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Lynn Harold Hahn
"That first day in the mortuary, I recall that my main thought about the body was that it was the loved one of a family and that they did not know yet that their loved one was dead."
- Lynn Hahn, 148th Graves Registration
[ KWE Note: There are many photos in this memoir...
This interview is dedicated to my wife, Beatrice. I met Beatrice in 1950, and fell in love with her. Within a year, we decided to get married, knowing that there was a war in Korea and that I was a prime candidate for the draft. We decided to get married three months before I left for the service. I was blessed with a mate who was very supportive and loving throughout my two years of military service—a time when I needed those attributes dearly. She also encouraged me to think about going back to college when my term was up.
Near graduation from college, we started our family with the birth of our son, and later our daughter. Our children are now married, and have families of their own. Between them, we have five grandchildren. Beatrice and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary on September 28, 2001. During my tour of duty, I wrote to my wife, and she to me, nearly every day. She saved the letters that I wrote to her. Most of the descriptions and quotes concerning my experiences and observations are excerpted from these saved letters and other artifacts that she has kept all these years. I know that these items refreshed my memory many times so that what is written below is as I saw things at the time. They also helped to provide a better chronology. She has granted me permission to use the letters, for which I am grateful.
Lynn Harold Hahn was the eldest child of the four children born to Charles B. and Estella J. Martin Hahn. He was born August 7, 1931, in Beaverton, Michigan. The family lived in the towns of Gobles, Martin, and Buchanan, Michigan while the children were in grade school. Mr. Hahn was a Methodist minister, and Mrs. Hahn was a minister’s wife who raised the children and did her share in the churches in which her husband served.
Lynn attended grade and junior high school during World War II. Like all schoolchildren throughout the nation, he and his classmates collected paper and metal of all kinds for the war effort. Both the schools and the Boy Scouts promoted these collection efforts. "I recall our garage was used as a collection station," Lynn said. "It was nearly full of newspapers and cardboard which would then be picked up and taken away by a big truck." The Hahn family was affected by rationing, too. "I remember sugar was rationed, although it was probably a good thing for health reasons, as I did have a sweet tooth," he said. "Gas, tires, and shoes were also rationed."
After junior high, Lynn attended Clare High School in Clare, Michigan, and graduated in 1949. He loved to participate in sports, and played varsity in at least three sports while attending that small school. "I have continued to be involved in sports all my life," he said. Besides sports, Lynn was also interested in the girls at Clare High. Because of that interest in the opposite sex, he and some other boys decided to take a typing class due to the large number of girls in the class. "Taking typing significantly affected my experiences in the Army," he said. Later in this interview, our readers will understand why this was so.
Lynn’s education continued outside of the confines of the school walls, too. He held a part-time job in the local drug store as a soda jerk, as well as doing janitorial work and odd jobs. For two summers, he worked on a dairy farm where he helped with haying, milking, manure care and spreading, and odd jobs. "Both of these jobs were very educational for a young high school boy," Lynn said, "because they taught the ways of business and hard work. Both businesses were owned by persons who were willing to train, but who expected good performance."
After high school, Lynn attended Alma College in Alma, Michigan. He had not yet formulated any plans for his future. "I had no idea what I was interested in except to play sports," he said. "I went out for football, basketball, and baseball, which meant that I was involved with sports all year long." Lynn made varsity on the baseball team that year, but he didn’t study much. "As a result," he said, "I was placed on probation at the end of the first year. I was not ready for the rigors of academia, and decided that I had had enough school. I quit school." He ended up working in a house trailer factory with the grand starting salary of 95 cents per hour. "This also was an education concerning hard work and low pay," he said. "I worked on the assembly line, in an office responding to potential customers (typing), and eventually went on the road assisting an expert in repairing the defective trailers built by the company."
About the time he began the factory job, the Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950. "I knew little about the Korean country," recalled Hahn. "I believe I understood that Korea had been divided after the Allies’ post World War II war agreements. The war received considerable media coverage, and I believe there was concern that National Guard and Reserve units could possibly be called to active duty. The media coverage was by newspaper and radio. Television (black and white) was just coming on the scene in our area, but we did not have one until about 1955."
Even after the news reached the United States that North Korea had taken nearly all of South Korea, the war still seemed distant to Lynn Hahn. "Then, in September," he said, "came the landing at Inchon by the US X Corps and the rapid advance by the U.N. forces. It appeared the war would be over soon. I followed the news in the newspaper and radio, but I did not think that I would be in the war in Korea. I felt it might be over quickly. At my age, I did not think about having to go to war."
In the fall of 1950, while working at the trailer company, he met Beatrice Ruth Allen, his future wife. "She and her sister were walking down the street in downtown Alma," Hahn reminisced. "My friend and I asked them if they would like to go for a ride. There seemed to be some attraction at first, and we met often after that." After some courtship, they decided they would get married around the middle of 1952. "As weeks went by, we began to move the date up," Hahn said. "By the summer of 1951, we increasingly wanted to live together, and we were sure that I would be drafted, so we decided to get married in September. Looking back, it was quite a thing to do knowing that we would be separated for most of two years, as well as understanding that war was going on and that I possibly might not return if I had to be in it. Indeed, after I left for basic training, the only time we saw each other was for a few days visit she made to Fort Lee, Virginia, during my Graves Registration training, and then a few days between training and being shipped overseas to Korea." Hahn explained that at that time period, the government drafted men who were married, had no dependent children, and had received no previous military experience. The fact that a married man had a wife to support meant nothing to the draft board.
When draft-age men in Michigan gathered at a collection area in Detroit, they were taken to a large auditorium. "I’m guessing there may have been up to 300 of us," recalled Hahn. "We were told that there was a need for 50 of us to volunteer for the Marines. If there were not enough volunteers to fill that quota, they would pick from among us. I was not particularly interested and, strange as it may seem, there were at least 50 who volunteered. This was my first break in the service." For Hahn, a series of subsequent "breaks" during his tour of duty in the Army put him in the right place at the right time to survive Korea’s combat zone.
Lynn Hahn began active duty on January 3, 1952, when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He and other inductees were bused from their hometown of Alma, to Detroit, Michigan, and then on to Ft. Custer, Michigan. At that time, Custer was used as a distribution center as well as a discharge center. Lynn said that his folks seemed to understand that he was being drafted under the system of our government. At the bus station, the family did not talk of war. "War" was not a term used when referring to Korea in those days. "Our nation did not declare war in this case," Hahn said. "We called it a conflict. Aside from the South Koreans (men) we were the major supporter with men and money. Now it is 2001. We still have not learned that if we are going to war, the Congress should declare war. Vietnam was a case in point where we let the Administration run the war. I hope that we are not now letting ourselves into another "war"—this time in Iraq--without the official declaration required."
On the day that he officially entered military service, Lynn wrote a letter home to his wife. It read, "This morning we got our papers sorted so we could start to come over here to Ft. Custer. We left Detroit about 4 o’clock this evening. When we arrived here, they gave us a pep talk about our enemy, Communism. After that we had supper that wasn’t too bad. After that we learned how to make a bed, army style, and how to recognize an officer. Then we took an ice cold shower, and I mean ice cold. We will be here for 5 to 7 days and no passes."
A month later, Lynn was still taking cold showers. He wrote home on February 6, "I washed my clothes last night in ice cold water. They didn’t look too good, but they did smell better. I also took an ice cold shower. I didn’t get much cleaner, but I smelled better. As yet, I have heard nothing about my stay around here."
It would be December 16, 1953, before Lynn became a civilian again, but because of the simple fact that he knew how to type, he had the opportunity to see his new bride again most weekends while he was in basic training. "I had been at Custer a couple of days waiting to be sent someplace for basic training when I was called into an office," Hahn explained. "They said my records showed I had typing in high school. They told me that I was needed to help in an office on the base. The next thing I knew, I was helping to type discharge forms for soldiers who were being discharged. Some of the soldiers were actually being flown from Korea to Ft. Custer because their discharge dates were pending. I was told that I would be kept at Ft. Custer for no more than 30 days, at which time I would be sent somewhere for basic training. I was actually granted leave to go home on most of the weekends that I was at Ft. Custer. The office that I worked in was commanded by a captain from Indianapolis, Indiana, who had served in World War II, and who had been reactivated when the Korean War broke out. He had a family and business, and he was quite bitter about being reactivated."
As it turned out, Hahn was held over at Fort Custer for nearly 45 days because his typing services were so badly needed. "The officer finally told me they could not keep me there any longer, and he asked where I would like to take basic," Hahn said. "I had no idea, and told him so. He said that the Quartermaster was the place to go, and he recommended Ft. Lee, Virginia. I remember going with him to a building where basic training assignments were made. The officer asked the sergeant about my status and was told I was scheduled to go to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. The officer asked if it was okay to change that and send me to Ft. Lee. The sergeant took my card out of the Ft. Campbell slot and put it into the Ft. Lee slot. Very simple and another nice break for me."
From Ft. Custer, Hahn and other draftees were flown by plane to Ft. Lee on February 21. He said in a letter to his wife, "We left Ft. Custer about 3:30 in the afternoon and had a nice plane ride. There isn’t much to a plane ride except it hurts your ears. I had trouble hearing things for twenty-four hours after the ride. Anyway, we took a bus from there to here. We got here about 6:30. That’s pretty good time." After some short processing that included learning what was expected of them, they began to learn how to march. While assigned to a temporary company awaiting assignment to a permanent company, the new trainees received a set of instructions that they were told to check constantly during the training period. "It will serve as your guide in doing your part to maintain the tradition that the American soldier is the best trained soldier in the world," the instruction sheet read. There was a long string of items on the list of instructions that trainees were expected to know by the time they completed their training:
On February 23, Lynn was assigned to a permanent company, where he was issued a rifle, bayonet, and tent. After that, he and the other new arrivals drilled and marched for about four hours. Lynn wrote home that Fort Lee was a nice camp. "The weather is fine. In the daytime it is nice and warm, but it gets pretty chilly in the evening."
Sometime during the first couple of weeks of basic training, Hahn and four or five other draftees were called into an office and told that their school records and test scores qualified them to be trainees for Officer Candidate School. If they were interested, they would be sent to OCS, and if they made the grade, they would become officers. "I recall asking questions," said Hahn. "Where would we train and what kind of training? I remember they said about 96% of those qualifying would go to Infantry Basic and become infantry officers. I asked where one would go after completion of training, and was told that it would probably be Korea. I then remembered the officer who was in command of the office at Ft. Custer who had been recalled to serve after he had served in World War II. I was told that once you become an officer, you would have long-term obligations, including being activated simply by Presidential Order. Since I was not excited about being in the military, I respectfully declined."
Instead of OCS, Hahn underwent eight weeks of infantry basic training and eight weeks of a Quartermaster function. In infantry basics, days were definitely regimented. "As I recall," Hahn said, "we were awakened by loud music over a loudspeaker about 5:00 a.m., at which time we had a few minutes to dress and fall out in the street in formation. Instructions were given for the day, and then we did calisthenics and ran a few miles. When we got back, we tidied up the barracks and then went to breakfast, which by this time was appreciated. With all the energy burned up, we were always hungry. As I recall, the food was generally good and we had a good mess staff. In fact, our mess hall was picked as the best in Ft. Lee, and the commanding general came to eat with us." Hahn said that, around the beginning of April 1952, they began feeding the men less in preparation for their bivouac.
Col. C.C. Holcomb, commanding officer on the base, had early on told the new recruits that the U.S. Army represented a cross section of American youth. "They bring with them their likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses, and collectively they represent the opinions, the strength and weaknesses of our country," he said. One of the weaknesses that some brought with them was poor hygiene habits. "I was athletic so that showering in front of others was no big deal, but it was apparent that some of the soldiers were shy and it was not easy for them," Hahn said. "Those types usually made it to the showers when they could smell themselves. We did have one person who refused to take a shower, and after a few days he began to smell up the area around him. Several of us who bunked near him eventually told him he must take a shower. After no action on his part, he was threatened, and eventually we had to physically take him to the shower. We then set up a schedule that he knew he must comply with."
Infantry training consisted of all those things that had been listed on the new trainee instruction sheet. Hahn said, "Training was intense, combining physical fitness with the rules of war, first aid, map reading, the details of fighting, knowing your weapons and how to use them, strategy of fighting, using your senses of smell and vision, use of bayonets, grenades, rockets, foxholes, camouflage, communication, anti-guerrilla, scouting and patrolling, and many other subjects." Squeezed between this training was the daily cleaning, as well as the weekly scrubbing down of the walls and floors of the barracks on Friday evening; special details to keep the latrines clean; and regular policing of the grounds outside. Lynn said there was little to no free time, except on Sunday. "I did, however, do my best to find time to write to Beatrice whenever I could," he recalled. Lights out was generally at 9:00 p.m., unless training went later in the evening, so Lynn penned letters to Beatrice, "by the light in the latrine."
The infantry training instructors were strict. Lynn recalled that early in his training, one of the instructors told the draftees, "You had better give your heart and soul to God, because from now on your ass is mine." He said that the instructors were always looking for something they felt was wrong so that they could met out punishment. "They had the authority to be strict," he explained, "and they left no question that they were in control. When we fell out in formation in the morning, they sometimes read to us the court martial results at the camp. I remember one case where two soldiers were on duty to clean and repair the furnaces in the WAC’s barracks. They had drilled a hole through the wall between the furnace room and the women’s shower room. They had been caught and were sentenced to the brig for a time. " Hahn also recalled that frequently after some very tiring physical workouts, the trainees were marched to an auditorium to watch training movies. Woe to the weary who fell asleep during the movie. "You would be very tired," he said. "And inside where it was warm, your eyes would get heavy and dozing off was easy. They had cadre equipped with long, wooden sticks walking up and down the aisles. If they saw that you had dozed off, they used the stick to whack you on the helmet hard. It was a rude awakening."
There were times when the instructors used corporal punishment to keep the recruits in line. Hahn recalled that there was one soldier in his platoon who had trouble staying in step while marching. "For some reason, he just couldn’t stay in step," he said. "One of the cadres put him at the rear of the column, and then stomped on his heels when he got out of step. Sometimes he would stumble because it was hurting him physically. I felt sorry for the soldier, because I felt that he was really trying. He just had a problem with staying in step. He never did really become proficient, and, in fact, the platoon leader gave him some detail (such as barracks orderly) during Saturday parades so he would not participate. Someone out of step showed up like a sore thumb."
There were other infractions, but because most of the draftees wanted to do a good job and be prepared, the mistakes that were made were generally minor ones. Lynn improperly fell out in the ranks once, for which he got two hours of extra duty scrubbing the mess hall floors. Once he put a letter to his wife in his jacket pocket. One of the officers noticed it and took it without a word. The letter was mailed on to Beatrice, and the unspoken message in the cadre’s eyes was clear to Lynn Hahn. In most cases, discipline was given out on an individual basis, but occasionally a platoon as a whole was disciplined with no free time, or had to clean the barracks if inspections or performance was not up to snuff. As to Lynn Hahn, he said that he felt he was a good soldier who tried to do what he was told and who tried to learn what was being taught. He didn’t make waves.
A couple of times, trainees went AWOL, but because of the reading of the daily court martial results, it was impressed on the men that going AWOL could be serious. One or two didn’t make it through basics. "In my letter to Beatrice dated March 11, 1952," Hahn said, "I indicated that a lot of the soldiers appeared to have physical defects. I can only surmise that many of the soldiers sent to the Quartermaster were those who had some type of physical problem. There were two cases where I believe the men didn’t make it through basics. One man actually had a clubfoot and had difficulty making it due to his inability to run or to march well. They actually requested that he be given some type of medical discharge, but he refused at first, insisting that he wanted to try to keep up. I understand that he eventually was given a discharge. Another man only had one eye. I believe he was also given a discharge. I could never understand how these men even got drafted, considering their conditions."
Church was both mandatory and optional during basics, according to Hahn. "Chapel was required twice during our basic," he said. "After that, attending the chapel services was voluntary. I still do not understand why chapel was required twice. As I recall, most did not take advantage of the opportunity when it was a choice. Instructors were not breathing down our necks at chapel. I attended chapel whenever possible. The chaplain in our area sent a letter to Beatrice indicating that he had met me, and gave encouraging comments and support. He also indicated that the officers at the post stood by at all times to be of service to us."
For Lynn Hahn, infantry training was physically exhausting. "You were always under pressure to perform under duress," he said. He also recalled that nearly every aspect of training involved viewing a training film first. Then there were proficiency tests. "We had to qualify with the firing of our rifles," he recalled. "I was not a good shot because I seemed to be very sensitive to noise. When we were qualifying, we had to stand or lie next to others shooting at the same time. Just when I was ready to fire, a neighbor would fire, which caused me to flinch. We had a proficiency test at the end of basic. Failure to pass could mean taking basic over again. I did quite well on the final test." However, the biggest test for Lynn Hahn above all during basics was being away from his new wife. "I missed my wife dearly, which tended to be on my mind a lot," he said.
When Beatrice married Lynn Hahn, she was living in an apartment in the same block as his parents in Alma, Michigan. The couple was married on September 28, 1951. Lynn’s father was a Methodist minister, but Beatrice and Lynn decided to be married in a private ceremony by a Methodist preacher in the town of Breckenridge, which was near Alma. Beatrice’s sister Dorothy, and her husband Charlie, were their only witnesses. The Hahns went to housekeeping in her apartment. "I simply moved my limited goods down to her apartment," Lynn said. [Thirty-five years later, Beatrice and Lynn renewed their wedding vows at their home, with his father officiating.]
When her husband left to fulfill his military obligation, Beatrice continued to live in the apartment, working in the Billing Department of Consumers Power Company, the main utility company that provided electrical and gas services in the Alma area. Despite the distance between them, the couple stayed close during his time in the Army through the letters that each wrote to the other for nearly two years. Before he left, they discussed how they could get through the service time—planning and saving in preparation for their life together after Lynn returned from his stint in the Army.
Graves Registration Training
When his eight weeks of infantry training was completed, Lynn Hahn had another lucky break. "There was a need for trained Graves Registration personnel, and there was need to fill a class," he said. With no leave between infantry and advanced training, Lynn moved his duffel bag of possessions from one area of the camp to the Company Q area. Before beginning their training, he and the others who were scheduled for Graves Registration training resided in this company until the Graves Registration School was filled to capacity. They were given about ten text books, and began a review of what their next eight weeks of training would include to become Graves Registration Specialists. Much of the learning involved reading and class work.
Though many years have passed, Lynn still has a lesson plan for the third week of training. It gives a reasonable review of the type of subjects that were involved. "Along with preparing for warfare," he said, "the specific classes for Graves Registration included subjects such as map reading, personal effects, identification of the dead, battlefield collection and evacuation, etc. Map reading was important in order to define location of temporary burial or cemeteries, and to be able to read maps provided by fighting commanders as to last location of suspected or known deceased."
He said that identification of the dead involved being familiar with the major techniques used by Graves Registration specialists. "For example," he noted, " we were expected to know the value of teeth for screening to determine whether the remains were American or Oriental. Most all Americans had fillings and a dental record. Most Orientals had no or few fillings. The dental record of American servicemen was the single most useful record for identification. The shape of the skull was another important indicator of culture origin. We were required to be able to assemble a complete human skeleton. There were actual human bones used for this training, in which we were required to lay out the body bones in their proper place." The trainees were also shown what was involved in battlefield collection and evacuation. The technique of transferring the remains of American soldiers from the battlefield to a rear Graves Registration collecting station for burial was new to Korea in 1952. The very important aspects of personal effects handling were taught to Hahn and the others to assure that a deceased soldier’s effects were accurately and properly transferred and accounted for at all transfer locations. "Survivors of the dead needed to be confident that their relative’s effects were intact and complete," Hahn said. The recruits were tested each week on what they had learned to date in their training. "Failure to pass three of the week’s tests disqualified a soldier for future training, and resulted in probably being sent to infantry training," Hahn recalled. "I usually did quite well, getting B’s or better."
He said he found the subject and the classes interesting; the instructors very good; and the atmosphere relaxed. "It was like being in school," he reminisced. "I had seen only one dead person prior to being in the Army, and that was at a funeral." Graves Registration Training and his subsequent duties in Korea would soon change his experience level with the dead. In the Graves Registration training, the troops visited a mortuary near the camp where Hahn and the others observed a deceased person there.
Classes started at 7:00 a.m. and lasted until 4:00 p.m. Hahn said that most of the instructors were sergeants with World War II experience. "I was very impressed with their knowledge and ability to teach," he remarked. "They were organized, spoke clearly, and with authority." Some evening-hour studying was necessary to prepare for the next day’s classes, but after that the men had some free time. "During some of the weeks, there was field training such as preparing a temporary cemetery," Hahn recalled. "We were bused once to the National Cemetery at Gettysburg to review the development of that cemetery. I recently presented a talk about the "Handling of the Dead" at Gettysburg during the Civil War. It was a disastrous situation where about 7,000 were killed in three days, and there was no formal procedure for burial."
Out of the classroom, the Graves Registration trainees at Fort Lee learned the major procedures for battlefield collection. "We split up into four groups," recalled Hahn. "Group 1 were the "bodies". Group 2 located the bodies and did the processing (filling out standard GR forms which included all pertinent items about the remains). Group 3 were the littler bearers who manually transported the bodies to a collecting point. Group 4 was the collecting point where bodies could be buried." Hahn is pictured below in training at Ft. Lee, learning how to establish a cemetery.
Included in the training were lessons which taught the future Graves Registration specialists the difference in duties of a battlefield GR and a rear GR. "A battlefield GR," explained Hahn, "was trained to help locate and/or accept bodies from battlefield companies or divisions and operate a collecting point for all bodies, if possible. The company or division to whom the deceased belonged was responsible for providing some type of record as to the identity of the deceased, location and date of death, and cause of death. A qualified medical person prepared this, if possible. The body, along with the information and personal effects, was transferred to GR personnel who operated the collecting point. They obtained all pertinent information available regarding identity, location and cause of death, and personal effects, and they completed standard GR forms. They wrapped the body or placed it in a body bag. They might open and operate a temporary cemetery where the body could be buried with due honors and necessary records (tags and burial bottle). Personal effects were transferred through appropriate GR lines for eventual return to next of kin." In contrast, Hahn said that the duty of a rear GR was to possibly operate as a larger collecting point where bodies could be processed for burial in an established cemetery or for further evacuation.
Because Graves Registration training was much more relaxed than infantry training had been, the men frequently got liberty. "I pretty much stayed on the Fort," said Hahn. "I could go to a movie or play ball. Most of what was needed, including entertainment, was provided. Some soldiers who came from homes in the East did go home on weekends. Some of those may have had problems getting back or took liberty and were AWOL in meeting the morning inspection. My recollection was that they usually came in late, but had excuses which were accepted. A few who could afford it had wives (or friends) who stayed in housing off camp. Soldiers could get night passes. I was blessed to have Beatrice come to Ft. Lee for two weekends and the week, and we stayed off site at Petersburg in a hotel. I was able to leave the Fort about 4:30 p.m., but had to be back for classes before 7:00 a.m."
With a war going on in Korea, it seemed logical that the 1952 graduates of Ft. Lee’s Graves Registration School would be shipped to the Far East. "There were rumors that many of us would go to Europe to help maintain established American cemeteries," recalled Hahn. "We were quite naïve. When we got our orders to report to Ft. Lawton, Washington, something did not seem logical. It looked like we were heading for Korea."
The Korea-bound soldiers were allowed a few days to go home en route to Ft. Lawton. Lynn originally had planned to get an airplane reservation for home, but he and others with similar ideas found out that the government had other plans. They were required instead to take a train. "It was explained that soldiers in the past had reported late to their destinations, and their excuses were that they had made their own arrangements and that for many reasons their chosen transport did not get them to the debarkation destination on time. So the Army tried to eliminate that excuse by putting men on a train with its destination to the debarkation site. They didn’t care what you did in between. In fact, they said to retain unused tickets for a future refund. So we were loaded on a train late in the evening. I stayed on the train until it reached Cincinnati, Ohio, where I got off and took my chances on getting a plane to Lansing, Michigan. I was lucky because I was put on standby and it turned out there was one seat available." After a few days at home with Beatrice, Lynn flew from Lansing to Seattle, Washington, and on to Ft. Lawton in proper time. Hahn remembered, "It turned out that once I got to Ft. Lawton, those of us who had gotten there on time had to wait until latecomers made it. As I recall, those who were late got a little extra duty, but I am sure they felt it was worth the extra time at home. Very discouraging."
Duties of a Graves Specialist
With his training behind him now, Lynn Hahn’s official title was Graves Registration Specialist. The duties for a soldier with the Military Order of Specialty (MOS) number 4980 were outlined in Handout 130.579H1, dated December 1951, from the Quartermaster School at Fort Lee, Virginia. The duties were as follows:
According to Ft. Lee classroom handouts, to carry out the duties of a Graves Registration Specialist, the soldier assigned to that duty had to possess the following special qualifications: "Must be able to read military and topographical maps, photomaps, and military and conventional signs and symbols. Must be able to prepare topographical sketches and map overlays. Must be able to conduct burial services in a solemn and reverent manner. Must be familiar with available disinfectants and fumigation and their use in preventing infection and spread of contagious disease. Must be familiar with military honors rendered at the grave and with other military funeral procedures. Must be familiar with methods used in established cemeteries to make the graves of both known and unknown dead, and with method used to record location of individual graves."
Once a soldier acquired these skills learned in Graves Registration Specialist training, he was qualified for the following positions: Senior Graves Registration Specialist, Grade E-4, Corporal; Graves Registration Specialist, Grade E-3, Pfc.; and Assistant Graves Registration Specialist, Grade E-2, Private. According to Hahn, after corporal came sergeants. There were quite a few in a graves registration company.
Voyage to the Far East
Lynn Hahn left the United States for Far East duty from Pier 97, Seattle, Washington, on July 20, 1952. He recalled that there was a small Army band there to wish them well as they pulled away from the pier. "I recall that a couple of soldiers actually got sick before the ship moved away from the dock," he said. "I felt that it was silly to get sick, but later I found out what seasickness was all about."
The small ship that Lynn boarded for Korea was the Pvt. Sadao S. Munemori. The 500-foot long troop transport was named after a Japanese-American World War II hero. It was a converted World War II victory ship. "Our compartment was right at the water level," Hahn recalled. "We could hear the water slapping against the wall of the ship. The wall actually moved some under the pressure. Our compartment contained about 250 men. The bunks were four high with just enough room to slide in to for sleeping. There were stairs going up to the main floor where the latrines were. The compartments were generally hot and stuffy. Various odors permeated the area. Showers were available, but the water was salt water. That was no way to shower and feel clean. The soap would not lather; rather, it stuck to the body and especially to body hair. I am not sure how many soldiers were on board, but the number of between 1,000 and 1,500 comes to mind. I only saw Army personnel on board the ship, but when we were transported from Japan to Korea on a different ship, there were about as many Marines as there were Army soldiers."
Not long out to sea, the new Graves Registration Specialist from Michigan no longer scoffed at those who got sick. He succumbed to the illness, too. "I had never been on a large ship before," he explained. "I felt that I would not get sick, but after one day out, the weather got rough. I saw many others getting sick, and still I thought I would get through it. However, on the next day I came down the ladder to my compartment and saw three soldiers on their knees puking into a can. By this time, the odor of throwing up was overwhelming, and I could take it no longer. I was very sick the next day, and then slowly recovered. I had never been seasick before. You throw up everything in your stomach and you still have the heaves, even though there is nothing to come up. The ship’s staff came around with crackers and encouraged us to eat, but that was the last thing we wished to do. On the third day, the weather improved and my stomach settled down. Then I became very hungry and ate everything available. More than half of the soldiers on the ship got sick. This disrupted the entire schedule and became of general concern to the ship’s staff."
When the second day at sea also brought rough weather, the tiny ship was tossed about in the ocean. "The waves were large enough and our ship small enough," recalled Hahn, "that the front and rear of the ship left the water as a wave was crested. I recall that the ship’s propeller actually left the water and caused a mighty vibration on the ship. This constant up and down, along with the propeller shudder, was enough to make a majority of the ship’s occupants sick."
Hahn said that one memorable thing that happened during the voyage had to do with the urinal located on the main deck on the inside wall between two openings. It was about 12 feet long. He said, "As more soldiers got sick, some threw up into the urinal. As time went by, the screened-off drains clogged up and the urinal began to fill with urine and puke. In the bad weather, the ship rocked, and the stuff in the urinal began to slosh from one end to the other. If you happened to walk into the door opening at the time the stuff slammed into the end of the urinal, you could get a shower of the stuff. It was not pleasant."
He said that the use of the toilet was also a challenge. "There was a series of several stools on the outside wall of the ship. Since the floor of the ship descended from front to rear, the evacuation of refuse was accomplished by having a pipe connected to each stool in the series, with water continuously flowing from the higher to lower-level stools. As the ship rose and crested a wave, the water flowed quite well. But as the front of the ship got over the crest and began to fall, the flowing water caught the edge of the toilet connection and the water splashed your rear end. It was always cold, so we quickly learned to raise ourselves in anticipation of the water giving us a cold flush."
There wasn’t much entertainment on the ship, with the exception of gambling using cards and dice. The longer they were out to sea, the more soldiers there were with no money due to their losses. Lynn Hahn lost his money a different way. "Unfortunately," he said, "I was the victim of theft. I got up one morning and had to go to the bathroom. My wallet was in my shorts, and I thought I would slip it under the pillow. When I got back, the wallet was gone. I felt sick because all of my money, identification, pictures, etc., were gone. I reported the theft and really asked only for the return of the non-money items. It never did show up. I later had to secure new identification papers and, of course, had to wait until my next pay period for money."
A typical day on board the ship sometimes included reading the ship’s staff-issued newspaper, which reported news and a travel status. One day, they crossed the International Date Line. "That is where you lose a day, but hope that you will return some day and get it back," Lynn said. Another day, he met two guys from Michigan—one from Saginaw and the other from near Coleman, which is close to Clare, where Lynn had attended high school. Lynn knew the brother of the soldier from Coleman.
Beatrice Hahn received a letter which her husband wrote to her on July 23, 1952, as the ship sailed closer to its destination. In it, he told her that the Munemori was 721 miles from Seattle, and traveling about 15 miles per hour. It also described Lynn’s typical day. "We wake up and go to breakfast," he said. "Then we loaf until about 8:00 a.m. We then all go up to the top deck so the other decks can be cleaned. Then we wait for lunch. In the afternoon, we usually have a fire drill. We then loaf until supper, and loaf some more until bedtime. There is not much you can do with soldiers packed in like sardines."
Once during the voyage, the "sardines" got to get off the ship. "We did not go directly to Korea," explained Hahn. "On the sixth day out we actually stopped for part of a day in the Aleutian Islands on the island of Adak. This island is about halfway to Japan. This was an extraordinary event because of the beauty of the islands. There were many small, as well as some fairly tall, mountains that just rose out of the ocean. As we approached Adak, the ship moved very slowly between these mountains. An occasional white cloud obscured the tops of the taller mountains. The day we were there, the ocean’s waters were perfectly still, almost like glass. The view of the mountains with their green foliage about halfway up their height, and then barren to the top, along with their reflection in the water, made it one of the most striking and beautiful things I had ever seen. We actually docked. We all got off on the dock and did about an hour’s worth of physical fitness exercises, then got back on the boat and continued our travels. The word was that we picked up fresh water and also left off a soldier who it was reported had had a nervous breakdown and needed medical attention."
The ship’s next stop was Yokohama, Japan. As it neared Japan, the troops learned the debarkation procedures that were to be followed when they left the ship. "On August 3, we docked in Yokohama at about 3:00 p.m.," Hahn said. "It was about 7:00 p.m. before we got off the ship. We then took a train to Camp Drake, which was about 35 miles from Yokohama. We arrived at about 11:00 p.m., and we actually did some processing. We checked our records and then were given $20.00. It was nice to have a little money. We checked our shot records, and then changed the $20 into military script that was supposed to be good only at army exchange stores. We were asked to donate money to two things: fifty cents for the Japanese K.P.’s, and a dollar for Japanese-American orphans. The latter were babies who were fathered by American soldiers who did not accept responsibility for their care after they were born."
By the time this processing was completed, it was about 2:30 a.m. Because Lynn’s wallet had been stolen on the ship, he had to get his picture and fingerprints taken for identification cards. "I got to the barracks at about 3:30 a.m.," Lynn recalled, "only to be wakened at 4:30 a.m. to go to breakfast. This day we were issued rifles and heard lectures about Korea and the United Nations. They tried to explain to us why we were going to Korea. They showed us on large maps of the world the area controlled by the Communists and how they were expanding their control. We were told that if we did not stop the Communists in Korea, they would be in Japan next and eventually could make the whole world Communist. The next day we went to a rifle range and fired our rifles. We were then issued bayonets. That evening, we had a parade for the colonel in charge. After that we had mail call, and there were letters which had arrived from home."
On to Korea
Most of the time at Camp Drake was spent waiting for orders. "On the fifth day of August," Lynn said, "we turned in all of our clothing except for fatigues, underwear, and socks. We were issued two blankets, mosquito netting, a cartridge belt, first aid packet, mess gear, etc. This activity suggested that we were heading for Korea. That evening, they read off the names of those shipping out at about 6:30 a.m. for Korea. We were told that we would depart by ship from Yokohama, and head for some port in Korea. The ship was larger than the one we came across the ocean in. It was called the General John Pope." He recalled that the ship was very crowded and the heat was terrible. "It was on this ship that I spent my 21st birthday," Lynn recalled. The date was August 7, 1952. He wrote to Beatrice, "I have never seen so many men in such small a place. Everybody is running into each other. The chow on this ship has been terrible, and to top it off, we have to stand up to eat it. They have so many to feed they don’t furnish chairs. I took a saltwater shower today, but it didn’t help much. I feel as dirty now as before."
The arriving replacements finally debarked at Inchon Harbor on August 9, 1952. There were several hundred Marines on the ship, and they were taken off first. "Their duffel bags were unloaded from the hold of the ship by using large nets that lowered into the hold, were filled with the bags, hoisted up and over the ship’s side, and then lowered into the landing crafts," recalled Hahn. "At the same time, there were young Korean men and boys in small wooden boats who seemed to be aware that there could be items to scavenge. Sure enough, on lowering the bags into the craft, part of the bags fell into the water. The tide was going out to sea, so the young men took off after the bags, quickly retrieved them, and then started their best to head for shore. It was very slow going for them, and it wasn’t but a few minutes that we heard sirens and could see the noise was coming from the Navy patrol and PT boats. Some soldiers were rooting for the young men, but it was no contest. The PT boats quickly closed and retrieved the bags."
Just getting from the ship to shore was a challenge. "This was an experience," recalled Hahn, "because there was a huge tide at Inchon. The ship anchored out in the bay and we got on small landing craft that took us to land. We took a train inland to a place called Yongdong-po. We had canned rations on the train. Of note was the condition of the area and people during the ride. It became apparent that the natives knew the stops. Old men and children begged for food or anything exchangeable as we slowly moved through populated areas. There was evidence of war because permanent buildings were damaged or destroyed. Houses looked more like huts. As we approached the town, there was more permanent housing. There was also a faint, disagreeable odor that turned out to be human waste. This waste was used to fertilize the fields. I would say that my first impressions of Korea were discouraging. I had not seen anything like this—where war had been and recovery was slow." That night, Hahn spent his first night in Korea in a tent. "There must have been an airfield close, because there were planes going all night. There were a lot of soldiers and military activity around. Everything was moving." Lynn Hahn was now definitely in a war zone.
History of Graves Registration in Korea
The first Graves Registration company to serve in Korea during the war arrived on September 12, 1950. The 565th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company then went to work to carry out all the policies associated with taking care of American remains buried in temporary cemeteries at Miryang, Masan, and Taegu. The 114th GR Company arrived in Korea on November 25, 1950. At the end of 1952, Lieutenant Commander John C. Cook, Q.M.C., wrote a detailed overview of Graves Registration in Korea from 1950 through 1952. It appeared in the March-April 1953 issue of "The Quartermaster Review." It appears on the Army Quartermaster Museum (Ft. Lee, VA) web site on the Internet.
Hahn said, "In reviewing the history of the 565th and 114th, it is evident there was a desperate need for GRS early in the war to provide services of caring for the dead. Combat and support units were too busy to also care for dead as would be desired. As such, the 565th was placed near Pusan and the 114th near Inchon when there was a lot of action in those places. Note also that in many cases where GRS was not available, the combat and support units cared for the dead on their own, which meant temporary burial near the fighting sites. To my knowledge, the 114th GRS stayed in Korea. I am not sure where the 565th ended up. The 114th was for a time near Pusan and attached to the 32nd Quartermaster Group. Later in 1953, the 114th assisted in the Operation Glory project for exchange of war dead."
148th Graves Registration Company
The day after his arrival in the Korean war zone, Hahn and the other replacements traveled on to Seoul to the 23rd Quartermaster Group Headquarters of the 8th Army. Two days later, they traveled by truck to the city of Wonju, which was about 70 miles east of Seoul and in the middle of the Korean peninsula. The 148th Graves Registration Company Headquarters was located just outside of Wonju, about 70-80 road miles from the front lines or about 50 miles as the crow flies. Wonju was a major supply point for the front. It had Engineering, Quartermaster, and Military Police headquarters, as well as a large evacuation hospital. Hahn said that although the major buildings in the town had been destroyed or badly damaged, small temporary buildings had been constructed and some small shops appeared to be wood-framed with scrap metal or cardboard siding. "Around the town it was pastoral," he said. "Rice paddies were all around, and there was some cattle. People seemed to be living fairly normal by harvesting the rice. Children played. We observed a funeral procession go past our compound. The scenery was attractive with the mountains in the north and the gentler hills to the south with the tillable soil nearly all being used for rice growing. I assume wood was precious because there were few trees."
Hahn was assigned to the Company Headquarters of the 148th Graves Registration, rather than to one of the two platoons assigned to the front. In contrast to the permanent structures that housed the 23rd Group Quartermaster in Seoul, the headquarters’ facilities at Wonju were well-established with Quonset huts for all EM personnel and tents for others. It included a supply and motor compound area. There were pole buildings at the 148th, too, but the mortuary and other work areas were tents. A few months after Hahn joined the company, a new, semi-permanent headquarters building was constructed. Outside, Hahn said that there was a flagpole on which the flag flew almost constantly at half mast, whenever there were bodies on the site. A new mortuary facility, also built after Hahn’s arrival, was well-established to process current dead from the front, as well as non-current remains. The headquarters of the 148th Graves Registration Company is pictured above right.
"The company provided GR support from the middle to the eastern front," Hahn explained. "The 293rd GR Company provided GR support to the western front. Two platoons were assigned to the front. With this arrangement, the current dead bodies could be quickly evacuated to headquarters for refrigeration, and then prepared for shipment by plane to Japan. The 148th was also involved in Search and Recovery operations, which meant searching old battlegrounds or plane crash sites for remains. Later on, the company was involved in reburial of enemy dead for repatriation." Because Wonju was the location of a large evacuation hospital, wounded soldiers were trucked or flown in by helicopter as required. Wounded soldiers who died at the hospital were then trucked to the Graves Registration facilities. Hahn was assigned to a very busy place, indeed. Pictured is the Enlisted Men's Quarters of the 148th Graves Registration Company, Headquarters. The photo was taken in the Fall of 1952.
When he and the other new replacements arrived at the headquarters company, they were asked to stand in formation for an introduction to the officer in charge and for a briefing. "I was at one end of the formation," he recalled. "The officer welcomed us and then turned command over to the sergeant in charge. The sergeant said that they were busy and that a truck had just arrived from the front with current deceased. He just motioned for the two of us at the end of the formation to report to the mortuary. My heart began to pound loudly as we walked to the mortuary. We went into the tent and indicated that we were reporting for duty. The person in charge told us to prepare the bodies for examination and finger printing. As I recall, we had to remove the body from the body bag and place it on a table. Often the bags had blood inside. The bags were then taken outside to an area where they were cleaned out for reuse (washed with disinfectant, rinsed with water, and then hung to dry, weather permitting). Cleaned body bags ready for reuse are pictured here. We then removed the clothes from the deceased and cleaned the fingers for finger printing. I had never handled a dead body before, and it was difficult to begin with because of the feeling of a dead body that is cold, not supportive to movement, and often stiff. For example, if shoes needed to come off, the graves specialist had to apply all the effort. As I recall, we did not wear protective gloves. Also, there was the odor that accompanies a dead body that had not been kept cold. The objective was to perform the required preparation of the body and get it into refrigeration as soon as possible."
"I still occasionally remember this day," Lynn said. "I didn’t expect to be sent to the mortuary to assist the handling of current deceased after being at the 148th for such a brief time. I also wasn’t sure what I would be doing, so I was somewhat fearful and there was a brief panic time. [The Mortuary and Refrigeration Unit of the 148th is pictured at left.] But once I got in the mortuary, I was instructed quickly what my role was, and I got to it. My feelings about actually handling the dead body were completely new and were not pleasant, but I have to admit that on the times I had to help in the mortuary after that, I got used to it and looked at it as a job that had to be accomplished. There was nearly always a disagreeable odor and in some cases (summer time), it was very bad. The appearance of body wounds was also generally disagreeable. In some cases, the degree of wound(s) made it obvious that death was quick or eminent; where in other cases the wound(s) was small or in areas that you might think should not have been fatal. Often times in those cases, the cause was listed as due to shock."
"That first day in the mortuary," Hahn continued, "I recall that my main thought about the body was that it was the loved one of a family and that they did not know yet that their loved one was dead. I still think about that on occasion." In Korea, it was necessary to push those thoughts into the back of one’s mind and get on with the job that needed to be done. "Yes," Hahn said, "as time went on, the job became more routine and I thought less often about individual remains. I have to assume that it was for the good, because if we concentrated on every dead individual who passed through the process, we would become so distressed we would not be able to perform our job. I did not shed tears at the time, but now, looking back at the loss of life, there is more significance. It is easy to find myself tearing at events that bring my mind back to the memories. I also think that as I grow older, I appreciate life more. Knowing about all those who gave their lives for a cause to which I was involved brings out emotions that are close."
Search and Recovery
In the Search and Recovery aspect of Graves Registration at the 148th GR, the objective was to locate American dead from old battle sites. Most of the remains had been from deaths that had occurred at least a year to two years before. In about the first three months that Lynn Hahn served with the company, Search and Recovery was the bigger part of his job. "Our company received battle reports from our Group Headquarters," he recalled. "Those reports explained the location of the battle, the soldier involved, the reports of those who last saw the soldier, and his condition at the time of last sighting. This included a map of the area and descriptions of the terrain. The maps and information were called Field Search Cases, and they were prepared by the Quartermaster Graves Registration officer of Korean Communications Zone (KCOMZ). The maps had grids and landmarks, and on them we could mark off areas covered and the location of the remains that were found. Sometimes the searches were for a specific remains, and other times we were involved in area clearance searches, covering every square foot of a grid on a map. We went to the area and physically walked the ground looking for any evidence of the body or a possible grave. We often found firearms, especially rifle shells and grenades, near the bodies we found."
At least one ROK served as an interpreter on the Search and Recovery expeditions. "We not only searched the area in question," said Hahn, "we also talked with civilians for leads, and we dug into old foxholes and bunkers. We had Republic of Korea soldiers attached to our company for assistance, as well as Korean laborers who assisted in digging. The Korean natives were most helpful because they often were aware of battles that had taken place in the area and possible locations of remains. The Korean soldiers with us asked if there had been fighting and if they knew of any dead soldiers in the area. Usually the civilians were not aware of any dead in the area. However, if they knew of any dead, they usually directed us to the location or accompanied us. The soldiers were courteous with the civilians, and the meetings were cordial. We went to that location or locations first and looked for any evidence of skeletal remains or any indications of burial. Sometimes a depression in the ground due to decay of the remains indicated that a body had been buried there. There might be softness in the ground indicating burial. Sometimes there were clothes or shoes exposed in the earth. I don’t recall seeing a cross or marker indicating a burial. I assume that if there had been a burial with a marker, it would have been disinterred earlier."
All sorts of temporary graves were discovered during Search and Recovery. "Observations of remains could be above ground (no grave), partially below ground, or completely buried," Hahn said. Usually remains above ground were not complete. There might be only a few bones. The most important find was the skull. Remains that were partially below ground required careful removal of the remains from the ground for examination and removal. Remains completely buried required exhumation and removal. Most of the areas that we searched were on the sides or tops of mountains. We assume that valleys and areas near rivers and streams were populated with native Koreans and any remains would have already been recovered. That means that findings would be above ground or shallow burials because the terrain was very rocky and burial would have been difficult."
Generally in the 148th GR Company, finding remains during Search and Recovery missions was rare, according to Hahn. "As I recall," he said, "during my short involvement of actually going into the field for S&R, there might have been less than three recoveries. The most likely chance of finding remains was when there was a battle report that gave battle details like location of temporary burial or last sighting of the soldier, etc." Field searches were the methodical way that GR personnel tried to find remains. Field search cases, sent to the 148th by Eighth Army Graves, included a cover letter, an overlay (map) of the original battle area, a battle report explaining just what happened, a list of the men missing from the battle, and a form to fill out explaining the method used in the search and the results. The GR specialist had to fill out one form for each missing man. "In one of our cases, there were 350 missing, so you can see the terrific job. In the whole company only about two recoveries are made a week on these old battle fields. These are remains from soldiers that have been dead for a couple of years and are only skeletons. They are sent to Japan where they are identified. Identification must be positive, as you can see. This is done by the teeth and bones, knowing about where the man was killed, and by identification media, if found. This is all done in Japan," Lynn wrote in a letter to Beatrice.
Search and Recovery could only be conducted as weather permitted, so winter usually postponed these activities. The picture at right expresses one of the difficulties of S&R--a flood that resulted from torrential rains. Most of the areas that the specialists went for Search and Recovery were on higher ground where battles had taken place and where access was difficult. "Generally these areas were fairly rugged with mountains and deep valleys with mountain streams," Hahn said. "Getting to the sites or areas was generally accomplished using ¾ ton trucks and Jeeps, but it was difficult because roads were rough. Sometimes we had to ford rivers or streams. Once we got near to the search areas, we had to climb the mountains on foot because often battles were fought defending or attacking mountain tops. Some of the mountains were high enough that breathing became difficult. Having to rest frequently was required. We were always alert to any evidence of mines and trip wires, and though we carried rifles for protection, we also didn’t see any foreign or guerrilla troops. In my experience with S&R in our area, we never had a single case of injury or death due to land mines or other hazards. As I recall, however, we did have one of our GR personnel in a forward platoon get injured due to a mine." It was on the Search and Recovery missions that Lynn Hahn felt that he was in the greatest danger in Korea, in spite of the precautions the team members took. "We went into remote areas looking for remains," he said, "not knowing if there could be guerrillas in the area or land mines that had been planted in the area."
On October 15, 1952, Lynn wrote home about some hair-raising tales that one of his Graves Registration buddies related after returning from an S&R investigation the day before. He wrote, "My friend got back from that investigation yesterday. He had a couple of hair-raising tales. He said their truck broke down at night on a mountain pass. Out there, there are no lights or passing trucks. He said that three of them walked about five miles for help. Next morning, they learned that the National Police had killed three guerrillas about ten miles away. Another time they were climbing a mountain and my friend happened to see a small sign just off the path. He said it was lucky he saw it, because the sign said that fifty yards ahead was an anti-personnel mine field. No telling what would have happened if he hadn’t seen it." Lynn also told his wife that the area in which Graves Registration was located was never bothered with guerrillas. "They have lots of them south of us and north of us," he wrote, "but never here, for which I am thankful."
Putting the danger of mines and guerrillas aside, collecting the American dead from a new battle site was accomplished by the two platoons from the 148th GR that served just behind the front line. Although he was not involved with collecting the current dead, Hahn understood the urgency of moving bodies from the battlefield to the collection point as soon as possible—for health and morale reasons, as well as getting the body buried or into refrigeration to delay decomposition.
On August 29, Lynn sent a letter home to his wife that described a typical day while he was assigned to Search and Recovery. "At six in the morning we are awakened and have to be dressed for reveille by quarter after. Then we police up the area. About twenty to seven, we eat and then we have to be ready to leave the company by seven fifteen. We spend from seven fifteen until usually four o’clock climbing mountains and driving to and from them. We get back about five in the afternoon and eat chow. Then I usually get mail and read it. If I get my mail before chow I always read it first. Then I usually relax for a while and take a shower and shave and clean my gear. It is usually about eight or after when I finish. Then I write to you and hit the sack. If I want to see the movie, I have to hurry too much, so I usually don’t go. Most of them are old ones anyway. Lights go out at ten o’clock. So my days are pretty busy." In addition to this daily routine, guard duty was a requirement every third or fourth day. Hahn said, "Most often the duty was scheduled to give different shifts and usually it was two, two-hour shifts, like 10-12 p.m. and then 4-6 a.m. Guard duty became one of the most hated jobs because it deprived you of sleep. However, you realized that without having guards you could never be sure of your safety when you were not on guard and were sleeping." Besides the guards, Hahn said that the compound area was further protected with barbed wire and trip flares that surrounded the perimeter.
The training that Lynn underwent at Fort Lee was used extensively when he got to Korea. He discovered that when he was on Search and Recovery operations in Korea, it was especially important to be able to discern between an Oriental and Caucasian or Black skull and to understand the importance of dental records. "The back of the Oriental skull was flatter," Hahn explained, "while the Caucasian and Black skull were more rounded. Hair color and texture often was of supporting evidence. These differences could be helpful in continuing the recovery process in the field. Obviously, dog tags and personal effects were very valuable identification items. Finger printing was used whenever possible, but was not available on a decomposed remains. I was not a fingerprint interpretation expert, but did take prints on occasion." After he began his duties in Korea, Lynn also understood the importance of being able to make estimates in determining whether the remains were U.S., other United Nations troops, South Korean, or enemy (North Korean or Chinese) dead. Once a preliminary determination of identity was made, Hahn said that positive identification was performed later at the Central Identification facilities in Kokura, Japan. Hahn had a chance to visit the Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) on December 28, 1952. The purpose of the facility was to process remains, identify, embalm, casket and ship the bodies to the U.S.
By September 2, Hahn had been at company headquarters for nearly a month. "Although most of my duty was with Search and Recovery," he said, "I had been involved with some mortuary duty, helping transport bodies to the airport, and taking personal effects to the train station. I had also been a guard on the train once to take personal effects to Pusan. My recollection was that the personal effects of wounded, MIAs, and prisoners were sent to Pusan."
S&R Becomes Interrogation
About the middle of January, 1953, Hahn said that Search and Recovery changed to interrogation. "That means," he wrote in a letter to his wife on January 21, "that instead of climbing the hills, they obtain signed statements from the civilians asking about remains. Most all of them are negative, but that is the way the area is cleared, so each one has to be typed up. I would say we have close to three hundred now and are just getting started. The reason for the change is because the mountains would be impossible and dangerous to climb. Also, the ground is too hard to dig, so they wait until spring."
The letter also mentioned the fact that Korean women were being hired in the capacity of translator/interpreter/typists. He said, "Something new happened today. They brought in a Korean girl to work in our section as the translator and interpreter and typist. Her translating was very good, but the typing wasn’t too good. They told her to come in Monday to start work on trial. Before we have always had young Korean men (mostly translation and interpreters), as I told you before. Well, we have had three different ones since I have been here. The reason is that they all are being drafted into the army. For a while, we were able to defer them. But recently they are taking all men from seventeen (next month) to thirty. So you can see it would be more practical to hire a girl who could stay. Most all other outfits have women working in their sections, but I never expected it here."
Although Lynn Hahn was never called upon to do so, there were times when battle conditions in Korea necessitated burying a deceased’s body quickly in a temporary cemetery. That could also mean that there might not have been any formality for recording the deceased’s identity, cause of death, or location of burial. "Hopefully," Hahn said, "the details of the burial and cause of death can be reported by a witness or witnesses so that later on, the body can be located, identified, the cause of death determined, appropriate records developed, and a formal burial performed." He said that where a body had no chance to be buried, it was left to natural decay. "Hopefully at some later time," he said, "the remains can be recovered, appropriate identification and cause of death determined, records developed, and a formal burial performed."
A temporary cemetery, Hahn explained (only established once by his company during the time that Hahn was in Korea), was developed when there was immediate need to bury bodies because there was not time, necessary personnel, or equipment to provide a formal body preparation and internment as in an established cemetery. "Generally," he said, "the need for a temporary cemetery is predicated on a need due to a number of deceased and to bury as soon as possible for health and morale reasons. Those who prepared a temporary cemetery tried to secure a plot of ground that was safe, secure, drained well, was accessible, and had reasonable ease of ground breaking. The plot was measured, and individual burial sites determined. Necessary needs were personnel to secure the site, develop a map or description of the area, groundbreaking equipment, materials for marking the grave, writing and recording materials, body bags (if available), and burial bottles. An Emergency Medical Tag (EMT) was expected to accompany the body. The EMT explained the identity of the deceased. Proper medical personnel also stated the cause and date of death, location of death, and other information that might be helpful in the future. Dog tags were used—one buried with the body and one secured to the grave marker. If possible, records were maintained concerning the identity of the body."
When asked to explain a burial bottle, Hahn said that, "It was a simple glass bottle large enough to accept a folded and rolled paper record with a seal cap designed to keep the paper dry and inert to the elements. The paper record provided a copy of the information identifying the deceased, listing pertinent military information, cause of death, location of burial, etc. In my work, a burial bottle was seldom used for current U.S. dead because the body was not buried. The major use during my experience was when we were disinterring enemy bodies from temporary graves to place them into an established cemetery in case there was an exchange of war dead with the enemy. The burial bottle located with the body was to be opened, the record reviewed, and then a new additional record added to indicate that the body had been disinterred, the date, reason for disinterment, location of new burial site, and authority for the re-interment. The record was placed in the bottle and buried with the body, and a copy was retained in our files. If the body was intact, the bottle with the proper papers in it was placed in the left armpit. Wrapping of the body was secured to prevent movement of the bottle. Also, if a grave marker could not be immediately erected, a second bottle with papers was placed in the grave (in the center at its head), and was secured to prevent it from washing away by rain until a marker could be erected."
A Stabilized Front
While more and more burial bottles went into the ground, efforts were being made by the powers that be to stabilize and end the war. "When I was there," Hahn said, "the fighting was stabilized along a front known as the 38th parallel. The war was fighting over hills and mountains. They even had names like Old Baldy, Heartbreak Ridge, etc. Many lives on both sides were lost, and many more men were wounded over these objects. There seemed to be a stalemate and the war was giving in to politics. In the meantime, we were processing the dead from that stalemate. We heard from the South Koreans that they did not want to unify with North Korea, and, in fact, they performed parades expressing their opinions. We then heard of the politics at home. General Eisenhower was promoted to run for the presidency, and he said he would end the war. All this time seemed wasted until eventually there was an armistice signed. That was good, and we didn’t get current dead any more." On November 5, 1952, he wrote to Beatrice, "This afternoon we listened to the returns from the election and to Stevenson’s speech of defeat and also Eisenhower’s victory speech. Let’s just hope that the change will benefit all and that maybe they can clear up this mess over here." Unfortunately, it would take several months more for the warring countries to call a halt to the active hostilities. Many thousands more American men would be wounded, and over 2,000 more dead Americans would be sent home in caskets. Grieving families would continue to receive packages from Japan containing the personal effects of their deceased loved ones.
As mentioned earlier, the personal effects of wounded, missing in action, and deceased were evacuated from the war zone as soon as possible. "Each man’s personal effects were stored separately and identified as such," Hahn explained. "If the personal effects we obtained with current deceased accompanied the body, the effects were shipped with the body. If there were effects which had come to us without an accompanying body (MIA, wounded, POW), the individual effects pouches were retained for a shipment. The individual pouches were placed in a wooden box and shipped with appropriate guard to Pusan." The wooden box that Hahn referred to were four feet high and eight feet long. When the effects were placed inside, the box was locked and sealed. The rail car was also locked and sealed, and then protected by two security guards. "They were well-protected," Hahn said.
He noted that part of the duty of the specialists in Graves Registration was to occasionally go to the Evacuation Hospital to check the personal effects of a remains that had been brought to them. "Every so often," he recalled, "we got these tracers from men who couldn’t locate their effects." That was why it was important to keep a ‘PE card’ record at the 148th Graves Registration. On October 11, 1952, Hahn wrote this message to his wife: "This afternoon we got in a load of personal effects, so I spent most of the remainder of the day typing up my cards. Today a Chaplain came in and needed to know if we had had a body come through that he was looking for. The deceased’s brother wants to escort his body home. His folks also wrote and requested it. Well, we found the man all right, so they knew where to go now. Just one of the stranger things that happens once in a while." Then, less than a week later, he sent a second message home referring to personal effects. He said, "We got another tracer from Percy Jones Hospital in B.C., Michigan, wanting to know what happened to a certain man’s personal effects. We just endorsed the letter and forwarded it on to where the effects went in Pusan."
There were three men working in Operations to process all of the paperwork associated with personal effects. Two were private second class, and the other was a corporal. "The rank of the man in charge should be SFC," Hahn wrote Beatrice on October 20, 1952, "and mine calls for a corporal. But nobody is getting promoted and no let up seen. I don’t know why they don’t give promotions, but maybe they will lift the freeze someday and I can get my PFC stripe." He noted that there was a low moral problem in Korea. "Over here," he said, "the G.I. morale is pretty low. I told you that they had raised the rotation points to 38, and it has been rumored that the R.A.’s will be extended for nine months. Neither one would affect me (drafted for two years), but it does a lot of men. They come over here expecting to go home at a certain time. They put faith in the rotation system, and when it is changed, the morale of troops goes down."
Low morale or not, the important work of Graves Registration specialists had to carry on. One cold winter day in the middle of December 1951, a Search and Recovery team brought remains down that still had a ring on the finger. "They are supposed to take off all such things at the time of death," Lynn told Beatrice, "but sometimes they don’t so, we have to do it and put the effects in a sealed bag. As you probably know, it is difficult to handle bodies in the winter time. We are having trouble fingerprinting them because they are so stiff. I saw some that were as hard as ice. It is good one way though, because if they are frozen there is no smell or decaying. No matter how they are though, it isn’t pleasant."
An example of the unpleasant aspect of dealing with the dead was revealed by Hahn in a letter he wrote to his wife on January 22, 1953. He penned, "About four o’clock we got a call that the Air Force had a body that had washed ashore on the east coast from one of those crashes a couple of months ago. They wanted me to go out to the airfield and get it, so the driver and I went. I don’t know if you know it, but a body that has drowned and been in water a long time is a bad sight and a worse smell. When we got to the airport, I saw the rubber bag and stretcher laying out in the open and nobody around, which isn’t right. As we pulled up, a guy came out of the tent and told us that it was the body. He said that the whole crew of the plane that brought the body from the east coast got sick from the smell. I picked up the papers and we brought the remains back. The smell was terrific, but we get used to it and can bear it."
Generally, Graves Registration received the bodies of current dead within one to two days after death. They were then refrigerated as soon as specialists performed the necessary tests (fingerprints, etc.). "Without refrigeration," Hahn explained, "the body could decompose to the extent that embalming would not be possible or presentable. Refrigeration refers to a large refrigerated room into which the bodies of current dead were stored. The cooling of the body slowed decomposition so that the body could be embalmed within a reasonable time. Bodies were left in the refrigerator until they were transferred to planes that flew them to Kokura, Japan. Refrigeration also allowed for some time to have a full or partial plane load." The above photo at right shows remains being transferred to an aircraft for flight to Japan.
On a very few occasions, Hahn assisted in the mortuary for detail work. He also quite often went to the mortuary to obtain information concerning correctness of records, and on occasion went for curiosity’s sake. Every now and then, he assisted in transferring remains from the mortuary onto trucks and then to the airport. "On several occasions I escorted remains to the airfield located just a few miles from our company headquarters," he said. "The current deceased at our facility were taken from the mortuary refrigeration unit and trucked to the airfield and then loaded onto the airplane. Proper records and personal effects were sent with the bodies. On one occasion [December 26, 1952], I was the GR representative and guard for the air trip to Japan." (The trip is mentioned later in this memoir.)
One event associated with Hahn’s serving as a witness in mortuary stands out vividly in his memory. "I recall one event that was particularly morbid," he said. "Word from the platoon near the front was that an atrocity case (bodies) was being shipped to headquarters. We were asked to lay out the bodies in the mortuary in positions described as they were found. The case involved (as I recall) three or four U.S. soldiers who had been killed by the enemy in an area where it was observed by our own troops. The enemy had used wire to tie their hands together above their heads, such that each pair of their hands were nearly together, their bodies positioned like spokes away from their hands. They had been bayoneted in the upper body and then grenades placed near their heads and exploded. The bodies were then recovered by our troops. At our mortuary, tables were positioned so the bodies could be placed as originally found. As I recall, photographers took many pictures of the bodies. I believe that some days later we received copies of several of the photos that were signed on by several of us that were witnesses. I understood the photographs and pertinent information were to be sent to the United Nations." Luckily, unpleasant mortuary duties like this were not frequent for Lynn Hahn, because his main job in Korea was that of a typist.
After a few weeks working with Search and Recovery, Lynn’s typing skills once again came into play. On September 16, he was asked to come up to Operations to do some typing. They had gotten behind in the typing and needed help to type cards indicating the personal effects of the deceased had been received and were to be passed on. "I learned that day that I might work there on a permanent basis," recalled Hahn. He became a clerk in the Operations Office with the 148th Graves Registration. "I got the job because I could type—not fast, but steady," Lynn said. He began his work with Operations Office in October of 1952 and stayed there until about August of 1953. (There was a very brief period after the armistice that he served as a mail clerk, too.) "We had some fairly new typewriters," he said, "and it turned out that most of my remaining time in Korea was spent as a clerk typist in the company’s Operations."
Company Headquarters was located in Wonju, about 60 air miles behind the main combat front. Hahn said, "One requirement was that the deceased logs had to be typed letter perfect, and about ten copies had to be made of each of them. My recollection is that enough copies were made to satisfy the need for all appropriate army groups to have one. Of course, we kept a file copy, some accompanied the body, and some went to Group Headquarters. I do not know where those records would now be stored. Carbon papers were used to make the copies. A mistake could not be hidden or erased. During the first couple of weeks, I would get down to the last few lines and then I would make a mistake. That was when I generally began to think of mistakes, and that is generally when I made one. But with time, I got so that I didn’t think about mistakes, and it all worked out."
When serving in a combat zone, sometimes soldiers had to be innovative to make their life a little easier. For instance, Lynn devised a way to make duplicate copies of documents with a homemade "copy machine." He recalled, "Some of the reports could be mimeographed, but we did not have a machine at our facility. I recalled that I had helped my father, a Methodist minister, make copies of the Sunday church service bulletin using a mimeograph. I asked the sergeant in charge if we could get a mimeograph from our Group Headquarters. He inquired and found out that they could not spare a mimeograph. I asked if we could get mimeograph stencils and ink, because I felt I could have the Korean carpenter hired by our Company carve a smooth circular piece of wood such that gauze and stencil could be stretched around the carved piece. The wood was carved, a handle attached, and we were ready to demonstrate that we could make copies using the homemade mimeograph. We stretched a pad of cotton cloth around the circular base and stapled it tight. The cloth was lightly soaked with printing ink. The typed stencil was then stretched around the cloth and secured. Using the handle to hold the wooden printing press, it was rolled on a clean typing paper to transfer the ink to the paper. It worked really quite well, and the Group Headquarters agreed we could submit deceased and personal effects lists in that form. It saved considerable time." Prior to the creation of this homemade device, they had to go to a company down the road to have their mimeographing done. There were drawbacks associated with the existence of this homemade mimeograph machine, however. Lynn wrote home on November 6, "I told you about this little block of wood I was using as a mimeograph. Well, the Captain liked the idea, and now instead of making eighteen copies of a passenger list, I have to make thirty. I guess it doesn’t pay to be aggressive."
Hahn also typed personal effects cards to be kept on file at headquarters, as well as copies to accompany the personal effects. He said that he rarely handled any personal effects, but he did write home to his wife telling her about one incident when he had to handle a soldier’s belongings. On October 2, 1952, he wrote, "First of all, one of the bodies that came down today was found to have some personal effects on his body. You see, when these bodies get here, their effects are supposed to have already been processed. They are shipped right along with the body in a sealed bag. Well, when they found a cigarette lighter and a letter in his pocket, I had to break the seal and put these effects in the bag. The bad part was that the letter was covered with blood, and it wasn’t dried either." Hahn said that the record had to be revised to include the found effects, and the effects were placed in the bag and resealed.
In his capacity as a company typist, Lynn also typed transfer records for personal effects of current deceased, as well as for wounded, MIAs, and POWs. In addition, he sometimes filled out dental charts of recoveries, as well as skeletal charts. "My recollection is that we generated deceased shipping lists," he said. "This list included the soldier’s identity (name, rank, ID, Unit, etc.). There were then reports coming with the remains from their units which also included identity, cause of death if known, and personal effects lists. These were passed on with the remains when shipped to Japan."
As mentioned earlier, Lynn Hahn had the opportunity to visit the Central Identification Laboratory in Japan while he was serving as a clerk typist for the 148th GR. "There is a very good review of this operation in an article written by LTC John C. Cook, Q.M.C., in "The Quartermaster Review" dated March-April 1953," Hahn said. "Notice that it mentioned that GR operations as of April 1, 1952, made it possible to deliver battlefield remains to the CIL within five days. The facility was staffed with experts in remains identification, using elaborate equipment as well as morticians for the embalming and preparation of the remains for casketing."
On the day of his visit to the CIL, Hahn had a temporary break from his usual typing routine. He was taken to the 23rd Group Headquarters in Seoul on December 26, and then taken to the 293rd GR Company for the purpose of escorting bodies to Kokura. After a two-hour plane trip, Lynn’s duties were to take the personal effects from the remains and check every one of them to make sure they were there. "I was assigned to accompany remains from an airport in Seoul to Japan," he said. "This was a pleasant task because you got to have a day or two at the R&R Center." He wrote home to Beatrice, "This morning I got up at six, ate chow and got my things ready to leave Seoul. I got the necessary papers and they took me out to the airport. It’s one of the biggest in Korea, if not the biggest. They loaded on the remains and it wasn’t long before we were ready to take off. By the way, it was zero degrees when we got up this morning. Burr! When I got on the plane I noticed the co-pilot looked familiar. I finally asked him if he was ever in Michigan and he said yes and that he had attended Alma College. His name is Fowler and he remembered seeing me. As a matter of fact I had played a lot of Ping-Pong with him at school. Well, we had a session on the way over to Japan. It took us about two and a half hours to get here. It is quite warm here, which is nice. When we got off the plane, they unloaded the remains and then we started another journey to where I am now, the Central Identification Laboratories. This is where they process all the remains and do the embalming. It is a big outfit here, and I am sure amazed at its size. When we got here we had to take the personal effects from the remains and check every one of them, so by the time we finished it was time for supper."
Repatriation of the Dead
The bodies of deceased Americans were not the only ones being cared for by the Graves Registration specialists in the 148th GR. Hahn recalls one rare occasion when the company processed the body of a current deceased non-American. "I believe the remains were turned over to the proper nation (UN) for their handling of the remains," he said. "There was a U.N. Cemetery near Pusan (see left). I recall that I accompanied a shipment of personal effects to a facility in Pusan that kept the effects. The trip provided enough time to visit the UN cemetery. It was a very well-maintained permanent cemetery when I was there.
Most striking was the layout and the flags of the UN countries that had dead buried there. That meant that there were not only Christian crosses on most of the graves, but also markers indicating other nations’ faiths." At first, American deceased were buried there, but by 1952 those burials had stopped. Hahn wrote home, "They used to bury American deceased there, but not any more. Now they bury Koreans and all others of U.N. deceased except the Philippines, which send their deceased home as we do."
On occasion, the 148th GR handled the remains of enemy dead. "During the war," explained Hahn, "the enemy dead were often buried in small, temporary cemeteries near the place of being killed." Later, the remains were transferred out of these temporary cemeteries to established enemy cemeteries such as the Yumok-Tong Enemy Cemetery which was opened on 28 January 1953.
Hahn was involved mainly in the typing of records for those enemy dead that were disinterred from small temporary cemeteries and transferred to a main cemetery. He said, "The record included the soldier involved, where disinterred, where to be re-interred, reason for the transfer, etc., and signature of the authority. The record was inserted into a burial bottle and placed with the body. A paper tag was also attached to the burial bag indicating the deceased’s name and transfer information." Hahn said that the peace negotiations included a program of exchanging war dead after the armistice was signed. "In anticipation of this exchange, which was known as Operation Glory," he said, "bodies of the dead enemy were transferred to a main cemetery so that when the dead were exchanged, the North Koreans and Chinese would not be running all over South Korea to recover their dead. The enemy performed that same procedure. The enemy dead that we received at the 148th were skeletal remains usually wrapped in a shroud."
On February 4, 1953, the 148th Graves Registration had several dozen enemy remains on hand. Hahn wrote to Beatrice, "Today the Chief of Army Graves Registration called and said we had to have all enemy remains buried by Saturday. Well, we have about 270 on hand, so you can see what we are facing. The officer in charge said we would have to work nights, which we will be doing when not on guard duty." Hahn said that it was the beginning of the program to exchange war dead. "As I recall," he said, "there were discussions about the exchange and our side wanted to be ready in case the North Koreans and Chinese decided to begin the exchange soon." Both sides had to generate a great deal of paper work before remains were released.
For instance, on March 3, 1953, Lynn wrote to Beatrice about a typing assignment. "I completed all the paperwork for the shipment of forty enemy remains to be sent up to our forward platoon for burial," he said. "It took about four hundred sheets of paper to send them up." When asked why it took that many sheets of paper to transfer enemy remains, he said he often wondered the same thing. "In my experience, in any effort to process and ship remains, there was a need for all groups involved to have copies of the effort and that the copies be taken from the original. This gets back to the importance of providing reports that have no typographical errors. Transfer of enemy dead required copies of the transfer to all military organizations involved, both friendly and enemy. Remember, I said that learning to type in high school was a blessing for me because much of my army career involved clerical work, particularly typing."
On his off-duty hours, Lynn (along with some 20 other G.I.’s) lived in one of the four Quonset huts available to enlisted men at the 148th. The hut’s stark furnishings included cots crowded close to each other and cabinets for personal items. Each soldier added his own little personal touches to his cramped living space. "Other support units in the Wonju area normally had tents," recalled Lynn. "I think there was a better feeling of security in a Quonset, as well as less noise. It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter, but everyone was in the same boat, so there was sympathy for all." According to Hahn, the Quonset had a few windows, as well as doors at each end, and these could be opened in the hot weather. During cold months, the Quonset was heated with an oil-fired potbelly stove. Fire drills were frequent.
The area was kept very clean and there were daily inspections. Cleanliness in a dirty country was important to many of the American G.I.’s who served in Graves Registration. Not only were the living quarters kept clean, but also the men themselves were expected to have good personal hygiene. For bathing purposes, the company had a large, elevated tank that had to be manually filled with water. "The devise provided gravity-fed water for a shower," Hahn recalled. "I believe the water was then warmed with a tube heater. In any event, showers were brief. Toward the end of the war, my friend Jim Couto, an excellent carpenter, supervised the construction of a very nice washroom shower. Water could be transferred from a water carrier, using air pressure, to an elevated tank that could be heated. I recall we had a wooden ledge with holes in it to accommodate a helmet for the water. We also had mirrors on the wall for viewing. My recollection is that the frequency of showering was based on need. Many of us tried to shave and shower daily. We had a laundry area—a tent—where clothes were washed and dried with labor provided by native Korean women. In our company, cleanliness was expected."
In contrast, what was not expected was good food—at least not during those first weeks after Lynn Hahn arrived at the company. "I recall that when I first arrived, the Mess Sergeant was a regular Army person," Hahn said, "and the food preparation was not good. For example, water was added to the dried milk and eggs that were supplied. If it was not mixed well, it was lumpy, didn’t look good, and seemed to affect the flavor. The coffee was prepared by dumping ground coffee in a big container containing hot water. There was a special way to make it so the grounds would settle. In this case, the grounds were scattered in the liquid and wound up in your mouth. Dried potatoes were prepared, but if not done well, were lumpy. Food was often not hot."
But a few months later, a young draftee who had been a cook at a Howard Johnson restaurant took over in the Company mess hall. "All of a sudden, the food was better because of the preparation," Hahn said. "The milk was much better. He came around and asked if the food was okay. Big improvement. But I do recall that I was eating string beans once and found a large grasshopper in it. When we went on Search and Recovery, we ate canned rations. Whenever possible, we heated the food and I found the rations not too bad." The GR specialists shied away from the native food due to the possibility of bugs and parasites. "When we went on a tour of downtown Wonju," he said, "we saw native food. Women cooked pancakes on the walkway. It didn’t look very sanitary. The fish market was very odorous and not sanitary. We were also instructed not to drink water in Korea unless it was treated with chemicals to kill the bacteria." Lynn liked a good steak or a well-done hamburger, but neither was available in Korea. "I missed good, cold milk," he said. "I am a dessert-lover, so I also missed a good cherry pie."
In the "make-do" environment of the 148th, Lynn Hahn found two buddies who then remained his friends over the years that have passed since Korea. "I became good friends with two especially," Lynn said. "One was Jim Couto and the other was Roy Roggentin. [Pictured at left are Couto, Hahn, and Roggentin from left to right.] Jim was just a very likable personality. He was from Rhode Island and was a skilled carpenter. He had a good outlook, was optimistic, and was smart. He could tell a good joke. He was religious and dedicated to his wife. He was interested in the children in the area and helped them by asking those who had wives to have them send clothes to be distributed to those in need. He was a person you would want on your side. I would say the same things about Roy, except maybe he was not as good at telling jokes. Roy was from Wisconsin and he was also married. We all enjoyed photography, talking about our experiences at home, and what we would be doing when we got back. We just seemed to enjoy each other’s company."
The three buddies all made it out of Korea, and their friendship continued after returning home. Jim and his wife Yolande and Lynn and Beatrice, took turns being host and hostess to their friends in their homes. "Jim passed away several years ago and is dearly missed," Lynn said. "We still communicate with Yolande. I have two sets of wooden bookends that Jim made for me. They are priceless. We also kept in contact with Roy and his wife Gerry. They attended our children’s marriages and we attended theirs. Gerry passed away several years ago and Roy later married Caroline, who was the wife of Harvey Focht, another person I knew well in our company in Korea. Harvey passed away and Roy and Caroline got together. Roy (and wife Caroline) and I have served together as officers in a Graves Registration/Mortuary Affairs reunion group. Our wives were very helpful with this group."
Lynn also had the highest regard for Richard (Dick) Garver, who was his boss during Lynn’s work in the Operations Section of Graves Registration in Korea. "He was drafted and had graduated from college," Hahn said. "He was a smart person and easy to get along with. We kept in contact for several years after getting out. In 1999, we met again at a Ft. Lee reunion. I learned from him that the better your education and skills, the more chances you have at better jobs. I went on then to finish my college education."
The best meals were at Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the men of the company actually got a written menu with the day’s fare. On Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1952, the dinner for the 148 QQM Graves Registration Company consisted of: shrimp cocktail, crackers, stuffed celery sticks, roast young tom turkey, poultry dressing, giblet gravy, cranberry sauce, snowflake potatoes, buttered peas, Cole slaw, hot Parkerhouse rolls, oleo, pumpkin pie, fruit cake, apples, tangerines, oranges, assorted candy, mixed nuts, coffee, and milk. Lynn still has the printed menu after all these years. He also kept a list of the men who were assigned to the 148th at that particular time, and who had the opportunity to enjoy the Thanksgiving fare there in 1952. The list of names is included in the Addendum at the end of this memoir.
If the Thanksgiving meal was good, the Christmas meal was even better. Hahn said that it was the best food he had ever tasted while he was in the Army. "It was like Thanksgiving," he said, "but cooked better. I sure filled up." The company had a decorated tree, gifts from home were opened, and chapel service included the singing of Christmas songs. Unlike the chill of a Christmas in Michigan, Christmas Day in Korea in 1952 was fairly warm. Hahn told his wife in a letter that he played basketball until chow time after the Christmas morning worship service. "Yes," he wrote, "it was warm enough to play basketball."
Safety in the 148th
Sometimes Korea heated up in a different way. If one must go to war, being assigned to a rear area was far safer than being in front line action. The only time that Lynn Hahn ever spent in a bunker was when he was with the Search and Recovery team looking for remains. He seldom spent time in a foxhole, either. "The only time I spent in a foxhole," he recalled, "was when our company was alerted to a possible air attack. I do not recall ever having an air attack—only the sounds of airplanes. The alerts were always at night. The alarm was given, and we were to scramble to our assigned foxholes with helmet on and carrying our rifle. After so many false alarms, some of us tried to stay in bed until a sergeant came through the Quonsets and forced us out and into a foxhole." The nighttime trips to the foxholes were annoying, but a necessary precaution because of the ever-present reality that—front or rear—all of Korea was a war zone.
Another precaution of a completely different variety was mandated to the men of the 148th Graves Registration Company, as well as to every man assigned to the many companies and units throughout Korea. "One serious problem in Korea was an illness called hemorrhagic fever," explained Lynn. "A soldier could come down with a fever and within a few days could die due to internal hemorrhaging. It was later learned that the carrier of the disease was rats. A campaign was initiated to get rid of rats in all compounds."
What sort of fever it was, Hahn does not know, but he did develop a high fever that landed him in the hospital once. Although not a form of the very much feared hemorrhagic fever, it was serious enough to warrant hospitalization. "My symptoms were high fever and swollen glands," Hahn said. "At first they suspected malaria and I took medicine for that, which did drop the temperature. This was about July 1, 1953. By the 4th of July, my temperature was nearly normal, although I had lost my appetite. I was given shots of penicillin. On the 10th, I went back to the doctor, who put me in the 11th Evacuation Hospital. My glands in my neck, under arm, and groin were swollen, and I was told to rest because I was very weak. I do not know what medicine I was given. The facilities were good with actual beds. I was beginning to feel better, but on the 16th of July, I was moved from the nice beds to a room with cots. The action on the front had resulted in a large number of wounded coming in. This hospital cared for current wounded right from the front. Some were helicoptered in."
Hahn’s stay at the Evac Hospital was short-lived, however." "On 18 July I was awakened at 5 o’clock in the morning and told there was to be an evacuation for many, and I was on the list," he said. "We learned we were being evacuated because there was need for all space for more current wounded from the front. We were transported to Taegu on medical train cars. Many of the guys were wounded, most with arm and leg wounds, but some were more serious. I saw one soldier who was shot in the legs and buttocks and his bandages were leaking blood. He was in pain and was given pills. By this time I was beginning to feel better, but just happened to get caught in this evacuation. I was told just to rest. By the 20th I continued to feel better. On the 29th several of us were sent back to our units and for me, that was 23rd Group Headquarters. On the 30th I was back to the 148th, and the next day back to work. That means I was out for a month. A crazy experience."
His stay at the 11th Evac Hospital was one of the few times that he saw an American woman while stationed in Korea. The Red Cross worker was "very nice, talked with me, and provided reading and sympathy," Hahn recalled. With proper medicine, the fever he at first could not seem to shake, went away.
Meanwhile, back in the States
Back in the States, Beatrice Hahn continued her daily routine of going to work and writing letters to her husband in Korea. Five years older than Lynn, she had graduated from high school during the war years. "Beatrice graduated from high school in 1944, and had friends that quit school to volunteer for the services," Lynn said. "She knew a couple of men who lost their lives in World War II, so she was well aware of the possibilities of my serving in the military, and she expressed that concern." But according to Lynn, his bride was "strong and wise." She also had the support of family on both sides. "My folks lived in the same block," he said, "and her sisters lived in the same town." At right, Beatrice is pictured in a Korean War-era family favorite photograph with her sister's cat, Horatio.
Sometimes Beatrice watched television at her sister’s house, and thus she was well aware of the goings on in Korea. Her letters to Lynn sometimes expressed concern, but mostly they were full of plans for the day her husband would come back home. In turn, Lynn’s letters to Beatrice assured his bride that, although he was in a war zone, he was nevertheless in a relatively safe area. His daily missives to her provided insights into his normal routine in Korea, further reassuring her that all was well, and that he missed her like crazy. "Beatrice did not join any organization that was doing something to help the soldiers serving in Korea," said Lynn. "But she supported and encouraged me."
Although war was always serious business in the 148th Graves Registration Company, the personnel assigned to that unit found time to enjoy lighter moments. "For the first three or four months after I got to Korea," Hahn said, "there was very little leisure time because it was hard work on S&R and then pulling guard duty at night. There was just enough time to clean up and write letters. Later, after I became a typist in the Operations section, there was more leisure time for me. We had time to play basketball, ping pong, and volley ball. There was a recreation building containing an inside basketball court, and most all companies in the area had a representative team for competition. This building was about one mile from our compound."
"There were also times for story telling," he said. "Letter writing to home was a major diversion and hopefully would encourage letters from home. I recall taking a couple of correspondence courses from the U.S. Armed Forces Institute, Japan. One was a course on use of slide rules. The Institute provided the book and slide rule. I read the book and worked with the rule, and then took tests. The tests were then sent to the Institute, where someone graded the work."
For further amusement, two of his best friends enjoyed taking pictures. "Sometimes on Sunday they visited the area to take pictures," Hahn reminisced. "We also cut each other’s hair, and that was usually a good reason to laugh. The company cut-up was New Yorker Vince Demarro. He just had a way of being funny, and he enjoyed it as well. He could tell jokes, mimic people, and tell great stories. As the war wound down, there was more free time, and it was obvious that there were efforts to keep us busy. A suggestion was made that we construct an enlisted men’s clubhouse. My friend Jim Couto was instrumental in guiding this effort, and there were also many others who contributed to this effort. It really turned out to be a comfortable and interesting clubhouse. About this time we also began to build model airplanes in our spare time."
There were a couple of times that the USO provided entertainment. "We never did see Bob Hope, but did see other lesser-known entertainers," Hahn recalled. He wrote to Beatrice, "A USO show is on, so I went. The name was ‘Gypsy Serenade.’ There were five girls and five men. Most of it was singing and a little dancing. One guy played the piano and was very good. I really enjoyed it." Movies were another form of entertainment. Hahn wrote home that he had gone to see a movie entitled, "Never Wave at a W.A.C." and some of it was photographed at Ft. Lee. Only a few things looked familiar to Lynn, who had graduated from its Quartermaster School. While the war was still going strong, there was very little time left over after work and guard duty for the men to enjoy these limited forms of entertainment, Lynn said. After the cease fire, projects were initiated to keep the men busy.
It was always a pleasure to receive letters and packages during mail call. At the 148th, the men received their mail regularly. Beatrice wrote to Lynn every day, and Lynn’s family and friends were a great support group that wrote regularly as well. Lynn received copies of his hometown newspaper. There were also other newspapers for Lynn and his GR buddies to read. On March 31, 1953, he wrote, "Today’s paper sure had some good news. The trading of seriously sick prisoners of war. That sure would be a wonderful thing, and might also lead to exchange of all POWs, which was the big issue holding up previous peace talks. On April 17, he followed these remarks with new ones that said, "Monday, the exchange of sick and wounded prisoners starts, but there still will be fighting and men will be killed." Because he was actually in Korea, Lynn knew that the reality of war did not always match the newspaper headlines.
In addition to reading the newspaper, Lynn liked opening packages containing his wife’s homemade cookies. Beatrice satisfied her husband’s sweet tooth while he was in Korea by sending him a steady stream of cookie-filled packages. She put the cookies in a metal container that she sealed tight with wax. "I saw items sent to other soldiers that were not well-packaged," Lynn recalled. "If it was food, it was often spoiled."
Food for the soul was also offered in Korea in the form of church service on Sunday. "We had a chapel in the area and I attended most Sundays that I was not working," said Lynn. "The chapel was located at the 439th Engineer Construction Battalion in Wonju." The chapel is pictured at right. Hahn's Methodist preacher father also sent him Sunday bulletins from the church back in Alma.
Sin and temptation were readily available in Korea for the soldiers who turned away from church and toward earthly satisfactions. "There were prostitutes outside and available to anyone who wanted them and wished to pay," Hahn recalled. "We were provided with information about the down side of associating with prostitutes, and the possibility of contracting venereal disease and methods to avoid the diseases." Cigarettes were available at the PX, and even though Lynn had picked up a smoking habit late in high school, he was not a heavy smoker. Nor was he a drinker. "At our location," he said, "beer was rationed. As I recall, you could get two beers per day. I was often asked if I would purchase beer for friends. Hard liquor was difficult to find until after the armistice. You could almost ask your price if you had good, hard liquor." Hard liquor was made in Korea, but soldiers were advised not to drink local moonshine because the high levels of methyl alcohol in it could cause blindness. Gambling was a favorite past-time in Korea, too, but not for Lynn Hahn, who had promised his bride that he would not gamble, and who kept his promise.
Rest and Recuperation
Rest and recuperation (R&R) offered days and nights of debauchery for those who sought it, but for most of the married soldiers, it was simply a time to get away from the drudgery and dirt of Korea. In May of 1953, Lynn found out two days in advance that he was eligible for six days of R&R in Japan. "I went to Kokura where there was an R&R Center," he said. "We arrived there about 5 o’clock and had supper. We then processed, took showers, got Khaki clothes, turned in our fatigues, changed our money for Yen, and set out for the R&R hotel. I can’t remember the name of the motel, but it was on the seashore and very nice. There were swimming facilities, golf, and recreational facilities. It was a regular R&R hotel. There were four of us in a room and the room was $1.50 per person per night."
Lynn remembers his short vacation in Japan well. "The first morning," he said, "we had a great breakfast with tomato juice, cereal, and rolls. I also had creamed ham on toast. We looked the place over and found it was on the shoreline. The temperature was great. We took bicycles and rode around the area. We stopped at stores and bought a few things to send back home. We got back for lunch. We saw quite a few officers with their American wives (must be an advantage of being an officer). In the afternoon, we played pool. In the evening, we went to a movie. In the next few days, we explored the area, buying some items to be sent home—like a dress for my new niece. We saw a big Japanese parade. We usually went to a movie in the evening. One night we saw Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in, ‘The Road to Bali’, and it was pretty good. I would say the big things about R&R were eating and shopping. We still have some of the items that I sent to Beatrice 50 years ago."
According to Hahn, R&R was a great change from Korea, and the food was great. "You were free to move about, and there were no work responsibilities," Lynn said. "Shopping was great, but even though most things were very cheap, I did not have much money. I did not have reservations about going back to Korea when R&R was over. My job was not difficult like some who went on R&R and then had to go back to fighting. I also was looking down the road to leaving Korea in about six months." He had been there long enough to form his opinions on the worth of this war and the country of Korea itself.
When Lynn Hahn first arrived in the Far East as a replacement, he and the others were indoctrinated on the evils of Communism. "I recall that the explanation was accepted by most of us," he said. But once actually in Korea, Hahn had a chance to observe the country of Korea and its people. The reality of Korea made it less convincing to him that Korea was a country worth the loss of so many American and other human lives.
"On arrival in Korea," he said, "there were times that I questioned the worth of being there. First, I saw the country and its quite primitive way of life in the area I served. It was an area where rice-growing appeared as the dominant activity. Nearly every space capable of growing rice was used for that purpose. We did observe South Koreans marching and protesting against being reunited with the North Koreans. I then saw the results of the war by handling the dead Americans who were giving their lives for this way of life. I hoped that all this would be worth the sacrifice."
The nearest town to the 148th headquarters was Wonju, which Hahn said had essentially been destroyed in the war. "There were few permanent buildings left standing," Hahn recalled. "There was still a thriving town with commerce. Temporary buildings of wood, clay bricks, straw, cardboard, and paper were there. This type of construction was very flammable and fire was always a danger. On the outside areas of town, there was considerable farming, mostly rice growing. Families lived in clay brick houses with straw roofs. They were neat. There were no young men around the farms because they were serving in the army. They used human waste for fertilizer on the rice fields. At first arriving in Korea, the human waste in the warmer weather times presented a terrible odor. But after a few days, you didn’t smell it any more. The rice planting and harvest was all accomplished manually, and it appeared that farmers helped each other. They were hard-working people. Seeing and smelling food prepared by the natives was a turn off for us. They had rice, but spiked it often with fish. In the market area, there was plenty of fish and a wide variety. The fish market had a distinctive and objectionable odor. It seemed to carry over to the cooked meal."
The Korean way of life was observed by Lynn Hahn closer to his "home" than Wonju. Within the 148th GR compound, Koreans were present. "We had a small group of Republic of Korea soldiers attached to our company," Hahn said. "They helped with Search and Recovery. I feel that there was some feeling of superiority by American soldiers toward ROK soldiers and Korean civilians. Americans were financially, equipment, and educationally superior. We were armed, which also gave us a feeling of superiority."
The Americans hired both men and women to do menial jobs in the compound. "We hired some women for office work," Hahn said. "There were men who came to our compound to take away our mess hall garbage for their own use and/or to feed pigs. They also removed our human waste. It was used on the rice fields as fertilizer in their fields. We hired a house boy for cleaning up our area and shining our shoes. We enjoyed watching children play, and gave them candy on occasion. There was little socializing between us and the ROK or Korean natives. There was a young girl that lived close to our company compound who could not walk because of a disease that had caused her knees not to bend. I believe she had had polio. Because she could not walk, she had to crawl on her knees to get around. We thought about getting a wheelchair for her, but the ground and area around her were not conducive for wheelchair use."
Hahn continued, "One interesting observation was that Korean men had no modesty about urinating in the open. Women tried to go behind some cover, but it was obvious what they were accomplishing. Women nursed children in the open, and some children who would have had to have been over three years old could be seen nursing. When we went on Search and Recovery missions to remote areas, we ran into very small villages, almost always along a stream or river where there was enough flat ground for planting rice. There might have been six to twelve houses of clay and straw. There was nothing mechanical, which meant that all work was manual. On seeing us soldiers with rifles and grenades, they bowed."
After the Armistice
During the last three months of active warfare in Korea, and then after the armistice was signed, Hahn said that the work of Graves Registration operations slowed. The specialists concentrated on exchanging war dead. "Some of the Company moved further north," Hahn recalled. "Since my work was slowing and my rotation time was not too far away, I was left in Wonju and became a mail clerk for most of the remainder of my time. I knew mail was important to the men, so I did my best to carry on this job with care and concern."
One by one, members of the Company transferred out—either to return to the States or go on to temporary duty elsewhere in Korea. In June of 1953, one of the Company typists was transferred to Panmunjom to type. Hahn would have liked that assignment, but he was next in line to fill the vacancy that would soon be caused by the departure of GR Specialist Garver from the Company. Back in February, he had been promoted to private first class, receiving an additional $15.00 per month. On June 1, he finally made corporal. "I just found out officially tonight," he wrote Beatrice. "This is the big pay jump in your allotment that will sure help. I’m not sure, but I think it goes up to $130 a month. My pay also increases a little." In the remainder of his time in Korea, Corporal Hahn delivered mail to a mail center in Wonju, delivered mail received, prepared mail to be shipped up north, made the occasional trip to Seoul, and did typing as needed. Hahn also was assigned as "Labor Clerk." He was to take over the labor payroll when the clerk at the time rotated. "It was the pay received by the Koreans working for the Company (such as the Korean laundresses)," he explained. "I anticipated other jobs as more of the Company moved out."
He also anticipated the day that he would leave Korea to reunite with Beatrice. On July 27, 1953, he wrote home to his wife to tell her that the armistice had been signed and that the fighting was supposed to stop at ten o’clock that evening. He said, "There is no great amount of celebration, although everyone is glad it has come. The radio has been used by high army commanders to explain to us that there will be few changes for us. It is just a cease fire. They keep repeating that rotation will remain as it has been, and that we won’t be going home any sooner." Lynn, of course, was very pleased that the fighting could be over. At the time of the cease fire, he was in a hospital in Taegu recovering from fever. Although the commanders warned that no one would be going home any sooner, Lynn was ever hopeful. "I was also very pleased that there would be no more casualties due to fighting," he said.
Letters and pictures continued to arrive from the United States, bringing wistful thoughts of home for Lynn. The tone of the correspondence between husband and wife began to change from resignation that he was duty-bound to Korea for at least a year, to promises that they would soon be back together again. Lynn wrote, "Our letters began to spend more time on what we were going to do when I returned home: looking for a house, a car, my going back to college (GI bill), etc. We discussed finances and what we would be able to do. She was making $40.00 per week and I could get $135 per month for school. Beatrice was very good at handling money and saving, so it all worked out later."
At this point in time, there was no "current remains" activity in the 148th Graves Registration, but the job of transferring war dead back to their country of origin was underway and continued for about eight months after Hahn left Korea. The first exchange of war dead occurred near Munsan-ni, Korea, on September 1, 1954. The Ft. Lee Quartermaster Museum’s website carries a very good historical summary concerning Operation Glory.
For Lynn Hahn, the hardest thing about being in Korea was being away from home, leaving his wife so soon after marriage, and missing his family. He also did not like army life in general. "I just did not like being in the army and its way of doing things," he explained. "Hurry and wait. Rigid routine, some of which made no sense. I often thought about the situation of my perhaps being forced to kill an enemy and how I might respond. I never had to do that, for which I am thankful, and I sympathize with those who had to do it."
When it was finally Lynn’s turn to go home, he was more than ready to leave the misery of Korea behind him. He was very glad to be going home—overwhelmed by the news, actually—although he knew he would miss his Korean War buddies. As a draftee, his term of active service was supposed to be for two years. Based on that, he was scheduled to be released from active service by January 2, 1954. He was hoping that he would have a few days in his favor and get out by Christmas. On the first of October, 1953, he wrote to Beatrice telling her that it was the beginning of another month and his time to go home was close enough that he could count the days. On October 5, he wrote that he had heard good and bad news from the clerk at Group Headquarters. A new rotation deadline had been set. Prior to this time, a man usually left 45 days prior to release. But now it was down to between 30 to 40 days. "I inquired if I would be home for Christmas if I left Korea the first of December," Lynn told Beatrice, "and he said ‘yes.’ He commented that the rotation system had been modernized, and the time to get back home was reduced. Very good news, except I will be in Wonju for a little longer."
His friend Roy gave him the news on October 16 that Lynn’s name was on the rotation list as scheduled to leave Korea on December 2. "I quickly figured out that that left 23 days to get home for Christmas," Hahn said. "I warned Beatrice in the next letter that anything could change that date. Most every letter from this time on I mentioned the joy of thinking about coming home. I listened to every rumor coming from those who traveled to Group Headquarters, and I watched dates for those scheduled to go home before me. On November 9, I wrote that I called Group and they couldn’t tell me about a rotation date. There were three men who were scheduled to leave before me that had not heard any news yet. This was written in the evening. After finishing the letter, I received a call from Group to report to Group in the morning to begin rotation. Just shows how strange things can get."
The next day, Lynn wrote to Beatrice from a new location—Yongdong-po—stating, "Well, as you can imagine I did a lot of yelling and hollering. I was so happy, and my greatest desire was to tell you, but there were no phones around that could get to you. After the shouting, I started packing, which only took a few minutes. And then it hit me. I got sick to my stomach and still am. I didn’t get hardly any sleep as I felt so bad. I didn’t eat hardly anything all day and am feeling a little better tonight. I’m just all nerved up. Jim brought (drove) me here this morning and Roy came down from Kumwha to get my clothes that had to be turned in, so I will never get to see Kumwha and really I never cared to. Jim and Roy have sure been very nice friends, and I hope some day you can meet them."
Jim and Lynn left Korea at the same time, arriving at Pusan Replacement Depot on November 14, 1953, as "transits." Hahn said, "We found out that that meant your quarters were not very good and you had no privileges. It was quite cold also. On the 13th, we were prepared in the early morning to go by train to Pusan. Then we were told we would not leave until the afternoon. By this time, there were a good number of men also heading for rotation home. We left Yongdong-po by train about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and arrived in Pusan about 7 o’clock the next morning. There was no heat on the train, so sleeping or resting was difficult. When we arrived, we had breakfast and then started processing. We turned in all of our clothes and were issued new O.D. uniforms. In the afternoon, we had a records check and were told at what base we would be released. I was to be released at Ft. Sheridan, Illinois. We were then assigned to a detail company, and I was to be a permanent chow server. That was better than guard duty. Everyone was very interested in how long before we got on the ship. I have no letter to refer to as to the exact date we left Pusan, but by subtracting the time taken to get to San Francisco, we must have left the 18th of November because I noted that it would take us 15 days on the water to get to the States. On December 2, I wrote while on the ship that we were one day from landing in San Francisco. That would calculate that I left Pusan on the 18th or 19th of November. This also means that I was in Pusan for about five days."
Corporal Hahn returned to the States on the U.S.N.S. Collins. "The main mood of almost everyone on the ship was wishing it would go faster," Hahn recalled. "The ship was 522 feet long, but rode much smoother than the Pvt. Sadao Munemori, the ship that took me to Korea. During the Korean War, the Collins served as a troop transport. There were probably about 2,000 plus troops aboard. This is about the normal capacity of the ship for troop transport, but in the evacuation of troops from Hungnam, the ship arrived there on December 14, 1950 and took on more than 6,000 exhausted troops."
No "shirkers" were allowed on the ship. Everyone had the duty to keep his bunk and the area around it clean. "Instructions were reinforced as published in the ship’s newspaper the third day out to sea," Hahn noted. "So-called ‘shirkers’ were those who worked against the best interests of all passengers. Therefore, they were disciplined as provided by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In the Friday, November 20, newspaper, it was printed what happened when a soldier failed to report for Guard Duty. His punishment consisted of three days confinement in the ship’s brig, located in the fantail; two slices of bread per meal; and no smoking or reading material."
Also while on the ship, Hahn said, "We practiced fire and evacuation drills nearly daily. A copy of the Collins’ daily newspaper indicated that there were many work details such as mess detail, cleanup detail, guard detail, compartment cleanup details, sick bay detail, PX detail, Chaplin’s detail, the special services detail and the newspaper detail. I must have served on one of these, but don’t remember which one."
After his experience with seasickness going over to Korea, Lynn was a little worried that he would have a repeat of the same going home, but other than being a little woozy for the first couple of days, he had no problem with that. "There was very little seasickness and the weather was fair most of the time," Hahn recalled. Nothing eventful happened to Hahn on the return trip, other than marking his second Thanksgiving Day away from home and his loved ones. There was organized bingo, a PX, detail work, and reading material. The ship’s four-page newspaper was issued daily, providing the troops with world news, sports, crossword puzzles, religious service times, news on the ship, and a travel thermometer that told how far the ship traveled each day. "I recall that as we approached the States, the speaker came on and said they would be tuning into a radio broadcast direct from the States," Lynn said. "The first sound was a singer by the name of Gisele MacKenzie, and her voice was sweet to my ears."
For Hahn and the other returning G.I.s, the Golden Gate Bridge was a wonderful sight, and passing slowly under it was a unique experience. On the dock, there was quite a lot of civilians and obvious relatives to some of the troops onboard the Collins. "I envied those who had waiting friends and relatives, but I still had a long ways to go," Hahn recalled. "There was a nice band there and flags were waving. It was a great time to be back in the U.S.A. Hearing the radio music on the ship, going under the Golden Gate Bridge, docking with people waiting, and the band, were emotional for me. I was thankful I was back this far."
Two days before debarkation, the ship’s newspaper published instructions about the procedures that the troops were required to follow to leave the ship. "It involved a rehearsal, clean up of the ship, and clean up of ourselves," said Hahn. "We were to debark by line number, and listen carefully for announcements." When the troops debarked, they were bussed to Camp Stoneman. Within twenty-four hours after landing stateside, Lynn Hahn was on a train heading for Ft. Sheridan, Illinois.
Beatrice at Last
Once in Illinois, Hahn was still not yet reunited with his wife. "I did not see Beatrice at Ft. Sheridan at all," he explained, "but did see her at the Lansing, Michigan, airport on the 16th of December 1953. She knew I was at Ft. Sheridan, but there was no need for her to come to Sheridan, especially since no soldier knew the exact day of separation. We communicated via telephone, so she knew where I was as soon as I arrived at Sheridan. She also knew when I arrived at San Francisco."
Lynn’s grandmother on his Dad’s side died on December 14. He very much wanted to attend the funeral of this paternal grandmother who was so special to him. "The funeral was scheduled for December 17," Hahn said. "I was released at Ft. Sheridan on December 16. We planned that my folks would pick me up at the Lansing airport on the 16th. Beatrice was with my folks as we had no car. She also arranged with her sister Betty, whose husband was in the service in Germany, to borrow her car so we could go to the funeral in Big Rapids and quickly return. We had what we thought were urgent plans to buy a car, look into buying a house, and get me registered to go to school at Alma College. Somehow all of this was accomplished. We had great grandparents on both sides, and it was important to honor them as they passed on. Of course, we got to see many of our relatives at the funeral, and I did get some attention. It was also great to be back with Beatrice after all those months being apart."
End of Enlistment
Hahn did not even consider re-enlisting. It was the last thing on his mind. "Based on the draft laws at that time," he explained, "I was still obligated to be in the inactive reserves for another four years. I resented the pressure brought to bear while I was in the inactive reserves in attempting to get me to serve in the active reserves. I was pressured to come to listen to the advantages of staying in. I had to travel to Lansing (50 miles one way) twice for this kind of pressure. They finally gave up."
Lynn’s plans for his future did not include a military career. "My first plans regarding a career were to go back to school, get a degree, and provide for my family," he said. "My wife supported this plan, and she worked during most of this time to support the effort. I also benefited from the G.I. Bill." He was discharged from the U.S. Army on December 16, 1953, at Ft. Sheridan. "I had no trouble whatever adjusting to civilian life," Lynn said. "I was tickled to be out of the Army."
A Civilian Again
After Lynn’s discharge, he and Beatrice resumed their married life together in the apartment that they had resided in before he was drafted. "One of our objectives was to find a house to purchase," he said. "Beatrice was very frugal, and we had saved some money. In just a few months, we found a house that was of appropriate size and had good basics (new roof, siding, furnace), although it was old. It needed a lot of inside work, but I was ready for the task. The house cost $4,200, and we financed the unpaid balance with a GI loan that, as I recall, was just over three percent interest."
Hahn also returned to school. Beatrice agreed to continue working until he completed his college work at Alma College. Lynn had completed his freshman year at this small liberal arts college in the 1949-50 school year, but his grades the last semester had been poor due to the fact that he had concentrated his efforts on sports instead of a learning curriculum. "I was permitted to return to Alma under conditions of probation," Hahn said. "I enrolled for the second semester in early 1954. That meant I had little time to get used to being home. I did go out for baseball that spring, and that turned out to be my main athletic interest for the rest of my college time. I was taken off probation after the first semester back and my grades were much better, including being on the Dean’s List my last year." One of the coaches helped him get a job with a Phillips Petroleum bottled gas filling plant during the summer. It was a good job, he said, and it paid quite well.
Lynn decided to major in chemistry, even though he knew that meant that he would have to put forth considerable effort to study and achieve high grades. He proved up to the challenge, however, and stayed with it, graduating in 1957 with a Bachelor of Science degree. He majored in chemistry and minored in mathematics, thanks to some excellent and helpful professors in the major courses, including Dr. Howard Potter and Professor Charles Skinner. Lynn also gives much thanks to Beatrice, who continued to work so that he could attend college full time.
With his Bachelor of Science degree and college diploma in hand, Lynn began to look for an industrial chemist’s job. "I talked with recruiting persons from 3M in Minnesota and Dow Chemical in Midland, Michigan," he said. "I was offered a job with Dow, but it was just not the kind of work I wanted. It was as a technician in a big laboratory. I then interviewed with a small company, Michigan Chemical Corporation, in St. Louis, Michigan, which was just a few miles from Alma. They were good enough to hire me to work in their Research Department. I had a very interesting career for 23 years with that company. I began in the research of commercializing elements and compounds of the rare earth group of elements. We manufactured two rare earth compounds that were a critical ingredient in a product developed by a company that manufactured color TV tubes. Research was needed to assure a quality that met the buyer’s specifications, and considerable effort was made to secure a consistent and reliable source of raw material. In short time, I was assigned to the Analytical Department where a part of the responsibilities was to analyze the rare earth elements and products for quality. This involved the use of fairly sophisticated analytical instruments."
"I also became involved in analyzing brominated organic compounds," Hahn continued. "The company manufactured elemental bromine and was interested in exploiting the commercial possibilities of these compounds. In that effort I was involved in work to manufacture high purity bromine (99.9+% pure). This work led to two U.S. patents. One major research interest was manufacturing various brominated compounds to be used in flame retarding synthetic polymeric compounds such as polyethylene, polyurethanes, polyesters, etc. These types of compounds were finding dramatic increases in all types of commercial use from fibers to solid forms. Expanding their uses would be dramatic if they could be rendered non-flammable. There was also considerable effort in flame retarding cotton that then could be safely used in clothing, especially children’s sleepwear where laws were requiring non-flammability."
The company was purchased by Velsicol Chemical in the late 1960s. Hahn later became manager of the Analytical Department and served in that capacity for twelve years. "I had an interesting career with that company," he said. "In 1975 the company moved the research facilities to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I continued in my job. In 1980, Velsicol decided to combine their two research facilities in downtown Chicago, Illinois. I did not wish to go, and began looking for another job. The Howmet Corporation located in Whitehall, Michigan, was good enough to hire me as a manager of their research analytical department, where I worked for 13 years. Howmet manufactures turbine engine parts using the investment casting process. I also had a very interesting job with Howmet." Lynn retired from Howmet in 1993.
Retired and Busy
Lynn’s retirement years are active ones. He supports his church by serving on committees, as well as by videotaping Sunday morning services so that members who may not have attended can view the service. He also put together a church directory with pictures.
He is involved with two Civil War groups, the Lakeshore Civil War Roundtable and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. He also videotapes the Roundtable programs. "Just over a year ago," he said, "I made a presentation to the Roundtable entitled, "Handling of the Dead", where I compared the care of the dead during the Civil War—especially the Battle at Gettysburg—with the care of the dead in Korea, based on my personal experience." Hahn is also a genealogist. His maternal great grandfather served in the Civil War and had some interesting experiences, including being captured by Confederates while with Sherman on his March to the Sea.
Lynn is also involved in putting together some memorabilia and records concerning his work with Michigan Chemical. He is preparing to donate the gathered material to a museum and library in St. Louis, Michigan. Lynn has an important contribution to share with regards to his work at Michigan Chemical. "I was involved in a serious litigation against the company," he explained, "and ended up spending three and a half days on the witness stand defending the company. Fortunately for me, the company prevailed." He plans to provide considerable information concerning the trial testimony, newspaper clippings, and records to the museum and library.
He has a computer and spends a great deal of time communicating on it, and "keeping the thing going." But he doesn’t confine himself to a desk chair in front of the computer all of the time. "I try to keep in reasonable shape by playing racquetball and doing stretch exercises," he said. Lynn has had some success in tournament racquetball, having won the state championship several times in his age bracket. He won three National Invitational tournaments in his age bracket in the 1980s, and was ranked No. One nationally for a brief period in 1988. "I do not play tournament racquetball anymore, but still enjoy the game," he said. In 1984, he was inducted into the Michigan Racquetball Hall of Fame.
Lynn and Beatrice became parents along life’s way as well. They have children—a son and a daughter—and now there are five grandchildren as well. "Our grandchildren are all good-looking and get good grades in school," Lynn remarked with pride. While their children were growing up, he and Beatrice tried to be involved with their children. Now, they do the same with their grandchildren, who have been involved with sports like soccer, volleyball, basketball, football, and track. Grandma and Grandpa Hahn have remained their greatest fans.
It is obvious that, although Lynn cherishes his children and grandchildren, he most particularly cherishes and admires Beatrice, who has been his helpmate and love for so many, many years. "She lost her father when she was eight years old and was the oldest of five children," Lynn explained. "Her mother somehow got them all raised, even during bad economic times. She agreed to marry me. She was a great support to me during my Korean War experience, as well as the time after with seeing me through school, raising a family, and all the other things that go with marriage. She also has a remarkable medical history, being a survivor of four cancers, removal of her thyroid gland, other surgeries, narcolepsy, and a broken hip." Beatrice and Lynn try to take care of each other. They enjoy preparing meals together, and then eating the end results.
Looking back on his military experience, Lynn said that the army experience was traumatic from basic to discharge. "The pre-basic experience at Fort Custer made me aware that knowledge or skills (typing) opens doors. That skill served me well in Korea. Basic was hard work, learning discipline cooperation, and hurry and wait. Through it, I was lonely for my wife, so there was patience involved. Traveling to Korea just meant being that further away from home. On the way, I learned a new way of life."
He also said that in Korea, he saw a completely different culture. "The area around Seoul had been ravaged by war, so that many permanent buildings were collapsed, people lived in shacks, and children were begging. As we moved inland near Wonju, we could see similar destruction, but there was farming, and rice was available. Traveling was different. Roads were rough and dusty most of the year. I recall going out on S&R and returning after the day covered with dust. Our company carpenter helped by constructing wooden frames around the sides of the trucks. It did help. I learned to appreciate what we had in the United States. Again, my ability to type provided me with the clerking job that was soft work compared to other jobs. I also was in the area where you could see the operations of day to day activities of administration, as well as the operations of the GR portion, the reason for the company. I learned a job and looked for ways to improve efficiency. I developed a homemade mimeograph that helped reduce time in preparing deceased lists. I felt I was useful to the organization. I met some very nice guys, and we shared our work experiences, troubles, and thoughts of home. We left Korea with an understanding that we would try to get together later, and we did."
Hahn said that he continued to see that education was important in the army. "Beatrice was supportive in my returning to school and helping to make sure that it did come about," he continued. "Beatrice was so very supportive throughout all the time I served. My friends and relatives were also of great support. I feel that my going to Korea was a great learning experience and useful later in my life. It was a quick maturing experience as well. I was stronger for it. I also am proud that I was able to serve my country during this period of its history."
There is a decades-old controversy surrounding the question: Should the U.S. have sent troops to Korea in 1950?" Lynn Hahn thought about the question, and this was his answer: "After World War II, the big threat to us was Communism. Russia was enlarging its influence and area, and Communism was an enemy to our way of life. Our country tried to work through the United Nations in slowing this enlargement. When North Korea invaded South Korea, it activated the U.N. to take action, and it was successful until the Chinese came into the picture. This eventually ended in a "Cease Fire" that is still the situation. When our ship took us over to Korea, we first landed in Japan. One of the events in Japan was to explain to us why we were going to Korea. A large map was on the screen showing the world, and in red color was Russia and those countries that had accepted Communism. We were told that it was expanding, and we needed to stop this expansion or Communism would be at our shores. It sounded reasonable, and turned out to be the first armed resistance to Communism. It also called for restoring the military draft. Congress did not declare war and the effort was called a Police Action. I believe we were right in sending troops to Korea. Ironically, we are now at odds with North Korea over 50 years later."
Hahn thinks that the disaster of the Korean war was its continuation after the North Koreans were driven back to the 38th parallel. "If the United Nations and the U.S. had been satisfied with just returning to the original separation line of the two Koreas, the Chinese probably would never have entered the war," he said. "The tremendous loss of life and waste would have been avoided. The time spent on the rest of the war could then have been used to try and unify the Koreas peacefully." He said that he still hopes that the two Koreas will sometime shortly unify into one nation. "Recently there have been [unification] talks between the two countries," Lynn said. He believes that US troops should still be stationed in Korea to prevent northern aggression and another possible attempt by the north to take over South Korea against the will of the people who live there.
Lynn pointed out that to many people, the war in Korea was considered to be nothing more than the "police action" or "conflict" that it has always been labeled. It has just been in recent years that Congress officially declared it as the "Korean War." Consequently, Hahn thinks it is little wonder that the war is also now known as the "Forgotten War." He explained, "The Korean War came at a time just five years after World War II, and much of our country was very tired of war and anxious to get back to civilian living, schooling, raising families, and getting to work. All of a sudden we were aligned with some other United Nations countries to stop the aggressive North Koreans. Our country had reduced its military force dramatically so that those called to respond to the threat were local National Guard and Reserve units. In that way, the entire country was not directly aware of men being called to war. The total number of men going was relatively small. Also, the war was a long way off in a country that was relatively small and obscure. The dedicatory statement for the Korean War memorial is, ‘Our nation honors her uniformed sons and daughters who answered their country’s call to defend a country they did not know and a people they had never met."
Hahn said that when the United Nations troops first began to influence the fighting, the results were very good and the North Koreans were on the run. "It looked like this event would be very short," he explained. "When the Chinese got involved, the outlook was completely different. Then as the fighting stabilized near the 38th and for the relatively long period of about two years, there was fighting over hills and mountains. Our countrymen then became critical of the action, and politics was the order of the day. General Eisenhower was elected president with an understanding that he would do something to stop the fighting. A cease-fire was finally declared in 1953, and the country settled back to civilian living. With these events in mind, the phrase, ‘the Forgotten War’ seemed appropriate to describe this little war."
The Korean War, believes Hahn, was all about "two philosophies of government struggling to preserve their beliefs. Democracy and Communism were the dominant powers at the time, and Communism was pushing to increase its influence throughout the world. The Korean War represented the first military confrontation by the United Nations against this influence. Long term, it led the way to the downfall of the major Communist country—Russia. The overall influence of Communism has diminished significantly since then."
As a veteran whose job was well behind enemy lines and in support of the fighting men on the front lines, he did not have personal involvement in killing. "I am proud of what I did," he said, "and I also appreciate the fact that fate plays so much a part of what we do and where it can lead. If I had not been able to type, I might have taken basic training at Ft. Campbell and ended up in the infantry and been one of those in the front lines." He never had to use the infantry skills that he learned in basic training. But once he got to Korea, Hahn relied heavily on the Graves Registration training he received at Ft. Lee. "Search and Recovery prepared us in techniques for searching, defining the location accurately of a find, preliminary identification, careful handling of personal effects, transferring remains, reports, and all the details. What I ended up doing was being a clerk in the Operations Office. My preparation for that was in High School. Having the GR background training provided the overall knowledge of what was going on in S&R. Additionally, it provided knowledge of the procedures to follow in the handling of the dead, not to mention all the paperwork involved in the part we played to ensure that the deceased were properly cared for on their trip back home."
In discussing the hundreds of American servicemen still missing in action from the Korean War, Hahn said that he feels the USA is at the mercy of the North Korean government in this endeavor. "There has been some progress recently and some remains have been returned," he said. "I believe the government is doing what it can, and should continue its efforts." He also believes that the USA is at the mercy of the Chinese and Russian governments to release information regarding American soldiers that may have been taken to these countries as prisoners. "I understand there is still no concrete evidence that that is the case," he added. "But we should keep requesting information from these governments."
Graves Registration Reunions
A few of the men assigned to the 148th Graves Registration have met and held reunions over the past several years, and there is a concentrated effort to try to find more 148th veterans. Through the efforts of the group, Harley S. Reeder, Homer Hall, Robert Helman, William C. Copeland, Bernard M. Cooper, and John T. Tapper have been located. Some have tried Internet resources to locate lost buddies. A few years ago, 350 veterans of Graves Registration (from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam) were invited to attend a reunion. "The number of returned invitations was minimal," said Hahn, "which indicated that a lot of those invited did not seem interested in responding to the invitation."
This is a little surprising, given the fact that serving in the Army and Graves Registration probably affected the lives of other GR Specialists like it did the life of Lynn Hahn. The GI Bill provided assistance to him when he wanted to go back to college and when he wanted to buy a home. Beyond the tangible benefits of eligibility for the GI Bill, former soldiers like Hahn also benefited in other ways from their military stint. "I believe that serving in the Army significantly shaped and affected my post-military life," he said. "The army training taught some discipline that I believe has helped me. The Graves Registration experience forever impressed on me the ultimate sacrifices that have been made for our country, so I better appreciate those who have, and are now, serving our country. I have a better understanding of the tremendous effort and cost that going to war involves. In my lifetime, I have seen four major wars for our country: World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and he Gulf War. In 71 years, that averages about one war every 18 years. If we go to war with Iraq this year, it will make the average every 14 years. My understanding of war makes me fearful for the future."
Lynn and Beatrice have attended several Graves Registration reunions since Lynn first got involved with them. Their first one was with a group of World War II veterans who had served in Graves Registration. Someone from the group read about Lynn in the Muskegon Chronicle newspaper when Hahn shared details of his experience in Korea with a local reporter. As a result of that contact, Lynn and Beatrice attended their first Graves Registration reunion in 1995 in Springfield, Illinois. At the 1996 reunion, Lynn was voted to be the group’s new president.
Just after the 1995 reunion, Lynn and Beatrice traveled to Ft. Lee to visit the museum there. He met Tom Bourlier, Director of the Mortuary Affairs Center. That led to the first Ft. Lee reunion in 1997. "Since then," Hahn said, "the annual reunions have been held on the off year at Ft. Lee and the on year at some other place." In 2001, the reunion at Ft. Lee was canceled due to the 9-11 suicide attack on the Twin Towers. Ft. Lee Graves Registration personnel were actively involved in recovery efforts in New York, so the reunion was rescheduled for 2002."I had some great times being a part of the reunions," said Lynn. "I met some great people and did some things that I never thought I would be involved with. Working with Tom Bourlier and Doug Howard, the Deputy Director of GR at Ft. Lee, has been very rewarding for me. My friend Roy Roggentin, and his charming wife Caroline, served as Secretary-Treasurer and were of great help."
Besides his work with the reunion group, Lynn made a trip to see the Korean War Memorial in Washington DC. His medals—Good Conduct, National Defense, Korean Service, United Nations, Korean War 50th, and United States War Memorial Coin—were mounted and framed courtesy of Beatrice. They adorn a space on the wall in their home as a reminder of Lynn’s service years. He would like to visit Korea again, but his wife’s precarious health precludes a return to the "Land of the Morning Calm," so Lynn’s visits to Korea are limited to the occasional mental trips back in time to 1952-53.
When he thinks back on Korea, it gives him pause and concern about the present state of world affairs and the current unrest in the Middle East. He knows from experience that when news reporters announce yet another war-related death of an American soldier, standard paperwork will inevitably be filled out for the return of his or her remains and personal effects, and then grief will follow for yet another American household. "I do not recall shedding tears while in Korea," he said. "I do now find it quite easy to come to tears when involved in veteran’s affairs, parades with veterans, and the flag going by."
The words, "Freedom is not Free", are more than just a clique to Lynn Hahn. They express the grim reality of war that he saw first-hand as a Graves Registration specialist in Korea. In 1951, Lynn’s father accompanied his eldest child to the bus that would take Lynn to a basic training military camp. Mr. Hahn commented to his departing son, "I wouldn’t mind your going to war, or even that you might not ever return, if it meant that there would never be another war." It was a day for family rejoicing when Lynn Hahn safely returned home from the Korean War. But how many other fathers’ sons will not return from war unscathed before the world understands these truths: War means death. Death means sorrow. And to live in freedom is a costly privilege.
Roster - 148th Graves Registration