Back to "Memoirs" Index page


Ted Heckelman
(Click picture for a larger view)

Theodore "Ted" Henry Heckelman

Bellingham, WA-
Korean War Veteran of the United States Marines

"We passed the explosives from the stream bed up underneath the bridge, and as soon as it was all in place I released the guys to go back to the company area. After they were gone I was by myself and it was awfully quiet.  I wondered, "What in the hell am I doing here by myself?"  But I realized that I had a job to do. The troops were not asking for a miracle—they were just asking for a little bit of time and I was determined that they were going to get their time."

- Ted Heckelman


[The following memoir is the result of an in-person interview between Ted Heckelman and Lynnita (Sommer) Brown that took place on September 29, 1999 in St. Louis, Missouri, at a 1st Provisional Marine Brigade reunion.  Sadly, Ted died May 23, 2009.]

Memoir Contents:

 


Back to Memoir Contents

Pre-Military

I was born June 25, 1929, in Norwalk, Ohio, the son of Henry Carl and Ella Miriam Aust Heckelman.  My father was a florist.  He started out on his own working for the Rose Garden and then took off as Henry's Flower Shop.  He held that job for 50 years, I think.  The shop was in Norwalk.  My parents had two boys and a girl.

While I was going to school I had a part time job packing potato chips for Becker's Potato Chip, which was a potato chip distributor for Northern Ohio.  I got 50 cents an hour, which was pretty good bucks at that time.  then my buddy Russ Morley and I started working on the Norwalk Highway Department, mowing the grass along the highways and county roads way back in the boonies.  It was quiet work, we were out in the sun, we were our own boss, and it was fun.  We did that one summer, then the next summer we went to college.

I went to school at Norwalk High School, graduating in 1947.  I attended school during World War II and remember the scrap drives for aluminum and paper.  Some of the World War II veterans quit school to join the military during the war and came back to the school to visit.

I attended college at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.  I didn't really know what I wanted to be, but I started out taking geometry to make up one math course.  I was kind of interested in landscaping, so I took a landscaping course.  I took botany and English, too.  I think everywhere you go you have to have English.  I took a class that was more or less essay writing, and I took accounting.  That intrigued me.

I went to college for one year and then came back to Norwalk.  At that time my father was helping my brother through a private school, Denison University, in Granville, Ohio.  It was quite a strain on him, so I made a deal with Dad that I would work a year and then go back to school the next year.  And if I needed help, why he could hand me a few bucks.  But as it worked out, Russ Morley and I were working for Stoutenberg that particular year as construction guys.  Stoutenberg was an architectural firm that was building a housing development.

One day we were working in a sewer cleaning out the debris.  We kind of looked at one another and said, "What in the hell are we doing here?"  I don't know if it was Russ or me, but one of us said, "Let's go join the Marine Corps."  So, we dropped our shovels, got out of the sewer, went home and kind of spiffed up a little bit, and went into Cleveland and right into the recruiting depot.  I guess that we were there quite a while.  We took all kinds of tests and exams and answered questions.  The next thing we knew, we had signed a paper and the recruiter said, "All right.  Now you guys, I want you back here on the first of November.  If you're not here on the first of November at 6:00 a.m., rest assured, we'll come after you."  It had been a noisy ride up to Cleveland, but we were very quiet going home, wondering, "What in the hell did we do?"  We were part of the Marine corps, that's for sure.  We were their property.

We joined in September of 1949 about two weeks after college started.  They didn't make us any promises.  They didn't say that Russ and I could be together or that we could have a college education or see the world.  They just said, "Welcome."

I knew a few Marines.  They were older, but it had always been my dream to be Marine.  I guess because of the globe and anchor.  I heard that they were dedicated people who knew what they were doing.  In reading and following them during the world war, they were what I would classify as one of the better combat divisions.  I had heard that in the Army there was no that much discipline, and I heard that in the Marine Corps there was a great amount of discipline.  I found out the hard way that what I had heard about Marine discipline was true, but the discipline kind of agreed with me.

On the way home from the recruiting office, we wondered what we were going to tell our parents and how they would take it.  My mom and dad just accepted it as, "Well, if that's what you want to do.  It's not our choice, but if that's what you want to do."  I don't know just exactly how Russ' parents took it, but he had already signed and they figured he might as well go sow his oats and make his own way in life.


Back to Memoir Contents

Marine Corps Recruit

At 6:00 a.m. on November 1, 1949, Russ and I, along with about 30 other guys from different parts of Northern Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania, showed up at the recruiting station.  For some reason they put me in charge of the group.  I can't tell you why.  The only thing that I could think of was that they looked at the alphabet of the guys there, went down halfway, and just said, "Heckelman."  so I took the job on.  I was in charge.

They were kind of a rowdy group--on their own and sowing their own oats now.  They just had a good time running up and down the aisles.  Why on a train running up and down the aisles was so much fun, I couldn't tell you--but they did.  We had a sleeper car.  Before I went to bed that night, I called them all together and said, "Now you guys can have a good time, just don't get yourselves in trouble.  Most of all, don't get me in trouble.  Now have at it."  I went to bed and they had at it.  My buddy Russ was sitting there.  He couldn't sleep because he was worried, what the heck are they going to do?  How can they screw him up and me along with him and everything else.  But we made it down to Buford, South Carolina by train.

We got there late in the afternoon.  A Corporal met us at the train station and, like a herd of cattle, took us in and got us something to eat.  He then said, "Go grab a bunk."  We grabbed a bunk and turned the lights out.  He was doing his duty and we all laid there very, very quiet.  It was the first time those guys were quiet since they left Cleveland.  We watched that Corporal's every move because if he was going to give a command we wanted to be right there ready to do our thing.  It was a very restful night for a while.

Then early in the morning we didn't know what to expect, but he was a pretty good guy.  We got on another train at Buford that backed into Parris Island, South Carolina.  When we got to Parris Island it was like walking into a haunted house.  By that I mean we were scared to death.  A DI was there to meet us.  He said, "All right, shit birds.  Line up over here and do it on the double."  I didn't know what "the double" was and I didn't know what shitbirds meant.  Later I told my mother that they had changed our names at Parris Island.  Bless her heart, she could never understand why the Marine Corps changed my name.

Back to Memoir Contents

Shitbirds and Sheets

The DI who came out that first night was a big, strapping German guy named Sergeant Hoover.  He said, "All right, you shitbirds.  I am your mother, I'm your father, and I'm your god for the next three months--and don't forget it.  And your name is shitbird."  That proved to be the case.  He was our mother, father, and god.  He was the maker of the world.  He did everything and just according to the books that he had to do to take 72 guys from different walks of life and put us all flat on the table.  We all started off the same.  No favoritism whatever.

I think the funniest thing that I can remember about boot camp was making our beds the military way.  We got down to Parris Island about one or two o'clock in the afternoon.  We then went through the barbershop and everybody came out bald-headed.  No hair.  Then we went over and got our shower.  We came out of the shower bare-assed and went over to the Quartermaster and stood in line to get our gear.  All of my civvies were burned when I went down to Parris Island.  They didn't want us to have any association with civilian life so we had to throw our civilian clothes into a big hopper and they burned them.

Then we went to another barracks and got our blankets and sheets and mattress.  About five or six o'clock we wound up going to our permanent home.  The DI said that he was going to show us how to make a military bunk.  He took a quarter and hit that blanket and that thing bounced  up in the air and came down in his hand.  He said, "That's how you do it.  Now turn loose." 

We had 72 guys, one on the top bunk and one on the bottom bunk on both sides of the barracks making our bunks.  Some were good and some were bad.  The DI came in and tested one.  If it didn't meet his standards he made everybody rip their bunks apart and we had to start all over again.  We stood there like Elmer Fudd with our blanket and our two sheets in hand and he said, "All right.  Now turn loose."  We went back and did the same thing again. After making the bunks over about 150 times, I had second thoughts as to what in the heck I had gotten myself into.  Russ was the same way.  He was next to me.  He said, "What did we get into?"  I said, "I don't know, but we're here.  We volunteered, so we'll take it."  Still, about midnight it got to be pretty rugged and I was about ready to tell the DI to take it and shove it.  He finally told us to hit the bed.  When we hit the hay, it was about one or two o'clock in the morning.

Back to Memoir Contents

Regimented Meals

At four o'clock in the morning we had to get back up and, wouldn't you know it, we had to do a field day, which was cleaning the barracks.  Then we got started to a regime of school and march, school and march.  Even going to mess hall was quite regimented.  The DI marched us up to the entrance where there was always a big, long line.  We had to take our turn, grab our mess, all of our equipment, draw our tray and go through the line.  They slopped whatever they had on there.  We couldn't say, "I want some more" or anything like that.  We just took what they gave us.  When you're hungry, whatever food you get is good.  They came out with some pretty good stuff.  I still eat what they call, pardon my French, "shit on shingles."  That's green hamburger over a shingle of hard toast.  But it was good.  We still have it at home today.

While we stood in line and got our food, the DI would sit down in the NCO area and eat.  When we saw him get up and start outside, wherever we were in our meal we knew that we better grab our tail and get outside because we didn't want to keep the DI waiting.  He wanted to get back to the barracks.  In some cases, we might be halfway through the long line when he got up to leave.  That happened several times.

I remember when we first went to the rifle range, that first night for some reason we made it into the sit-down area.  They had bread, peanut butter and jelly.  We all hogged the peanut butter and jelly down and then when we got outside, did we get chewed out for that!  The DI said that we had hogged all of it and there were other guys who wanted to eat.  Well, I was not about to tell him that we hadn't eaten anything in a couple of days because of the long line back at the main barracks.  We just kept our mouth shut and said, "Yes, Sir."  But, boy, it sure was good.

Back to Memoir Contents

Island Paradise

Parris Island was an island in the tropics, but as far as it being an island paradise, that all depends on your idea of a tropical paradise.  It was a good duty station to go to if you wanted to be a drill instructor and take all that you had learned and drill others from all walks of life for a period of three or four months and make them act as a unit.  If you wanted to do that, it was a great place to be.  That's where it starts--at Parris Island.  For boots, it started out to be a great place, but within a few seconds after arriving there, it became a nightmare.

Sometimes our days started at 3 o'clock in the morning.  Other times we started at 4 o'clock.  We were awakened by the DI coming in and banging a garbage can and hitting the end of our bunks with his foot.  If we didn't get out, the blanket, sheet and mattress all hit the floor at the same time.  The DIs made a lot of noise and turned the lights on. That became part of life and we accepted it.

Once out of bed, we stood there with our two sheets in our hand and the DI would tell us to make our bunk.  So we turned loose and made our bunk.  Then he would come by and just to be a little smart, he would take a quarter and try to see if it would bounce off our blanket.  If it didn't, then we had to make our bed over again.  If that didn't meet his approval, he would pull everything off the bunk and we had to make it all over again.

We did a lot of marching.  Hot weather, cold weather, whatever.  When it rained we marched with full pack and got used to how the poncho worked.  It had a little slit in the middle of the material and went over the head.  We buttoned it up around the collar and put our helmet on.  The helmet was supposed to keep the rain from going down the back of our neck.  Then we took our rifle and put it butt up and muzzle down to become familiar with our rifle.

We were allowed to have mail from home.  If there was an emergency situation at home, like a case where a guy's mother was seriously ill or something, they would let him go home and be with her until everything was all right, and then the recruit had to come back.  He couldn't go back into the same platoon, but he could go into another one.  The Marine Corps was sympathetic and would help us in these situations but we had to give a little too.  We had to listen to what they said and do what they told us to do when they said for us to do it.  If we did it correctly, there was no reprimand.  If we did it wrong, then we got chomped on.

I had a lot of respect for my DIs.  I could see what they had to do and the time that they had to do it.  They had to get us all thinking the same direction, the same thing, the same instant something happens.  That is what we were taught in school.  If something happens, what do you do?  If somebody stumbled, it made the DI's life miserable.  If we made their life miserable, they made ours miserable.

Back to Memoir Contents

Dust to Dust

If we didn't follow a command, we got reprimanded for it.  We got yelled at every day.  Every morning.  Every night.  Every afternoon.  If we moved an ear or we moved our hand or we moved a step when we were in ranks we got yelled at.  And rightfully so, because when you're in rank and standing at attention, you don't move--not even for a sand flea.  They were about the size of a cat or dog flea and they lived in sandy areas.  We would be standing on the concrete going into chow and they would crawl up our leg and get down in our sock.  They just made life miserable, along with three DIs looking at us all the time, screaming at us.  Our DIs were Sergeant Hoover, Sergeant Earley, and Corporal Hayden.  Sergeant Hoover was in charge, and in his absence the other two were in charge of our platoon.

I remember that I had to bury a sand flea while I was in boot camp.  We were standing in the sand pile behind the barracks and we had done 1001 to the rear marches in the sand.  Everybody had a pretty big hole in the ground where they did to-the-rear march, and then we stood there at attention.  A little sand flea got up behind my ear and he started biting.  I moved my eyes.  I know the DI went to my left, so I figured about how fast he was walking and figured that if I brought my right hand up, hit my ear and knocked that sucker off, I could be all right and he wouldn't see it because he would be coming to my left side.  So I did it.  And when I did, the DI's head popped around my right side, looked me square in the eye, and said, "Did you move, shitbird?"  I said, "Yes, Sir.  I did."  He asked, "Why?"  I told him, "Because there was a sand flea biting me behind my ear."  He said, "Well, they don't eat very much.  Did you kill it?"  I replied, "I don't know, Sir."  He told me to get down on the sand and look for that sand flea.  He said, "I want you to have a burial for it."  So I did.  I looked and found a sand flea.  I don't know if it was the one I slapped, but I found a sand flea and showed it to the Sergeant.  He said, "That's not the one that bit you."  I said, "I don't know, Sir."  He said, "Well, you better be sure, so go look."  I looked some more and found one again.  This time he said, "All right.  Now I want you to dig a hole and bury it and give it its last rites."  I dug a hole about three feet deep--with my hands.  Everybody was watching me and snickering before the Sergeant told them to be quiet and mind their own business.  I dug the hole, put the sand flea down and petted it, and then filled it up and said, "Dust to dust."  After that the Sergeant told me to get back in the rank.

Another time I moved when Sergeant Earley was in charge.  I don't recall why I moved, but I did--and I knew I was wrong.  I guess I wanted to scratch my head or something, and unfortunately, Sergeant Earley was right there.  He looked me right nose to nose and started chomping away at me asking me, "Did I give you permission to move?"  "No, Sir."  "Why did you move," he asked.  "I don't know, Sir.  I had an itch and I had to take care of it," I replied.  Again he said, "Did you ask for permission?"  All the time he was saying that, he was taking my field scarf from my necktie and tightening it.  Suddenly I went from about a 14 1/2 inch neck size to about a 12 and I was gasping for air and turning red.  Gradually he undid that, fixed it for me, and said, "Now, you're not going to do that again, are you, Shit bird?"  I replied, "No, Sir."  And I didn't ever again.

I marched wrong once.  That's all we did in boot camp--just school and mostly parade march.  Close-order drill is what they called it.  This was at Parris Island, you've got to remember, and it was kind of warm, especially at that time of year.  I was marching with the group when he said, "To the right flank."  That meant to go to the right, but for some unknown reason I went to the left.  I really got chomped on that one.  When I moved to the left, it knocked some guys around and they knocked me around.  The DI said, "Your other left, Stupid."  I had to take my rifle the next morning in front of all the group and do about 350 up-in-arm shoulders, which was grasping the rifle by the stock and at the muzzle of the rifle and extending it above my head straight up and down the front and up and back.  By the 200th one, my arms were about ready to give out. By 300 I had pretty well had it.  My guardian angel was with me to the 350th one, that's all I can say because, man, I'll tell you--my arms were so weary.  But I learned a lesson.

Others got punished, too.  Some smoked cigarettes when they weren't supposed to.  They had to put the whole pack of cigarettes in their mouth, light them all, and put a bucket over their head and smoke them.  They got good and sick and coughed at first--and then they got good and sock.  I saw that happen many times.  My buddy Russ Morley got caught smoking and had to GI (clean with soap and a brush) the whole front of our barracks.  If he hadn't done the job right, he would have been discharged.  It took him several evenings, but he did it and he was able to stay in the Corps.  Of course, he had to stay in because his father was a Colonel in the Army.  It would have been a horrible situation to go home and say that the reason he was sent home was because he didn't GI the front of the barracks like he was told to do.  You had to know his father Al to appreciate the situation.

Occasionally the DIs got physical with us.  The most physical I saw was when an Italian corporal named Ansonachi, who was about 6 foot 5 inches and weighed 250 pounds, picked up one of the boots because he had moved in ranks when he wasn't supposed to move.  Ansonachi grabbed him by his field jacket, and pounded him against a telephone pole.  The boot was about two feet off the ground.

Back to Memoir Contents

Sore Tutu

One time we had an inspection with a colonel.  When you're in the Corps, you have to keep your area very clean.  So we had a GI one afternoon and late evening to get ready for inspection on Friday.  When we first got to Parris Island, we were all issued a little navy blue bathing suit.  We had to put those on and then get our toothbrush and clean the cracks in the hardwood floors.  The floors were pretty shabby and so were the ceilings.  We could lay there and look out the ceiling of the barracks and see the stars.

Anyway, we had to get down and clean the cracks in the floor.  Parris Island was very sandy and when we went outside and came back into the barracks, invariably we brought in a ton of sand.  So we had to clean all of that.  We wiped everything off to get ready for the Colonel's white glove inspection.  Everything was fine for the DIs and then on Friday the officers came through and were supposed to give their final approval.

We had this one guy who was kind of a foul-up anyway, and we knew it.  We gave him one final assignment after we had gone through the barracks again and cleaned it and wiped everything down.  His job was to go through the main aisle with a mop, hang the mop outside when he was done, and stand to attention down at the end of the barracks.  Well, he did that, but I guess the officers were in just a little bit sooner than they had anticipated.  Rather than put the mop into one of the vacant wall lockers correctly and shut it like he was supposed to, he didn't put it away properly before standing at attention.

The Colonel was in his very nicely starched, pressed khakis with his eggs [leaf-shaped embellishments] all over the bill of his cap.  We went all the way through the building and then on his way out he stopped, looked at that locker and opened it.  When he did, that mop handle came out and hit the bill of his cap, taking the bill down over his eyes and causing the back of it to come up.  The Colonel didn't say a thing.  He just put the mop back, put his hat on, and walked out the door.

We wondered, "Oh, God.  What's going to happen now?"  The drill instructor came in and said, "You guys had a good inspection so we're going to go to the movies tonight."  We said, "Oh boy!"  He said, "Take your bucket, your white pillow case, your field jackets and your helmets."  That was an odd order but we did as we were told.  As we were marching it sounded like our 72 feet were marching as one hitting the gravel.  We were really smart boys.  We went into the theater area and right down the middle aisle between guys sitting to our right and to our left.  We thought, "Man!  We're going to have prime seats way up front."  All of a sudden the DI said, "To the rear march."  We wound up about 300 yards back of the last row of guys.  We were in the field, way out in the boonies.  We formed in a single line like a skirmish line and then he said, "All right.  Now about face."  When we did the about face, the screen was there but we were looking in the other direction.  He said, "Now put the pillowcases over your helmet and sit down on your bucket."  So we did that, and we sat there at attention for two hours like a bunch of dummies--out in the field with a pillowcase over our helmet.  That was not fun.  It was an outdoor movie, but I can't tell you today what the name of that movie was.  I know I had one horrible ring on my tutu.  In fact, we all did for a couple of days.  That's the only time that I can remember that we were collectively punished for one guy's wrongdoing.

Back to Memoir Contents

A Lot of Humor

You have to stop and think that when you've got 72 guys, there's always going to be some humor along with life in boot camp.  Seeing somebody get caught doing something they weren't supposed to could be funny.  The funniest thing I ever saw happen was when Ted Heckelman had to bury a doggone sand flea.  That was a horrible experience for me--I guess because I got caught.  I thought I could get away with it, but I didn't.  I was kind of smiling at myself, even though I was in a traumatic situation.  I had to find the sand flea.  I had to find the right sand flea, number one.  And then I had to bury it.  I was laughing because I was trying to find a sand flea and wondering, "What's a sand flea look like in sand?"  I didn't know, but I soon found out.  I guess I was laughing at myself, and by the same token, I think the guys were laughing at me.  I got more of a laugh out of it because the DIs were scolding them and trying to keep them quiet.  I think the DIs were probably doing a little snickering themselves.

That's why I don't think I could ever become a DI.  I just think I'd get up there and start to chew some raw boot out and ask him why his hat doesn't fit when he has no hair and they give him a hat that maybe half too small or too large and it comes down over your ears and you look like 72 Elmer Fudds standing in ranks.  I don't think I could ever be a DI.  I'd go out and look at that, and I'd bust out laughing.

Back to Memoir Contents

Honorable Navy/Dishonorable Marine

A Navy fellow once came in and wanted to play football, so a few of us were excused from the company to play football for a period of time.  One night after a practice we were in our football uniforms and the rest were all in their dress greens.  We really thought we had the world by the tail but we were a bunch of dummies.  We went up to the PX and when we got back to the barracks the DI called us into his office and wanted to know if we had been to the PX.  I said, "Yes, Sir" and so did Russ.  He said, "Who told you to go?"  I told him that the Navy guy told us to go there.  I didn't get anything but one of the other guys did.  He got all kinds of candy and some ice cream.  The DI said, "Are you sure of this?"  When I told him that I had told him everything I could, he said, "Don't lie to me, shitbird.  If you do, I'll get you an undesirable or dishonorable discharge."

At that time I exploded and said that no way was I going to take the blame for something that I did not do.  I told him that the other guy was the instigator.  The other guy had been in the Navy for four years and then joined the Marine Corps.  He was one of the smart ones.  I guess he thought he was going to turn the marine Corps into the Navy attitude.  He was a militant, you might say.  I think the DIs recognized that almost immediately.  The former Navy man took different guys and got them into trouble for things like smoking when they shouldn't out behind the barracks or in the john or whatever.  The DIs just felt that he was not Marine Corps material and figured they had to get rid of him somehow.  I think they got rid of him for a legitimate reason.  He was given a dishonorable discharge from the Marine Corps.

Back to Memoir Contents

Classroom Training

We had classroom instruction in first aid and map reading.  In first aid instruction, they told us how to take care of wounds, etc.  But in reality, you didn't stop if somebody got shot in combat.  In the real world, you kept on going.  You maybe marked where he was at and called for a corpsman, but you didn't stop.  There was a lot of controversy on that subject, but I can understand the logic of it.  If everybody stopped and helped somebody that was wounded, you wouldn't have anybody going forward.  Taking care of the wounded wasn't our responsibility.  Our job was to be riflemen and to go forward.  If somebody got shot, that was first aid and that was the corpsman's responsibility.

For map reading, they took us out with a compass, pointed to a place on the map, and said, "This is the point where you're supposed to be."  They then turned us loose to see if we could get back to where we were supposed to be.

Back to Memoir Contents

Every Man a Rifleman

The foundation for all of the Marine Corps is that every person in the Corps, regardless if they are on staff as a clerk typist or as a you-name-it, are first of all a rifleman.  That was proven in Korea.  Oliver P. Smith wrote a memo to my mother and stated it very well.  He said that this was the first time where an entire division became a rifleman.  Everybody turned loose--cooks, truck drivers, bulldozer operators, whatever.  They were riflemen number one.  When they were building that airfield in Hagaru, the engineers were out there being shot at when the Chinese started coming in.  They just cut the motor off, got down, grabbed their rifles, went over to the perimeter, and were on a skirmish line.  They called cooks and even went into Oliver Smith's G-3 and said, "I want everybody that's able to walk out of here."  And they took them all out.  If they didn't have a rifle they gave them a rifle or a carbine or whatever and said, "Get out on that line."  And that's what they did.

I was someone with a florist/landscaping background, but for three months of my life I was taught to be a rifleman and how to kill as one.  When I went to my new duty station in Pendleton in 1949 after boot camp, I wound up in engineers and I had a real good life.  But I still marched every day and I still went to class on skirmish lines.

At the time of my training, there was no war going on.  After I got out of the Marine Corps, I knew I would have the GI Bill and I would be able to go back to school with it.  That was always in the back of my mind while I was in the Marine Corps--I wanted to go to school.  But I still look my training in the Corps seriously, because that's why I was there.

Back to Memoir Contents

Graduation

During graduation ceremonies, we marched in front of all the dignitaries at Parris Island.  When we were in boot camp we were Marines, but we weren't given the privilege of wearing the glob and anchor on our uniforms.  They were blank.  At graduation, we were entitled to wear the globe and anchor.  I think it was the greatest moment of my life.  I had made it through boot camp.  I was now able to wear the military insignias that my DI and my friends who had gone into the Marine Corps before I had wore.  I was part of a group--a proud group, I guess.

I was in Platoon 249.  We had taken a lot of crap, but we had done pretty well, even though we had a few catastrophes along the way.  Platoon 249 wound up as an honor platoon.  We had passed the test and came out on top with flying colors.  We marched with precision now.  The group that came from different walks of life had melded together over a period of three months.  Suddenly we were on a parade field and everything was in unison.  It was a proud, proud moment.

We didn't dare throw our caps in the air like they do at high school graduations.  We were still shitbirds until we went through Casual company and were on our way home for a ten-day leave.  At that moment, the DI walked over and picked up another group called shitbirds.  Our company was sitting there laughing with brief pride.


Back to Memoir Contents

Camp Pendleton

When we finished boot camp, Russ and I went home on a ten-day leave.  After those ten days were up we returned to Parris Island and were there about ten more days doing nothing other than cleaning up the barracks in Casual Company.  We were waiting for orders for our next duty station.  When they came through, our orders were for Camp Pendleton.

We traveled on a troop train to California.  Everyone on the train was a Marine leaving Parris Island, South Carolina.  We were transported in 1905 cattle cars outfitted with hard-back seats.  We went cross country, with nobody getting off the train.  Our "sleeping cars" were the floors and benches of the cattle cars.

When we got to Camp Pendleton the train backed into the area and dropped us off at a prescribed area.  Two of my buddies, Russ "Buck" Morley and Chet Ordley got orders for Camp Delmar and mine were for Camp Pendleton.  Chet was a guy from New Jersey that Russ and I got to know quite well in boot camp.  I wanted to say goodbye to them and tell them that if they got near a phone they should give me a call at Engineers, so I ran over there to see them.  As I was running across, a Lieutenant said, "Where are you going?"  When I told him that I was going over to see my buddies, he said, "Get back in ranks."  About face and back in ranks I got.  So I was still a boot, you might say.  I was still learning the Marine Corps habits.

That was the last I saw of Russ and Chet until about three or four weeks later.  We got together in Oceanside and continued on until Russ got transferred back to Camp Lejeune and Chet got transferred to Cherry Point, North Carolina.  I got to stay with the Engineers at Camp Pendleton.

Back to Memoir Contents

Engineers

We had all taken aptitude tests in boot camp and I think possibly that the background that I had in construction is what caused me to wind up in the Engineers.  I also had some good NCOs that kind of liked me.  I responded well to their orders and they liked what I did.  When I got out in the field, I did the job that they wanted done and I could kind of direct some of the guys and help them along.

At Pendleton I learned to do what I was told to do when I was told to do it.  I started out in carpentry work building little target practices.  They were little trains that went through and we put a flag on them.  The infantry used that for target practice with their rockets and whatnot.  If they hit something and knocked it off the track, then we had to go and repair the track or repair the target.  It was good work because it was always out in the field first thing in the morning, up for breakfast, finish breakfast, and immediately back into the trucks and they'd take us out in the

I stayed there until October of 1949, then I wanted to get into the demolition end of the business.  I guess I just liked the idea of blowing things up.  It was a grade that for an MOS I could easily go to Sergeant.  That was my dream--to be a Sergeant.  So in October I finally got the okay to go to demolition school at Quantico, Virginia.

When I got there, they said that the school had been discontinued.  That was kind of a slap in the butt, but they put me in the Casual Company while I awaited my orders to go back to Pendleton.  In the meantime, they happened to have four openings for four Marines at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, which was just up the line from Quantico.  I was sent with my buddy and two other Marines from Camp Lejeune to Fort Belvoir, where I finished the demolition course.

I was sent back to Quantico after graduation, but asked for a delay en route from Quantico to Norwalk, Ohio because one of the towns we were going to pass through, Willard, Ohio, was just about 14 miles from my hometown of Norwalk.  They said no to my request for a delay en route because half of my personnel records were in Quantico, a quarter of them were in Belvoir, and the rest were somewhere in Pendleton.  They couldn't do because they had to know the actual time that I had coming.

I wanted the delay en route because there was something of interest to me back in Ohio, and her name was Shirley Oberg.  I started writing to her while I was in boot camp.  Although I don't think you could say that we ever went together officially, I had known her since second grade.  I had never had the guts to go down and see her and ask her for a date.  It had now been almost a year since the last time I saw her, although she and I were writing steadily back and forth.  I was very faithful to write to her.

Back to Memoir Contents

Transfer to Infantry

After they denied me my delay en route and I returned to Camp Pendleton, I was told by the First Sergeant that I was to go on mess duty.  This was toward the end of December when everybody was trying to get a special leave for the holidays.  Things got kind of quiet around the barracks and I wound up on mess duty for 32 days.  This was nothing unusual.  All PFC's served mess duty.

After mess duty I reported to the First Sergeant on the first of January 1950, and he advised me that I was going to be transferred to the Infantry--the Fifth Marines.  I questioned why I was being transferred.  I said that I went to school based on the fact that I would be working in demolition for the Engineers, but when I got back I had mess duty.  Well, I understood that, but now I wanted to get off mess duty and the First Sergeant told me that I was being transferred.  They said that I was not working in my military specialty number (MOS) and I replied, "How could I when I was put on mess duty?"  His response was, "You're going to the Infantry."

I packed my gear and reported to the Fifth Marine headquarters.  Colonel Kruelax was a little squeaking colonel who looked like a mouse and wound up later to be a Lieutenant General.  He was a good officer.  He said, "We'll put you in Weapons Company."  Boy, I tell you, I was scared to death when I reported in to Weapons Company.  I had heard about the Infantry and wondered if I could cut it or not.  I felt that I cut it through boot camp, but this was a little bit different all of a sudden.  There I was in a completely different area with completely different guys.  I really had second thoughts about whether I could cut it or not.  I just happened to get a good lieutenant, Lieutenant Brown, and a good sergeant, Sergeant Ramsey.  They were very courteous and they pulled me through.  Maybe they could detect how I felt.  They just made me feel at home like I was one of the guys.

The first guy I met was Bernie Miller, then Charlie Hudson and Charlie Guchen.  Before long, I knew them all.  I fell into a good group of guys.  They taught me how to fire a rocket and how to use a flame thrower.  In turn, I taught them how to set charges, how to make a minefield and record and dismantle it.  It was the old adage, "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.  That's the way it was.

Back to Memoir Contents

21st Birthday Blast

I had the opportunity to go home on leave at the end of June/first of July, and I was back in Ohio.  I didn't get to see Shirley while I was home in Ohio because she was in Washington, D.C. at the time, but I got to see my parents.  The Korean War broke out on my birthday, June the 25th, 1950.  I was 21 years old--what a birthday blast.   Nobody told me too much of anything about what was going on in Korea, but I read the newspaper and thought that it was inevitable that we were going to go to war.  Quite frankly, I didn't even know where Korea was at that time.  It was strange to me so I had to go to a map like everybody else and find where Korea was.  I think that my mom expressed more concern about the possibility of me going to war than anybody else.

On Saturday morning I got a call from Art Bernard, who was my buddy back at Camp Pendleton.  When I heard that war had broke out, I told him, "If you guys start packing, give me a call and I'll fly back."  He told me that I had better get come back because they had new guys coming in and they were building up the company to strength.  Luckily I had a uniform with me.  I put it on and Dad called Cleveland airport.  They had to bump a civilian to get me on a flight to California.  The next morning I was at Camp Pendleton, and by Sunday noon I had all my 782 gear washed and ready to go.  I also had my other belongings packed and ready to send home.

Monday morning I went into Oceanside and got the balance of my clothes and personal belongings that I wouldn't need.  I then went to a liquor store and got a fifth of vodka and sneaked it onto the base.  Liquor wasn't allowed on the base so I had to sneak it in under the taxicab.  That night Art Bernard, Terry Terrantino and I went behind the barracks and proceeded to have our own little party.  I got sicker than a dog.  Everybody got drunk.  I got up and threw the bottle down the hill, and the next thing I knew Terry was stumbling down the hill.  I tried to grab him and then I went down the hill as well.  Art got up and he lost his balance.  We crawled back to the barracks.

The next morning I washed my dungarees and packed my pack.  That following Wednesday at about 3 o'clock in the morning we formed on the parade field and some big old buses came by.  We hopped on and sat there as glum as could be.  Not a word was said.  We knew we were going to Korea.  On July 15, 1950, I was transferred overseas with the First Provisional Marine Brigade.

There was no band playing, no nothing when we left for San Diego.  Earlier on March 23, a picture was taken of our Company in dress blues, and then there was a parade two days later.  While I was on leave in Ohio, Brigadier General Craig was put in charge of the Brigade.  He staged a big parade of guys in dungarees and battle dress and all, but I missed that one because I had not yet returned to Pendleton from my leave.


Back to Memoir Contents

Off to War

When we got down to San Diego, we were herded like a bunch of cattle onto ships.  Some of the guys were excited to be going off to war but I wasn't.  I was a "short-timer" and thought that I would soon be out of the Corps.  There were about sixteen different ships in the convoy to Korea.  They carried artillery, motor transport, engineers, communication, Headquarters Company and Headquarters Regiment.  I was assigned to the USS Henrico, an APA personnel carrier that could hold approximately 2,500, I think. 

As soon as I boarded ship, I started getting seasick.  When I was lying down, everything was fine.  But I got woozy when I got up.  We were two days out when the Henrico lost a propeller and we had to turn back.  We went to Oakland, California, for repair.  I stayed in the bunk until we got back to California and then we were allowed to get off the ship.  To keep us limber, we had calisthenics in the morning, afternoon and evening during the two days that the ship was being repaired.  They took it for a trial run and decided everything was okay so everybody went on board again and we took off by ourselves.  The other transports were way ahead of us by two days.

I would have to say that overall it was very good weather.  Unfortunately, I still couldn't handle the motion of the ship and I stayed sick.  Our bunks were just a couple of steel bars and a piece of tarpaulin attached to the bars to keep it from falling on the guys below us.  They were six high and there was just enough space from the bottom of the guy in the bunk above us to the opening for the next bunk.  There was just enough room to squeeze a body in.  That's how we lived.  Because I was seasick, I stayed downstairs in my bunk and only once in a while did I stick my head out the hole to get some fresh air.  Then I would go back and lay down.  I didn't throw up on anybody.  I just took my bayonet and went through the air system so I had air all the time.  As long as I could smell or breathe fresh air I was all right.  But it did get raunchy because sweat and human body just gave off a terrible odor after a while.  I wasn't the only one sick.  Some were vomiting pretty bad.  Violent.  And then there were others that just sat there and laughed at us.  What could I do?  I could go barf in their back pocket if they wanted me to, but I just stayed in my rack most of the time and slept.

I made Sergeant while on the trip to Korea.  I think I made rank because my MOS said that I had to be a Sergeant in order to be a demolition specialist.  When we were at Camp Pendleton, there were few NCOs but a heck of a lot of PFCs and Privates.  They took us up to the rank that we were destined to be.

Back to Memoir Contents

Land of Yuck

I went up above on deck the day that we came into Japan.  As we came closer to land, I could see the coastline and the lights.  Then all of a sudden we made a turn.  Our orders had changed so we didn't stop in Japan.  This was when things got pretty bad at the Pusan Perimeter.  The enemy had broken through the Naktong River and were threatening down the Masan/Obong-ni area of Korea in the west middle section south of Taejon.

We went to Korea but our heavy equipment and all went to Japan.  The ship took us right into a dock at the Pusan harbor.  When we landed in late afternoon of August 2, 1950, we were troops without our own vehicles so we had to rely on the Army.  We couldn't really tell we were in a war zone other than the fact that there were a lot of military people milling around.  They had a Korean band out there and they played the Marine Corps Hymn when we came in.  I could hum it better than they played it.  It was pretty squeaky, but they did the best they could, bless their hearts.

My first impression of the country was, "Yuck!"  I couldn't believe the living conditions of the people.  They lived in tin can alleys and the sanitary conditions were horrible.  When they wanted to go to the bathroom, they just stuck it out the door and where it fell, why, if you were in the way, you got splattered.   We later found out that all of their rice paddies were fertilized with human waste.  We had to walk through them and when we got ambushed we had to lay down in it.  I remember that once I had to lay in it for half a day, pinned down by a machine gun and unable to move.

There were big warehouses alongside and General Craig was down there chewing on Colonel Murray saying, "Why weren't you ready to disembark when you should have been?"  We were all up on the deck and we got the message--he wanted us down there.  We had to disembark immediately.  I got off the ship with a combination of apprehension and excitement.  I was anxious to get on with it, thinking, "Let's get it over with and get home."  We got the impression from MacArthur's headquarters that it would be over soon, but the critical thing was that we had to get through the Pusan Perimeter, an area 90 by 60 miles.

We were told to go through a door at the end of the warehouse and draw as many bandoleers of ammo and grenades that we wanted to carry.  All of the sudden there was a big artillery barrage off to the left.  I didn't even know that we had artillery there.  I was the first one to hit the deck and five or six of my buddies followed.  Then I felt kind of stupid when I learned that the Americans had fired the barrage to soften up what was up ahead.  About five minutes after that, I heard a spent bullet.  Art turned around and said, "You hear that?"  I said, "Yeh.  I think this is it."

I was assigned to Weapons Company, First Battalion, Fifth Marines, and we were going to be in the lead. Going to battle, I thought of some of the gory things that I had heard of and seen on newsreels about war.  That really sunk home.  That's when I knew I had bitten off quite a bit of cake.  For the first time, I think I was scared.  We hadn't gone far when we saw our first dead Korean.  He was laying in the middle of the road and he had been run over by vehicles.  His guy couldn't have been more than five foot, but he looked like a giant now because he was seven foot front and back.  He was flattened.  I couldn't believe it.  And then I saw bodies of North Koreans off to the side of the road.  It shook me up.  It was one thing to read about war in a book and it was another thing to learn about it in boot camp.  But now this was reality.  This was the real world.  I accepted it--I had to.  What the heck, I was there.  But I really wished to hell that I was somewhere else.  As we proceeded on, we saw more and more.  I guess after a while we got used to it.  We just accepted it.

Back to Memoir Contents

Pusan Perimeter

The second night we were bivouacked out when we had a firefight between Able, Baker and Charlie Companies.  We shot tracers at one another when we thought we saw somebody move.  General Craig came unglued and there was immediate cease fire all over.  We were just green troops in a new world in a new walk of life.  We were sitting and looking at a bush until suddenly in our imaginations that bush became a freight train--or a vehicle--or it took on the features of a human body--or it looked like somebody pointing a weapon at us--or anything.  We had been told not to focus on one little subject, but instead move our eyes left to right, right to left.  That's what must have happened that night, because there was one hell of a firefight.  It lasted probably 15 or 20 minutes.  A lot of ammo was spent for naught.  Nobody got hit in that wingdinger of a firefight, but a Korean infiltrator did stab one of the guys in Able Company.  I don't know the Marine's name, but I remember seeing him.  He was a happy lad at Camp Pendleton and aboard ship.  Suddenly he was laying there dead.

I was the demolition specialist for the whole regiment--for the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, so I stayed more or less with the Headquarters Company of Weapons company.  I stayed pretty close to the Company Commander of Weapons.  When they had something special that required my expertise, I would then be called out to do it.  I could lay mines in necessary. I could put out charges or booby traps.  Whatever they wanted I could do if I had the equipment.  The only thing was, I didn't have all the equipment.  I didn't have access to dynamite or TNT, none of the explosives at all.  I had no explosion caps.  That was a little copper device that went into the TNT and attached to the fuse with a crimper.  I had none of that.  I guess the reason was that if this type of equipment was required, they would make it available to me through Engineers who would bring it up or whatever.  Until then, I was demolitions expert without the demolition equipment--which meant that I was a rifleman.

After we arrived in the Pusan Perimeter we started going to the west to counter the attacks by the North Koreans.  I think there were two complete divisions that were spreading their wings within 35 miles of Masan.  We were to put a stop to them.  As a result, we went in and knocked the hell out of two divisions that broke down through the Naktong River.  The Naktong was a major river in almost the central section of Korea.

At first our fighting was around Chinju.  Then we got called back when the North Koreans broke through the Army lines in a big breakthrough at the Naktong River.  I can't tell you the Army divisions.  Sometimes I didn't even know where in the heck I was in Korea or what day it was.  But I know the Army had broken and ran.  We saw some of the cases after we started up and started whipping the enemy's butt back through the Naktong River basin.  We saw some of the Army guys that had broken ranks and left.  These were evident because their hands were tied behind their back with barbed wire.  I personally saw an American bloated body.  He had been shot through the heart and was laying there on his face with his hands tied behind him with the barbed wire.

This made me angry in two respects.  I wondered how the enemy could be so cruel.  I saw this as another Japan.  During World War II the guys over on the islands did the same thing to allied troops.  Now it was happening again in Korea.  I also wondered how our Army guys could just turn around and run away.  I didn't understand it.  That made me mad.  I was mad at both the enemy and the Army.  We were relieved by the Army just above Obong-ni Ridge.

Back to Memoir Contents

Learning to Cool Down

When we first arrived in Korea it was hot, with temperatures over 100 degrees.  I remember that I got awfully hot one day, and when I got to the first creek bed I just flopped right in the middle of it--clothes, rifle, and all.  I laid there in that cool water just running over my body.  I had never had anything so exhilarating in all my life.  After I was there a couple of minutes, Gunny Sergeant Louis Ramsey, a World War II veteran with some 14 years of experience, called me over.  He was a very wise man.  He said, "Heckelman, come here.  Take your helmet and fill it up with water."  I did.  Then he said, "Now submerge your wrists in the cold water."  Okay.  Suddenly, my whole body cooled down.  He said, "Now you better change your socks because they're wet and we're going to be taking off pretty quick.  You'll get blisters on your feet if you start walking on dirty, wet socks."  I did what he told me to do, and every time thereafter, boy, I tell you.  Just get water on your wrists and your body will cool down.  Even sitting there in the open area with the sun beating down 100 degrees it felt like I was in Alaska in the wintertime.  I was very comfortable.

Back to Memoir Contents

A Box of Fudge

Sometime between battles in the Pusan Perimeter, my girlfriend Shirley sent me a box of fudge.  Each piece was wrapped separately and she had put them in coffee cans.  I had one that was hot fudge, hot fudge with raisins, hot fudge with walnuts, hot fudge with marshmallows, and peanut butter.  Oh man!  Just everything.

I went up to the Major and said, "Major, would you like some fudge?"  He said yes so I told him to take a can for the officers.  Then I went back and gave everybody that wanted some a can.  Then Art Bernard and I went back to our tent.  He had a can and I had a can.  Shirley had wrapped the stuff and stuffed the box in newspapers--the funnies sections.  So we laid there until way after dark trying to read the funnies.  Suddenly we started to get the cramps and then it was "Pppll", "Pppll", "Pppll" all night long.  But it was good.

I received a package from my parents and one from friends of my parents.  They sent me cakes and cookies.  One was a fruitcake.  I told Mom to never send me a fruitcake again.  It was too, too rich and I just couldn't take it.  I know that I didn't get all the packages that were sent to me.  Occasionally I got a letter.


Back to Memoir Contents

Lob Your Grenades


(Click for a larger view)

It was on the first drive to the Naktong River in August 1950 (the exact date I cannot remember), that my anti-tank rocket section was temporarily attached to Baker Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. It had been a long, hot and grimy day of walking, running, stumbling and cussing when it began to rain heavily (more cussing). As I recall, Baker Company occupied a ridge line in the vicinity of Obong-Ni. As I looked over the ridge line, I could see the enemy advancing in what appeared to be mass. The word was spread along the line to "lob your grenades over the ridge line – they’re coming straight at us." As I scanned the landscape in front of our lines I could see to the right a group of North Koreans forming in the attack mode. I would estimate this group to be at least a company size unit. Baker Company’s First Sergeant and a Platoon Sergeant were on the ridge line to the right yelling "lob the grenades over the ridge, but keep your head down".

It was at this point that I checked my troops to see if we had any more grenades—there were none. We had already expended our supply. As I looked over the ridge line and again saw the North Koreans coming at us in mass and knowing we had no grenades available—panic suddenly set in! What do we do—where do we get grenades—how do we stop the onslaught??? I was scared to death that we would all be shot, maimed, or worse yet, become prisoners of war. I turned to Sergeant Summers with my back to the line and asked him if he knew where we could get more grenades. It was at this moment that I looked to my left and there laying in the mud was a grenade with a halo surrounding it. I immediately reached for the grenade. As I hunched over I felt a terrible jolt on my left shoulder that stung and knocked me to the ground. As I recovered myself, I asked Sergeant Summers, "Am I bleeding from my left shoulder"? Sergeant Summers replied, "No, but your shoulder strap is sure shredded like somebody took a knife to it." After this assurance that I was still on earth and alive and kicking, I again surveyed the spot where I saw the grenade lying on the ground, hoping to recover it and lob it over the ridge. To my dismay I could not find the grenade. There was no grenade to be had. And nobody else saw or picked up a grenade. To what could one attribute this strange event?

Having been raised in the Methodist religion I am a firm believer in the Almighty, and I can only attribute the above event to the fact that my Guardian Angel was working overtime to protect me from serious injury or death, and caused me to duck as described above.

Baker 1-5 held its position and turned back the North Korean attack and put them on the run again toward the Naktong River. I returned to the Company area with my troops, and praised the Lord for a victorious day and asked, with His Grace, that I could have tomorrow.


Back to Memoir Contents

Tank Battle at Naktong

On the morning of August 6 or 7, we, the Fifth Marines, were in the thick of combat north of Masan, Korea, which was located west of Pusan and south of Taejon, where the North Koreans had broken through the Army lines. On August 18, the Marines were assigned the mission to stop the North Korean advance and push them back across the Naktong River. It was during this encounter with the enemy that the North Koreans again broke through the lines and came in our direction with four Russian T-34 tanks and approximately 200 to 250 Infantry.  The T-34 tanks were supposed to be the epitome of everything--heavy armor, hard to stop, etc.  The Army didn't have much luck stopping them with their smaller rockets that wouldn't penetrate the tank armor.

Just prior to this engagement our anti-tank platoon section had received the 3.5 rocket launcher.  Don't ask me why, because I was a demolition specialist, but when that tank attack occurred, Major Russell, the Company Commander, came down to me.  I had just got my guys down, had set up a night watch, and was sitting down having a little bit of chow when he came running up the hill.  He said, "Heckelman, get your section down on the road to where those Jeeps are forming."  He pointed to the road and the Jeeps and pinpointed on the map the area where we were expected to be to encounter the enemy tanks.

We grabbed all the ammo that we could carry and headed down the hill to load on the Jeep. I rode on the hood of the lead Jeep as we proceeded up a road that was "primitive", to say the least. There was a sheer drop off on our left and a hill that gradually climbed to the stars on our right. Located on the side of the hill were mounds which I later learned were graves of Korean dead.  They buried above ground, mounding the dirt up over their dead.

Back to Memoir Contents

Chain of Events

The chain of events was comical, really.  After scrambled up the side of the hill, I put Corporal Thomas in the lead position.  He and his ammo carrier were the furthest position to my left leading to the MLR, and their job was to get the first tank that came through.

Back to Memoir Contents

First Tank

As we came around the bend, I saw this black T-34 monster come up through the pass.  With its cannon and machine gun, it was cutting down everything that was standing in the position where we were supposed to be, but hadn't got there yet. I stopped the caravan and we turned around.  There was about a six-foot cliff near us.  Up on the side of the hill there was a forest of young saplings and there were mounds where the Koreans buried their dead.   I looked up there and thought that was a good spot.  At the same time, Lieutenant Brown thought that we would just go over the top.

I immediately directed the guys to go up the side of the hill, positioning them in a skirmish line that covered from the road leading down to the main line of resistance where our troops were in position to the furthest most position where I could observe with ease the tank activity and enemy troops positioning.  The Jeeps went back and we kept the ammo and our weapons.

Back to Memoir Contents

Tank One

Corporals Bowles and Lewis were positioned directly in front of me right at the peak of the curve in the road. Corporal Walt Carrow and his ammo carrier were positioned at the furthest position to my right. Sgt. Art Bernard and I positioned ourselves in the middle of the skirmish and behind us was Lieutenant Brown, our section leader, Sgt. Charlie Hudson, Corporal Bernard Miller, and Pfc. Bill Dabbs, Company runner. To the left of their position, I positioned Cpl. Thomas Fava and Pfc. Thomas Fox. Once the first tank came in sight, it would be their responsibility to drop a white phosphorus round inside the tank should the enemy open the turret hatch once we stopped the tank.

We had been given diagrams of the T-34 tanks while we were aboard ship.  I wondered what would be the best vulnerable spot.  We let the tank go all the way around the curve first to where he would be looking right down the face of our main line of resistance where our tanks and artillery were, and then Thomas hit the bogey wheel with a 3.5 rocket launcher, knocking it off its track so the tank was immobile.  Once I was given the okay by a tap on my helmet, I took aim at the gas tank.  I figured that if I could get it between the top of the track and the bottom of the sheet metal that formed a cover over the track, that should be about where the gas tank would be.  I took the best aim I could and cut loose.  I had to do it because the main line of gooks was about 1500 yards away from us looking right down, watching the whole scenario form.

The gooks must have communicated with the tank, because as I got the rocket launcher from Corporal Bowles, the turret started veering over towards us.  We were only a short distance from the tank, but we were up above looking down and that gave us a good slant.  According to the "Monroe Theory", the nose of a rocket would hit the side of a target and crush and crumble and affix itself to the side of a target, and then the explosion would center in one area.  It would penetrate through and blast off all ways.

When I hit the gas tank, it was like a Roman candle taking off.  The turret went up in the air, came back, and settled down.  The bottom of the tank fell out and landed right on the ground.  We could hear one last attempt by the gook inside the tank to try to get that thing going again.  We could hear them trying to start the engine, and then there was quiet.

Our tanks came up and they tried a new armor-piercing shell on the disabled tank.  Unfortunately, everything that we had--our ammo and grenades and all, had been taken out of World War II boxes.  Armor-piercing shells were something new.  Our Sherman tanks fired one shell and it hit the front of the T-34 tank, going completely through and out the back of it.  The shell exploded out in the rice paddy some 300 yards down the road, but it must have also gutted everything that was inside.  It must have been a horrifying experience for the North Koreans inside the tank because we could hear the activity as they tried to start the engine and make things happen.  The tank commander tried to get out of there by coming out of the escape hatch on the turret, but as he got out I think everybody on the side of the hill grabbed their weapons.  The Lieutenant was firing with a .45 and I was firing with my M-1 caliber 30, a semi-automatic shoulder weapon.  Everybody just cut loose at the guy with their carbines, rifles and pistols.  I can't tell you to this day whether anybody hit him or not, but if we didn't hit him, we sure as hell scared the hell out of him.  The next morning I saw his body lying down at the side of the road, so either somebody got him or he died of a heart attack or something.

Back to Memoir Contents

Death of Tommy Fava

Corporal Thomas C. Fava was the rocket launcher and gunner in our Weapons Company.  I had assigned him further up the hill so that if the turret or the hatch opened on the turret, he could drop a white phosphorus inside the tank.  That was his one and only responsibility.  Unfortunately, according to the map we were supposed to be at one location but due to the fact that the tank beat us to the pass, we were at another and had no way to communicate with our troops as to our actual position.  Tommy was up near the crest of the hill.  It was at this point that Tommy stood up from his foxhole and fired a white phosphorous round into the turret. When he stood up, our troops behind us thought he was a North Korean and opened up with a machine gun that riddled Corporal Fava from his head to his waist--or maybe he was shot down by our Air Force planes strafing the area. Either way, it was friendly fire that took his life on August 18, 1950.

We checked Corporal Fava.  Realizing that there was nothing we could do to save him, all we could do was to offer a prayer to the Almighty. He did not die instantly.  I couldn't do anything for the poor guy to make death more appealing to him.  He was there all by himself and all I could do was go up and do the best I could for him and calm him down.  I tried to comfort Tommy as best I could, telling him "Just take it easy, Tommy.  We'll get you out.  We'll get you out.  Take it easy.  He was in a lot of pain and way, way out of it by that time.  It was the most agonizing death that I have ever witnessed in my life.  The poor guy stayed there and yelled for his mother, "Mama.  Mama.  Oh, Mama, I hurt."  He did for about 15 minutes and it was agonizing for everyone to hear him.  His cries got lower and lower and lower and finally he passed on.  We had no corpsman because it was just my rocket section that was going to go up and the corpsman was not assigned to go with us.  We had nothing.  We were out of position, we had no means of communication, and three more tanks were coming at us.

When all was over, I returned to my original position to watch the progress of the second tank that was now coming around the curve in the road.  I had a  job to do.  I had a rocket section and it was my responsibility.  Tommy was one of 15 guys.  At the time, I had 14 others I had to look after and they were my responsibility, too. But later on in life as I think about Tommy I cry.  I shall never forget him calling out for "Mama, Mama."  I have heard that for years.  One of the guys in the outfit, Joe Rogers, lived in Massachusetts and after the war his job took him down through the Buffalo, New York area where Tommy was from.  He made a couple of trips to Tommy's grave.

Back to Memoir Contents

Tank Two

Believing that the second tank would proceed to the curve and try to push the first tank out of the way because it had him blocked on the primitive road, I decided that we could knock two tanks out simultaneously.  My plan was that when the second tank hit the first one, we would knock out tank number two and then tank number three behind that one.  I told the guys to wait and I went back up the hill.  Corporal Bowles was to concentrate on aiming for the gas tank once the second tank came into his view.  While Bowles knocked the second tank out, Corporal Carrow, who was on my right, was to wait until the third tank came up and tried to move the second one out of the way.  Art and I told him about where to fire to hit the gas tank.

It seemed like we waited an hour for the second tank, but it was really only about a couple minutes when all of a sudden we heard the power start really cranking up and we heard the second tank hit the back-end of the first tank.  When the second tank hit the first one, I told Corporal Bowles, "Now aim for the gas tank."  About the time that Bowles was ready to pull the trigger on his 3.5 rocket, I noticed that the rocket was not loaded properly.  Had he ignited that thing, in all probability he would have wiped us all out.  I ran down the hill to him and said to Bowles, "Don't fire!"  I grabbed the rocket launcher, brought it back up, rewired the thing properly and loaded it.  When I got the okay, I aimed it where I thought the gas tank was and when the spot was sighted in, pulled the trigger.  Eureka—pay dirt! I hit the tank in the gas tank and it immediately exploded like a Roman candle—a sight that I can still see to this day, but cannot explain to others. It was a good thing that I made that direct hit because as I fired the rocket, the turret with its cannon was turning to our position on the side of the hill.  We were up above and looking down only about 15 or 20 feet away from the tank, and one round was all that he would have needed to wipe us all out.

I got a Bronze Star with V for that action.  According to the citation, it was for exposing myself to the enemy by getting up and running down the hill, grabbing the launcher from Bowles, bringing it back up the hill, loading it properly, while at the same time keeping peace with the guys with no panic spell.  The citation also noted that I did this knowing full well that the enemy tank turret was 45 degrees from the front over our way.  If the gunner had come all the way around to a complete 90 degrees and looked us right in the face, one shot would have taken everybody on the side of the hill--the whole group of us.  I'd like to think that my men knew that Sergeant Heckelman was somebody they could count on.

Back to Memoir Contents

Bronze Star Citation:

"Sergeant Theodore H. Heckelman, United States Marine Corps. On 18 August 1950 near Obong-Ni Ridge in the vicinity of Yongsan, Korea, an anti-tank platoon with which Sergeant Heckelman was serving engaged three enemy tanks. When the gunner of a rocket launcher was seriously wounded, Sergeant Heckelman, a demolition specialist with the platoon, immediately put the launcher back into action. Although subjected to heavy enemy small-arms fire from nearby enemy troops, he remained in position, firing on the tanks until a direct hit on one tank caused it to explode, knocking it out of action. His rapid and decisive actions contributed materially to the success of the engagement and eliminated the serious threat to the friendly positions posed by the enemy tank force. The heroic actions of Sergeant Heckelman reflect great credit on himself and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. Entered the federal service from Ohio."

Back to Memoir Contents

Tank Three

It was at that point when the second tank made contact with the first tank that Corporal Bowles was to knock the bogey wheel out and Walt Carrow was to aim for the gas tank and destroy the second tank. When the third tank came to the bend and made contact with the second tank, Walt was to aim for the gas tank and destroy it as well. All of us would then work out an instantaneous plan of attack should there be a slip-up or slight deviation.

It was apparent the enemy troops that were some 1500 yards in front of our position had observed our positioning and communicated this to their incoming tank. We waited for what felt like hours after the second tank explosion for the third tank to make its appearance. Although it seemed like hours, I’m sure it was almost momentarily when the third tank made its appearance and plowed into the second tank, trying to push it off the road or cliff. As contact was made, Sergeant Bernard yelled to Corporal Carrow to aim for the gas tank. Corporal Carrow fired his rocket after Sergeant Bernard and I decided where we thought the most vulnerable spot would be—just in front of the back bogey wheel and a little to the top of the track. Corporal Carrow’s aim was true and accurate and he hit the gas tank dead center. Another roman candle appeared in the night sky.

Now it was a case of waiting for the fourth tank and/or the enemy troops—whichever came first.  I don't know where the fourth tank was, but apparently it got strafed by P-51 planes and was knocked out.  There were supposedly 200-250 enemy troops behind that tank going through the line, but we never saw them.  I didn't know where they were--whether they were really wiped out or they threw their weapons down and took off.

Back to Memoir Contents

Friendly Fire

The sad part of it was that it was getting late and dark.  We did not dare move because we did not know the password for the night. We did not know where our friendly troops were and we did not know exactly where we were, so we decided the best thing to do was to lay low and hope that the Almighty was on our side and would look after us. As luck would have it, the Air Force came in, saw three burning tanks immobilized on the open road, and began to strafe them. They were shooting strictly at the tanks, but we were high enough to where we got some of the flak from it.  As they strafed the tanks, we took the brunt of their devastating fire power. I do not know to this day how or why we were not hit and wiped out, but we survived.  We had a few powder puffs here and there, and one shell (heads of the actual cartridge itself from the machine gun and plane) landed in front of me, ricocheted up, and hit me on the top of my helmet.

After about an hour--or what seemed to be an hour, no other tank or infantry arrived, but we took some sniper shots from the enemy troops that were approximately 1500 yards in our frontal area. Nobody moved.  Nobody panicked.  But we were one scared anti-tank section that wished we were somewhere else.  We were out of position, it was now dark, and we didn't know the password.  We were kind of out on our own.  We had a choice; we could either lay there all night long or we could make a lot of racket and go back through the line.

As it developed, Lieutenant Brown, our platoon leader, made the decision that we would grab our equipment, start singing the Marine Corps Hymn, make as much racket as we could, and head back towards our line. All we could do was just yell like mad, "Hey, Mac.  Don't fire.  Don't fire.  We're Marines.  We're Marines."  We made it through the listening post. We advanced and were recognized and were directed back to our company area. I was never so relieved in all my life to hear the familiar voices of my comrades in arms and buddies. I sprawled out on the ground and asked the Lord’s forgiveness for leaving Corporal Fava dead and alone on the side of the hill, but I had no control over the circumstances and I prayed that both Tom and the good Lord would understand.  I said, "Rest in peace, Tom.  Sorry I couldn't do anything for you."  I think there were a few tears and then I slept very, very well after I said my goodbye to Tommy.

The next day was another day.  That morning Lieutenant Brown went back to the site where Corporal Fava’s body had fallen and escorted his body to Graves Registration. He stayed with him until he was tagged for burial at a temporary resting site. Later his body was returned to the United States and his home town for formal burial. Corporal Fava was our platoon’s first casualty, but certainly not our last. It hit all of us very hard.

Thomas Christopher Fava from Buffalo, New York, was everybody's buddy and friend.  I met Tommy when I got out to Camp Pendleton.  He was a great storyteller about what happened on his leaves or weekend jaunts into Los Angeles.  Everybody would hurry and get all of their work done--clean all of their gear, be ready for Monday morning and take a shower, and then lay there and wait until Tommy Fava came back from liberty to hear some of the tales he would tell.  It could be a story about the "so good" girls he had found or it could have been about the queers that he knocked off at the park.  Everybody just waited for him to come back to hear what he had to say.  Of course, we didn't believe him--maybe only 1:32 of what he said was true, but he was just a likeable guy.  He had an outgoing personality and was just one heck of a nice guy.  This is all a matter of military record, and the scars in my heart and mind will always be a part of me until the day I die.

The second guy in our outfit who was killed was Andy Jakuse from Chicago.  He was killed September 21, 1950.  He got hit in the back of the head with shrapnel from a mortar.  The shrapnel almost cut his head right off and he died instantly.


Back to Memoir Contents

O'bong-ni Ridge

The enemy that we were up against were about my age (I was 21), but there were some younger ones and some older ones.  They were just like the Americans--they had guys who had fought in World War II.  They consisted of a combination of infantry and what artillery they could bring forward.  Their tanks were pretty much wiped out by then.  They didn't have too much left.  After the tank battle, the North Koreans started back to the Naktong to regroup.

The North Koreans were good infiltrators and if we Marines were not watching what we were doing and taking life easy and looking off in the horizon thinking, "Jeez, I wish I was back home", they could get through our lines one by one or in groups or squads of 13 guys.  All they had to do was just penetrate a little bit and they could raise heck.  At that time they were a silent gook.  They were just like the Japanese, who were known to be great infiltrators.  So were the Chinese later.  Back when refugees came through the line near Masan, North Koreans mixed in with them.  We knew they were in there, but we didn't know which one was the North Korean and which was the South Korean.  They were coming in by the hundreds so they were just cut down--men, women and babies, by men in the line company.  Thank God I personally did not have to kill civilians, but when I was up at the Chosin Reservoir I learned that in a line company it is kill or be killed.

There were American-trained South Korean Army soldiers and Marines who fought on our side and sometimes it was hard to tell the North Koreans from the South Koreans, making it easier for the enemy to infiltrate.  There were South Korean ammo carriers who were initially kept well under hand until they became a pretty good fighting group.  They were basically always over on South Korea's east coast.  In Weapons Company we had no South Koreans serving with us other than an interpreter named "Kim Lee".  Nine times out of ten he could pick out someone from a group of Koreans and after interrogating him know if he was a North Korean.  Weapons Company sent these prisoners back to Headquarters or we sent them over to a POW camp.

Back to Memoir Contents

River of Red

We became a company again after the tank battle and continued on running down the road and up the hills and through the rice paddies after the gooks.  Our weapons were very adequate--probably the rifle more than the carbine, but that's a matter of choice.  To me, the .45 was like trying to hit a barn door.  Sometimes you would hit it and sometimes you wouldn't.  But at close range, if you hit somebody with a .45  it would go topsy-turvy.  For long distance the rifle was better and the carbine was second to that.

We got the gooks on the run and just kept marching and marching and marching, continuing up to the Naktong River.  I remember one really hot day, when suddenly it started to cloud up and it started to rain.  It got miserable and we got chilled.  The gooks resisted us until we got to O'bong-ni Ridge, and that's where they broke.  We finally penetrated their defense.  For fear of being encircled, they turned after we broke through their main line of resistance and headed toward the Naktong River.

We marched to just east of the river and there was an all-out battle there.  There were no bridges, so the North Koreans started wading across the Naktong riverbed.  We fired at them when they were in the water and, at the same time, the Air Force started strafing them from above.  We were on the ridge firing down at them.  It was just a big blood bath that turned a nice, pleasant little river to a red Coca-Cola color--literally.  We had to fire at them.  If we didn't and they had started turning around coming back, we would have been in trouble.  It was a kill or no kill situation.  I never saw so many bodies floating down a river.  Reflecting now about it I feel bad because I could have been one floating in the river.  It could have been us.  At the time I thought, "Ah, you dirty rats.  We got you."  I think that's how we all felt--"We got you."

Some of the North Koreans managed to get across the river.  We couldn't get them all.  They lost enough that it took several more weeks before they could get back into combat because of their depleted ranks.  They also had to have more supplies.  Remember, they were North Koreans who were down in South Korea.  Their line of supply was pretty strung out.  That's what happened to us later when we were up at Yudam-ni.  It proves a point that what works for the goose works for the gander as well.  At Yudam-ni, our supply line was pretty strung out, too.  At any rate, I think it was about two weeks before the North Koreans could actually make a division to where they could come back into combat again.

An Army platoon relieved us after that.  An Army Lieutenant came up to me and said, "I'm here to relieve you gentlemen."  I said, "Okay.  They [the enemy] are over there, there, there, and there.  If you watch in front of you and your buddy watches over there, you kind of overlap and you've got it made."  Just this side of the river was the front line.  Up on the ridge we could see the river.

I figured we would be back.  We were being relieved by a platoon of 50 Army guys and we were a regiment of 900 Marines.  Based on what I had seen when I first got to Korea and what I had been able to read in the papers about the atrocities that the North Koreans delved out onto the Army, as well as hearing that about General Dean taking off and running off into the boondocks, I figured we would be back.

Back to Memoir Contents

Bean Patch

After the Army relieved us we went to the "bean patch" in Masan for R&R.  We had been fighting around the Chinju area.  The bean patch was just an open field.  It was an old bean field.  We just laid our ponchos and our packs on top of the ground, laid down on them, and went to sleep.  We got our first bath since arriving in Korea on August 2nd in the river there.  I had a chance to write to my mom and dad and to my girlfriend Shirley, who later became my wife.

Our rifle was our friend so we took care of that first.  We cleaned our rifles and made sure they were functioning properly.  We oiled them and made sure there was no rust in the barrel and that we were ready for anything that might come along.  Then we took care of our bodies.  We washed our feet and dried out our socks.  We took care of our personal needs.

If there were Marines who couldn't handle seeing the Naktong River run red, I didn't see any of it.  Basically, this was what we were trained to do.  We did our job.  We did it well.  And let's get on with it.  I think our officers definitely had something to do with that.  Officers in the Marine Corps were always the first to take the lead.  They determined how they were going to attack and then they turned and gave hand signals to the rest of us.  By instinct we knew what an officer was going to do.  He wasn't someone who was behind us.  He was in front of us.

Major Russell was my Commanding Officer.  He was an older gentleman about 55 years old.  He had been a World War II Marine and I think he was due to retire.  He had about five or six rows of ribbons on his uniform.  He was a good officer.  He was in front when he was required to be in front.  When we were back in a reserve area and walking behind the front line, he always led the company into its designated area. I never saw the guy behind the Executive Officer or any of his Lieutenants.  He was always out in front.  He was a very good man.

Back to Memoir Contents

Return to the Naktong

We were at the bean patch for about two days when we got called to go back up to the Naktong River again. The Army guys that relieved us had abandoned their post and lost their positions again.  We had to go back and fight again for some of the territory that we had already won back, but then the Army lost again.  It ticked us off.  We lost lives the first time going up to take a target.  We buried our dead.  Then another American outfit comes along to relieve us and we think they're going to do their job and they fall flat on their face for whatever reason.  Thank God I wasn't in the Army.

We were back at the bean patch when the North Koreans crossed the Naktong and the Army lost their positions.  We were sent back up and had to fight the North Koreans tooth and nail again to push them back.  We got them back across the river.  This time they went back over some makeshift bridges that they had built, making it easier for them to get across.  But the Air Force was in hot pursuit, there's no doubt about it.  We stayed on the east side of the river until we were relieved by a company of Army guys.  More lives were lost going back up a second time over the same territory. This time we were relieved by a company rather than a platoon.  We were pulled out and sent back to Pusan, where we boarded a ship for Inchon.

The 1st Provisional Marine Brigade's presence in Korea made a difference.  The North Koreans hated us.  They hated the guys with the yellow leggings because we whipped the shit out of them.  We knocked out about two divisions that were coming in from the west.  We knocked them to pieces--knocked them down to where they were so far below strength that it took them better about another month to build up strength, getting supplies in to build them up.  And then we knocked them off at the Naktong River.  It just seemed like when we were over there in the south we were the only ones that Walker could really rely on to stop the onslaught.  I really don't think that onslaught could have been stopped without the Brigade.  I think there would have been a horrific bloodshed of American lives.  I think that all of Korea would have been lost.  That's the way I see it.


Back to Memoir Contents

Inchon Invasion

We left Pusan on the attack transport USS George Clymer APA-27.  I was a sergeant but I didn't know anything about the invasion that was about to take place at Inchon, although it was rumored that there was going to be an amphibious landing somewhere.  MacArthur pulled off a great piece of military strategy that could have gone sour but went well under his direction and completely surprised the North Koreans.

The ship took us from Pusan to around the end of South Korea and into the Yellow Sea, where we hooked up with the Seventh and First Marines that were reserves out of Camp Pendleton.  It was all clockwork.  We came around, pulled out, and got into the Yellow Sea.  The ships carrying the Seventh and First Marines came in, met us there, and we all went up the channel together and landed at Inchon on September 15, 1950.  We left the Clymer in a landing craft which I think we boarded about 4:00 p.m. that afternoon.  We were in the first wave that landed on the furthest beach, called Red Beach.

There were problems during the Inchon Invasion that were caused by Wolmi-do, a little island protruding out and connected to Inchon by a causeway.  If the enemy had known about the invasion and fortified Wolmi-do, they could have sunk our ships or caused havoc.  All they had to do was hit one ship.  There were North Korean troops there, and they had weaponry, but I don't think they had the right forces.  Our forces took the island within an hour or so.  If they had had the right troops and equipment, the enemy could have stopped the landing boats from coming in.  They could also have wiped out troop carriers.  I suppose they could have taken a potshot at MacArthur, too.  When I came through at 4:00, I passed the beautiful battleship Missouri.  By 5:00 p.m. the ships had turned around and really gunned it to get out of the channel because of the tide.

There was no port at Inchon for the Clymer or other ships. If we had gone into Inchon, the North Koreans would have been right there waiting for us.  They had control of Cemetery Hill and the city tower, which was a big swooping tower overlooking the whole harbor.  The harbor was fortified as well.  The tide was horrible.  As we were coming up the channel we churned through mud.  Several landing boats and LSTs didn't make it out in time and they had to stay in the muck until the tide came in again.

We climbed over the side of the Clymer and down a rope to get onto the landing craft, which was a small, flat-bottom boat with a big diesel engine and one machine gun.  The pilot drove the landing craft right into the wall, crashing into it and holding the craft there, still going forward but holding the boat to where we could get the ladder up to go over the wall and proceed into the town.  We carried our gear and it was a chore to go down and up the ladder with it, but that was what we were trained for.

My training at Pendleton was the same way before I even knew there was a Korean War.  We had had a day and a half training where we just spent time right out around a mock-up of a ship.  We climbed up to the top and then simulated going over the side of the ship in groups.  If we didn't move fast enough, some guy would step on our hand.  We learned timing.  Our actual training on water was at San Nicholas island off of the California coast.  They had some pretty big 15-foot land swells.  After that training we knew how to judge.  By the time we got to Inchon we knew what we were doing.

The reality of the Inchon Landing was different than the mock-up in that we knew, "This is it.  This is for real."  During training, the mock-up was stationary.  We weren't stationary in the water--there was a lot of up and down movement because of the land swell.  We had to be very, very careful because once we got down we had to make sure that all of our gear was clear of the rope.  When we put our foot down we made sure our other foot hit the floor at the same time and we were released from the rope.  Some guys put one foot down, kept one foot on the rope, released their hands and went ass-over apple cart.  The other thing was that with the land swell sometimes we went up way up and then dropped down so we had to kind of watch what we were doing and make sure that if we were up high in the landing craft we hit our feet and stayed with the boat as it went down.  If we didn't and we let it go down and released, we could fall and break a leg, twist an ankle, crack somebody else's head, or break an arm.  It was a tricky, tricky thing.

Once we got in the landing craft it circled while waiting to go to shore.  When it was our turn they said, "Go" and we all started in at the same time, just like each one was a landing craft.  We were seasoned veterans by then.  We hit Red Beach, Green Beach and Blue Beach all at the same time.  I thought it was a beautiful invasion.  I remember looking over the top of the landing craft and seeing this one barge that had the rockets on it.  It was firing them in a series: "Choo."  "Choo."  "Choo."  I thought how beautiful, but how devastating, and wondered how many it was knocking off on the shoreline.

As I said earlier, I was one of the guys in the first wave.  As I went over the wall on the beach, guys were being hit.  I was lucky.  My guardian angel was with me all the way.  I can remember looking up at Cemetery Hill and seeing the firing going on and the grenades exploding.  It was something completely new to me.  And then I thought, "Get the heck out of here as fast as you can."  So I ran over by the railroad track and behind some railroad ties.

I no more got my guys laid down there when all of a sudden toothpicks started flying all over.  There was a gook in a big tower who saw us running and aimed a machine gun at us.  In the meantime, somebody had called the Air Force in and they took care of the tower.  They knocked him out and the tower too, so he had a long fall down.  I then decided this wasn't the place to be.  As I looked to my right, I saw that there were three oil tankers sitting on a track.  I thought, "Oh here I am with my guys this close to oil tankers."  If there was anything in them or not, I didn't know, but I wasn't going to wait to find out.  The last word that I had received from the Company Commander was to work our way into the outskirts of the cit and hold up for the night there.  He told us, "Don't go any further."  So I took my guys and we zigzagged across the field and into a drainage ditch.  That's where we stayed for the night.

A couple of guys from mortars were casualties, but I don't recall their names.  I used to know.  The Lieutenants all made it.  I think other than that everybody made it out in fine shape.  That was amazing, especially since we had to go through Cemetery Hill.  They were laying up there behind the tombstones firing at us: "Choo."  "Choo."  "Choo."  They had a beautiful view of us coming in and a beautiful view of us coming up over the wall.  Those rockets from our landing craft probably did a number on them.  They were exploding very close to the shoreline, so that had to have something to do with it.

It rained a little bit, just a sprinkle.  Then it didn't rain anymore until we were coming out of Seoul.  It was a wet night for us and that drainage ditch that we hit kind of smelled a little bit, too, but there was nothing I could do about it.  We had all hit at the same time, so we all smelled the same.  It was a safe place though.  We slept very, very lightly.  I had my guys set up a watch and every two hours we changed.  Everybody took a shot at it but heck, we were all awake anyway.


Back to Memoir Contents

Heading towards Seoul

The Major came by the next morning and got us, and we started heading towards Seoul.  The trip to Seoul was a slow, leapfrog type of deal.  We walked, although I remember riding shotgun for the company Jeep on September 18.  I sat next to the driver and was his protector.  If anything got up in front of us, I was to knock them off.  I was the driver's firepower.  That day there was a sniper.  We got word to get off the road and go across some fields to behind a big hill or mound.  I'm not sure what it was; all I can tell you is that it looked like a thumb.  As we were going through the field we could see rifle bullets hitting in front of us and off to the side of us.  Nothing hit the Jeep itself, but since it was carrying ammo I figured that if anything hit it, that wouldn't be a good place to be.  I got out of the Jeep and laid down on the other side of an Amtrak or halftrack.

I no more got over there and got out of the Jeep when all of a sudden a mortar hit on the other side of the hill.  It just kept coming, creeper closer in until it landed and took out 18 guys.  It also took out the Jeep driver that I was with.  Not all of the guys were from Weapons Company.  There was a mixture of troops.  Our casualties included MSgt. James O'Sullivan, Pfc. George Waselinko, and Manuel "Lee" Moreno.  I think that Gabe Terrantino got it there, too.  O'Sullivan was shot in the ankle and recovered.  Waselinko was hurt the worst.  He spent about a year and a half in different hospitals in and out of Japan.  Moreno was in the hospital for several months.

Back to Memoir Contents

Women and War

There were guys standing there looking at me as I passed them and I said, "Get down."  Then another round hit us.  I stayed behind the hill long enough to patch up the wound of the Jeep driver.  He got shot or got shrapnel in the rump, calf of his leg, in the arm, and across the chest while he was trying to get out of the Jeep.  I put him on a half-track and got him out of the line of fire.  A half-track was a funny-looking armored thing.  A Jeep could be driven up into the body of it.  When the door in the back was brought up, we were completely covered on four sides, but the top was open.  I put the Jeep driver on that and got him out, then helped with a couple of the other guys.  I made sure Master Sergeant O'Sullivan was okay and talked to him.  He was turning pretty white at that point.  Both he and the driver made it.

We wondered where the shots were coming from.  I looked out into the field and saw that there was a little Korean shack across the field.  There was a woman standing out in the front hanging clothes.  The line company sent a couple of guys to check her out and that's when they pulled up her dress and saw that she had a radio.  She was communicating with the North Koreans.  She was their "forward observer" you might say, and she did a pretty good job.  When they found the radio, that was the end of her.  They killed her.  At the time it surprised me that women were being used this way.  I thought, "Why do that?  This is a man's job."  But then how did I justify that it was a man's job?  I don't know.  I guess I looked at it as war is supposed to be a man's job.


Back to Memoir Contents

Mop-Up in Seoul

When we got to Seoul we were assigned to the central or main part of the town itself.  We were to progress through the city and go toward the capitol.  Other companies were assigned to various places east of Seoul and west of Seoul.  There was street fighting, and the problem with fighting in Seoul was the closeness.  They had snipers who had a view of us as we went through the city streets and there were ambushes set up along the way.   We would be going down a wide street and come across a knocked-out home.  It looked like a rubble, but in the rubble were machine guns and other automatic weapons that were aimed right at us.  We had to go in and knock it out, but then we had five more somewhere else doing the same thing.

We had the same problem in the city that we had in other areas of Korea we had been in--there were a lot of refugees trying to get out of the town.  I didn't experience any myself.  My area was kind of wide open and our objective was the capitol area.  Weapons Company had the mop-up operation after the line troops had gone through.  They couldn't get all of the enemy, so Weapons Company went through and made sure.  MacArthur wanted the area cleared for him to come in and give the key to the city back to Syngman Rhee at 12:00 noon on September 27.  Everything he did was for publicity.  He was the first to have his picture taken, and then he would leave and let the boys do the work.  My opinion of him isn't too good.

General MacArthur had been given command of not only the Army, but also of the 1st Marine Division. Army General Almond was given command of the X Corps (made up of Army units and the ROK units and the 1st Marine Division). Major General Oliver P. Smith, Commander of the 1st Marine Division). Major General Oliver P. Smith, Commander of the 1st Marine Division, disagreed with the battle tactics of the Army laid out by General Almond, but he was duty bound to follow orders as he interpreted them to apply to the 1st Marine Division.

We were in the central area of Seoul near the armory when MacArthur had his ceremony. We weren't there to see it.  We stayed where we were for two days and then MacArthur said, "Let's go across the 38th Parallel."  We headed there on foot, but then we got the word to come back to Inchon and embark aboard ship again and go over to the Sea of Japan.


Back to Memoir Contents

Operation Yo-Yo

We got on the USS Bayfield on October 10, 1950 at Inchon, and sailed to Wonsan, where we disembarked on the 29th of October.  There was a 13-day delay en route because of the mining that the North Koreans had done at the Wonsan harbor.  We couldn't get in so we had to go up and down the coastline like a yo-yo in the Sea of Japan with land swells probably 20 to 30 foot high.  We had to take turns on the bow of the ship with our rifles, watching for mines that might have broken loose and were just floating in the water.  If we saw one we were supposed to plug it with rifle fire and hope we hit it.  We did find some.  Every once in a while we heard them go off, "WAAOUU."

Remember that I got sick on the ship going over to Korea?  I got sick on this trip, too.  I stayed on my rack for 13 days.  I was on the top of the rack where there was a hole in the cooling system that they had, so I had fresh air blowing on me.  I was so sick I never got out on the bow.  I never had the duty to go up on the ship.

When we landed at Wonsan, the Bob Hope Show had already been there.  Bob Hope went in by helicopter, I guess.  He asked the troops arriving after he got there, "What took you so long?"

The duty of Weapons Company was to head from Wonsan harbor, go up into the hills, and interrogate the refugees coming through the line.  In the position where we were, I could look out of our foxhole down onto the harbor and see the big ships sitting there.  We were quite a distance up and away from the shoreline so they looked like little toys.

We sat there for quite a spell from about the 27th of October to the first part of November, then we moved up to Hungnam harbor.  There was no action going on there at the time.  We were just sitting and interrogating.  We found a few North Koreans coming through the line.  They put their weapons in the wood that they were carrying or in household goods, under women's skirts or whatever.  We had to touchy-feel everybody.  That's how we found them.  We found concussion grenades--the kind that are thrown on the ground and when they hit they explode, cause a concussion, and knock you for a loop.  I think we found 17 or 18 infiltrators over the period of time we were there.


Back to Memoir Contents

Chosin Reservoir Campaign

We got the word to move out and head for the Chosin Reservoir.  We were to go on the east side of the reservoir east of Hagaru and knock out an electrical power plant.  We came under some fire going from Wonsan north to the power plant, but it was minimal.  We were fighting on the Marine Corps birthday, November 10.  There were Marine infantry ahead of us.  They got hit up there on November 27.

Back to Memoir Contents

The Cold

The Army relieved us and we went back to Hagaru.  There was a big open area there and that's where we had our Thanksgiving dinner.  There was warm, hot food when it hit my tray, but it was frozen by the time I found a place to sit and eat it a few yards away.  I had frozen gravy, frozen potatoes, frozen beans, and frozen coffee.  There was snow and it was cold, cold.  The average temperature ranged between 20 to 35 degrees below zero with a fierce wind coming out of the north directly onto our faces. It was a cold that I had never experienced before. It invaded our bodies regardless of how hard we tried to stay warm. Warm was not in the dictionary for the next 21 days.

After Thanksgiving dinner, we were boarded on trucks and transported up a very primitive winding road etched out of the side of the mountain, leading into the Chosin Reservoir. It was snowing much like a blizzard, almost to the point of white-out.  We got hit that first night after we got our Thanksgiving dinner at Hagaru and went up into the valley.  I judged the temperature to be about 32 degrees below zero that night.  When it started to snow and the wind blew about 85 miles an hour, there was probably a wind-chill of about 100 degrees below zero.  This is documented in history books.

I don't know if I can explain how cold it was during the Chosin Reservoir campaign.  Some of the guys had their foul weather gear on and some didn't.  I had just received mine, but the boots that they gave us--the "shoe pac", stunk because it didn't do the job it was supposed to do to protect our feet and keep them from freezing.  When we were running, our feet sweated and we were warm.  When we were walking it was fine, too.  But when we stopped, the rubber boot that they had given us for the pac acted like a refrigerator and it froze everything inside.  I walked on a cake of ice about an inch or inch and a half thick on the bottom of my feet.  My socks froze to the boot liner.

I wore a pair of long johns over a pair of regular dungarees.  Then they gave me the foul weather trousers to put over the dungarees.  I also wore a tee shirt, a wool military shirt, a wool sweater, my field jacket, a scarf, a big parka, and gloves or mittens that could be tightened up.  I wore a fleece-lined cap that came down over the ears and tied underneath.  Over that I wore my helmet.  I put the parka on my head first, then put my helmet on.  The problem with the mittens was, if we were in a firefight we couldn't get our finger into the trigger without taking our glove off--and then our hand would freeze.  I cut a little hole in my mitten and then when I wasn't shooting I moved my finger back in and covered the hole up.

Other things froze.  We had no water.  We had no fire--we couldn't have one because if we did, it would give our position  away to the enemy.  They were pretty good snipers and we didn't want to attract them.  Because we had no heat, we couldn't unfreeze our water, nor could we unfreeze our C-rations.  We weren't supposed to eat anything frozen because if we did, we could get stomach cramps real bad, as well as develop diarrhea.  Diarrhea was something that we didn't want to have in the cold, so we ate nothing.  I don't think I ever went to the bathroom while I was there.  That would have been devastating to put the bare butt out there.  Some of the guys did.  Others had accidents but didn't want to get their clothes off.  I didn't have anything to drink or eat, therefore my body was pretty well empty, you might say.  The only way that I took care of the thirst was to scoop up some snow and put it in my mouth.  I found out later through the VA that that was the worst thing we could have done because it kills the nerves.  It gets down into the stomach and gets it real, real cold.

The corpsmen kept vials of pain medicine under their armpits and around their belts or anywhere in order to keep it pliable so that when they needed it to inject into a wounded man it would flow.  Otherwise it would freeze also.  Even our breath froze.

You know how you shake from the cold once in a while?  Well, it was so cold I did that all the way through.  The cold just went right through us.  They say there were warming tents in the evacuation from Chosin, but I never saw a warming tent.  All I saw was snow and ice and more snow and ice.  It was dry and came down in big flakes.  About half the time it was blizzard conditions to the point that it was practically a white-out.  We couldn't see a gook if he was in front of us.  The wind was blowing so hard and when it snowed it was just like they had opened the heavens and it came down.  They tell me that this was the worst winter that they had had in North Korea in 50 years.  We were up 4,000 to 8,000 feet and it got cold.  There was nothing to stop it.  All there was were small grubby shrubs.

The weather also affected our weapons.  We had to continually put graphite (an oil mixed with something else) on them so that the firing mechanism would slide back the way it was supposed to.  Otherwise, it if was real slow it could jam the bullet in the chamber and then we would have a heck of a time.  We would have to practically dismantle the weapon.  The graphite was real black and greasy, but it worked.  Straight oil would kind of partially freeze and wouldn't do us any good, but with the graphite mixed into it, it allowed the freedom to move metal on metal.  If we had a choice between going to sleep or cleaning our rifle, we cleaned the rifle.  It was the main thing that kept us alive.  After cleaning the rifle, if there was any time left we went to sleep.  Everybody slept next to someone who would wake us up in a 10 or 15 minutes so they wouldn't freeze.  As an NCO I had to go around and kick my guys in the feet and say, "Get up.  Walk around.  Stomp your feet.  Let's go."  I had to keep them moving.  If not, it wouldn't take long before everything would freeze up.

Back to Memoir Contents

Army Casualties

The 32nd Infantry Regiment of the Army was further north than we were when we got orders to move out.  They got hit as a result.  The Army lost a lot of guys over on the east side of the reservoir--more than they should have.  Number one, they panicked and it was just every man for himself.  It was a very unfortunate situation.  They would take their shoes off and get in their sleeping bags and zip up.  When they zipped up and started breathing inside the bag, their breath froze the zipper.  Then suddenly the gooks were coming and they had to get out of a bag that had a frozen zipper.  They couldn't and many of them were bayoneted or shot right in their sleeping bags.

Word came down that the 7th Marines and Army had encountered Chinese.  This information was relayed back to the Headquarters, then further back to Japan and MacArthur.  I guess that is where MacArthur had his battle with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Wanting to save his position and all, he said that the Chinese were just stragglers or volunteers or something like that.  But he couldn't deny it when we got hit because we were hit with such force.

Back to Memoir Contents

Into a Trap

As we proceeded up the primitive road from Hagaru to Yudam-ni, we did not come under enemy fire.  Little did we know that 12 divisions of Chinese (120,000 troops) were already in position watching our progress. They had their orders to completely annihilate the First Marine Division in its entirety to the last man, so they let us enter into their trap.  We arrived in the area in open and closed trucks.  I was in a closed truck, something I didn't like too well when I later learned that there were Chinese laying up there looking at me and I hadn't known it at the time.

The night was very clear and crisp and the stars looked like silver dollars.  As we reached the top of the 4,000 foot mountain pass, we entered into a large valley. The road continued to wind from the southern-most tip of the reservoir to the northern-most tip of the reservoir, right through the community of Yudam-ni. Yudam-ni used to be a village, but there wasn't anything standing now.  Everything was lowered to the ground.  There was absolutely nothing there--just a primitive road going through where the village had been.  The homes that were alongside of the road were down to nothing.  There was nothing standing higher than two feet off the ground.

Elements of the 7th Marines immediately took up positions on the western flank and the 5th Marines took up positions on the eastern flank, protecting also the northern sector. As the road wound through Yudam-ni it came out at the very northern end of the valley, then it split to the east and to the west with a very large mountain peak in the middle of the intersection. Our orders were to continue our attack to the west the next morning to relieve the Chinese pressure on the 8th Army, commanded by Lt. General Walker. I don’t understand why we were herded into the valley with mountains on our north, east, and west flank, and were not ordered to take the high ground. The mountains could be used for observation by the Chinese. In retrospect, it was a disastrous decision.

We arrived in this valley at approximately 7:30 p.m. and were told by the Major to go over to the side, don't move for the night, and stay there.  We were to take up defensive positions as usual, with a 50-percent watch, meaning half of each group was always awake during the night and early morning. I posted my guards and laid down behind a watering trough.  I found out later that the water inside of it was frozen and snow-covered.  My guys and I spent the night in the open, behind the trough on a cake of ice approximately twelve inches thick.  We laid there trying to protect our faces and ears from freezing.  We pounded our feet, pounded our hands, and rolled--anything to keep ourselves going.  We had to, otherwise we would have frozen to death.  I don't think I got more than five hours sleep cumulative.

Approximately 8:00 all hell broke out. There were bugles blasting from the high grounds and loud speakers blasting the message, "Tonight you die Marine—tonight you die!" Of course this brought a lot of comment from the troops and really pissed us off.  Our response to them was, "Fuck you."  I think that their loudspeaker messages helped the Marines because it got our dander up, that's for sure.  When Marines get their dander up, they band other.  We knew we were in a kill-or-be-killed situation and we made a plan.  Our officers got together and made a plan to get out of there.  We all knew what we had to do and we followed it all the way.  I never dreamed in my lifetime that I would ever see a group of guys band together and fight to their death to save their buddies. I believe this attitude prevailed throughout that campaign.

We did not dare move from our position to another because by that time the Chinese were amongst us—to the extent that if we saw movement, we had to be very sure of who or what we took aim at. This resulted in very close combat and hand-to-hand combat with each side shooting, yelling, screaming, artillery blasting over our head, and mortars dropping in amongst the group to the point that there was mass confusion.

Back to Memoir Contents

Chinese Enemy

The Chinese fought differently than we did in that they fought en mass.  They would send a whole division of 15,000 guys down against a regiment of 3,000 and try to wipe them out.  We fought them one to five.  Some of them had weapons and some didn't.  Some didn't carry weapons because they didn't have enough to go around.  So they would wait until their buddy got hit, then they would pick up his weapon and continue on.  Then when the next man got hit and his weapon fell to the ground, another one came up that had no weapon and picked it up.  Fighting en mass made them good fighters.  I can give you an example of what I mean by "en mass".  We were told that an Air Force guy went into a strafed area at the Chosin after we left.  He said there were black figures all over everywhere.  Just thousand and thousands.

You could say the Chinese were also good fighters to the extent that they knew camouflage and infiltration. Coming down just on the other side of Fox Hill where we were up in the high ground in the mountainous area, I ran into several of them and it scared the shit out of me.  Some gooks kind of came out of the snow.  They had white blankets to camouflage or cover themselves.  They would wait until we went by them or got alongside of them or whatever, then suddenly the blanket would come up and there they were.  Very, very tricky.  Once they got out and exposed themselves, we could see them because they stood out like dummies in their fleece-lined, down uniforms and rubber tennis shoes on their feet.  Most of them were frostbitten, too.  Terrible. When they popped up beside us, we swung our weapon long and far at them, or we grabbed our K-bar.  That's what I used.

I was involved in hand-to-hand combat with the Chinese maybe three or four instances coming down from the reservoir.  It was not a pleasant thing, but it was a case of either I did it or he was going to do it.  I lucked out.  I guess my guardian angel was with me all the way.  The "trick" to hand-to-hand combat is get the first shot.  Get the first plug in first.  Then do a little twisting with the K-bar.  Try to hit the gut area.  That's it.

As far as being fighters, I can't say that the Chinese were really good fighters.  They communicated to their troops by word of mouth or by whistle and we soon learned that with one blast on the whistle, the Chinese would attack in mass. They would just come over the hill like an anthill getting rid of all its occupants.  Thousands of them.  If they came into an area where Marines knocked quite a few of them out, two blasts would halt their attack and call them back. We got wise to them.  The Marine NCO’s had whistles and soon picked up this coding. The Chinese would give one blast on the whistle and we, the NCO’s, would wait a few moments and then give two blasts on our whistles, causing the Chinese to retreat. This game continued for a good portion of the night.  I guess that's what they call "the Chinese fire drill."

Early the next morning, Able and Baker Companies, 5th Marines proceeded to take the high ground on our eastern-most flank. What a surprise when we looked over the crest of the mountains to see a long arm going higher and on to another high peak, which the Chinese occupied. In other words, they were looking down our throat when we took what we thought was the high ground. Anyway, the high ground was better than the low ground, and we were told to dig in and hold the ground to the last man. This we did for approximately three days, when we were informed by the 5th Marine Regimental Commander, Col. Ray Murray, that we were completely surrounded by the Chinese.

Back to Memoir Contents

Fighting for our Lives

We had orders to evacuate the area and proceed to fight our way back to Hagaru-ri, some 14 miles south of Yudam-ni, the road we had just come up. Now we were going down over the ice laden rock bed large enough for one vehicle only, with straight up mountain on one side and a 500 to 1,000 foot drop-off on the other. The Chinese continually blocked any progress we tried to make, knocking out our vehicles and killing our troops. The Marine Corps orders were to bring all the usable equipment we could handle, all of the vehicles, trucks, tractors and Jeeps that were usable, and all of the Marine wounded and dead. The unusable equipment was to be destroyed and any vehicles that were caught up in ambush and determined to be in non-usable condition were to be pushed over the side of the mountain.

Hagaru-ri was where the 1st Marine Division Headquarters were deployed and fighting for their life. At this stage we knew that we were being attacked by three divisions. Hagaru-ri was being attacked by three divisions and Koto-ri was being attacked by two divisions. Elements of four additional Chinese divisions were scattered along the road leading from Yudam-ni, Hagaru-ri, Koto-ri, and the port of Hungnam, which was our ultimate destination for evacuation by ship from the north, if we made it.

As we formed our caravan on the road, turned our trucks around and formed our flanks, we vacated our mountain sanctuary and proceeded to search out the enemy on the eastern flank of the main road south. It was hard to locate the Chinese as they were excellent camouflage specialists. They carried white wool blankets with them and when they plopped in the snow or got in a fox hole, the white blanket would come out over the top to hide them from the human eye, from the sky, or from the ground. If they knew we were close by, they would lay and wait and then jump from underneath the blanket and shoot or engage in hand-to-hand combat. This was a brutal battle of fighting an enemy that we couldn’t see and fighting the weather conditions never before experienced by our troops.

Back to Memoir Contents

Death of Corporal Smyk

Cpl. Walter Joseph Smyk Jr. was killed on November 30.  He was from Baltimore.  He was a rocket launcher in our Weapons Company.  Each day we would knock bunkers out and then at night the Chinese would come down and rebuild them to look brand new or bigger.  Then the next day we would come up and blow them up again with mortars or a rocket.  That particular day, they called Walter up to take it out.  I loaded him the first time and then he fired.  He wanted to reload and give them a second shot, so I told him to move to another position or a sniper was going to wind up knowing his position.  He popped his head up and the next thing I knew I felt him rolling over my back.  He had been shot right between the eyes.  His was a very fast death.  Very quiet.  I grabbed the rocket launcher and got the hell out of there.  That was a bad one.  Corporal Smyk had gotten married just a little while before he went over to Korea.

Back to Memoir Contents

Last Bridge out of Yudam-ni

I believe it was either the first or second day after leaving the Yudam-ni area (I think this would be the fourth or fifth of December 1950) that I was called from my position in the mountains to report to my Company Commander, Major Russell. He was located somewhere in front of the last tank on the road, protecting the rear guard. I made contact with Major Russell, who informed me that I was to get some volunteers and go back to Yudam-ni about a mile and a half north and blow up the bridge that was still standing. I stated to the Major, "Blow up the bridge? With what?? I have no demolition equipment to do the job, but I know how I could if I had the right equipment." The Major informed me, "Just go and as you get down before the bridge you will find all the equipment necessary. It was left by the engineers for you to blow the bridge."  The bridge in question was the last bridge out of Yudam-ni.  It spanned a small stream.  The Chinese could have forged on either side of the bridge with little effort, but our commanders wanted the bridge blown as a delaying tactic, so that I proceeded to do.  We were the farthest out of the rear guard.  Everybody else had crossed the bridge.  The Chinese were within minutes' distance away from me and my men at the bridge.

The volunteers who went with me were Joe Rogers, George "Walter" Hesse, and Harvey Rainbow.  We were approximately a mile and a half out in no man’s land between the oncoming onslaught of Chinese and the rear guard of the 5th Marines. Immediately I took my troops, forged the stream, and surveyed the under part of the bridge and how best to blow it. The bridge was well-abutted on both the north and south end in North Korean clay, rock, and ice. The center of the bridge was supported by six pole uprights approximately 16 to 18 inches in girth.

I had the guys go back underneath the bridge itself.  I immediately assigned the volunteer troops to start digging away underneath the north end of the bridge to accommodate the four land mines and six to eight artillery shells. They were to save the dirt and rock, as we would use those later to pack around the placement of the explosives. This would encase them in a cocoon-type housing, causing the blast to center in one spot rather than to be left to splatter all over the countryside.

In demolition school I was used to the standard dynamite sticks or plastic dynamite, rolls of detonating cord, fuse cord, and, of course, most of all, the detonating caps. When I arrived at the bridge with my volunteer troops, I found four land mines and approximately eight captured enemy artillery shells, a roll of detonating cord, about ten feet of fuse cord, and no detonating caps. That was it.

As the others forged ahead on their project, I started wrapping the detonating cord around each upright, approximately 12 to 15 wraps per pole. I tied them together and attached the fuse cord to the detonating cord, wrapping it well so that when the fuse burned out it would blow the detonating cord. This would cause a continuous explosion on the other uprights and on the explosives placed under the bridge abutments.  I wrapped the detonating cord around the landmines and then put artillery shells on top of that and wrapped more detonating cord.  Detonating cord was all white inside.  Putting a match to detonating cord would cause it to blow up in your hand immediately.  Fuse wire was black.  It started burning if you put a match to it. 

As I was wrapping the detonating cord around the bridge uprights, I noticed some black dots coming and coming. It got to the point where I dropped my project, went over to the edge of the bridge, and peeked out over the side of it down over the draw into the low-growing shrub area. I called them scrub trees as they were only approximately three feet tall and approximately five feet wide. Their tops almost looked like a brush cut and, of course, being flat they were covered with snow. These little black dots--which were the Chinese enemy, dodged in-between the trees and then popped out somewhere else. There must have been thousands of them, as that is the way the Orientals liked to fight—in great mass.

It was after this observation that I realized that our time was limited to do the job and I had twelve other guys to look after besides myself. I immediately went back, advised the men what was going on, and asked how they were doing.  I observed the trench that they had dug with their hands and bayonets and decided it was good enough. We passed the explosives from the stream bed up underneath the bridge, and as soon as it was all in place I released the guys to go back to the company area. After they were gone I was by myself and it was awfully quiet.  I wondered, "What in the hell am I doing here by myself?"  But I realized that I had a job to do. The troops were not asking for a miracle—they were just asking for a little bit of time and I was determined that they were going to get their time. I went up and started packing the earth and stone to form an eastern cocoon as best I could.

The temperature was approximately 25 degrees below zero; it was overcast; and fog was coming in. When I took my gloves off to do the packing, my hands and fingers got so cold it was like dipping my hands in ice water. After approximately 20 minutes of this, my fingertips were turning blue. I decided it was time to take some action so I pulled my socks out from inside my parka and put my hands in them. I then put sock and all into the mittens provided with our cold weather gear and proceeded to complete the cocoon housing. After that project was completed, I then connected the fuse to detonating cord and detonating cord to explosives.

About that time I suddenly heard mortar shells hitting in pretty close. I knew it wasn’t incoming, as I could hear the "whoosh" before the explosion. I wasn’t exactly sure what was happening as it seemed like I had been under the bridge for hours wrapping up my project. I stopped what I was doing and went over to my vantage point to observe what was taking place. The mortars were ours, and they were being set off to get the Chinese away from the bridge until we could accomplish our job.  Much to my dismay, the mortar shells landed approximately 200 yards from the bridge that was acting as a protective umbrella from the Chinese as they were formed en-mass ready to attack.  When I got back to the company, I complained to Sergeant Walters, "Boy, you got pretty close, didn't you?"  His reply was, "Well, you wanted those Chinese out of there, didn't you?"

At any rate, I immediately went back to wrap up my project. After running the detonating cord into a fuse connector o about two or three inches (a five-minute max piece of fuse).  Under the circumstances, I put approximately a three minute fuse onto the detonating cord and pulled the cord. When I pulled it, that started the spark, and then that started the fuse.  Once it hit the detonating cord, it was supposed to explode.  It started to smoke and hiss and I felt confident that it was a go, so I immediately vacated the area and headed back toward the company area.  As I was half walking and half running, it suddenly dawned on me that if the explosives didn’t blow I would have to go back with a rifle and force it to blow by taking pot shots at the detonating cord and try to explode it that way.  I would probably have been captured.

After going back down the road about 100 yards, I just plopped alongside the road in a small drainage ditch that gave me little or no protection and waited and waited for what seemed like an hour (although I know it was not more than two or three minutes) for that sucker to blow. I thought to myself, "Blow!  Blow!  Blow!"  When it didn't blow right when I thought it should, I got up with rifle in hand and started back to the bridge to try to blow it with pot shots.  Suddenly there was a loud explosion and dirt and rocks flew. The north end of the bridge went up in the air--I would judge approximately five to six foot, and then it settled back in its original position. When it blew I thought to myself, "Thank God!  At last!"  It was a great relief.  The uprights were sheared in half by the detonating cord explosion, causing the middle of the bridge to just kind of hang in suspense. If the Chinese had any vehicles and attempted to get across the bridge, they would collapse the bridge at the very beginning, or just a few feet into the bridge they would have found themselves swimming in the cold creek below them. Maybe somebody could have gotten across one side of what was left of it like a tightrope, but it would have been precarious.

I headed back to the company area to report the results to Major Russell, advised him that I had blown the bridge, and then learned that there were at least two enemy companies in the draw northwest of the bridge. There was no response from the Major—just, "Job well done.  Thanks, Heckelman.  You can return to your area." After I got back to our main line, a Colonel came up to me and gave me a Bronze Star Medal with V for my part in blowing up the bridge.  The "V" stands for valor.  That Bronze Star means something to me.  I was a green Marine, went to Korea, hopefully became a man, and did my job to the best of my ability and somebody else recognized me for it.  It made me proud.  It was my second Bronze Star in Korea.

Just how strategic the blowing up of this bridge was or the necessity for blowing the bridge remains to be seen. As I said before, the stream could have been forded on either side of the bridge with ease, but that would have taken a few minutes longer.  I guess if you add those minutes up, it gave us time to get to our next position and prepare for an attack.  It was the next day, I believe, that I ran into Sergeant Walter, who was in charge of the 81 mortars. I thanked him for laying the barrage that he did to halt the enemy’s attack into my position. His only comment was, "You’re welcome.  Marines stand together."  While it's true that the Chinese could have crossed the stream on the frozen water, blowing the bridge up was a delaying tactic.  Once it was blown, the Chinese would either have to rebuild it or get a bulldozer to cut down the side of the bridge and then go across, while at the same time hoping that they wouldn't crack through the ice.  There was 15 inches of ice on the stream, but it was possible to go through it.

Back to Memoir Contents

Continuing South

When the last bridge out of Yudam-ni had been blown, we all continued our drive south to Hagaru-ri and then on to Hungnam and the ships that would take us out of that frozen hell.  Before we got there, however, there was more for us to face all the way down.  They continued to attack us, coming down the side of the hills in waves. The Chinese were up in the left, the right, in front of us and in back of us.  We were completely surrounded and somebody had to protect the flank.  The left flank happened to be up about 4,000 feet into the mountain area and the other was down into the valley, which was about a 1,500-foot drop from the road down in some areas. 

The Chinese continually harassed the 7th Marines, who had the point going out of the reservoir.  It was a leapfrog type of deal.  They blew up the roads or made big chuck holes in them so that no truck could get through.  Then we would have to bring our bulldozers, make a quick patch, and keep going.  Then they would proceed down the road another couple hundred yards and do the same thing again.  We were confined to the road and the flanks and our flanks were taking the high ground and fighting the gooks all the way down.  It wasn't like having a big field where we could stretch our arms. 

We had Marines on the road and Marines in the hills parallel to the road.  My group was in the hills.  It was bad enough being on the road.  In the hills we hit areas where we slipped and fell.  I fell and hit my right hip.  Every time I fell after that, it seemed I would fall on that same spot.  That's my problem today, plus I have arthritis in that hip.  We hit areas that we thought were level.  We walked along in snow up to our tutu, and suddenly we were in a snow bank above our head.  We would spit and sputter and do a little cussing.  The guys helped get us out and we continued on.

Not all of Weapons Company was in the flank area.  As I said, some were down on the road protecting the road area.  Later on I said to the Lieutenant, "You know, coming out of the Reservoir I never knew where Company Headquarters was.  I never knew where you were, and I don't know where half of the guys were because we were so split up."  He said that I was correct--that they would have a party of guys and ten guys would go off this way and maybe he would see them at Hagaru and maybe he wouldn't.  That was the draw of the game.

After we blew the bridge, it took probably four or five days to get down from the reservoir area.  Some guys made it on the third day, but we were in the rear guard fighting all the way.  We were Weapons Company, with some line company guys with us.  They were strangers to us basically, but they were Marines.  Some were killed along the way.  In the Marine Corps we bring back our dead.  For instance, those times that we were in hand-to-hand combat and someone was killed, we assigned a guy to take him down the side of the hill and put him on a Jeep or semi or whatever.

Although we were up in the hills, we could always look over and see the line of trucks and troops and the walking wounded.  The trucks were loaded with the dead, stacked in like logs.  Among our wounded, we had wounded that were so bad that they couldn't walk.  We also had wounded who were maybe shot in the arm but they could still walk.  The ones we felt sorry for were the wounded that were put in with other wounded and died.  They didn't die from their wounds, they died from just freezing to death because they were not moving.  That was very tragic.  There was nothing that could be done about it.  It would have been different if we had had a good place where a helicopter could have made it in.  But where are you going to do that on a primitive road wide enough for only one truck to go through at a time and hacked out of the side of the mountain?  There was no double-lane highway.  No stoplights or anything.  All there was was ice on stone, and you know what that meant.  The trucks came down that road in a caravan at a creeping crawl all day long, 24 hours a day.  No sleep.  No food.  No water.

Back to Memoir Contents

Condoms and Tootsie Rolls

The only way they could supply us while we were coming out was to have massive air drops.  I heard one guy say that he went out on an air drop and when they opened the case they found that it was full of condoms.  Chesty Puller's famous comment was, "What in the world do they think we're doing to these Chinese?"  They dropped water, but of course the water hit the ground and exploded in a chunk of ice.  Some C-rations came down and some of them made the drop, but they were frozen hard.  Some who still carried C-rations with them when coming out were lucky enough to get close to a fire and thaw it out, but normally the exterior of the contents was thawed and not the middle.  If they started chipping away at the ice and ate, say, ham and beans and ice, that was not a good combination.  They said that was the worst thing in the world that we could ever do.  Some did because when you get hungry, you get hungry.

Then some Colonel or somebody back in Japan used his noggin and thought, "Hey, why not drop Tootsie Rolls?"  I know it sounds funny, but Tootsie Rolls were something that were hard when we got them.  But if we put them in the palms of our hands, under our arm, in our pocket, or put our hand on top of them--or broke them in half and put half in our mouth and just let it rest there, they became pliable enough to where we could chomp on it.  Tootsie Rolls gave us the sugar necessary to give us energy.

Back to Memoir Contents

Battle at Hagaru

When we got back to Hagaru, we had a big, big battle.  We were lucky to get out of there.  This is where the Chinese came in with vim and vinegar to try to stop us.  We had just cleared into Hagaru from Yudam-ni around the 6th or 7th of December.  The Chinese had already wiped out the Army's 32nd Infantry Regiment and Marines went up the reservoir a ways to try to help save some of them.  The Chinese were laying alongside of the road and they could see the Marines coming out onto the ice to help pick up the survivors.  They wouldn't shoot at them.  So we got some of the survivors from the Army back into Hagaru and did an air evacuation.

The Chinese hit us pretty hard that night.  Ed Beltran jumped up on a tank and used the .50 caliber machine gun, wiping out about a half of a regiment of Chinese.  He was put up for a Medal of Honor for that, but never got it.  The appeal is currently on the Secretary of the Navy's desk--buried probably.  Forgotten.  The appeal asked for the government to reconsider and grant Beltran the Medal of Honor because he did take out a lot of enemy.  But they needed a lot of proof and that's a little hard to do after the fact.  This was put through three years ago for reconsideration.  A lot of witnesses are gone now and people forget names, but we did the best we could for Ed.  He did a good job that night.  He made us proud.

Then we just fought all the way.  Same thing.  We were on both flanks, trying to make it down to Koto-ri.  That's where Chesty Puller was hanging out.  He was keeping the supply route open to the reservoir and down to Hungnam.  They had a burial at Koto-ri.  They were said to have put gasoline on the dead, covered them up, and put them in an inferno.  I wasn't at Koto-ri when the mass burial took place.  I just hope someday we can get up there, find their identification, and get them home.  I know they buried a group of KIA at Yudam-ni.  I hate the thought of it, but Walter Smyk got hit at Yudam-ni.  Whether he was part of that burial I do not know.  I just hope his body made it out.  If not, he's been there a lifetime.  After the battle at Hagaru, many of the casualties and the bodies of the dead were brought back and airlifted out.  Quite a group was airlifted that time.

Back to Memoir Contents

Funchillin Pass

There was still fighting when we got to the Funchillin Pass.  That was a big gaping area in the mountains where a bridge had been blown out by the Chinese.  Before we got there, engineers and others airdropped sections of bridge and installed them, otherwise we would probably have had to run all of our vehicles off the side of the road and walk the rest of the way home.

As we got through Koto-ri and down to the pass, we were told to hustle to get over the bridge.  I remember walking beside a Jeep going across.  We were on plywood and it was moving up and down.  I thought, "Oh boy.  Here we go.  Seasick again."  But that was the crucial area.  From then on it was "go, go, go" across country as fast as we could.  We really moved out.  We got down somewhere around Sudong, and that's where we got onto flat cars on a train and they moved us out.  But as fast as we were moving, gooks were right behind us.  We cleared the area and got back to Hungnam and boarded ship.

Army groups were assigned the perimeters of Hungnam.  Their goal was to keep the town open until the Marines got back and were aboard ships.  Then they moved the entire harbor.

Back to Memoir Contents

Crying Babies and Children

The refugees there were something else.  That was kind of a Heartbreak Ridge.  North Korean civilians were trying to get away from battle and the atrocities that possibly were going on with the Chinese.  Those people were standing there in their tennis shoes and little rubber shoes.  They had no boots of any kind.  There were babies and there were little kids running around.  Some were crying and nobody was paying any attention to them.  They had gotten parted from their parents or whatever.  People were carrying their homes on A-frames.  That's all they had.  I felt so sorry for them.

An A-frame was what they used to carry their wood from back in the boonies.  There were no real trees, so they had to go quite a ways to find firewood.  They put it on a little frame that formed an A across their back.  It had two prongs that came out for the wood to be tiered on.  They would stack it as high as a building.  I suppose they could put a Jeep on their A-frame and they could walk away with it.  They were that strong.  All they had was attached to the A-frame: household goods, pots, pans, even little babies. According to history books, there was something like 100,000 refugees that we took back to Pusan.  They boarded ships and LSTs and anything that was available.

Back to Memoir Contents

Accomplishing the Impossible

The enemy was determine to wipe out the First Marine Division at the Chosin Reservoir but it did not succeed.  I would say that our survival of this ordeal started with the officers.  Colonel Murray and Colonel Litzenberg were assigned the responsibility to make a plan to get us out.  They were the Company Commanders of the Fifth and Seventh Marines.  They came up with a plan and then told the plan to the troops under them.  Like Murray said to his officers, "We're going to get out of here.  If any of you don't think you care to partake of this operation, you can come up lame and we'll airlift you out, but I don't expect any takers."  There weren't.

As to the men themselves, we didn't know what the plan was.  It was just: "We want you over on Hill 1242 and good luck.  It's going to be a hell of a battle to get there."  Or, "We want you over here on Hill 1283."  Some of the 7th Marines were up at Yudam-ni.  There were the 5th Marines.  Then we had the 7th Marines down at Fox Hill.  At Hagaru we had some of the 5th Marines, 1st Marines, and the British commandos.  We were split up all over the place.

So Colonel Murray said, "Okay.  I got the rear guard and it will be made up of these sections.  Then 7th, you've got the nose.  You're going to do the fighting out."  And gradually we left the high hill lines and made our way to the 7th Marines to get down to Fox Hill.  Then the 7th continued on down the road and took the nose or the brunt of all of the roadblocks and ambushes that we (the 5th Marines) had coming out.  Of course, we had our ambushes, too, and we had to keep pace with the caravan on the road because we didn't want to fall too far behind or we would have been annihilated.  For me, the hardest part of Chosin was the cold.  I was from Cleveland and it gets cold in Cleveland, but it was nothing like this.  Nothing like this at all.

The battle of Chosin Reservoir ranks among three major epic battles of the Marine Corps, along with the Battle of Bella Woods during World War I and the battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. This was one battle in which 17 Medal of Honors, 72 Navy Crosses, and numerous Silver Stars and Bronze Stars were awarded, not to mention the untold number of Purple Hearts. The tactics used in the Battle of Chosin are and have been studied in great depth in military schools. I have a Marine buddy who designed a bumper sticker that reads: ‘Once Upon a Time Hell Froze Over. We Were There.’"


Back to Memoir Contents

Back to the Bean Patch

At Hungnam I boarded the U.S.S. Randall during the late afternoon.  The ship got out of the harbor as soon as it could because of the flow of the traffic into the harbor.  We did not see them setting fire to the supplies in the harbor town.

When we got onboard ship, we found out that they had the ship's mess hall open 24 hours.  They had chicken ala king and all the milk or anything we wanted.  It tasted good, but eating it was a mistake.  I got the shits all night.  Oh, what a miserable night.  I laid outside of the johnnie until the next cramp came on, then I went in to do my thing, came back, and laid there.  There was continual traffic at the head all night long.  The food was just too rich for us.  But oh, it was so good!

The ship took us back to Pusan, where we disembarked and were trucked to the Bean Patch.  There they had tents sent up to protect us from the weather.  It was pretty mild down south when we got there, and I think that it was the first time that I had been in a tent since coming to Korea.

We had had two extremes of fighting so far.  Fighting in the south in the Pusan Perimeter, we had hot, 100 degrees weather.  That was back when we were running up the hill, down the hill, through the rice paddies, being ambushed, and trying to become seasoned veterans.  Now in the Bean Patch there was a little bit of snow on the ground, but it didn't compare to what we had up in the north.  The difference was day and night.  I could go outside and sleep in my skivvies down south with the snow and the weather they had down there. 

At the Bean Patch, we had the chance to get thawed out, take showers, and get clean clothes (our first change of clothes in three months of bloody fighting).  In order to thaw out and get new clothes, I had to let lukewarm water thaw the ice on my feet and boots so that I could get my feet out of them and my socks and get my trousers off.  It was so nice to take all those clothes off, throw them in a heap, and get into a shower.

I wrote home.  The last letters that my parents and Shirley had gotten from me were written prior to Thanksgiving, and then they didn't hear from me again until my parents got a letter from me the day after Christmas.  I think it was dated the 18th of December and was written out of Pusan after I got back from the Chosin Reservoir.


Back to Memoir Contents

December to March

We were later deployed to the mountains in the south of Korea to fight the guerrillas, but my fighting was basically completed as far as my tour in Korea was concerned.  There was still fighting going on, but I was more in the reserve area just doing little or nothing.

My last five days in Korea I was detached to take my rocket section and go over to Charlie Company.  We were up in the hills and set up to cover the road.  In case of any tank or other enemy vehicle attack, we could blow it with a rocket.  We stayed there until I got word from the Captain saying, "You're going to go home, so you're to go back to the Company area.  On your way back Sergeant Switzer will meet you and he is to take over."  I said, "Yes, Sir.  Thank you.  Goodbye, Sir."  I was sorry to leave the guys behind, but hey, I had a chance to get the hell out of there.

In March of 1951 I left Korea on the USS Randall.  I never got used to big ships and traveling on the ocean, so I got sick again.  I had no duty whatsoever on the ship except the first night we landed at Kobe, Japan.  There, I volunteered to stand mess duty down in the hole.  This was before we got into the real land swells and I wasn't seasick yet.  But then the second night I had a guy stand in for me and I went into Kobe and bought some trinkets for my folks, Shirley, and others at home.  I think I got Shirley some silky pajamas.

We then boarded the ship, pulled up the gangplank, and headed for Yokohama to pick up the first Korean War dead to bring them home.  We stood at attention along the rail, watching them bring flag-draped silver caskets aboard ship.  Then we hit the land swell sand Teddy went to bed.  I got up the morning we were outside of San Francisco Bay.

I finally made it up on top on the deck in time to see the Golden Gate Bridge.  It was foggy as heck that morning, but I saw it.  A big yell went out all over the ship: "There it is!  There it is!"  Then as we went underneath the bridge and we looked up, we saw people up there waving to us.  That was the extent of our thank you.  There were Army, Navy and Marine Corps dignitaries on the shore, but there was no band.

We all vacated the ship before they brought the caskets off the ship.  They then bussed us in to Treasure Island, where we had the opportunity to draw out some money and make transportation plans home.  I drew $500 pay and paid $150 for a plane ticket from San Francisco to Cleveland, Ohio.  Everybody went wild that night and so did I.  I got liberty that night and with the rest of my money I got pretty well bombed.  I had a one-day or one-evening pass and I came back four days later.  I don't know what I did during those days, although I do know that I was in a little bar somewhere in San Francisco, smoky as heck.  It was filled with gyrenes (Marines) fighting the battle over again.  I was drunker than a hoot owl when I woke my family up at 2 o'clock in the morning.  I had to talk to my brother.  I had to ring the thing about 30 times before I finally got his attention.  He picked up the phone and said, "Hello."  I said, "Hi, Bert.  Ted."  He replied, "Ted?"  "Yeah.  Your brother.  I'm home."  He was about ready to hang up, I'm sure.  He asked me if I knew what time it was and I told him, "It's just about 11 o'clock here."  I asked him if Mom and Dad were awake and he put them on the phone in just a minute.  I got to talk to Mom, Dad, and my sister.  Mom didn't care that I had awakened her that early in the morning.  She was pretty glad to hear from her son.  Shirley was unavailable.  She was in the Air Force at that time.

I got a flight home on a TWA, I think.  I made it into Cleveland and then called home and had my brother come and pick me up.  Mom came with him.  When I got home, Dad and my sister were making supper.  After we ate I went over to see our neighbor Howard.  Then that was it.  I went to bed that night and really crashed.  I slept between clean sheets with no interruptions, no guard watches, no nothing.  I could just sleep all night in a nice, comfortable bed.


Back to Memoir Contents

Post-Korea

I completed my tour of the Marine Corps at the Marine barracks at Philadelphia.  I had some wild nights after coming back from Korea.  There were five sergeants at Philly that kind of hit it off pretty good.  With the job I had and they had, every night and every weekend we had liberty.  We were always the first ones in line to go out on liberty and we just got drunker than hoot owls.  At 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning we came stumbling up the stairs and back into the barracks, stumbling on cockroaches that made a snapping sound.  When it's nice and quiet, that kind of disturbed everyone.  I did that for three months.  I really don't know why.  It got to be a ritual.  Everybody kind of smiled at us and so we thought we were big stuff, I guess.  I don't have an answer as to why we did it.  I got kicked out of three bars.  I was going to take on the whole US Navy on Market Street one night.  How I ever got away from it, I don't know.

Finally after the three months I decided that God didn't bring me back from Korea alive and with no wounds of any kind (known at the time) to go out and get drunk, raise hell, and get kicked out of bars.  I just suddenly decided, "Hey, this is it, guys.  No more."  I went home and slept all weekend.  Dad woke me up Sunday morning and said, "Come on.  It's time to get you back to the airport."  He took me to the airport and I just gradually eased out of the bar scene that one week after I got back to the base.  When the guys said, "Come on.  Let's go out on liberty," I finally stood up to them and said, "Nah.  Not me.  Not tonight."  And that's when I basically gave it up.  I got married a few months later, and when I was later discharged from the Marine Corps, I engrossed myself in studying at college.  I wanted to get my degree, get to work, make some money, buy a home, and just be a home man.

Shirley was at Keesler, Mississippi when I returned from Korea.  Because we hadn't seen one another in over two and a half years, we had a little mishap in between times.  Shirley was living in Washington, DC during the time that I was in Korea.  Her roommate got home before she did and she picked up Shirley's mail.  She didn't like it because Shirley was happy, so she kept the letters that I was sending to Shirley and Shirley stopped writing to me.  Shirley got all those letters later, but in the meantime, I had started dating another girl.  But I still loved Shirley.

I was in Philadelphia until August, and then Shirley got transferred from Kessler Air Force Base to Denver, Colorado.  When she came home we had a meeting, and that's when we decided that we still loved each other.  I asked her to marry me and she said yes.  We made our plans for the wedding.  Shirley got the church at home and my dad, being a florist, took care of all the flowers and everything.  Shirley got home on a Saturday.  Two days later, on Monday, we went to the courthouse to get a marriage license and were married that evening in the 1st United Methodist Church in Norwalk.  That was Christmas Eve 1951.

Shirley went back to Denver and almost immediately got transferred to Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts.  She got a ten-day delay en route and eight days traveling time.  She came into Philadelphia and we spent time there before I drove her up to Massachusetts.  She immediately applied for a discharge from the Air Force because, being married, she could.  As soon as she got on base, her 1st Sergeant or Major or whoever said, "I'm going to process your papers for discharge so that on the day that you're eligible, there will be no hold-up.  You can just go."  When she was discharged I drove back and picked her up.  We came back to Philly and lived on Pine Street until July.  Then I sent her home with the car packed so that she could find a place for us to live.  I was discharged from the Marine Corps on August 29, 1952, and we lived happily ever after.

I tried to find some of my buddies, but I had no idea where they were or how to find them.  There was no organization that I knew of that existed at that time.  I didn't join the VFW, the American Legion, or anything.  I just immersed myself in studying.  Most of the other college kids did not understand war.  Neither did the professors.  But where we lived there were other veterans.  We lived in a veterans' village they called "Poverty, glass and Fertile Valley."  I was "Grandpa Ted" to the other college kids.  I remember that I didn't want to take physical education because it was only one credit hour and I wanted to get on with my studies.  I had to take a test to get out of taking PE.  I had to do 25 pushups to pass and the guys started kidding me, "Oh, watch Grandpa here."  So I did 35 pushups with one arm.  That shut them up.  I passed.

My college classmates were kind of silly and young and immature after what I had seen in Korea, but I accepted it.  I was in their world now and I had to accept it.  I was competing with kids who just came out of high school and didn't have all the garbage in their head that I did:  Korea, a wife, an apartment.  I figured, "Hey, you kids go ahead and enjoy your world and I'll enjoy mine."  I just enjoyed getting up every day, going to school, being with my wife, being with my daughter. 

When I graduated from college I was hired by Chrysler Corporation.  Once I got there I just immersed myself in work and became a workaholic.  I went in as kind of a junior executive.  It required a lot of extra hours.  When I retired in 1986, I was on the executive roll, which had several good perks.


Back to Memoir Contents

Final Reflections

I would like to think that I became more of a man as a result of being in Korea, even though I cry every time I think about it. Going to Korea changed me.  I think it changed everybody who went there.

I couldn't go into the armory again and listen to the guns firing off when I just came out of combat.  Even now in our computer room, when my wife gets up and taps me on the shoulder, I jump.  In the beginning I had flashbacks of being in battle.  I guess maybe a couple of times I might have clobbered my wife when we were laying in bed in the middle of the night.  I was asleep and I swung my arm.  According to her, I cried out a lot and I had a lot of nightmares.  She said that I cried for Tommy Fava forever.  He was my buddy that got killed at the Naktong.  Shirley helped me.  When people ask her what she did to help me, she says, "I loved him.  I loved him.  There wasn't anything else I could do."  She did a good job of trying to understand me.  She thinks the more I talk about the Korea the more healing it is.  Every once in a while I get my medals out and look at them.

Thanks to my daughter Jodi, I was inducted into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor. She nominated me, wrote a letter, and the committee voted me in. Unfortunately it took two years until I was inducted, and by then I really could not travel. Jodi went to Columbus and accepted for me, and then hand-carried all of my awards from there out to Washington, where the nursing home I was in at the time (it was only temporary) arranged a nice ceremony to present the award to me.

Back to Memoir Contents

Chosin Few

In 1990 I finally heard about the Chosin Few.  A man that Shirley worked with told me about it when we went to see the Blue Angels at El Toro Marine Base.  There was a "Chosin Few Warming Tent" and they had all kinds of trinkets there, so I inquired.  I joined the club right then and there and sent in my dues to the national.  I never went to their club meetings, but I got the newsletter, which was interesting.  Along with that I got a book of the members of the Chosin Few.  When I went through the book I found a couple of guys and made contact with them through Shirley's prodding.  Thank goodness she prodded, because I wouldn't have done it on my own.  I just didn't want to upset their life either anymore.  Something happened and I dropped my membership, but I reinitiated my membership in 1994.  Then just last year [1998] I was going through the book and saw a new member, SSgt. Stanley R. Morning, A Company, 1st Engineer Battalion.  Well, he was an old buddy of mine so we made contact.  He was a part of the Brigade also, and when he said he was going I told him I would be there, too.  That was the first time we had seen each other since I left the Engineers in 1949.

I think it helps to go to these reunions, and we call each other throughout the year.  I contacted Terrantino and I send him care packages and stuff like that every once in a while.  When they had monsoon season in Phoenix where he lives, they were inundated with water.  I sent him coats, a pontoon, a rubber duckie, and Tootsie Rolls.

Back to Memoir Contents

Korea-related Disabilities

I probably had quite a bit of disability caused by Korea, but I didn't know it at the time.  My feet would sweat and they would swell up.  They got red.  When my feet got in water, like when I walked along the ocean beach or anywhere my feet hit water, I would be all right for a while until they got cold enough, and then it would just chill me.  The chill came up the back of my leg and all the way up in my neck.  Then when I was cold and had to get out of the water, my feet would turn real red.  They also cracked and the skin broke.  I didn't have the blacking from the cold almost to the point where my foot had to be amputated, but I had had exposure to cold that probably killed some of the nerves in the foot, etc. I got fungus under my toenails and that got pretty horrible looking at times.  It is still so horrible that, if I wear sandals, I wear socks.  Shirley thinks I look like a dork, but I go looking like a dork because I don't want people to see my toes.  Maybe it could be handled by a podiatrist, and one of these days I am going to go have them look at it.  My hands and nails feel like washboards with little tiny grooves, which is typical of the cold weather.  The nails on my toes curve under on the sides.  That's also typical of cold weather injury.  It is caused by feet being wet too long and unattended.  My fingers are hard to manipulate so I squeeze a rubber ball and periodically put them together like I was going to church and just push real hard.  It seems to correct whatever the problem is, but I get a growth on my knuckles and my thumb and it gets pretty sore at times.

I spent my own money taking care of these problems, and toughed it out.  I dropped them off as, like my own personal doctor said, "old age" until I went to a reunion of the Chosin Few in Portland, Oregon and started reading and hearing and seeing videos of what the cold weather injury could do to the human body.  I then related that to my symptoms.

As mentioned earlier, I fell on my hit while up in the mountains in the snow, and every time thereafter when I fell, it seemed like I always hit the same spot.  It just pained and pained and pained.  Finally it was like somebody hit me on the side with a red hot poker.  The pain makes a 90-degree turn and runs right down to my heel.  I've got a lot of problems with that.  Doctors at the VA have looked it over and taken X-rays.  They just say it's arthritis.  I have broken my right toe and left ankle because of my hip problem.

I now have 100% disability due to peripheral neuropathy, among other things.  They can run a roller with a spike on it down my leg and I wouldn't feel it.  My legs are numb most of the time.  I'm doing what they call "the Korean shuffle."  I look like an old man 80 years old.  When I walk I always walk with my eyes focused on the ground in front of my feet.  That's to make sure that there's no stone there or to make sure I'm walking on a level surface.  If I suddenly hit an area where I go off to an angle one way or the other, I lose my balance.  I've flopped around a couple times and feel kind of stupid picking myself up--if I can get back up.  Sometimes getting up is awfully hard to do and I have to have Shirley or someone walking by to give me a hand up.  When I work out alone in the yard, I get down on my hands and knees.  To get back up is a real chore.  That's why I have a rake with a strong handle, so I can put that onto the ground and manage to climb up the handle when I get up.

The VA people from Seattle said I should file a claim.  They went over me with a fine-toothed comb--X-rays, physicals, everything.  I would have been happy if I got a 10 percent claim, but they came back with a determination of 100 percent.  Maybe I was worse off than I thought I was.  I went through war and I was one of the fortunate ones that came back.  I was never wounded with bullets, but I was wounded a different way.  There's a lot of us that are probably that way.

Back to Memoir Contents

Proud to be a Marine

All that I learned at boot camp served me well when I went to Korea.  I think that our nation should have been in Korea when the war was going on.  Korea is a little bit different than Vietnam, but we should have learned our lesson from Korea also.  We just seem to be repeating and repeating.  But Korea was, I think, the start of the breakup of the communist regime.  We stopped the communists from taking over South Korea and we've always maintained that we will fight for their rights and will always back them up.  I'm for that.

Going to Korea gave me a better appreciation of my country.  As to the political end of it, no.  And I think that carries forward to today as far as the political maneuvering that some of these shysters pull.  I have no respect for them whatever.  But overall, I'm very proud to have been a Marine.  I'm still a Marine.

We have two daughters and on and off I have told them about Korea.  But they were competitive dance skaters and they were busy in their life while I was a workaholic.  When we did get together, we talked mostly about skating and what the girls had done.  As far as my expounding to them some of my feats in Korea or whatever you want to call it, no.  I never did.  They both know now and they are patriotic.  Shirley made them a book and we just gave it to them recently.  It has a little bit of my story so that our grandchildren will have it.  It is called "The Eternal Band of Brothers."

When the Brigade went over to Korea, we were a bunch of kids.  When we went in, I think we really saved the Pusan Perimeter from going to pot.  I really feel that because everything was going to heck in a basket prior to that.  I don't know if we instilled new blood or gave everybody the inspiration to really buckle down and do their jobs as riflemen or what. I honestly feel that it speaks well for itself that Brigade went in like a shredder and knocked the hell out of four divisions in a little over a month and a half.

I watched the Olympic games that were held in Korea in the 1980s.  I looked at that high-rise area as it is now and compared it to what I saw in 1950:  cardboard roofs, tin roofs, shanty towns, little alleyways and closeness, unsanitary conditions.  Seeing that, I'd say that something good did come out of the Korean War.  Of course, the south has always been known to be more productive and more industrialized than the north.  I think that's why the north is upset with the south.  They've got something that the north doesn't have and they want it, but they don't know how to get it.  The communists are working on them again.  They've got the atomic bomb and rockets aimed at us again.  I think it's going to happen again.  It's almost a foregone conclusion.  I hope not, because I think it will be a bloodbath this time.

Back to Memoir Contents

Wife Shirley Comments

[KWE Note: Ted's wife Shirley made the following comments at the end of her husband's interview.]

"This is strictly my opinion.  The training that they got in boot camp broke them all down to one thing.  And those DIs made them and they depended on each other.  They knew that they were together.  When they got over there and they got into the situations they got into and what they were fighting, it was that training and their heart and just their pride in their Corps.  And nobody was going to beat them.  There is an incredible bond between these guys even now.

All through his years with Chrysler, people called Ted from all over the country.  He was with one of the parts divisions and he went around the country setting up demos.  People called him from all over the country saying, "You're the only guy that I can depend on."  That was something, you know.  I think being in the Marines strengthened him.  He had always dependable, but the Marines made him stronger."


Back to Memoir Contents

Obituary and Tribute

Obituary

"Theodore (Ted) H. Heckelman, age 79 of Bellingham, Washington is at home with the Lord. He passed on Saturday May 23, 2009 at St. Joseph Hospital with his loving family at his side.

Ted was born June 25, 1929 in Norwalk, Ohio to Henry and Ella (Aust) Heckelman. He grew up attending local schools there, where at an early age he met the love of his life, Shirley Jeanne Oberg. In spite of that early distraction, Ted joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1948. He was a member of the 1st Provisional Marine Division's 1st Marine Brigade, serving in major battles in the Korean War. He fought courageously while in Korea with many meritorious efforts, but most notably at the murderous battle of Chosin Reservoir. Ted received two Bronze Stars with V for valor, and for his Valor was inducted into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame in April 2008.

Ted married his childhood sweetheart Shirley Oberg in 1951. Following his honorable discharge from the Marine Corps in 1952, he attended college and earned his bachelor’s of science degree in business accounting. A devoted family and business man, he worked for Chrysler Corporation for 31 years. Ted was key in establishing the nationwide network of Chrysler Parts Depots, moving his family endlessly in that pursuit prior to his retirement from Chrysler in 1985.

Arriving in Bellingham in 1990, he continued his life work as Financial Controller for the Lummi Indian Business Council from 1991-1996. Finally retired, his affection for Bellingham and his friends only increased. He faithfully served as Santa Claus each Christmas from his lighted and festive home on James St. Court, distributing candy canes and Christmas blessings to countless children and families.

Ted enjoyed gardening and yard work, playing bingo and solitaire, local casinos, and traveling cross-country with his family. He had friends all over the country and enjoyed keeping in touch with them. Ted loved his country as a very proud Marine and American, but especially loved his family and the Lord. He enjoyed life and never took it for granted.

Ted is survived by his wife of 58 years and family: daughters and husbands, Jodi and Scott Stewart of Norwalk, Ohio and Jill Anne and John Lettow of Wasilla, Alaska; grandsons Jonathan and Jacob Lettow of Wasilla, AK; brother and wife Tom and Nancy Heckelman of Norwalk, Ohio; and sister JoAnn Flew of Norwalk, Ohio. He was preceded in death by his parents and sister Edith Heckelman.

A memorial service will take place at Jern’s Funeral Chapel at 1PM on Wednesday May 27, 2009.  Memorial contributions may be made to the “Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund” at www.semperfifund.org or similar charity of your choice."

Tribute from Marty West:

"I have been privileged and blessed to know Ted & Shirley Heckelman about 15 years.  Ted Heckelman was a GREAT American and a GREAT Marine!  Ted was an incredible man. I NEVER heard him complain about anything. I have to believe he made a deal with God when he was in Korea during the Chosen Reservoir during those cold days and nights that if God return him home that he would never complain again.

He was a fighter. He fought his Parkinson's with all he had.  His mind was still sharp, but his body wouldn't respond. And NEVER DID complain!  When I think of Ted, words come to me such as honesty, integrity, loyalty, faithfulness, endurance, perseverance, honor, and courage!

For the rest of my life I will always honor and cherish Memorial day with thoughts and thanks for Theodore Heckelman.  My life was made better because of knowing him!  Thank you, Ted. I will see you again!"

 

 

Back to "Memoirs" Index page back to top
 

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

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

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

Hit Counter
 
.