me, it was all gone except for a little
frosting on the side of the box. Maybe I was better off after seeing how dirty some of their hands were.
We reached our destination, unloaded off the trucks, and followed a rocky path along the side of a shallow
stream. The trail made me think of a Colorado stream and I expected to see trout any minute. After
about a mile we arrived at the front lines to replace the troops that were dug into the terrain.
Back to Memoir Contents
We were down in a valley with bunkers already built, which was nice for a change. The hill near it was
called The Rock. On its top was a mile-long ridge with a huge, chimney-like rock formation about 50 to 70
feet high in the middle. The top was only about three foot wide with steep sides and the North Koreans controlled
the ridge on the other side of the rock. The peace talks had started at Panmunjom and both sides claimed
this hill, which made it very valuable real estate.
We set our machine gun up in the valley not too far from the stream and trail we had just walked up to get to
the lines. We were to stay there until after the middle of November, then move out to an outpost by the
tower or "rock" as it was referred to by the company. I was now the gunner again because Haskell had left
our section. We set up my gun and I went out in front of our bunker about 20 yards to set up a bouncing
betty mine. I always enjoyed setting mines and flares, but failed to ever make a map of their location.
A bouncing betty will go off if stepped on or if wire is tripped or cut. It flies about 20 feet into the
air for an air burst and wider field of shrapnel. While I was working on the mine, we started receiving
incoming artillery fire. I ran and dove for the aperture of the bunker. I got about halfway in and
James tried to pull me through the hole to no avail. I had just decided to pull myself back out the front
when a round hit real close and I shot right through the aperture into the bunker. Afterwards all the squad
looked at the size of the aperture and couldn't believe that I could get through it.
Richard, my squad leader, was great to me. He always kept me informed of any orders and discussed the
placement of men and machine gun. I felt this was a special bond carried over from Bloody Ridge when we were
the only two men left in the squad. The new men were all taking hold of their duties as they had all been
through advanced training in the states. Before this time half of our outfit had been reservists, many of
whom had never been to a summer camp for training. They were good men, but I had heard the many stories
about how some had never fired an M-1 rifle before coming to Korea. They had trained them by loading rifles
and firing them off the fan tail of the ship on the way over to Korea. Many did not even wear their helmets
when going into combat. The new men seemed more able to adapt to rules and procedure. The older
reservists were tough, hard-fighting men, which sometimes was more important in battle than the type of weapons or
equipment being used.
While we were in the valley they sent out small patrols of eight to ten men at night to set up ambushes.
The enemy liked to move at night and often came down to fill their water containers. If our patrols got
there early, they would set up a half moon around the water holes. They often carried several automatic
weapons and a couple of twelve-gauge shotguns with buckshot. The patrol would open up on the enemy, kill as
many as possible, and take off on the double for our lines. I remember one night they went out at dusk and
about 45 minutes later we heard weapons firing. Then we heard what sounded like a herd of elephants running
through the brush and trees. I have forgotten his name, but one big blonde-headed Marine from California was
screaming his head off and running for the lines. He wanted us to know who he was and yelled everything to
let us know not to fire. What had happened was they had been ambushed on the way out to the water hole.
Several were wounded (none were killed), but all were capable of running like hell. They had made too many
patrols too often to the same location. They continued patrols and ambushes later, but not as often and with
varied locations and different paths to the destination.
Thanksgiving was coming up in a couple of days and we were told we would get a hot meal. They said to
allow two men at a time to walk back down to the dinner. This was the location were we had unloaded off
trucks the first day. It was only a little over two miles, but would be close enough for us to really enjoy
the day. Thanksgiving came and the enemy zeroed in on the trucks carrying the food before noon, hitting
several of them. They had started about 1000 hours serving food and I went down about 1400 hours with one of
the men from my squad. They still had food, but told us to eat slow as we could have shrapnel in the food.
We dug through the food and I had no problem with my dinner. It was sort of nice sitting outside on a
beautiful fall day of about 45 degrees with leaves turning yellow and falling.
A couple of days after Thanksgiving we loaded up our gear and started the long climb to the top of the hill.
Once we were on top and crossed through our front lines on the ridge, we saw the trench. The trench was
about waist high and dropped down as we walked the winding several hundred yards to the outpost. The ridge
we went out on was about 30 feet lower than the main ridge at about a 90 degree angle. The outpost was like
a beaver den sitting on top of the ridge with bunkers on top and bunkers down both sides. It was a mass of
dirt and logs with holes protruding into sleeping bunkers. It also had a warm-up bunker and battle stations.
The trench was on the right side of the ridge as we came up into the area to a four-foot turn in the trench.
After the turn it was 18 feet to the machine gun aperture, which looked like a picture frame to the steeple rock.
The bunkers looked well lived in and I took the bunker just behind the gun with the squad leader on the right
of the trench. The bunker was dug down about 18 inches deeper than the trench, and I thought that hand
grenades could roll right into the bunker. Most of the men slept in bunkers above the trench and the only
bunker near was the warm-up bunker with a pot belly stove. The warm-up bunker could hold about ten men if
they crowded in. It was the daytime meeting place.
It was fairly quiet the first few days except for both the incoming and outgoing artillery. They even
fired 16-inch shells from a battleship about 18 miles away. It amazed me how they could be more accurate
than artillery on land. When they came overhead it sounded like a Mack truck going up a hill. They
shook the earth under our feet when they exploded a half a mile away.
After about a week we were attacked one night after midnight. They were on top of our position before we
knew what had happened or how they got so close so fast. I was sleeping in the bunker and heard grenades
explode and gun shots. I jumped up, ran out in my stocking feet, and there were two Koreans trying to pull
the machine gun through the aperture.
I always kept a round in the chamber so it wouldn't freeze up. I squeezed off about five rounds.
The one left took off running before I could fire again. I saw one on top of the highest bunker about ten
feet above my position. He had been throwing grenades and would have gotten me except the spotlights hit him
and likely blinded him. The spotlights were two big lights setting about five miles back on a hill.
Since our location was considered strategic, they turned them on when anything happened. It was brighter
than daylight it seemed when they came on, and my protector God was still with me. Someone shot the man on
top before he could throw a grenade down on us. When I had ran out I didn't take my .45, so had no small
weapon to protect myself. My feet were never cold while on the two inches of snow during the 15 minutes I
I wondered how they could have gotten on top of us if the men on watch were alert. I usually took a
four-hour watch during the night since I didn't get sleepy at night. After that night I started staying up
all night and sleeping during the daytime. Even if I wasn't on watch I would talk to the other men on watch.
I made sure I carried a rifle and was fully dressed and not sleeping in a hole that grenades could roll into.
We started to get more snow and it was building up on the sides of the hills. This was good with the
colder weather as the snow crunched when we walked on it and made it difficult for anyone to sneak up on us.
In fact, one of the men on watch on the other side of the hill thought he heard horses running up the hill one
night. When he called it in they turned on the spotlights and I had to laugh. It was rabbits running
around on the snow. The sounds really amplify on a cold night and although the incident was funny, it was
better safe than sorry.
When I started staying up all night, I had fun trying to locate guns when the enemy fired their artillery.
They normally fired a barrage of 50 rounds or more, then moved the guns to a new location. There was an
artillery forward observer on the main ridge about half mile to my right trying to get a location on the big guns.
I started working with him at night to watch for flashes and time them until we heard the explosion sound in order
to judge distance. I also gave him compass degrees so we could try to triangle in on the guns. If we
worked fast after the first flash, he had a chance to call in our artillery to fire on them before they moved.
Whether successful or not, it gave me something to do during the night and it was fun to work with the artillery
One afternoon I was in the warm-up bunker with a group of my guys and decided to go back to my bunker to sleep
a few hours. I was only there about ten minutes when I heard several large explosions and ran out to see
what had happened. An incoming artillery shell had hit a box of hand grenades and they flew into bunkers and
down into the trench. Many had exploded and a couple had gone into the warm-up bunker that had about seven
men inside. Richard, my squad leader, was the only one in the warm-up bunker not hit by shrapnel. Our
Navy corpsman "Robbie" Robertson from Minnesota had both arms broken. He cried--not from pain, but because
he was unable to help the wounded. I started helping to get the men laid out and checking the wounds.
Gluck had a wound in the chest and it sounded like air sucking in. I suspected he had a hole in the lung.
I put a gauze bandage over it and gave him a shot of morphine in the arm. McM was hit in the scrotum and it
was ripped wide open and bleeding. I put a bandage over it and gave him a shot of morphine in his arm.
Each man hit didn't seem to know how badly he was hit. When they asked me, I told them it was just a little
cut because I was concerned they would go into shock. I bandaged about six men and gave all a half of a tube
of morphine to prevent shock and so they would relax. I tried to hit the vein with the morphine and missed
every time. They told me later that morphine in the vein could have killed them. I was not only lucky
that I didn't, I also learned something new again. They all survived and I was thankful that I was unable to
hit their veins. I had failed as a medic. We were lucky that the firing stopped and we had plenty of
help come from the lines. They carried our wounded out to the helicopters for transportation to a field
hospital. We were now about eight men short until relieved from our positions on the outpost.
We had a little humor to keep us going while out on the outpost. We had a new 2nd Lieutenant from a rifle
company who was short and round. We never saw him as he mostly stayed in his bunker all day and night.
Whenever we received incoming shells and it was over, he would come out, fire his .32 caliber revolver, and say,
"Take that." Then he would disappear back into his bunker until the next time something happened. The
other humor came from the fact that whoever built the outpost had put the head in the open air on top of the
ridge. Whenever anyone had the guts to use the head, the enemy snipers would fire at them. We never
had anyone hit by snipers, but on my trips I could hear bullets winging by my head. The snow was getting
deeper and temperatures dropped into single digits, so we found better facilities than using the head on the
The days got shorter and nights got longer as the north wind howled over the hills. I used to joke with
the guys that we were on the wrong side because we had to look into the north winds. The enemy was lucky.
They could turn their backs to the wind and cold. I always liked to try and add some humor when I saw a
little fear in some men's eyes. I would even say, "Never fear, Jon's here," and this brought a laugh or
smile to their face.
We had only a short time until we would be relieved from the outpost. The snow was getting several feet
deep on the hillsides. We found that light oil on the machine guns or rifles would freeze the breach tight.
Sometimes one round fired broke it loose, but it froze again before the second round fired. The machine gun
wasn't as much of a problem because if we fired a long burst it heated up the chamber and breach. Some men
used cosmoline if available since it worked better than light oil.
We all got called together one day and were told that Marine intelligence had information that we were going to
be hit by several divisions of Chinese. They claimed that the attack would be at our point in the lines
where we were located. They spent the day moving several tanks up on the ridge behind us, along with many
.50 caliber machine guns. If attacked the tanks would fire 90mm guns point blank, plus all the machine guns
were aimed at our ridge. I'm sure they also planned to call in artillery on our point if attacked. We
sat around on our outpost and talked about what to do if we were hit by an attack. We couldn't head back
toward our lines with all the firepower blasting at us. Thirty men couldn't take on that many Chinese, so
what the hell could we do to survive?
A strange thing happened that night. Just before dark somebody came up with a fifth of whiskey, then
another bottle and another bottle until we had about five bottles. I had never seen liquor or beer on the
front lines in the Marines. In fact, Marines only received two cans of beer per day in a reserve area, and
never hard liquor. Then where could this booze have come from--the officers or command? That night
several of the men started having a drink. I held off at first, but finally had a few drinks. The more
we talked, some of the Marines felt this night could be the last for them. I kept thinking if we were
overrun where a person could go to be overlooked. After a few drinks I didn't worry, as I felt invincible
again. I was up all night talking to several riflemen in the trenches.
I guess shortly after midnight the liquor was talking and we decided to see who could throw a grenade the
farthest down the hill. It was a steep drop-off with deep snow and the grenades really lit up the hillside
like Christmas lights. We first threw just a couple grenades, and then we threw about a dozen more. We
were having fun until the radio from the command center called wanting to know if we were under attack. We
laughed and said we thought we heard something. The night passed and nothing happened.
We went into a reserve area on December 13 for Christmas and New Year's. The day we were relieved we
moved out and down the hill with all of our gear, machine gun, and ammo to carry. We were to meet with
trucks about three miles back of the lines. When we had walked so far they told us that the trucks had left
because of artillery attacks from the enemy. The snow in the valley was melting and the roads became mud six
inches deep. This didn't make walking easy and they said we had about twenty miles to Camp Tripoli.
When we were about five miles from the hill, we passed an army artillery battery as they started to receive
incoming enemy artillery rounds. They were running for foxholes but we were so exhausted we just kept
walking as the shells hit on both sides of the road. One Marine said, "If I get hit maybe I can catch a ride
in an ambulance." We walked about ten miles and then about a dozen of us laid down in a field for the night.
I woke up about midnight and was dying for a drink of water. One of the other Marines got up and we saw a
light about a mile off in the field. We decided to walk over to the light and try to find water. When
we arrived we found out that it was an army mess tent and the mess crew was working on breakfast. We filled
our canteens and one of the cooks asked when we had last eaten ice cream. We told him not since we had been
in Korea. The cook opened up a five-gallon container of strawberry ice cream, my favorite. He gave us
two spoons and said, "Eat right out of the container." We stood and talked to the cooks and ate ice cream
until the cook looked at the container. He said, "Hey, there must be a gallon gone," and put the lid back on
and motioned for us to leave. We went back to the area where the other guys were sleeping and crawled into
our mummy bags.
When we awoke we had about two or more inches of snow covering our sleeping bags. We all slept with our
clothes on and many left their boondockers on while sleeping. I had always taken my boondockers off and put
them between the outer waterproof layer and the inner bag. I would rather keep mud out of my bag than worry
about dying with my boondockers on. We started walking again and some men separated from the group if they
caught a ride. Two of us asked some artillery men for a ride, but they had men hanging out all over the
truck box. I climbed on the barrel of a Howitzer, rode about two miles, and then decided walking in the mud
was easier. I felt that I was jeopardizing my future fatherhood by riding any further on the barrel.
We walked the rest of the way and arrived in the middle of the afternoon at Camp Tripoli. This was a luxury
camp with twelve-man tents plus a full kitchen tent for all the camp. The camp was big compared to any that
I had been in before. It even had a movie tent.
We had picked up more men in our section in November like Russell from California, Thomas from the Bronx, DI
from Baltimore, Wild Bill P. III, and we had Mac, James, and McM from before. We were finally getting back
to a full eight-man squad and 17-man section of two machine guns. We looked ahead to a good Christmas and a
little wild fun in the reserve area.
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We had a fun bunch in the section as we now had five or six Irishmen in the section. Tommy from the Bronx
was only about five foot nine and grew a big bushy moustache. The guys called him "the Boss". He acted
like a mob boss and everyone sort of played along with the charade. I heard some comments from other machine
gunners in other sections like we didn't know what we were doing. They were only jealous of the best and
this kind of foolishness was good for the men to get their minds off what happened on the lines. I went
along with it, but the men knew that when I said something I meant it, and they did their jobs.
Everyone was also looking for booze. We heard about some men who had purchased Korean liquor and lost
their eyesight or mind. Some of it was temporary but a few were permanent, so I told everyone to stay away
from Korean liquor. They claimed the Koreans stole antifreeze from our trucks to make their liquor.
When we did get a bottle of good liquor I didn't drink much as I felt that I had to look after the men--sort of a
military designated driver to keep them out of trouble.
One night Wild Bill had a little too much to drink and went wild. The officers were even concerned so I
told them that I would look after him. He wanted to fight and then kept yelling at officers and senior
enlisted men, "Who are they?" hoping for an answer. He said ever since he had been in the service
everyone said they told us that or they said to do this, or they said to get ready. He
said "they" was the most used word in the Marines and he just wanted to know who "they" were.
We decided to make some raisin jack to drink. We found a five-gallon gas or water can and got raisins and
five pounds of sugar. We mixed them with water and left the mixture to ferment for about two weeks.
The problem was that everyone wanted to open it up after about three days and try it for a buzz. I had a
case of the flu or something during this time and had a 102 fever. I crawled into my sleeping bag on a cot
next to the potbelly stove and lived on water and APC tablets, the service cure-all medicine. When I finally
sweated it out, I found they had drank up all of the raisin jack.
I hadn't been to a movie as we had too much going on in our own section for entertainment. One night
around Christmas someone shared a bottle of American liquor and I got a little drunk. I went to the movies
to see Elizabeth Taylor and had about six or eight of our men looking after me for a change. Some of the
Marines started to boo Elizabeth Taylor and I stood up and yelled, "Shut up or I'll kick your ass." There
were about 200 Marines in the movie and they were ready for a fight. Lucky for them my section and about 20
other Marines took me out of the movie for the protection of those booing Liz. After that I went back to
looking after the other men as that was easier.
We decided to make some more raisin jack and went down to the other end of Camp Tripoli for supplies.
Corporal Richard, my squad leader, and another machine gunner came looking for me. They asked if I was going
to the ceremony as Jack was going to get a Silver Star for Bloody Ridge. He said, "You ought to get a medal
for knocking out the machinegun bunker." I said, "Why? I was just doing my job and nobody even knew I
had been the gunner for three days." I smarted off that I wanted the Medal of Honor or nothing. I
really was remembering the George Company Marines that I had fired on the last day and felt that I would never be
able to justify a medal. Richard and I agreed that everyone left on the hill the last day should have had
some kind of decoration.
We got a new gunny, Sergeant McGhee, who had served in World War II. He was not trained in machineguns
and was trying to learn more about his new assignment. He had Corporal Jack, the Silver Star recipient, set
up a machinegun drill. This consisted of running 20 yards, the gunner placing down the tripod, and the
assistant gunner placing the machine gun on the tripod. This was all done for speed. We were timed on
how long it took us to set up the gun for action. This seemed a little ridiculous since we were in mountain
terrain and heavy woods most of the time. It was easy to do it on flat land with soft dirt without rocks,
brush, and trees to contend with.
We got a couple of new men from stateside, Corporal Sneid, Carlton from Vermont, Sisk, and Rob from Florida.
I soon found out that the corporal hated my guts. He didn't like taking orders from a PFC who became his
acting squad leader. Carlton and Sisk seemed capable, but Rob seemed like a kid with pimples and unable to
do anything right. Richard became company armorer to store and maintain all weapons and records on who had
what weapons in the company. Staff Sergeant Sam was no longer with our section as he had gone home.
Sergeants Murph and Pres had also left the section so we were running out of NCOs in machineguns. The
Marines don't give out rank very easily for combat troops without time in rank.
We continued to have a good time at Camp Tripoli and everyone caught up on their writing home and enjoyed all
the treats received in the mail. I received fudge from the mothers of high school buddies Jim and Willard
and cookies from my own family. Jim was the friend who came to see me in California before I shipped out to
Korea. I was now writing to seven girls and it was surprising what we said in letters to each other that we
wouldn't normally say in person. This gave me something to do and it was great to get a lot of mail.
Frank, who I nicknamed Grinning Gus since he had one or two teeth missing, only wrote or talked about Peggy, the
girl he was going to marry. Fifty years later, I met Mac again and his wife Peggy.
When Christmas was over we looked forward to New Years and a big celebration. We were told that we needed
five men for our turn on guard watch up in the hills. We were to just be up there for 48 hours and that
didn't seem too bad. We went up and relieved the other guards and had a small four-man tent for the five of
us. James was now assistant gunner. He liked to boss everyone around and give us jobs rather than to
do them himself. I got upset with this and we had an argument about who could do what. He was from my
home state and lived only about 18 miles away from where I lived. He mentioned in the argument that he had
kicked someone's butt after a legion baseball game. That someone was from my home town. Why this
bothered me I'm not sure, but this added to the other was more than I could take. I told him to step outside
and if he could kick my butt he could be squad leader. The Marine Corps didn't approve of giving away rank
or fighting over it, but we were not thinking of the Marine Corps or regulations. We went out in the snow to
fight. He was about six foot and 210 pounds, just about my size. We stood on the hillside in the snow
and he hit me a couple of times in the head. I could hear the blows hit me, but felt nothing because I was
too mad by this time. I knocked him down about five times and each time he slid about six feet. He
finally said he had had enough and we went back into the tent and said nothing. Later Mac told me they knew
what had happened as James came in and sat in a corner saying nothing and I was all smiles.
We returned to the main base and found out that we wouldn't be at Camp Tripoli for New Year's. There had
been a breakthrough in the front lines. On December 28th we were told to get ready to move out the next day
because we were going up to the front lines again. We had had a lot of fun in the reserve area and the squad
was now working, playing, and ready to fight as a team if required. The best compliment I ever had came from
one of the squad members years later. He told me, "When you were squad leader everyone had a job and we
worked like a fine-tuned team." He said, "When you left and the new NCO's came in, they sat around and gave
orders--period." He also said he told people back home he had the toughest 18-year old squad leader in
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Return to the Punchbowl
I exchanged my M1 for a carbine before loading on the trucks. That was becoming a routine since I was
still a PFC. They made me carry an M1 in the reserve area, but I got my carbine back if we went on the front
line. The advantage of the carbine was that we could tape two 30-round banana clips together. I also
carried four 15-round clips on my belt and this gave me 120 rounds ready to fire. The carbine was lighter
and the .30 caliber ammo smaller for a lot less weight to carry up the hills. The carbine was accurate up to
300 yards, while the M1 could be fired accurately at 500 or 800 yards. In the mountains and trees, most
targets were 200 yards or less.
When we got off the trucks it was still dark. We started to climb along a river edge for about a mile.
We took a short break before starting the steep climb up the hill. I carried the machinegun a lot to help
the assistant gunner and gunner since the gun without tripod weighed 34 pounds. We had pack boards for our
gear and I could lay the gun between my shoulders and the pack board. The gun couldn't fall off and I could
climb all day and never hardly notice that I had the gun. I guess I was built like a pack horse for that
kind of load. After the break we climbed the hill for about a mile and a half. It took well over an
hour with the loads we were carrying. When we arrived at the top of the hill we stopped to check all of our
equipment before relieving the troops on the hill. I found that Rob didn't have his two boxes of machine gun
ammo or his M1. I asked him what happened to the ammo and his rifle. He said that when we took a break
he left them because they were too heavy. I looked at him and said, "I should shoot you right between the
eyes and put you out of your misery, you dumb bastard. You just left the only things that will keep you
alive," and I sent him back down to find the ammo and rifle. I explained later to him that he was never to
leave anything, instead to ask for help as we worked as a team.
Since we no longer had a section leader, the gunny told me to get three machine guns set up in the bunkers
designed for them. We had two small ridges running up to the big ridge at a right angle off to the north.
I placed my gun in the left ridge bunker and a gun from first section in the middle bunker down a little lower.
Corporal Reilly of the first section was the gunner for the middle gun. The second gun from our section was
to the right on the highest ridge on the point. The gunny was going to stay with the company command center
part way down the back side of the ridge. We would only see him about once or twice a week. Somebody
asked if I was acting section leader. I said no as nobody had really told me I was acting squad leader
except by passing orders on to me for the squad and guns.
We were very lucky to move into this set up as the guns were each about 200 yards apart. They covered an
overlapping field of fire of about 600 yards wide. The gunner, assistant gunner, and one other man slept in
the bunker with the gun. We had a 20-foot trench from the gun to a second bunker on the left. I took
this bunker with Mac as I had confidence in him to do the right thing if we were attacked. It was important
to know our men well so when somebody started to come into our bunker during the night we would know how to react.
We could roll over and go back to sleep or shoot him if he was the enemy.
Our bunker had a small entrance with about a four-foot crawl space to the second entrance and then it dropped
down about a foot deeper. We had a poncho hanging over the outside and inside entrances for wind protection
and for the noise they made when cold. We had no outside view from the sleeping bunker so when we heard the
outside poncho we had our hand on the rifle. Whoever it was better announce themselves or duck fast before
trying the second poncho.
One of our first jobs was putting up a three-strand barbed wire fence and then hooking concertina wire to the
fence. I then hooked hand grenades all along the bottom strand of wire. I took a round, cardboard
grenade container and wired it to the fence. I then pulled the grenade pin and slid the grenade into the
container to hold the spoon down. The grenade wouldn't detonate until the spoon popped loose. They
hung at an angle so that a small movement of the fence or a strong wind would cause a grenade to fall out and
detonate. I also always had one of the men stand next to the fence and I aimed the gun at his knees.
This test allowed us to search and traverse the gun from one side to the other in the dark at that level.
The idea was that it could hit a standing or crawling enemy soldier.
I heard that many men lost 15 to 30 pounds while in Korea from mountain climbing, lack of sleep, and C-rations.
Contrarily, I gained weight and went from 195 to 215 because of good food and exercise. I always carried a
couple of onions in a plastic bag in my pack for flavor. If I heated a can of C-rations on a burner, I
scraped a little onion in for flavor. The C-rations were small cans of ham and lima beans, spaghetti, beans
and weenies, sausage or hamburger patties packed in lard, and corned beef hash. We normally didn't have a
chance to pick, but had to take what was available in the box. A lot the men wouldn't eat corned beef hash
or lima beans. I took any C-rations they didn't want because I didn't think they were that bad and they
filled me up when hungry. They were a lot better than going hungry, and healthier than most people in the
states ate every day. The box also contained a couple of dry, hard, round crackers, cocoa, and toilet paper.
On the second week, hey were going to open up a mess hall with hot food on the back side of the hill. The
first few days they received mortar rounds and had to close the mess hall for a couple of days. They finally
opened it for one hot meal per day. Although I tried to get to the mess hall a couple of times per week, it
was easier to stay on the front slope, eat C-rations, sleep in the daytime, and play all night.
Since we were still playing king-on-the-hill with both sides trying to control the highest hill, much of the
valley areas were open territory. They were getting some infiltration by the enemy into rear areas, causing
snipers and sabotage. We moved a bunch of troops into the valley one night into dry ditches to try and catch
infiltrators. We spent a fairly quiet night and at daylight took a Chinese prisoner. He was a big man
about 6 foot and 200-plus pounds. He was not the little man we had expected from past experience with
Koreans. Most Koreans were wide-shouldered, stocky built, 5'7" tall. We moved back on the hill to our
bunkers and defensive positions again. I had my first run-in with Corporal Sneid when he tore down the gun
to clean it one day. He messed around all afternoon and about dusk I checked to see if the gun was ready.
I found out that the bolt jammed so I tore it down and put it back together. I told him to never touch it
unless I was around. He was upset because he had trained in machineguns in the states and thought he knew
more than I did. The gun was the life of the squad, section, and the men that I now felt responsible for.
I was now the professional on the machinegun, not someone trained in the states, so I told him to remember it.
He never liked me before and even less now because I was a PFC who had three corporals under me.
The routine was pretty much the same each day. I.D. did his little dance out in front of the bunkers for
the Koreans each morning. I visited the other two guns during the day and tried to get over to the warm-up
bunker. The warm-up bunker was located on the back side of the hill and held about 30 men. I tried to
spend an hour or so visiting with some of the riflemen and others in the company. We had one rifleman, Ski
from Georgia, who was loud and obnoxious. A couple of times I had to take him down and sit on him. He
called me "tiger"--a name that came back to me later in life while in upper management of two different
corporations. I was nice to him as his squad leader, always put him on the point during night patrols as the
most likely to get shot.
There was a little house in the valley about 500 yards away with a woman who hung out her laundry every day.
I felt that we should check her out as nobody had that much laundry to wash. I thought that she could be
sending signals or doing the wash for half of the North Korean army. We left her alone because nobody else
was concerned about what she was doing. One day about the middle of the morning, I saw two men on the
highest ridge walking down our lines. They came up to our area and I noticed the second man had a sniper
rifle. The first man jumped down into the trench with me and introduced himself as a general in the Marines.
He asked me about our defenses and what I thought about our position. I explained the layout and overlapping
of three machineguns and said we had control of that location. He said good, jumped up out of the trench,
and proceeded on down the lines with the sniper following. The Company Commander found out later and asked
why I hadn't informed him that the general was in the area. I said he didn't ask and he didn't act like he
wanted a group following him. I lost a few points with the officers because they must have wanted to suck up
We used the warm-up bunker for church services. The Catholic Father looked me up to tell me to send all
the Catholic boys for Mass. I rounded up the men and sent them over for Mass. Several tried to skip
Mass, but I pushed them to go. I guess that's why the Father always contacted me when he came up the hill.
The Protestant chaplains never came to the front lines. Two Marines from another battalion walked a couple
of miles once a week to attend services. They were Lutheran and so was I so I attended services with them.
We sang songs and said prayers. Tommy, who was Catholic, also attended and learned to sing, "A Mighty
Fortress is our God" and "Onward Christian Soldiers." We had all religions attending until the two Marines
decided to give a sermon and I did not approve. I said I wasn't going to attend anymore because I didn't
think they were qualified to preach. I was sorry later because nobody attended after that. I didn't
want to influence others because of my convictions.
We occasionally had entertainment as Russ had a great tenor voice and sang with Seag from Brooklyn. Seag
tapped a beat with his fingers on a can and sang with Russ and we could almost feel like we were in a nightclub.
I also pressured Tommy to sing "Danny Boy" two or three times. I couldn't get enough.
One day the Gunny Sergeant came over and told me to have all of the machine gunners pick up the brass. He
also wanted them to start loading their own ammo belts for the machine guns. I explained that whenever we
worked out in front of the bunkers the enemy fired the 76mm at us. I also objected to loading ammo belts
unless we were low on ammo because it caused gun jams with short or long rounds. I knew that they had
machine gun ammo stacked 50 feet high and a hundred yards long at battalion. He said we had to keep the men
busy during the day and he wanted it done anyway. I refused to jeopardize my men's lives and wouldn't do it.
He chewed me out and then said, "You're just a PFC and can't handle leadership." He told me that I was now
an ammo carrier for the squad and steaming mad, he walked off.
I really didn't change what I was doing because we were not moving out on attack. Our main contact with
the enemy was sending out patrols to test their lines. They were doing the same. They had small
patrols trying to steal guns or test our strength at certain points in the line. At Seventh Regiment
Headquarters, they were concerned about what was going on because our side hadn't taken any prisoners in a month.
They wanted a patrol to sneak in at night and grab one or two alive for questioning. They planned to send a
rifle squad down the hill across the valley and up to one of their positions at night. There was about a
thousand yards to cover so they planned to have a machine gun give cover fire. There was a small hill about
50 foot high in the valley about three hundred yards from their lines. That was where they said the machine
gun was to be set up. If the squad came under fire, the machine gun was to open fire and draw enemy fire
until the squad passed the gun position. Since I was the only gunner who had given live overhead cover fire,
they said that I was to be the gunner, with three volunteers. I told them that I didn't think an ammo
carrier should take that responsibility. The Company Commander didn't know what I was talking about and the
gunny said it was a misunderstanding. I was again squad leader and responsible for the section after less
than a week. To top it off, they scrapped the plan a couple of days later. I had lucked out again.
The snow was getting deeper and I wondered if the grenades would go off if the snow got higher than the bottom
barbed wire. The temperatures were dropping into single digits or below zero almost every night. Our
eyes watered and almost froze shut. A lot of the men had beards and moustaches that were growing fairly
long. I tried to shave every few days because the beards and bushy moustaches had frost on them. I
also never could stand moustaches on men who never blew their nose.
We found an old rusty M1 and tried to clean it up so it would fire. We took a tracer round from the
machine gun ammo belt and put it in the rifle. We saw enemy soldiers digging and building bunkers on the far
ridge and fired the tracer round. The rifle wasn't very accurate, but if the round came within 20 yards the
enemy scattered and ran for cover. In a couple of hours we repeated the procedure to harass them. It was fun
and we took turns. One day even Richard came over and fired a tracer a couple of times.
One night I smelled a musty odor. The wind was from the north, but not that strong. I was up in the
bunker with Mac and Corporal Sneid when I heard grenades going off. I stepped out of the bunker, looked at
the machine gun on the highest ridge, and saw a man on top of the bunker and the flash of a grenade. I saw
several figures in front of the bunker so I grabbed the machine gun and put it on the roof of our bunker.
Mac threw a couple of cans of ammo up to me and I told the others to get in the bunker with their rifles and watch
the slope in front. Then I started firing just across the front of the other bunker. I was concerned
about Tommy, DI, and the men in the bunker. I fired at the top and in front of the bunker, and as a group
of enemy ran down the hill I followed them with the gun. The men inside never got hit because the grenades
thrown did not go into the bunker. Tommy said they were trying to pull the gun out the aperture and all of a
sudden he saw tracers going across in front of the aperture. It was like daylight because after I started
firing, the mortars shot up dozens of flares. I should have been watching my own area in front of our bunker
but I was worried about the other men.
After I left Korea and was discharged in New York, I spent fifteen days with Tommy. He repeated the story
a dozen times and told all his buddies and bartenders that I had saved his life. The story got bigger every
time and when he went to work I visited the neighborhood bars. The city I had always been told was
unfriendly was the friendliest place I had been in while in the service. I was bought meals, beer, and was
even invited to parties because I was in uniform.
The event that almost ended in tragedy still had some unanswered questions. How did the enemy get in so
close so fast? I knew we had problems with Rob falling asleep on watch and he couldn't be left alone.
This became a problem all up and down the line with the cold and wind blowing in our face. I was asked to
patrol up and down the line and to talk to anyone that seemed sleepy in order to keep them awake. I walked
up the line, stopping at our guns and riflemen on watch. I walked about a half-mile beyond our last gun and
back a couple of times between 2200 hours and 0400 hours. The temperature got down to 25 below zero one
night with 15 mile per hour winds blowing in our face. I never used the password on my walks because it
could get me shot. When I was challenged I answered something like, "Who the hell do you think it is?" or
"You don't think the enemy is dumb enough to get out in this weather." It was good to get challenged because
it meant the man on watch was awake and heard me coming.
While standing on the mountaintop in freezing cold, I talked and argued with God. The death and pain
seemed so terrible even though I believed that what we were doing was important. I asked God to answer me if
he heard me and knew I was upset with him. On three occasions in one week when I asked for a sign, something
very surprising happened in a few minutes. Most people would say it was just a coincidence and maybe they
would be right. But I always wondered if God heard my anger.
I always had confidence in Mac, DI, Russ, Carlton, and James when they were on watch. Most of our men
knew it was for their own good and to wake someone else if they were having trouble. I heard that Gunny McG
had freaked out the night of all the action and noise and had a nervous breakdown. I don't know if it was
true, but I never saw him after that night. I heard later that he had patrolled the lines at night before so
maybe that's why I was now doing it. My feelings about his departure were that it was no great loss.
He was trying too hard to understand what combat was all about in Korea.
We got better winter gear in parkas and high top boots. The battalion and regiment had them for a month
before the men on the lines got them. (Those in the rear really needed the best equipment, to sleep in tents
with stoves, have hot showers, and eat good food.) We got to walk down to battalion about two miles once a
month. They had a tent with showers set up next to the river. We stood out in the open in cold
weather, took off all our clothes, and threw them on a big pile to be burned. This was our only set of
clothes. We slept, ate, and lived in them for 30 days. We walked into the tent where there was soap
and warm water. We scrubbed ourselves, picked up new clothes, and with wet hair moved off to a hot meal.
This was a treat. It was almost March and we had been sleeping in the ground since the end of December.
I had grown up on a farm in Nebraska and knew this had to be much harder for someone from New York City, San
Francisco, or Houston.
The Marines didn't complain much about conditions, but worried more about getting out alive. A few had
frostbite with toes turning black. Often the toes came off, which was more scary to me than any enemy.
We had also heard stories of men dying from bleeding from the nose, eyes, and mouth in two or three days.
Some thought it was from rat bites and other rumors were that it was like the plague. The military kept it
fairly quiet from the news media during the war. It came up again many years later and I had almost
forgotten about it when it was made public.
I had learned a lot about the men in the section during the last few months. DI was a character, always
smiling and having a good time, but dependable to do his job. Tommy was also a character, playing the mob
boss, but a good man and Irishman. Russ was a likeable person who could be sincere and dependable, but
sucked up to me, which wasn't required to be friends. Russ made corporal while I was still a PFC and acting
squad leader. James tolerated me since our little disagreement and did a good job with the squad.
Carlton was a very likeable young man who was very dependable--like a green mountain man should have been.
Mac, or Grinning Gus as I called him, had become very close as we talked and dreamed of the same things in the
future. I felt that most of the men showed leadership potential and they could take over if required.
Near the end of our time on the hill, one of the guys received an Irish flag. They all convinced me to
run up the flag on a long tree limb. Within 15 minutes we had heavy artillery fire on our position. We
received word from the Company Command to get the flag down. We must have confused the Chinese and Koreans
that a new country had joined the war. We had a good bunch of fighting Marines in our section, but we had a
lot of fun that made fighting and death less of a concern.
I received my greatest education in the Marines. The objective is the most important whether it be a
hill, increased sales, more widgets, or better investments. I learned the difficult can be done immediately
and the impossible takes a little longer. You just need to get the people working for you to believe it
in order to succeed in any goal.
We were going to be moving back to Camp Tripoli during the first part of March. It had been a long, cold
winter with poor living conditions, but it had been easier than being on the attack to take another hill.
The cold winter training had helped me from getting cold as I wore layers of clothing. I had a T-shirt
covered by a wool shirt, wool sweater over the shirt, and a fur-lined vest. I also wore dungarees with
waterproof trousers over them. This allowed us to move. The parka was used only when sitting around or
on long movements of troops. The problem with the parka was we felt confined and couldn't hear with the hood
over our head. Hearing was as important as sight or smell in a combat area.
Back to Memoir Contents
Tripoli in the Spring
We were once again on trucks going down the mountain muddy roads with the trucks almost running off the side on
turns. Several times they hung one wheel over the edge and the truck was required to back up to make a turn
in the road. They had trucks going up with an army outfit and this caused a lot of heckling between the two
groups. One of the Marines stood up, pulled the pin on a grenade, and threw it into the back of a truck
loaded with soldiers. It was a dud. He had emptied all the powder out of the grenade earlier.
When the spoon popped off it seemed real and the army outfit jumped over the sides. Luckily, none of them
were ran over by another truck and they landed in six inches of mud for cushioning.
We arrived at a much larger Camp Tripoli. While we were on the lines it had expanded from the valley up
the hillsides. They had dug rock and dirt out of the sides of the hill to make four levels of flat land.
Each area was about 50-foot wide and half a mile long to set up rows of 12-man tents on each level. We were
on the top level of tents, which gave us privacy and a good view of the valley camp area. The top of the
hill was covered with rocks and a few trees and was about a hundred yards above our row of tents. We had
just received our latest group of replacements from the states for any casualties lost and Marines being rotated
back to the States.
We had a new Sergeant Wrig from the states and I thought he would take over the machinegun section and our two
squads. He was a nice guy and we talked a lot about his taking over the section or a squad. He had
been in Marine supply since boot camp a couple years earlier. He did not have any advanced combat training
and was only 18 years old. He had lied about his age when he joined the Marines. A supply sergeant had
found out and had looked after him. He told me he had refused taking over the section because he wasn't
qualified. I later found out that, although I wasn't receiving the rank, the Marines had given me a 0335 MOS
number. This was for Staff Sergeant and above. I was still responsible for the squad and the section
and I think everyone forgot that my rank was a PFC, including the officers. When I later reached the states
an officer questioned how I had ever received my MOS number.
We were back to having a good time in the reserve area with Tommy the mob boss and all the other crazy
play-acting by the men. We played a lot of cards like hearts and spades to waste time and to keep our minds
occupied. Wild Bill was a fun guy and had been a golden glove boxer in Tennessee before joining the Marines.
He had boxed at Camp Pendleton and had beaten the camp champion in his weight class while stationed there.
One day while we were playing cards a loud noise startled us. Wild Bill was lying on the ground with his
eyes rolling and blood coming out of his head. We were all surprised and stunned as to what had happened.
I thought he was dead by the time we got him to the medical tent and for the first time I felt a cold chill go
through my body. He was still alive, but in critical condition. The next few days we were all
concerned about Bill and his condition. We found out that what had happened was some Marines had been on top
of the hill and a rock about eight inches in diameter had been kicked loose. The rock had rolled down the
hill about a hundred yards, flew into the air, and hit the tent roof. It made a loud noise when it went
right through the canvas and struck Bill in the head. The hardest part was understanding why it had
happened. Someone being wounded or killed on the front lines was expected, but not in reserves while having fun.
We all kept track of Bill's progress until he was transported out a few days later. After this incident all
Marines were told to stay off the hill unless on patrol. It still gave everyone a cautious feeling for a few
days remembering that, except for a few feet, it could have been anyone. The view of the camp in the valley
from our position didn't seem quite as good now that one of our men had been hurt. It bothered me the most
as I felt that since taking over that I was responsible for their safety. If someone got hurt, I felt that
it was my fault.
DI, Mac and Sisk went down one day to pick up our stretcher and bring it back to our tent. When they
arrived back at our level, DI was playing around. When a Navy plane dove down he pretended the stretcher
was a machinegun. He started acting like he was shooting at the plane. He then yelled, "He's shooting
back at us!" The Navy plane strafed and bombed in the valley, pulled up, and then made a second dive and
fired again. We were told that the squadron leader was yelling at him over the radio that it was friendly
troops. The squadron leader finally fired on the plane to get his attention and they turned and flew to the
south. Several men were wounded in the valley, but none died that I heard about. We heard later that
the pilot had a mental breakdown and this was the reason for his attack on our camp. The reserve area didn't
seem as relaxing as the previous times we had come off the lines.
A lot of the men received three days in Seoul or five days in Japan for Rest and Relaxation. Normally
only one or two men at a time were allowed to go from the company, and not all of the men had this opportunity.
I decided to check to see if I was up for R&R to either of the locations. I found out from Corporal Gill in
Battalion Headquarters, who had been in my platoon in boot camp, that my name had come up. However, since
they thought that I was a short timer, he had gone in my place to Japan. I guess it's great to have so many
good friends. I later realized that it was most likely for the best. I had been in the mountains and
away from civilization for so long it was easy to live with death. R&R would have confused my mind and
brought me back to reality, making future combat more difficult.
I had also had a letter from Smokey Joe who had enlisted with me into the Marines. He was in Amtraks and
had trained at Barstow, California and in Japan for an amphibious landing at Wonsan harbor in North Korea.
While I was in the Reserves we had heard rumors about a possible beach landing at Wonsan. We had even
practiced climbing down rope nets with our gear to keep us up to date with the training we had had in advance
combat training. Jose said he was looking forward to a landing and hoped to have me on his "alligator."
He said he could drop me on the beach and wave goodbye as he returned to the ship. I don't know what I did in life
to gain so many good friends that all wanted to leave me in harm's way. We were lucky we never made the
landing, as I heard they had about a dozen 20-inch guns to fire point blank at the harbor. They couldn't be
knocked out because when they fired they rolled about a hundred yards back into the mountains to reload.
This made air strikes or navy gun fire useless. We had learned on Bloody Ridge that the Koreans were good at
tunnels and they could dig from one side of the hill to the other. That was why the napalm and artillery did
not wipe them out with all the attacks.
Camp Tripoli was in the best condition of any reserve area we had been in while in Korea. I also noticed
the same Koreans hanging around to do our laundry and other cleanup jobs. I liked the one called Wan as he
always had a smile and spoke better English than most of the Koreans. He seemed smarter than most and I
sometimes wondered if he could be a spy. He said he was from Seoul. I taught him to yell, "Ah ha
Seoul", a take-off on San Antonio. I thought it real strange that when we moved to the west coast later, he
showed up at our camp in about one week.
The camp activity became very routine and we had to pull outpost duty again. We missed another USO show
(this was the third one and every time I had caught the outpost duty). They also started some field problems
day and night time to irritate us. I always believed it was part of the Marine Corps psychology to make the
men want to go back to the front lines.
We received notice that we would be moving out of the mountains on the east coast to the west coast. The
west coast was more like hills of 600 to 1,000 feet high and not as rough terrain. We joked that the USMC
stood for "Uncle Sam's Mountain Climbers" when on the east coast, as we kept climbing higher and steeper.
We loaded on the trucks with our equipment around the end of March. The Seventh Marines traveled all day
and night and a full second day sitting on the back of the trucks. We stopped about midnight for some coffee
and a roll at a mobile kitchen. The second day we drove through a city--the first town or city we had seen.
Before this, three small houses was the largest village we had come close to on the east coast. The ride was
rough and dirty even for a young man in good condition. We also saw several honey dew wagons pulled by oxen.
The wagons hauled animal and human body waste for fertilizer. We could smell them from a half mile away.
It was hard to believe that Korea had been so poor before the war. It had no roads, food, or medical
care. They claimed the average life span of the natives increased from about 29 years to 32 years during the
Korean War. Even with the Koreans killed in war, the food, clothes, and medicine we brought in from America
improved their life span. We learned that life didn't mean much in several countries in the Far East, as
many were fanatics about their politics. I have often described them like ants. Thousands died along
the way, but they kept coming forever as they had the numbers on their side. In combat when attacking, they
might have three people for each weapon. When one was killed, the next one picked up the weapon and
continued on to the destination. Their beliefs were stronger than any commitment to family or friends.
When starving or cold they fought for whoever would feed them and clothe them. We had prisoners captured who
were South Koreans who then fought for North Korea for rice and warm clothes. The same was also true of
North Koreans fighting with South Korea. We wondered how far some of the Korean troops could be trusted
because of beliefs. We knew the Marine Corps could be trusted, as Marines loved to fight and were proud of
what they accomplished.
When prisoners were captured they were turned over to a Korean officer for interrogation. I watched an
officer question a prisoner with a gun to his head and knife to the throat and the prisoner said nothing.
When the officer threatened to turn him over to the Japanese, he couldn't talk fast enough. His fear was not
of dying, but of Japanese torture which they had learned about when occupied by Japan.
We finally arrived at our new camp on the west coast, which was built in a valley between two hills about 500
feet high. This would be our new home until we moved out to our next mission, whatever it might be. We
had a very well-trained section of machineguns and everyone had their job. They also knew what they might be
required to do if the man ahead of them went down.
Back to Memoir Contents
War and Politics
The lines between North and South Korea had been laid out in the peace talks at Panmunjom, but neither side had
agreed at this time. They argued over who controlled a mountain ridge if both the United Nations forces and
communists held a part of ridge. If the communists took a small hill in what was thought to be a neutral
area, our forces attacked and took it back. Since we were the good guys, we pulled back after a few days.
Then the North Koreans moved back on the hill and spent a couple of weeks building their defenses. After
they had built a strong defense, our troops were required to take the hill again. The powers of negotiation
were trying to resolve the war, but this made it harder on troops trained to take ground and hold it.
We were located about six miles north of Panmunjom in our new camp and a little over two miles from a large
river. We were again in 12-man tents with Battalion Headquarters just a couple of hundred yards away from
our tents. Our relaxation was wrestling and boxing matches. I wrestled a huge rifleman from
Massachusetts who was as strong as a bull. I soon found out that any hold I got, he could break with his
strength in a minute or less. I kept changing holds while the troops yelled encouragement to both of us.
I was sweating and slick enough to slide out of his holds before he broke any bones. After about 15 minutes
he said, "Let's call it a draw," and I agreed rather fast. One of our Howe Company Marines decided to box in
a three-round match against another company's Marine. A lot of money was bet on the fight. Our man got
beat up pretty badly the first two rounds and was bleeding from mouth, nose, and eyes. They didn't stop
fights for blood in Marine smokers and he knocked the other man out in the third round. I heard later that a
corpsman had given him a shot of morphine before the fight. He likely didn't feel anything during the fight,
but he could have been killed.
The first week we were assigned to two quad fifty caliber machine guns on the two overlooking hills. (On a
couple of occasions MIG jets had attacked reserve positions and the guns were our defense.) I manned one gun
with one of my men and two men were on the other hill with the other gun. I loved the quad fifties and hoped
that we would be attacked, which never happened. I tried to calculate the speed and told the gunners on the
other hill to lead a plane by about a thousand yards and start firing right away. I had planned on leading
planes the same distance, but high by five to seven hundred feet. My idea was that if they saw tracers and
pulled up, they would fly right into my pattern. The four fifties firing at once could hit them with several
rounds and maybe knock them out of the air. I dreamed of being the first to shoot down a jet with ground
fire. The only problem was, I never had a chance to try out the strategy.
We were mobilized in a hurry one day and moved across the river. We were about a mile from the river
setting up in an open area at the foot of a hill. About 300 yards ahead the tree line started and I did not
like the lack of concealment. We dug foxholes, but I felt like we were sitting in the middle of Soldier's
Field in Chicago. We stayed a couple of days and then moved back across the river to our camp because the
enemy never came our way. It was back to manning the quad fifties and training exercises.
I was told by one of the officers that I had made Corporal. This made me feel a little more comfortable
with my duties over the three corporals and sergeant in my section. The presence of officers had not been
very great since the first of the year except in reserve areas. The second platoon commander moved his
troops into position. The platoon sergeant asked or suggested what were the best positions for the
machineguns. In the first five months we had much more involvement with weapons and platoon officers.
We again were mobilized to fly to the front area on helicopters. We were to be dropped off like a hot
landing. This was when helicopters did not want to touch down because they would be sitting ducks for enemy
fire. We jumped from six to eight feet off the ground with about 70 pounds of gear. I also took the
gun which weighed another 34 pounds when I jumped. I had always worried about my left knee hurt in football,
but it had never bothered me. I guess I always favored my right leg and tried to hit with it first to break
the fall from weight. This time I had a sharp pain go through my right knee when I hit the ground. We
were in a flat rice paddy with a five-foot high dirt retaining wall 40 yards away.
I waved the men to move out to the dirt wall as fast as they could. I hesitated, then followed with the
machinegun and we set it up. I didn't want anyone to know my knee was sore or they might lose confidence in
me. We had our positions set up, looking for any sign of the enemy. After about two hours an Army
general came by looking at our positions. I wondered why an Army general was checking on our positions.
The rumor later was that a Marine general had made a bet with an Army general. The bet was that they could
move a battalion of Marines five miles across the river in half an hour. We always had a lot of rumors and
didn't know what to believe. The story sounded good anyway, and why had an Army General checked to see if we
were in position?
We soon found ourselves back at the camp falling into the same routine. I was approached by one of the
company officers who said I should get cleaned up and report to the battalion commander. He said I was to be
interviewed about officer's training school if I had any interest. I tried to clean up in what I had to
wear, went over to battalion, and reported to a sergeant who told me to sit down. I waited about an hour
with a major stepping out to see the sergeant several times. The sergeant finally told me to report back to
my outfit. I guess they didn't want to talk to me after all, or maybe I was too young. I was only 19
and I had heard that the Marines required officers to be twenty years and six months old. If they had told
me anything it would have been better than the possibility that they didn't like my looks.
We were told one day that we would be moving up to the front in a couple of days and not to leave the camp
area. Our sector of the lines had been quieter than some other areas such as Kaesong Air Base. A wire
fence and heavy military guard and patrol surrounded Kaesong. We heard they were getting hit almost every
night by infiltrators that had broken through the outer perimeter several times. We decided we should
celebrate before the fighting really got going one more time. Several of us decided we needed to make a
liquor run so we could have a party before going on the lines. Since the Marines were not allowed liquor, we
decided to go to an Army artillery outfit about 12 miles away. The Army got plenty of liquor for about $5.00
per quart and then sell it for $25.00 per quart.
A big, bushy, red-haired Irishman named Pat, and two others and I volunteered for the trip and collected the
script paper money. We decided to take a shortcut cross country and a few miles from camp we came to a
barbed wire fence. We could see another fence about 400 yards away from the first. We suspected a mine
field, but felt that it must have been cleared as it was behind the lines. We proceeded slowly across the
field to the other side and crossed over the second fence. We saw several signs that said, "Live minefield.
Do not enter." We looked at each other and laughed to think how lucky we were. It meant we were
destined to get the booze. We walked down dirt roads asking directions to the Army artillery outfit.
We finally found the unit, purchased eight quarts of liquor, and started back.
While we were standing at an intersection of two dirt roads trying to hitchhike back to our camp, a bird
colonel pulled up in a jeep with his driver and asked what outfit we were part of. Someone spoke up and said
Howe Company, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines. He said, "You men were restricted to your camp as you are
supposed to be moving up to the front lines." When he asked us our names, we all gave false names and he
told us to double-time back to our outfit. We took off for our camp area with the booze. A couple of
the men wanted to take the long way back and not cross the minefield. I said, "If he checks with our outfit
and we are not at camp, they will know who it was on the road regardless of the names we gave." When we
reached the minefield I said, "Let's go back across where we came before." Nobody wanted to go first so I
took off walking slowly with eyes wide open looking for mines. When I got across I said, "Come on, who is
next?" I told them if they got killed I would tell everybody that they didn't desert. We arrived at
the camp and passed out the liquor to those who had given us the money. We were told several men from our
outfit had been AOL from the camp and had lied about their names to a colonel. He was coming the next
morning and wanted all the troops in Howe Company to fall out because he thought he could recognize a couple of
them. The officers were told that one had bushy red hair and another had a shoulder holster with a
bone-handled revolver. Pat had his red hair shaved off that night and I sold the .38 colt revolver that my
father had sent me. In reserves we had to carry a weapon to eat or to go to the head so I had my father buy
and send me the revolver for convenience in reserve areas. The next day we all fell out and nobody was
recognized. I couldn't understand why I hadn't been considered for officer training school after all.
Anyone that smooth was invincible.
Three Marines from Third Battalion visited the British Fusiliers and got drunk on rum. When they started
shooting up the British camp the Brits called the Army military police, but they refused to come. The Brits
then called the Marine military police and they wouldn't come either, but they called the Third Battalion.
The company commander of their outfit drove to the British camp. When he arrived he told them to get their
butts in the jeep and they hung their heads and crawled into the jeep. The moral of the story is that
Marines may not be scared to die or raise hell, but even when uncontrollable they obey their Commanding Officer
In the middle of July we moved up to the front again. This would be my last time on the front lines.
I sort of hated the thought of leaving my men because we had become such good friends. It was hard to
believe that I felt closer to these men than family or school friends. When we were getting our gear
together an officer came over and said, "You are not going with us this time. We are sending you back to
Battalion, since you have only a few weeks until going home." I felt sad because I thought I was betraying
my outfit and men. I would have signed up for another tour if I could have, but knew that most of my friends
would be going home in a few months.
I reported back to Battalion and realized that back there a corporal was a peon. I was given the duty of
making coffee for the meals in a 15-gallon pot. I boiled water in the pot and then poured about four inches
of coffee grounds over the top. When the coffee grounds sank to the bottom, the coffee was ready to drink.
I sometimes didn't make it on time to help. (What could they do to me anyway? If they sent me back to
the front lines, it would be better than this.) I worried about my men on the lines and felt that I hadn't
been a good squad leader or section leader. When we got into a firefight I always took over the first squad
machinegun rather than letting the gunner get needed experience. I guess it was partly that I felt confident
and fearless with the gun. Maybe I would have shown fear if just directing gunners to the targets.
One of my daily tasks was to check with Graves Registration every day to see if anyone from Howe Company had
come in that day. I also followed up on what was happening on the lines with my outfit. One day I
found that two Marines had come into Graves Registration from Howe Company. They were Sergeant Wood, who had
come over about the same time I did, and PFC Seag from Brooklyn, who had the beautiful singing voice. This
bothered me that they were from Howe Company, but then I heard they were blown up by mines. Later I heard
the troops had been overrun and pushed off the hill. They said later that DI had been buried under a
bunker that caved in from artillery fire. When they took the hill back, DI was all right. He had
heard the enemy talking above his buried bunker and stayed quiet until the hill was retaken. This was the
hardest--hearing things secondhand and not knowing what was the truth. I also had the thought in my mind,
"Could I have changed things if I was still on the lines?" I felt that I had let the men down, but hadn't
been given an alternative when told I was going to battalion.
I believe the time had come for the Marine Corps to get back to having the right rank for the job. I
wondered what had happened to Sergeant Somber who had been broken down from a staff sergeant to PFC.
Everyone knew that he was the best platoon sergeant around and that he always assumed those duties when going on
the front lines. Since he would have several more months in country, would he continue to head the platoon
on the lines?
I was now less than a week from going home. We were scheduled to leave on the eighth of August 1952.
I had spent a lot of time with the battalion mail clerk, Holl from St. Louis. He had been in boot camp with
me. It was good to know an old buddy, but some things bothered me. He always had cakes and booze and
joked when he ran out, "You shake packages and smell them and a few get broken. If we can't find the address
label we can't send them on and we use the contents." I felt this was not fair to the guys on the front
lines who were always the last to get parkas, boots, etc. Just because they were fighting the war up front,
they should not be victims of battalion and regiment personnel. I was to learn later on that this practice
is followed in the corporate world and government at all levels. They all think, "Me first and the hell with
the little man." I also became guilty of this in the business world later in life.
I decided to go up to the front lines to visit the men a few days before I left Korea. I caught a ride up
to the hill and walked up to their positions. It was difficult to find some of them. They started to
receive some incoming artillery about a half a mile away. I wouldn't have even noticed this when on the
lines before, but felt a little twinge of fear for the first time and this made me angry with myself. I went
back to battalion and wondered what was wrong with me. I felt very ashamed of myself. I wished I had
spent more time up front or stayed overnight to visit with the guys.
On my last full day at battalion, I knew that I was supposed to leave on the trucks at 1800 hours the next
morning. Two of the men from motor pool were going home in the morning too, and we decided to have our last
fling. I was to meet them at 1700 hours at their tent. When I arrived they had eight cases of beer
stacked up for the three of us to drink. One of the Marines was from Long Island, New York, and the other
was from San Francisco. We decided to pour each beer into our canteen cups and chugalug the beer, throwing
the cups to the ground when finished. It was a contest with the loser being required to drink another beer.
I remember well into the third case that I was getting pretty drunk and the other men had trouble talking.
They had an advantage as they were forcing themselves to throw up several times. I had been taught not to
waste even bad beer. I don't know how much more we drank or who won the contest. All I remember was
that they lived in this tent and my tent was about three-quarters of a mile away on a slight hill. I took
off about 2400 hours, crawling on my hands and knees since I couldn't stand up. I headed up towards my tent
area and about halfway there I noticed a light on in the mail tent where Holl worked and slept. I decided to
say goodbye and crawled into his tent. He was up and we visited for a few minutes. At about 0100 hours I
said. "I better get some sleep." He asked if I needed help and I looked up from my crawling position and
said, "I'm doing fine so far." I then left Holl and crawled the rest of the way to my tent and went to bed.
The next thing I remember, someone was shaking me and asking me, "I thought you were going home today?" I
looked at my watch and it was 0900. I grabbed a couple of items, leaving half of my gear, and ran for the
trucks. A master sergeant was standing by the trucks and said, "Are you Corporal Genrich?" I answered,
"Affirmative." He said, "We have been waiting an hour." They were just ready to leave without me.
I climbed into the truck and we left for Inchon to depart on the ships.
When we arrived at Inchon there was a large camp for those being sent home to the states. They drove a
large truck down the road and everyone was to throw his rifle on the truck box. I threw my rifle on the
truck and turned to talk to some of the men that had trained with me at Pendleton. Someone on the other side
threw his rifle over the truck and the barrel hit the top of my head, splitting it open. I blacked out for a
couple of minutes, but never fell over. The next thing I knew, several men were asking me if I heard them
and was I all right. They thought I should go to the base hospital to be checked out by a doctor, but I was
afraid that I would miss the ship departure. A corpsman put something on the cut for infection, as well as a
pressure bandage. We then moved out to the next check place, where we took off all our clothes and were
sprayed with a white powder for lice. They also gave us something to drink that was for worms. We were
then told we would not load on to the ship until the morning.
We had a hot meal, moved into tents for the night, and had a chance to talk. I thought about the time
that we had traded C-rations for rice and fish heads with Koreans for a change in diet. That would never
happen again because we were going to a different world. We had a tent full of all the guys I had known at
Pendleton and it was good to know so many had made it through. I met Mills from Iowa. He was very
despondent and upset with the military and Red Cross. He was married and his wife was expecting when we had
last seen each other. His wife had died in childbirth, but the baby had lived. They wouldn't let him
go home for her funeral. The Marines had sent him to the Red Cross and they had done nothing. This
didn't surprise me. I had met the Red Cross representative at battalion and he was living it up, laughing
about all the sob stories he heard.
After talking most of the night, we boarded the ship early in the morning to depart from Korea. We were
leaving the country of the quiet morning calm with good and bad memories never to be forgotten. We were
proud young Americans that had gladly given everything for freedom for our family and friends back home. I
had found my true self in the Marines with unlimited confidence, pride, and the ability to lead men not from rank
or position, but from respect.
The Marines fighting in Korea did not realize they were fighting two wars. One was to save South Korea,
and one to save the Marine Corps from politics. They were successful in both wars and built a legend to
follow. The Marine Corps had almost become extinct after the Second World War. After the war all
branches of the service were affected by rapid demobilization and reduced military spending. President
Truman was in favor of reducing defense spending. General Eisenhower and Army Air Corps General Spaatz went
on record that the Marines should be reduced from the 18 regiments it had in World War II to a single regiment.
The Army, Navy, and Army Air Corps all wanted the money being spent on the Marines. The Joint Chiefs of
Staff expressed negative views of the need for the Marine Corps and felt amphibious landings were a thing of the
past. The Marines were being cut out of the budget and were short of the equipment needed to exist.
The Marine Commandant was not part of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to appear before Congress on budgets.
An Army General, Douglas MacArthur, and heroic fighting of Marines in Korea saved the Marine Corps. The
Korean War started in June 1950 and the U.S. military came to South Korea's support. Disaster after disaster
was befalling the American troops as they were pushed back almost into the sea. Douglas MacArthur requested
a Marine battalion of 6,537 men and was turned down by the Joint Chiefs of Staff because they were against sending
Marines to Korea. The decision was made in Japan by General MacArthur, as well as by General Shepard of the
Marines, not Washington, to bring the Marine 1st Provisional Brigade to Korea. The brigade was the decisive
element needed for a successful defense of the Pusan Perimeter. General MacArthur then asked for a full
division of Marines and was turned down three times by the Joint Chiefs of Staff before they finally approved.
The Marines did not have a division of troops, but made up two regiments--the First and Fifth--to go to Korea.
The third regiment was the Seventh and was made up of reservists and new recruits to follow a couple of months
later. The Marines played a major part in the success of the Korean War. As a result, Congress passed
Law 416 in 1952, which stated the permanent size of the Marine Corps. The Commandant of the Marine Corps
became a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Back to Memoir Contents
The Fear of Going Home
The ship pulled out of Inchon harbor on a beautiful morning in Korea and I felt a little sad to be leaving.
We were headed for Sasebo, Japan for our next stop. We had stopped at Kobe, Japan seaport on the way over to
Korea. We had left all our dress uniforms, shoes, and personal gear at Kobe to be stored until we returned
but we soon find out that we would never see our duffle bag and gear again.
We pulled into Sasebo the second day and were told that nobody would be allowed off the ship while in Japan.
They were afraid we would get lost or take something home (like a social disease). I believe the real reason
was that we were wild, fearless, and without respect for police authority. We could have started an incident
in Japan affecting the United States' relations with Japan. This was the largest group to return from Korea
to date with over 2,000 Marines and about 1800 Army personnel. When we pulled up to the dock we saw eight
Marines standing on the dock. One was Bob from my hometown. I had played football and spent a lot of
time with him when he moved from Santa Barbara, California to Nebraska his sophomore year in high school.
Bob had been one of the top runners in the mile in the state. Bob went into the service about two months
before I enlisted and had spent a year in Japan. I recognized him while he was down on the dock and yelled
at him. He returned my greetings and in fifteen minutes he was onboard the ship General Mead.
We had an ocean like glass on our trip home from Japan and it was fun to watch the dolphins follow the ship and
see the schools of flying fish. Each day bothered me a little more as I wondered how I could relate to my
girlfriend, family, and friends. I was not the same person anymore. I didn't feel like a very good man
or Christian because war and killing without feelings had been too easy for me. The trip home was slow, but
a lot of the guys I had trained with, like my buddies from Pendleton Ken and John, were on board. We spent a
lot of time talking to each other about the last year in Korea. They had a different experience as Ken had
worked in intelligence at regiment and John had been in tanks. They hadn't lived in a hole in the ground for
months with rats or been overran by the enemy. When one got up close--like 15 feet from the enemy, war got
I thought a lot about what I had done in Korea and about the men who had survived and those who had died or
were wounded. I still had 18 months to serve in the Marines and wondered what I would be doing next. I
had heard about Korea and trained for combat ever since coming into the Marines. I felt that I had been good
at what I did on the front lines but I really didn't know how to do anything else. I wasn't trained for
anything else and guard duty or parades didn't sound very interesting. (One of the riflemen from Howe
Company was a rough, rugged man from the fields of Kansas. I saw him years later at a reunion. He said
that when he got home he applied for his first job. When they asked what he had been trained for in the
service he told the truth, saying that he was "a professional killer". He didn't get the job.)
I hoped I would get stationed on the west coast or east coast to see more of the country. My older
brother Dale had been called back into the Marines from reserves and was stationed at Treasure Island after Korea.
I thought it would be good to see him while being processed. He would be able to understand my problems and
how I felt because he was a Marine. Whenever I thought of my brother Dale it reminded me of Big Mac who was
killed on Able Hill. They both were about six foot six and big powerful men. It was hard to believe
that Big Mac was dead.
We hung dungarees over the side of the ship to wash them until they were white in salt water and we did
everything else we could think of to pass the time. I heard them announce my name a couple of times for work
details, but I never answered or went near my bunk. I had become very good at staying up all night and going
without sleep, a habit which would stay with me all my life. I had become a very light sleeper in Korea and
remained so all through the service and several years after I was discharged. If someone walked up close to
me while I was sleeping in the dark, I would jump up on my feet and usually scare them. This even happened
with my wife and mother in later years. I guess it was a reaction for self-preservation.
When we were about two days out of San Francisco, there was an announcement from the captain of the ship.
The Captain said that we were changing course for San Diego. Officials in that city had contacted the
Commandant of the Marines and said they wanted this large group of Marines to arrive at San Diego. They
claimed their city was the home of the Marine Corps, although many of the Marine bases would have disagreed with
that statement. Anyway, this meant I wouldn't be able to spend time with my brother in Frisco. I was a
little disappointed, but realized the service was part of the government and everything was done for the good of
politics. I found out later that my brother Dale was planning to take a few days off to be with me when I
returned. He had rented a hotel room for us. We both likely missed out on a good time in Frisco, but
the city may have been better off that the two of us never got together.
We could see the coast from the distance. The ship slowed down and it took a long time to reach the dock.
I was becoming more afraid of returning home to the United States as we pulled closer to the docks. When I
could see all the buildings, trucks, cars, and people buzzing around so fast I wanted to go back to Korea.
If they had told me that the ship was turning around and going back to Korea and I could stay on it, I would have
returned to Korea. I longed for the silent calm in the mountains with no possessions but my sleeping bag,
rifle, and a can of C-rations. I felt a little lost without all my machinegun men around me because we were
each other's safety net.
We were at the dock for a couple of hours before being told to disembark from the ship. They had allowed
the band to play and all the welcome speeches to be finished first. When we marched down the gangplank we
walked through a large warehouse. The Red Cross was handing out milk and doughnuts to all the men returning.
Most of the men took them and immediately dropped them on the ground, making a mess. I just said, "No thank
you," because I felt these women were just volunteers and not responsible for Red Cross actions. The other
reason was that my mother would not have approved if she had been there.
We were loaded on trucks and hauled to the San Diego recruit depot where they allowed us to pick our barracks
from those available. We were told that everyone would get liberty and that the mayor of San Diego had given
us the key to the city. If we did not have proper uniforms we could wear any uniform as long as it was
clean. They told us that every man would receive one hundred dollars, as our pay records were not yet
available. We were also given temporary identification cards signed by the base commander. We were to
fill in our serial number and date of birth in writing. I doubt if any of the Marines made themselves less
than 21 years old.
An officer and sergeant came to the barracks checking for weapons and souvenirs that any of the men had brought
home with them. They were heckled and forced out of the barracks by a group of men. The size of the
crowd grew to about 50 or more outside the barracks. The officer wisely said they would wait until the next
morning to finish the inspection. The next morning wasn't much better as the officer came back with several
military police. The men would not give up any weapons until they had destroyed them by beating them against
electric poles or concrete. One of the military police tried to stop one of the men from destroying a burp
gun. The veteran asked the MP if he was ready to die for a souvenir he didn't earn and the MP backed off.
We were all allowed to leave the base about 1800 hours and caught buses into the city of San Diego. I
went in with John, Ken, and Phillips. I don't know what all the other Marines did, but we just walked the
streets and ate a good meal. We had been told to be back on base before breakfast at 1700 hours and we
actually returned by about midnight. The next morning I went to the head to clean up and there was a woman
in the men's head taking a sponge bath. I later heard some Marine had come back late with his car and forgot
the gal was in the back seat passed out. When she woke up the next morning, she went to the bathroom and
then decided to clean up. (Just be careful what you think about her for she may have been somebody's mother.
Besides, we were not put on earth to judge others.)
John's parents had driven out from Dallas to meet him when the ship arrived. They wanted to take their
son, Ken and me out to supper the second night. We met with them for supper and then they gave John their
car for the night. The three of us felt great and went to Pacific Beach to see Frankie Lane and try to
dance. I was a little disappointed as the bartender asked John and Ken for their IDs to check their age and
see if they were both 21. The bartender didn't ask me for my ID, on which I had filled in my own birthday.
We were all given three choices of duty stations. I asked for east coast or west coast as my only
choices. When I received my orders on the fifth day I was back in the states, I found out that they were
sending me to the Ammo Depot in Hastings, Nebraska. Two other Marines were from Nebraska, had asked for
Hastings, but didn't get their choice. I didn't want Nebraska as I grew up there and wanted to see the
country. It seems that the Marines rarely gave anyone the duty station they asked for. I was still
concerned about what I would be doing.
The next day I left on a plane for my home in Nebraska and a 30-day leave. While on the plane, the
stewardess came by handing out magazines and stopped and said, "Save the seat next to you." I thought my
charm must have shown her what a great guy this Marine must be. When she came back and sat down, she asked
if I remembered her from Wymore, Nebraska. I then realized who she was. She had dated my friend Ken,
who was a year ahead of me in high school. We sat and visited and I thought how she had changed since the
last time that I had seen her. Rosemary said, "It's too bad you're not going on to Minneapolis," which was
her destination. She mentioned we could have had dinner and visited some more about old times. After I
got off the plane in Omaha I thought, "Why didn't you go on to Minneapolis? A couple of days isn't much when
you have a 30-day leave."
Back to Memoir Contents
Lack of Fear
I arrived home on August 27, 1952. It was good to see my family, but I felt restless and confused about
my future. I went to see my girlfriend in Lincoln and some buddies at college about every other day.
This seemed great for the first two weeks, but then I started thinking about my buddies in Korea and John and Ken
from Dallas. I dreaded going to Hastings and wanted to get far away so I could be by myself.
I was at an after hours club one night with a buddy who had too much to drink and was causing trouble.
The club called the police and when they came in one tried to get my buddy to go outside. He resisted and
the other policeman laid his hand on his gun holster. I walked up behind him, grabbed both of his arms, and
said, "Just relax and play it cool." I was surprised he didn't try to break loose. I told him, "If you
and your partner go outside, I'll bring him out." I had no fear of guns or anyone. (In later years I
realized that was stupid.) He said okay and he and his partner walked out. Why, I'll never know.
It took me about five minutes to get my buddy out of the club and when I did the police were gone. I felt
I could control everybody or situation and it was my responsibility, which I know didn't make too much sense.
Maybe Eleanor Roosevelt was right when she said Marines should be put on a desert island for a year after being in
combat. She also made a statement that Marines had the cleanest bodies and dirtiest minds.
I was in a head-on car wreck outside Omaha during my 30-day leave. I held on to the steering wheel so
hard it bent the steering shaft and caught my hand between the window and the steering wheel. I broke all
bones in my hand. Every day I realized a little more that I would be in trouble if I didn't get away from
My oldest sister had had a baby girl a couple of days before I got home and I had visited her in the hospital.
My sister asked me to be one of the baby's sponsors when baptized and this meant a lot to me at the time. Before
the baptism was to take place, I had to report to my new base. It was the first of October and I wasn't
looking forward to standing guard duty. Because of my broken hand, the doctor put me on no duty, although I
was recommended for liberty. At least I didn't have to start my duty right away with my broken hand.
The weekend my niece was to be baptized, I had gone to Omaha with some buddies from college and we had crashed
a Polish wedding reception and drank, ate, and danced half the night. I kept telling them that I had to get
to my hometown of Beatrice and we needed to go. Finally Charlie talked Dewy and Gary into leaving on the
90-mile drive. We had a flat tire on the way and finally drove into Beatrice about 0800. Charlie
thought I should eat before going home. When I walked in, my mother was about to have a heart attack with
worry. My mother was to be the other sponsor and she was afraid I wouldn't show up. I cleaned up and
got ready for church, as I wouldn't have missed being the sponsor for my beautiful niece for any reason.
During the baptism my mother had me hold the baby because she was too nervous.
I went on liberty every night (mostly to Grand Island) wearing my street clothes. The girls and business
people were more friendly in Grand Island and treated Marines almost like humans. The people in Hastings
hated the Marines and the Marines hated them. There were a lot of fights and some muggings of Marines by
gangs there. One of the Marines at Hastings was from a ranch in western Nebraska. One night he was fed
up with the problems and corrupt police so he strapped on two .45 revolvers and walked down the main street.
He dared the police to come out and face him in a gunfight. He had had nothing to drink and was sober, but
his mind was set on clearing up the good name of Nebraska. The police called the officer of the day at the
base and he came in to get him off the streets. I thought it sounded humorous, but later heard that the
officer of the day was afraid one of the police would face off with him. They said he was an expert with the
.45 at 40 yards and they didn't want him shooting a policeman because this would cause more problems with the
community and not help the problem that existed.
I decided it was time to get my head straightened out. When I got back to the base at Hastings, I heard
they needed seven non-coms to transfer to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I volunteered to go because I could not take
stateside duty. In Korea I had respect from the unit and command. In the states, rank was more
important than capabilities. The First Sergeant said they couldn't send anyone from a combat area out of the
states for six months. I said, "Please put my name on the list and I'll never complain." I was put on
the list and was scheduled to leave the first of November 1952. I had spent only a month at Hastings.
My broken hand still wouldn't close, but I was getting out of the states before everyone disowned me. I had
my fill of a stateside 2nd Lieutenant who tried to be important and full of knowledge. The good Marine
officers were normally captains and above who had learned through experience.
The next 15 months helped me to straighten out my head. Killing and lack of fear didn't play well in
either the United States. In Cuba I found a lot of Marines who had been in Korea and who were crazier than I
was. A lot of them had all of their rank removed from them or ended up in the brig while in Cuba. My
time in Cuba allowed me to mellow out. When I was discharged I forgot or didn't think about Korea any more.
I was lucky to have two officers, Captain C.E. Smith and Major Kelly, who sort of looked out for me and kept me
out of trouble. I had many long talks with them at night over coffee. They told me to get out of the
service and go to college. The only thing that was even tempting about staying in the Marines was that there
was a need for Marines in embassy duty in Spain. It sounded interesting to see Europe, but I decided that I
should get out after my enlistment was up.
Meanwhile, I discovered that Cuba was a beautiful country with bright blue clear waters and small beaches with
white sand in coves surrounded by foliage. When I looked down into the water I could see fish swimming
twenty feet deep against the white coral bottom. Every day was a beautiful day with clear skies and a few
small fluffy clouds flowing in the sky. The rain normally came between midnight and 0500 and when we awoke,
everything was washed off. The plants and flowers always seemed so bright and clean and flourished like
nothing I had ever seen before. I felt this was the place that I would like to live the rest of my life.
The people were all so happy and fun-loving. They were much more outgoing than people from Mexico or Central
America. They loved baseball and Americans. They loved playing jokes on each other, and even the shop
owners loved a good laugh on themselves.
I was lucky that I was able to go on liberty almost every night. A staff sergeant from Oklahoma was in
charge of the duty rosters and left my name off for about two months. We were liberty buddies and football
enemies from Nebraska and Oklahoma who argued about football. On one occasion while in a bar which had
brothel rooms across the back walls, we decided to have a contest. We got down in a three-point stance, ran
and hit the doors with our shoulders. We knocked seven or eight doors off the hinges and some of the rooms
were occupied. We left before the MPs arrived and never did resolve who had the best football team.
I was transferred up to the brig as assistant brig warden for the next three months and we had our own
barracks--a Quonset hut. It was very hot in that steel building. (At main side, at least the buildings
were wooden and two-story.) There was no air conditioning or glass windows in any of the barracks.
Instead, there were just screens over the windows. I hated the brig duty because of the rough treatment and
the fact that demeaning of prisoners was required. I finally talked myself into a transfer out of brig duty
and into security for the leeward jet airfield. A couple of months later, I received a call to pack my gear
and report back to the brig in three hours. A congressional investigation of the treatment of prisoners had
been ordered by Congress. The following day a Marine colonel, Navy captain, and two congressmen arrived and
started to question prisoners and brig personnel. After about three days they left and had found no
wrongdoing by brig personnel. The brig officer told me that they had told him they felt that I was the one
person who they could believe.
I soon left for Brooklyn, New York for discharge, which I had requested rather than going to Jacksonville,
Florida like all of the others for discharge. A Marine officer at Brooklyn asked, "How did you get so many
good duty stations?" I said I just asked and received what I wanted.
Back to Memoir Contents
After I left the military on February 18, 1954, I attended the University of Nebraska. As a freshman in
college I was given two days of evaluation tests. They said that I ranked at the 96 percentile in the United
States and the 78 percentile among college graduates. This caused a lot of problems in my classes because I
would write a paragraph on a test with what the instructor wanted to hear, and then two pages telling him what the
correct answer should be. I always wanted to show them that no answer is exact except in math and science.
Professors in the 1950s didn't care for free thinkers or my opinions. After 103 hours of classes, I decided
that my time was wasted.
I joined the reserves while in college and was discharged in 1958 on request. The commanding officer in
the reserves said they could not hold me to the end of enlistment. He said that, according to my file, I had
no obligation for war or to be in the reserves for any reason. He stated that he had not seen that before
and that basically they would take women and children on active duty before me. Later I tried to re-enlist
for Desert Storm, but they refused me because of my age. I was in better physical condition than most
reserve (and a lot smarter). I was offered a commission in the Air Force while attending college because
they said SAC needed better security. I refused. (Once a Marine, always a Marine). The Marines had
taught me duty to myself and for whom I served in life.
On November 7, 1958, I married Marlene Glantz. We have children David, Doug, James, and Diane. I became a
workaholic, always striving for perfection but never satisfied with what I had accomplished. I spent 12
years in middle and upper management in electronics, five years as a manager of a convention hotel and resort on
the beach, eleven years in commercial real estate and development of office buildings and shopping centers, seven
years in trust banking as senior acquisition, and asset manager of Fortune 500 pension funds. I always
worked on the edge trying to achieve the best results and taking chances as I believed the end result was more
important than my own being. I retired on July 31, 1996, but was bored in retirement. I became a
volunteer in seven civic organizations, play a little golf, and do some travel. I miss stress and impossible
Back to Memoir Contents
Korea changed me in that it made me a leader. I found out that few wanted to lead, even those with rank.
It helped me to use each man to the top of his capabilities and to back them 100 percent. Korea also made me
less easy going. I wanted everything to happen now, not in the future. My experience in the
Marine Corps made me a good leader and planner, and helped me have a goal objective in all business. As with
the Marines in Korea, in business I always believed, "The difficult we do now. The Impossible will take a
little longer." I took many chances on decisions I thought were best for the company. I could have
been fired, but instead I gained respect when I was right.
I think the United States should have gone to Korea in 1950. Communism was spreading fast and I felt that
it was better to stop it in Korea than in Nevada or Idaho. (California was already lost.) I think that
MacArthur should have gone north of the 38th parallel, but only with full backing of Congress, the President, and
ample troops, equipment, and a long-range plan. Our biggest mistake in Korea was the peace talks.
After the first year and for two years we had an imaginary line. We took hills the enemy wasn't supposed to
be on, then pulled back and later had to take the same hills again.
On the short term, the Korean War slowed communism. On the long term, the Korean War was of little value
other than the people in South Korea are better off in health and economy. I have never revisited Korea, but
I would like to see some of the areas where battles took place, take some of the tours, learn some of the military
history, and see Korea now--not Korea as I saw and remember it. We cannot dictate to another country, so it
is difficult to determine whether it is right for us to still have American troops in South Korea now that the two
countries are talking about someday reuniting.
I believe the Korean War should be rated right behind World War II. It was a time when young men were
patriots and believed in the cause, wanting to serve God and country. The discipline and everything done in
boot camp as a unit made for good combat troops, so the training I received at that time served me well in Korea.
I have a cousin who went from Private to 1st Lieutenant in World War II. He had a Silver Star, Bronze Star,
and Purple Heart. He has always talked about the hell we went through in Korea and has treated me with
respect. My youngest son wanted information about the Korean War for a term paper in college. He said
he was surprised and shocked by what I wrote for him. He had served in the Air Force before college.
As I mentioned in the forward of this memoir, I left Korea behind me when I became a civilian. For about
eight years I seemed to forget everything that had happened to me in the Marine Corps and Korea. Then I
started to remember and in 1961 began to write about my experiences. After three chapters, I quit. In
1999, I received telephone calls from about six buddies and letters from three of them, asking me to attend the
1st Marine Division Association reunion in Philadelphia. I attended the reunion that year and the one in
2001. I don't talk about being in the Marine Corps to most people as they wouldn't understand. For
Marines it is, "God, Marine Corps, and Country." Combat buddies usually become closer than family, so when
we all met again for the first time in Philadelphia, we talked like we did 50 years ago.
Our country was attacked on September 11, 2001. I was angry and frustrated about it, and realized that on
September 11, 1951, we had over 85 percent casualties in four days in a police action in Korea. I felt the
story needed to be told about young men willing to die for their country. So 41 years after I began to write
it, I finally finished the book which is now my memoir. This is the end of my story. I hope it will
help those who know me to better understand me. All others must figure out for themselves what the "Ghost in
the Night" dream really signified.