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Richard A. Hertensteiner
St. Charles, Missouri-
"No one really wants to go to war at any time, but I didn’t expect this one to last very long. I knew that it would be another dirty little war that needed cleaning up. I knew that it would not be easy and that it would last longer than a few months. To be truthful, I didn’t want to get in the fighting part of this one. Yet, why not someone who knew how to fight, not some young kid who would get killed the first time some enemy started shooting in his direction. No, I was not the ‘hero’ type. I just had a little more knowledge than the young kids who were practically straight from boot camp. I knew enough to keep my head down."
- Richard Hertensteiner
My name is Richard A. Hertensteiner of St. Charles, Missouri. I was born on 9 December 1925 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a son of Elmer W.T. and Susan Pearl Walterbach Hertensteiner. My father died when I was six months old. I have no idea why he died. It was just never discussed in the family. We were living in Sheboygan, Wisconsin at the time. I had two other brothers, Robert Elmer Hertensteiner (nine years older than me) and Donald Domminic Hertensteiner (two years older than me). Mother raised three sons and a nephew, William Jerome Kuehl, the son of another sister who died. My memory tells me that I was only about two or three years old when he began living with us. According to what my mother told me, he was about 12 years old when his mother died and his father was in a tuberculosis sanitarium. Mother also worked at various types of jobs that I was too young to know until I entered high school. By then she was working a war job making canteens.
I went to South Side Junior High through grade eight. Because I moved to another part of the city, I went to Sheboygan Central High. My after school job was setting pins at the bowling alley and working the front desk. When I set up pins in the bowling alley, I picked up the pins and placed them in a rack. When the bowler was through with his turn, I pushed the rack down and re-set the pins. By working hard and jumping from one alley to the one next to it, I could earn ten dollars per night. Sometimes I would set up 100 games per night for one man. One time the other pin-boys went on strike for more money and I had to join them or else they would beat me up. My aunt, who was rather high in the women's bowling organization, came back to the pin-boys' room and took me with her. I ended up getting a job at the front desk when my brother left for another job. I got it through my Aunt Minnie Widder who, it seems, was a founder and member of the board of directors of the Wisconsin Women's Bowling Association. The name of the bowling alley was Eagle Alleys, located in the Eagles Building in Sheboygan. During the summer of 1943, I worked on the yard crew at the Vollrath Company in Sheboygan, a kitchenware manufacturing company. We emptied box cars loaded with steel sheets and rolls, shredded paper bales, and did any other kind of job necessary to keep the area clean.
I was in the Boy Scouts. I think that going on a 14-mile hike in the middle of winter during a snowstorm all by myself was the big experience of my scouting career. I started out from home by myself because I lived the closest to where we were supposed to go. I was to meet a group of six to eight boys, but they never started out because of the storm. My mother felt that I would turn around and come home if I did not find the boys. Since I did not find them, I turned around after about five or six miles and returned home. I got credit for the hike, but the other boys didn't.
My brother Donald and I were celebrating our birthdays on 7 December 1941 when we heard the news on the radio that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Don was 18 and I turned 16 two days later, on the 9th. Robert was drafted a month before the war broke out. Donald was drafted in early 1943. We collected used tin cans and old rubber tires and bought war stamps. When we got $18.75, we could trade them in for war bonds. Everyone followed the news about the war very closely since most of the students had members of their families in the military service at that time. At home we listened to the radio and kept up with the news that way. As it happened, I was the last to go in and the first to go overseas. Robert served in the Philippines near the end of the war and Donald served in North Africa and Italy.
I enlisted in the Marine Corps when I was a senior in high school because, since my birthday was in the first semester of school, I was going to be drafted out of school anyway. So, I enlisted. I just felt that the Marines would be the real fighting group, and I did not want to end up fighting any relatives who might still be living in Europe. The city of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, was over 98% German heritage. All my great grandparents came here from Germany, and one grandparent was born there. We had many relatives still living there.
None of my friends joined with me. My mother had to sign a consent form for me because I was not yet 18 at the time. She was worried that we (my brothers and I) would be either wounded very severely or killed. I enlisted in the Corps on 15 September 1943. My senior year of high school had just started. When I was in on the landing on Saipan, I got a letter from my high school principal asking if I could get a leave to attend commencement. I answered, "No. There are little brown men shooting at me and, besides, it's a long way to swim back." He showed me the letter that I sent him and we had a good laugh over it. Mother received my diploma for me at the time I was to graduate, so I graduated with my Class of 1944.
We traveled by train to San Diego, California, to attend boot camp. We had about 300 to 400 enlistees on the train and we traveled by Pullman car. The train was about 25 to 30 cars long and we had to switch engines to a bigger and stronger one to cross the mountains. The engines were all steam driven. I was the only one from my town who was on the train.
It was not the first time I had been away from home for any length of time. I had traveled with the Lindemann Brothers Circus, owned by three brothers--one of which was married to my first cousin once removed (my mother's first cousin). I was only 9 or 10 years old at the time, so I didn't really have a job with them. I did water the elephants once in a while. Sometimes when the trapeze people were practicing, the children were allowed to join them and I was caught by Burt Lancaster, who was the catcher for the star trapeze actor, Orville Lindemann. That was before Burt joined the Ringling Brothers Circus. When the children were on the traps, a net was always used and an adult was always present.
The Recruit Depot had its main gate right in downtown San Diego, California. The base itself was located on San Diego Bay. It probably was about 30,000 acres with a mile long parade ground. The first memory that I have of boot camp was of the train station in San Diego, California, where the Drill Instructors lined us up according to height. I was one of the shortest people in the group, therefore I was at the end of the first rank. My job was to keep up with the rest of the group. The DIs started screaming at us to hurry up and get in line for this and for that. It didn't matter what it was that we were supposed to do, they were always screaming at us. We were issued our uniforms, blankets (two each), mess gear, and rifles with bayonets. We were then taken to our living quarters, which were tents. We stayed in these tents until we finally left boot camp. There was no graduating ceremony such as there is today. The one thing I remember is that 3,000 of us stood out in the hot sun for about three or four hours before boarding large semi-trailer buses for Camp Elliot, a few miles away, to get advanced infantry training. They were shoving us through so fast, I don't remember all that took place that first day. The first or second day we got our hair shaved off. One could tell a boot from the others that way. We also got shots against typhoid, malaria, encephalitis, tetanus, and other diseases.
My Senior DI was Corporal Mangum. My Junior DIs were PFC Wegner and PFC Wickham. PFC Wegner made me his special project. It seemed that my last name intrigued him and he kept after me to give him my name as it was when my great grandfather came to this country. My great grandfather's name was Hertenstein, sometimes spelled v.Hertenstein. PFC Wegner was a big man, 6' 2" and 230 pounds. He was on me all the time for any little thing that others could get away with. By the way, all three DIs were combat veterans. PFC Wegner was also a veteran of the German army, where he had been a sergeant before World War II started, so he had a special interest in my German heritage. Boy, did I come to appreciate my DIs later! What Wegner taught me kept me alive a couple times, especially when I was in Korea.
We slept in pyramidal tents, six cots to a tent. The tents had wooden flooring. Pyramidal tents were rectangular with four sides about four feet high, coming together to a point at the top and giving the appearance of a pyramid. There were sand fleas and some scorpions on Parris Island. The sand fleas got into everything when we were out in what was called the boondocks. The scorpions were usually in hiding, although I heard stories of people in other platoons being stung.
My platoon number was 924 of 1943. There were 63 men in my platoon and they came from all over the country. I knew none of them when we arrived, but I knew a few quite well by the time we were shipped to our advanced Infantry training at Camp Elliott. There were no black recruits with us. They were trained in a different camp from ours at Montford Point, North Carolina.
We were awakened at 0530 each morning, including Sunday mornings. There was a PA system that awakened everyone at the same time. Reveille was played each morning. Although I personally did not eat breakfast, I had to march along with the other members of the platoon to the mess hall. If someone ate too much and couldn't get back to the platoon area in time, he had to perform some kind of physical exercise to remind him not to miss a formation. On Thanksgiving Day I was two (2) seconds late for the noon march to the practice range and I had to run up and down the hills to the range while the others marched at ease. Marching at ease was called route step. We could talk and smoke while marching that way. We had to shower and shave every morning, along with brushing our teeth. Much of our training consisted of close order drill. Actually, we had no free time except on Sunday afternoon. That was the time that everyone wrote his letter home. Since we slept in tents, all we had to do was make our beds and sweep out the tent. Lights out came at 2200 every night. The sound of taps meant that everyone had to be in bed by the sounding of the last note.
The food was of considerably good quality, although not as good as a home-cooked meal. We always had to hurry, but for breakfast we could have a choice between ham or bacon and eggs, hotcakes, some kind of potato, or chipped beef on toast--namely SOS. Lunch consisted of meat and potatoes, vegetable, and dessert (mostly cake with an awful tasting icing). The only regimentation was in the marching to the mess hall. Otherwise the mealtime was ours.
We could go to church if we so desired and many of the boots did. To some it was a way of respite from the rigorous training and constant marching. As I seem to remember, PFC Wegner urged us to attend services. I believe that was one of the reasons that he left Germany, religious freedom. For "fun" we had boxing matches which were put on by the base personnel. Other than that, we had no entertainment. Boots weren't allowed to go and see the USO shows. No trips off base, no PX, and definitely no slop chute!!! I can't remember anything funny happening in boot camp since we were all busy getting ready to go into combat. That was our main objective. Boot camp only lasted six weeks and there was a lot to learn.
We learned to move immediately upon being given an order whether we disagreed or not. We learned the Ten General Orders of Sentry Duty [see the Addendum of this memoir] and how to apply them. If someone called his rifle a gun, he had to memorize the mantra, "The Marine Corps Creed."
The DIs were very strict. One time I did not shave, and the DI made me get a brand new razor blade and give it to him. He then scraped through a steel door spring with it, making it very dull and somewhat chipped. I had to dry-shave with that blade without the aid of a razor. Another instance: One of the DIs had us crawling around in ocean sand. I had just cleaned my rifle before we started and had it inspected after we finished. The DI said, "Your rifle's dirty." I said, "No Sir, it's clean." He said, "It's dirty." I said, "It's clean." He showed me one grain of sand on a part of my rifle. Then he said, "It's dirty." The next thing I knew, I was waking up on my cot and I agreed then that my rifle was dirty with only one grain of sand being found. The DI had struck me on the chin with my rifle butt and I still have the scar to prove it.
Although some drill instructors used corporal punishment, my DIs did not. It was against the rules to do so and if a DI got caught doing that, he was court-martialed. Sometimes the whole platoon was punished for one person's mistake. For instance, one time the whole platoon had to sleep with our rifles in bed with us. It was a very uncomfortable experience. Someone in the platoon (not me) called his rifle a gun. That was a cardinal sin and I was surprised that some harsher punishment was not handed out. I can't remember anything about anyone else. If it didn't happen to me, I didn't pay much attention to it. Since the idea was to turn out Marines, there wasn't a lot of time to discipline separately. Sometimes it was the entire platoon. During those times it was close order drill on the parade ground after taps. This could last for as much as four or five hours.
I wouldn't call them "trouble makers", but there were those who caused trouble for me. One time when the platoon had the guard, two or three of them slipped out and got drunk. Since they could not stand their watch, I volunteered to take the place of one of them. One man's watch was just after mine, walking the same post that I was walking, so I ended up walking a double shift on top of covering for the man for whom I had volunteered. This put me on duty for twelve full hours. I was the only one who did this and I was quite tired the next day. I did not get back to the platoon area in time and the DIs decided to punish the whole platoon. They made sure that everyone knew who was at fault, namely me. They let the platoon hand out the punishment and I had to fight every man in the platoon, starting with the smallest and leading up to the biggest. I beat the smallest easily, then they got to be as big as I and I had a harder time of it since I was pretty tired by then. The people who had gotten drunk knew who they were and they stepped aside. These were the largest men of the group. A few of the bigger men wanted to beat me up, but my squad leader Don Burrows, who was 6' 5" tall and weighed around 280 pounds, stepped in and started to fight with the people who wanted to beat on me. Finally the DIs called a halt to it and they checked to make sure they weren't in trouble. Don Burrows came to my rescue quite a few times, but especially this time. By the way, he had football scholarships to Michigan State and Notre Dame Universities. He also had academic scholarships to each university. At the time he was only sixteen years old.
The DIs disciplined all for one person's goof so that the reason sank in to the others that such mistakes could lead to someone's death. The paragraph above illustrates what I mean. If that would have happened under combat conditions, who knows how many people would have died because I was late getting to where I was supposed to be.
There were no formal classrooms in boot camp. We saw some films, most of which were on personal hygiene. (Propaganda came later.) A few of the films were on sex and things like how to protect one's self from any venereal diseases. Most of the films that were not on personal hygiene dealt with the treatment of prisoners, male and female, by the Japanese military. That's were the propaganda came in. They were films on the enemy torturing the American men and women.
All classroom training was done outside as hands-on instruction. Specifically, we were taught to field strip our weapons and put them back together under any weather conditions, as well as blindfolded. We also had to memorize the parts of our rifle. The only inside activity was gas mask training, where we went into the gas chamber carrying our mask. Gas was flowing and we put on our mask. We were told to take them off and run outside. Our eyes were itching and watering profusely, but we were told not to touch them. The only test that we had to take was a swimming test. I had no trouble with that since I learned to swim in Lake Michigan. I didn't pay very much attention because I was a very good swimmer.
Our training had some instruction that was not on the rifle range, but it was held outside. We were instructed in the use of the M1 rifle. Instruction about hand grenades and Springfield rifles and more advanced infantry training was done after boot camp. On his own, our DI, PFC Wegner, taught us how to strip down a Browning Automatic Rifle, and I used this knowledge in Korea.
I don't remember being awakened in the middle of the night by the DI. It was the sound of crashing aircraft doing night training that awoke me. While I was in boot camp, the airstrip was right next to us. One day while I was washing clothing outside on the wash table, there was another member of a different platoon also washing clothing. All of a sudden he looked up, turned around, and started running. I turned around and I saw this great big B24 bomber coming in on a crash landing where I was standing. By this time I had vaulted over the wash table, grabbed my bucket of clothing and taken off down the platoon street scattering my clothing all over the street as I ran. The bomber landed and stopped right where I had been standing. I was a track man in high school, but never did I run that fast--before or since!
Because there was a war going on, there was a sense of urgency in the Marine Corps to get us trained and sent on our way into the war zone. We were rushed from one place to another to get our training in. There was also the feeling that if we didn't hurry the war would pass us by and we would be sent home without having experienced any of the rigors of fighting for our country. We were allowed to have our radios on and we received news of what was happening. Sometimes PFC Wegner would take us out to the boondocks and then he would talk about the progress the American troops were making against the Japanese. Wegner was not supposed to discuss any of the things outside of boot camp, but he discussed both the good and the bad things that were happening.
The last two weeks of boot camp were spent at Camp Matthews, located near Camp Elliot, to fire our rifles. On pre-qualifying day, the day before the final trials, I was not qualifying, so we went back to the 500 yard line where I got ten straight bulls-eyes. My DI bet with others that I could repeat the bulls-eyes on qualifying day. I didn't disappoint him and scored another ten bulls-eyes from 500 yards. The ten bulls-eye shots were close enough to be covered by a silver dollar. Obviously, distance shooting was my forte.
I became friends with one or two of the other guys, but not many. Most of them were from the state of Wisconsin so we had a lot in common. I can't recall their names now. Obviously we have lost contact with one another. Of those I can recall, Don Burrows (my squad leader) and Gordon Kuenn, who will be mentioned later in my memoir. One thing we learned was that one didn't make close friends because there was such a good chance of losing him in combat later.
There was one man that I remember who did not make it out of boot camp. The reason was that he walked and screamed in his sleep. One time when he was still there, I woke up to his screaming and there he was standing, ready to plunge a bare bayonet into my chest. I was not the only one who came close to being stabbed by him.
There was never a time in boot camp when I was sorry that I had joined the Marines. I wanted to be in an organization that was reputed to be the best. Pride, I guess. Even today that pride is still there. The hardest thing about boot camp for me was learning to do things right-handed. I got in most of my trouble with PFC Wegner because I was, and still am, left-handed. I had the hardest time seeing the targets when it came to firing live rounds. I finally talked my instructors into letting me fire left-handed and I fired for record that way.
When boot camp was completed, there was no ceremony--just in a very large formation, waiting to board the semi-trailer buses to go to Camp Elliott for advanced infantry training. We did not get leave until we came back to the States after the war. I left boot camp feeling like I was a Marine. Even our DIs treated us differently, making us feel like we had accomplished something. I felt confident in myself.
After boot camp we went to Camp Elliott where we had advanced infantry training for a period of eight weeks before going to Hawaii. In Hawaii we went to our respective organizations. If a person didn't qualify on the rifle range, the DIs got a little upset, but they were shipped out along with the rest of us anyway. I'm sure it did happen in my platoon.
The trip to Camp Elliott was very uneventful. I can't remember anything about it except that we moved from one camp to another about twenty miles away. At Camp Elliott we learned how to fight in many different ways, including judo, knife fighting, and bayonet training. We did some weapons firing and we also learned how to crawl under live fire that was shot over our heads. The one thing that became apparent was that everything was being taught by repetition. We had to go through the problem until we could do it instinctively. I cannot remember the names of the instructors. All I can remember is that they were all combat veterans.
The biggest challenge for me in advanced training was crawling under live fire. It was not very far above our heads (about six inches) and we could see that it was live by the tracers passing over our heads. If we didn't keep our heads down, we could get hit very easily. I know that this sounds like a smart remark, but if we lived, we passed the test. The biggest challenge was to do everything right, especially the live firing part of the training.
While in boot camp we had not been allowed to ask questions. In advanced infantry training, we were allowed to ask questions and make offbeat remarks. At times when we were not in the field all week, we could go out on liberty. We usually went to San Diego, which was only 20 miles away. On weekends we went to Los Angeles. All of our training was done on base in the field away from the barracks. The camps in the area were enormous in size, often covering several hundred thousand acres of land. There was no cold weather training at this time because all of the fighting was done in the Central Pacific. This was all tropical area.
At Camp Elliott I had the experience of having two rattlesnakes crawl in my bedding when we were out on maneuvers. That particular night I had crawled into my blankets and while I was sleeping two snakes crawled in to keep warm. I awoke the next morning and felt them squirming around. I called my friend Don Burrows over and told him what had happened. He got his bayonet and his K-Bar knife and began to take my blankets apart very carefully. Since one of the snakes had crawled up my pant leg, Don sliced it open and cut off the snake's head. The other snake was curled up at my feet, so Don and the Gunnery Sergeant who had come over to see what was wrong took the blankets apart and cut off the head of that snake, too.
When we finished our training, we were put aboard ship and we went to the Hawaiian islands. While on the island of Oahu, we waited to be sent to our permanent units. I was sent to Maui where I joined the 14th Marines of the 4th Marine Division.
I've been on 15 different ships and I have never been on a dirty rust bucket like the USNS Marine Lynx, except for the one which took us to Korea. The Lynx was a U.S. merchant marine ship which was so filthy that no one could stay below decks for any length of time. At the time that I was on the ship, we were hauling different kinds of provisions from food to munitions. Since this was my first time on an ocean going vessel, I was very unfavorably impressed. The filth of the ship made most of the men sick. As far as getting our sea legs was concerned, however, it took only a few hours out of port to get them.
The weather going to the Hawaiian islands was good except for two days of rain. Other than that, the trip was rather smooth. The only person I knew on the ship was Don Burrows, whom I had known in boot camp. We had no entertainment on the ship and the merchant marine crew was angry because they couldn't have any either. When we reached our destination, they were glad to get rid of us and we were just as glad to be rid of that filthy dirty rust bucket. Luckily we had no duties to perform onboard the ship except for keeping our weapons clean and ready for any eventuality. There was nothing that happened on the trip which was out of the ordinary. We reached the Hawaiian islands in about six to ten days. (I say Hawaiian islands because they were not a state at that time.)
We got to Camp Catlin on Oahu somewhere around the end of March or the beginning of April of 1944. I stayed on Oahu for three weeks to a month doing the easiest mess duty that I ever had. It was on Oahu that the troops were assigned to divisions. I spent a lot of time going to Honolulu on liberty. From Oahu I went to Maui.
I didn't go to a firing battery. I went to the S-2 (intelligence) section in H&S Headquarters and Service battery for my first invasion. My knowledge of artillery was that the guns they used made a big boom. As far as training was concerned on the guns, there was none. The training that I got, besides being all hands on, was in the surveying of the land to lay in the guns to prepare them to fire. The hardest thing for me to do was to learn to use an aiming circle properly. An aiming circle is just like a surveyor's sextant, only it's marked off in 6400 mils for a complete circle instead of 360 degrees as the surveyor's instrument is. This gives a much tighter alignment than a 360-degree circle.
By the way, the full name of my unit was H&S Battery, 3rd Battalion, 14th Marines, 4th Marine Division. The word Regiment is always implied, but never used as part of a divisional regiment. Only the Army uses the word in denoting the size of its units. Some of the men in the S-2 section were Bill Leach, Bob Tombaugh, and "Harp" Flannigan. In S-3 section, I remember Bobby McDermott and Lionel Lopes.
From Maui we were ordered to the Marianas. The Marianas were important islands because they could provide an advanced base for the new long range B-29 bombers that were being brought to the Pacific theater of operations. From the Marianas, they could fly out to Tokyo and return. I don't remember the bow number of the Landing Ship Tank (LST) that transported me to the Marianas, but I think it was 354.
On the way to the Marianas we were briefed on the number and type of troops we were to face, including the type of civilian population. The native people of the Marianas were named Chamorros. To prepare myself mentally for what was ahead of me when we landed, I just told myself that I would not die without a fight. I was scared just as was everyone else who made the landing, including "Harp" Flannigan, who made the previous landing.
Nothing spectacular happened to me before debarking the LST to go ashore. I don't know the exact number of ships there were on the deep water side of the reef o D-Day, but there must have been at least 200 at anchor out there--battleships, destroyers, cruisers, and aircraft carriers. We heard the big guns from the wagons (battleships) going off and passing overhead. We could hear them for miles. We didn't know what was happening going in, so we kept our heads down. We got into the DUKW (a "duck" was an amphibious truck) onboard the LST. The duck traveled over the reef to the shallow side and about a half mile or so to the beach. I have often thought that the day we landed was one of the most beautiful days that I have ever seen. Had I been home in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, I would have been at the beach swimming and having fun. I was in the fourth wave. The group I was with landed at approximately 1000 on a white sandy beach with palm trees and coconuts in abundance. The island was inhabited by the native Chamorros.
During the initial portion of the landing we had Naval battleships, cruisers, destroyers and carriers--all for support, along with good fighter aircraft support. After that, we set up our guns and supported the infantry regiments by ourselves because the front lines were only 25-50 yards in front of us. When making a landing, we never had enough supplies and equipment for the first few hours. After that the supplies just kept rolling in. After the initial first attack, our supplies began to come ashore and we had plenty of everything needed. During the day we could (and did) call in naval gunfire. At night we used only our own 24-gun artillery regiment on shore. I carried an M1 rifle and I had a Thompson submachine gun that I had picked up along the way. I also had a K-bar knife that was issued to me back at our advanced base.
Nothing much happened during the first 24 hours of being onshore on Saipan. The enemy was not quite ready for us because they didn't expect us to come in over the reef. They had to re-adjust because they expected us to land in the deep water bay that had no reef. The battery suffered its first casualties on the first night. He was one of the men I knew very slightly, but he was in the same section as I was. Knox was killed in action. He was the nephew of Secretary of the Navy Knox. At that particular time, I had no close friends since I was the new kid on the block (and got treated like it). This was my first time in combat.
The artillery units saw very little tank support because they had their own guns to use for their support. You must remember that the assigned mission for the artillery was to provide cover fire for the infantry. This was true of all batteries, therefore we did not meet the enemy very often unless a breakthrough was accomplished by the Japanese forces. Since the enemy forces seldom got as far as the artillery, there were no prisoners for us to take, and the loss of our troops as POWs was non-existent. As artillery we were in a more or less stationary position, moving only when we were out of range of the front lines. Sometimes I went with an officer and a group of other enlisted men to relieve what was called a forward observation team. These worked right on the front lines with the infantry personnel, and their job was to call in artillery fire on the enemy from the front lines.
My first specific duty was to help lay in the guns so that they could fire without killing our own troops. Later on I was assigned the duty of being an ammunitions dump guard. This was way out in the middle of nowhere with only a Yaqui Indian for a companion. One night he tapped me on the shoulder and disappeared. I didn't know where he had gone and I was very upset at being there all alone. I heard some screaming, but I didn't go to investigate. The next thing that I knew, here was this Yaqui warrior back in the foxhole with me and he told me the next day that he had gone out and killed a Jap soldier who had infiltrated our lines. As proof, he brought back the ears.
On D+3, the 27th Army Division came in as the battle plan called for them. At approximately 1830 they landed at our position and one of their young 2nd Lieutenants yelled, "Japs!" They began attacking us in our foxholes. We lost several men, and they lost approximately ten people. A few days later, they were placed on line. Their three infantry regiments were placed in the center 600 yards of the front. Of the two Marine divisions, each of them placed two very depleted regiments to cover 2000 yards on either side of the Army. That night, the Japanese attacked on all sectors of the front. The 27th Army Division, without losing a man, fell back 2000 yards and we had to fight the Japanese as if we were the front lines. (We ultimately became the front lines at that time.)
There were three generals with the same last name, which caused some confusion at the time. They were Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith, who relieved Army Major Gen O. A. Smith of his command of the 27th Army Division, and Major General Harry K. Schmidt was promoted to Lieutenant General in the Marine Corps for his leading of the 4th Marine Division during the invasion phase of the operation. The relieving of an Army general by a Marine Corps general caused a stir that ended on the desk of President Roosevelt and kept Lieutenant General H. M. Smith from getting his fourth star. One of the reasons that Lieutenant General Smith was angry with the 27th Army Division was that the Marine artillery batteries had to remove the breach blocks from their guns to keep the Japanese from turning them on the American troops. Because the 27th Army Division moved back, it allowed the Japs to move up as far as the artillery batteries.
As far as being good fighters was concerned, one couldn't find more tenacious fighters anywhere in the world than the Japanese. They didn't have much in the line of artillery that I could see. They numbered about 30,000, which in the long run made them superior in numbers to our 50-60,000 troops. It's a known fact that the defenders always have the advantage because they know the terrain and are well emplaced, while the attackers have to be upright and open to the fire from the defenders. The fighting was more hand-to-hand with rifles, bayonets, and knives.
I saw a lot of destruction at the village of Charan-Kanoa, where the Japanese had a large sugar processing factory. It was the target for American bombers, Naval gunfire, and our own artillery. This was because the buildings and chimneys were so high that they could be used for enemy observation posts. After the fire power, there was only one lone chimney standing. Some of the civilians surrendered and they looked like they were in a shell-shocked condition. We sent the civilians back to our ships.
I really don't remember any specific names of the sites on which the battles were fought on Saipan, although I'm sure there were names. Fighting was continuous. It took 36 days to secure the island, and during that time I suffered no injuries. I would say that crossing the reef in the initial assault was the hardest aspect of seizing Saipan, because it entailed landing on an open beach with no cover up to 50 yards deep to the island's palm trees.
As for me personally, I can't really recall anything that was so difficult that it has remained in my memory all these years since the artillery was, by definition, removed from fighting the infantry. At no time was the infantry more than 1,000 yards in front of us. Once when I went along with a team to survey a new place for the guns in case we had to move, we witnessed suicide attempts of civilians who jumped off of the cliffs onto the rocks below. Japanese soldiers forced the civilians--men, women, and children--to jump and we could hear their screams on the way down. This memory has had an effect on me even to this day.
On to Tinian
After leaving Saipan, we went directly to Tinian. This island was important to the allied war efforts because heavy bomber crews wanted to have a landing strip on it. From Saipan and Tinian, the Army Air Corps could take off and make a round trip to the Japanese mainland and back. Both islands were the subjects of heavy naval bombardment before our arrival there. The air corps also subjected them to heavy bombardment before we got there.
Since Tinian was only two miles across the channel, we were still considered to be in combat when we finished on Saipan. Therefore, no other training was considered necessary. The unit was never out of combat until Tinian was secured. We did not need to board ship to get to Tinian. Our guns were loaded on DUKWs and we were transported to Tinian that way. Only 12 or 15 men could fit into a DUKW when it was loaded with a big gun. By this time I knew everyone quite well and the other people were all from my battery.
The division landed on White Beach, which was a white sand beach only 50 yards wide and 50 yards deep. This was taking a big chance because if the diversionary assault failed, the whole division could be wiped out. As it was, the planned assault worked perfectly and the Japanese forces were caught completely by surprise. We (the artillery) landed at about 1600 to 1830 while the infantry units landed at approximately 2000 the night before. Once the infantry got ashore, the only fire support they got came from the division artillery. Considering that the big guns (105mm and 155mm) could reach out over 20,000 yards, there was no need for naval or air support unless called in to hit a specific target. The beach rose rather quickly after the first 50 yards and there were some palm trees. After the beach rose, there was a road to the center of the island which was level and passable for large trucks.
I had no problems at all in the first 24 hours of being on Tinian. Everything worked just like a cake-walk for my battery. The S-2 section had no problems during the landing because we were so far behind the front lines. The only time things got a little bit scary was when I went on forward observation for a couple of days. All supplies were furnished by landing craft from Saipan and we had more than enough. While the fighting was more continuous on Tinian, the whole operation on that island lasted only 11 days. Saipan had lasted over a month. Since Saipan was my first time in combat, I would say that Tinian was very easy except when I was on reconnaissance observance up at the front lines, which didn't happen but one or two times. I don't remember whether the company suffered any casualties on Tinian. The artillery had no casualties on Tinian to my knowledge. Again, the mission for the artillery was to provide supporting fire for the infantry regiments. All missions were accomplished. As far as tank support was concerned, I had very little knowledge of their ability to provide cover fire for the infantry units.
My battery had no chance to take any prisoners since only a few wounded enemy came anywhere near us. These enemy died before we had the opportunity to dress their wounds. Our unit (the battery) stayed in the same position during the whole battle, since we could reach any spot on the whole island from where we were. Tinian was about 25 to 50 square miles in area. The only time that we saw any villages on Tinian was when we passed through Tinian Town (pronounced Tineean Town) on our way back to the ships to take us back to the Hawaiian islands. Tinian Town was composed of what looked like mud and rock houses. They were actually very well suited for the climate of the region. I didn't see any inhabitants, but I could hear the screams of the natives being forced over the cliffs. To my knowledge, there were no names given to any places on Tinian to commemorate any fierce battles, the island being so small.
I didn't witness any suicides among the defeated people on the island, but we did have a few suicide (Banzai) attacks that reached our gun positions. These were only 10 or 15 people at a time who stormed our positions, and they didn't last but about 15 or 20 minutes. I was lucky enough to not get injured on either Saipan or Tinian. I had no experience at the front except for recon patrols, so I cannot say what was the hardest job for the infantry. The seizing of Tinian wasn't really hard for me at all. We stayed for approximately ten days after the island was secured (21 days in all on Tinian), getting our guns cleaned and ready for shipping out.
After Tinian, we went back to Maui, territory of Hawaii. We had about 90 days of rest before we hit Iwo Jima. During this time period, every day was a training day. If we were not cleaning our guns, we were holding firing practice on a range set aside for that purpose. At this time I was transferred from H&S to "I" Battery. "I" Battery was a firing battery as opposed to a section that surveyed for gun placement.
The division that I was in always started sailing from Maui to the objective. It took us approximately three weeks to reach our objective. When I left the territory of Hawaii, I was on a troop ship as opposed to a cargo ship. When we got to Saipan, which was now used as a staging area, I was transferred to a Landing Ship Tank (LST). We were briefed on the location of the objective, the shape of it, the type of beach (either sand, coral or volcanic ash), as was the case on Iwo Jima. I stayed on the LST until I got to Iwo. I was initially made a runner between the Battalion Commanding Officer (BnCO) and the Battery Commander (BC). The BnCO was supposed to land in the eighth wave but the Boat Commander, who told the different boats when to hit the Line of Departure, waved our boat into the first wave. Therefore, instead of going in the eighth wave, we went in the first wave. I can't remember the exact time of day that we landed, but it would have been approximately 0630 to 0700 in the morning.
When the first landing was made, there was extreme confusion, as always is the case in an invasion. There were people getting from their units, whole units getting shot up, and units getting bogged down. After a while when commanders got their organizations lined up, the invasion became more orderly, if complete confusion could be called more orderly. The team that I was on got shot up. First of all, we could not get the jeep ashore from the landing craft because of the volcanic ash make-up of the island at that particular area. The jeep was just left in the ash until another team could be set ashore and recover it. The BnCO got wounded, along with all the others in our party except me. It seemed that my "charmed life" was still holding true, since I never got a scratch. I really can't put a number on the casualties my unit received on D-Day since the artillery landed late in the action. They came in the eighth wave, after there was enough room to set up their guns. Fighting was still hot and heavy at that time. After the others in my team were wounded, I was sent back to the LST to join my battery in another capacity. I stayed there another two days, then went ashore and stayed there. I was on Forward Observation duty and I ran ammunition from ship to shore. I wasn't assigned to any squad or section at the time of the first landing.
When talking of the taking of Iwo Jima, one must remember that this was part of the Japanese homeland. It was also part of the Tokyo prefecture. This made it very strategic to the Japanese, as it was an invasion of the homeland of Japan. To the United States, it was the place from which fighters could come up and shoot down our B-29 aircraft. It was also a place from which messages could be sent to Tokyo to prepare them for attacks from our bombers. The US Army Air Force also needed the island for a place to land damaged aircraft, which they did three (3) days after we took the strip known as Motoyama No. 1. It saved a lot of lives to have a safe place to set the bird down rather than ditch it in the sea.
We could see the bombing of the island from the ship and I watched them throw napalm all over Mount Suribachi. This stuff exploded and burned all over the landscape where it hit. High altitude bombing was used to help the troops when we could not get our guns ashore. By "high altitude" I mean that we could actually see the bombs leaving the bomb bay of the B-24s they used to do the bombing. The Navy had their version of the B-24 also. This looked just like the USAAF version, except that it had a single rudder.
When looking at the island from the sea, it was long and low except for the mountain at one end of it. This mountain was called Mount Suribachi. The north end of the island showed as a group of cliffs just slightly higher in profile than the rest of the island. There were two airstrips, Motoyama #1 and Motoyama #2, which was smaller than Motoyama #1 and was not complete at the time we invaded the island. The beaches were composed of mostly volcanic ash with a 10-foot rise from the water to the dry part of the island.
Only Marines staged the assault and continued the assault throughout the battle. When one realizes how many marines and corpsmen were lost in that battle, one understands what "inch-by-inch tenacity" means. The total Americans killed in action in a 36-day period was 6,821, with 19,217 more wounded--that on an island measuring two and a half miles long and one mile wide at its widest part. I only had contact with the people in the front lines when I was on forward observation, so I can't really judge what each Marine did up there, although we lost three full Forward Observation Teams and I was sent up to replace them.
Since I was in the artillery, the objective of my battery was to get our guns set up to support the infantry regiments in front of us. The total offense could be described as close quarters and hand-to-hand combat for the infantry personnel. The only way to get the Japanese out of their caves was to go in after them. As I was an artillery person, my job when I went up to the front lines was to observe and report to the Forward Observation Officer any enemy movement that I saw. As an artillery man, I didn't move around much except when I was on forward observation duty. At night the FO Team set up its own perimeter defense. The Officer would send all information back to the battery so that fire could be laid in on the enemy. My personal role in the battle for Iwo Jima was to do anything that it was necessary to do, including serving as an ammunition carrier, gun section member, forward observation team, runner, and ammunition runner from ship to shore.
The Japanese used rifles, grenades, grenade launchers, knee mortars, 61mm mortars, 82mm mortars, and their standard artillery pieces and rockets, which were launched at the gun batteries. Since the Japanese did not launch any Banzai attacks and they kept well hidden, they were much more effective than in any other landing that we made. Normally they would stage Banzai attacks during the night, screaming "Banzai, Banzai. Death to Babe Ruth," and charging the front lines. On Iwo Jima they never launched a one. The Japanese had learned that it was better to make the US forces come to them, rather than waste their manpower staging so-called Banzai attacks. The heavy fighting never ended until the island was secured. I saw that the Japanese had honeycombed the whole island with interconnecting caves. A group of the Japanese could pop up and fight in one place, then go into the caves and pop up in another position.
We used everything from hand grenades to 16-inch guns from battleships. Everyone used grenades to force the Japanese from their caves (there were no Banzai attacks, as they used in other operations). When grenades couldn't do the job, napalm-loaded flame throwers were used. Our tanks were not the best weapon to use early in the operation because they got bogged down in the heavy volcanic ash too easily and became easy targets for the enemy to shoot at. In my estimation, the best vehicle for use in the early part of the battle was a truck named FWD. That was the actual name of the vehicle. It was geared to move each wheel at a time with 18 speeds forward and six reverse. When it got stuck, the driver just 'walked' it loose. As to personal weapons, we used M1 rifles, Springfield rifles, Thompson sub-machine guns, Browning automatic rifles and Browning machine guns (both .30 and .50 caliber). We also had our own artillery to support the infantry troops. Sometimes the fighter planes would have tanks of napalm under their wings and they would throw this into the caves to drive out the enemy. I don't believe that I saw any liquid gas used on the enemy. Napalm was enough to get them out of their caves.
Our battalion was set up right next to Motoyama No.1 and we had a little skirmish with the Japanese, but nothing very serious since the infantry had been through the area earlier. It was there that I lost my very good friend Chuck Stamm, who was also my Pinochle partner. I never really enjoyed the game again until I had my brother for my partner after we were both out of the service. I guess that was because Chuck was very much like a brother to me. Another friend was also a corpsman for our battery. He was very dedicated to his job. When Chuck got hit on D+3, someone called for the corpsman. "Doc" Price went up the hill and tried to apply first aid to him. He was a little late, since Chuck died a matter of about 15 to 20 seconds before he could get there.
We had very few reports on how the engagement on Iwo was going, except that the fighting was extremely heavy and mostly at close quarters. Just about everything that I used on Iwo I had learned on my other two landings. I had fear, just like everyone else making the landing. Most of the fear was the fear of dying. The only thing was that one did not talk about it--or at least tried to put it out of his mind.
I was not involved in the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima, as the flag raising was done by the 5th Marine Division. I was in the 4th Marine Division. I was on the beach waiting for a truckload of ammo for our guns when I saw the flag go up the first time. There was a lot of cheering going on at that time. I also saw the second flag go up.
I was wounded just over the right eye by a piece of shrapnel while unloading a vehicle full of ammunition when a round of mortar landed near the vehicle. I turned down the Purple Heart because I didn't want a message sent to my mother. She had a bad heart and I didn't want to worry her to any grave sickness. My wound required seven stitches and the corpsman, under the doctor's supervision, sewed the wound.
There were no Medal of Honor recipients in my battery. The Medal of Honor was not ordinarily awarded to personnel who were not in direct contact with the enemy. There were several awarded to members of the infantry regiments. Of the 27 Medals of Honor awarded for Iwo Jima, 12 were awarded to members of the 4th Marine Division.
I stayed on Iwo Jima for 36 days, and then we went back to Maui. The next invasion was to be Japan. There was not much training that could be done by the artillery between invasions. We were loading the ships to go to Japan when the Japanese surrendered. The dropping of the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the most fortunate thing to happen to the American troops. After seeing the invasion plans, we (the Marines) knew that we would all be killed in the invasion of Japan. We would have been the advance guard for the taking of Tokyo.
There was a 50th anniversary commemorative of the taking of Iwo Jima. I didn't leave anything there except a bunch of footprints, so I never went back.
When I returned to the States, I went to Great Lakes Naval Training Station for discharge. My only duty there was to prepare for my discharge. I guess that I would fit the category of "a lot wild" when it comes to the kind of lifestyle I lived when I got out. I became a fairly heavy drinker, along with quite a few of my buddies. Even the girls would go to the bars quite a bit. All of these people were people that I knew before the war.
I decided to re-enlist because jobs were very scarce at that time. I also wanted to help out at home, so I took the re-enlistment route. My mother did not want me to re-enlist, but I talked her into it. I left home and returned after ten days because she had passed away. I remember her last words to me as I left for my duty station. Since I was the youngest, she always looked upon me as her baby. As I left she said, "I'll never see my baby again." I have thought of that many times over the years.
After her funeral, I returned to my duty station. I went to Quantico, Virginia, for my first duty station. While I was there I worked in the Post Exchange as a warehouseman. After six months, I went to Brown Field at Quantico as part of the Basic School Detachment. I was in Basic School Detachment when the Korean War started. I was later transferred to the 22nd Marines just before the name was changed to Schools Troops. Then I was transferred to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and joined the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, 2nd Marine Division. At the time, I was one of the few who had been in combat before and I had a Lieutenant who didn’t like anyone who had more experience than he.
When the Korean War broke out, I knew where Korea was due to the fact that I had served in World War II. We didn’t have time to read newspapers before the Korean War broke out. I knew that Japan had controlled the country of Korea for hundreds of years prior to World War II. Korea became an independent country split into two parts with the Chinese forcing their way into North Korea and the United States helping South Korea to set up some semblance of a democracy. Because the North Korean government wanted to unite both sides under Communist rule, they attacked South Korea to attain their objective. Via the medias of radio and newspaper, we started to pay much closer attention to what was happening after the war broke out. Actually, this was just a little "police action", according to President Truman.
No one really wants to go to war at any time, but I didn’t expect this one to last very long. I knew that it would be another dirty little war that needed cleaning up. I knew that it would not be easy and that it would last longer than a few months. To be truthful, I didn’t want to get in the fighting part of this one. Yet, why not someone who knew how to fight, not some young kid who would get killed the first time some enemy started shooting in his direction. No, I was not the ‘hero’ type. I just had a little more knowledge than the young kids who were practically straight from boot camp. I knew enough to keep my head down.
From Camp Lejeune I went to Camp Pendleton, California, where I received a brush-up of my training in military tactics before going to Korea. One of the first things that one learns about fighting a war is that there is no such thing as a seasoned combat Marine. Every war is different from the war before. That is the truth, because there is always something that changes with each war. In Korea we learned that, due to politics, the war was going to be a stalemate. Many others in the group were not combat veterans and this was their advanced infantry training.
To prepare for leaving the United States, all that I did was pack my civilian clothing and send them to my brother Don so he could store them for me. He thought that I was being transferred to another station that I could not talk about. I felt that since I was not married and had no girlfriend, I had no one to worry about me. There was no car to store. There was no final visit home because my parents were both deceased and my brothers had their families to worry about. The situation was such that I seldom wrote letters home and no one knew where I was. I was not one to let people get close to me. I had lost too many good friends in World War II, and it was still having an effect on me. I never told my brothers that I was even in Korea until I got back. As for close friends at home, I no longer had any. We had drifted apart over the years.
I went straight from the United States to Korea, leaving in the middle of September of 1951 on a merchant marine ship. I don’t recall the name of that dirty old rust bucket, but half the personnel got sick from the smell, including myself. As for cargo, none of us knew whether it carried anything other than troops. I’ve been on about twenty different ships during my time in the Marine Corps and I’ve never been on anything as filthy as those two merchant marine ships--the first going to the Hawaiian islands during World War II and the second going to Korea. On the trip to Korea, only Marines were aboard, plus whatever cargo it carried. I don’t know how many troops it could carry comfortably, but as always, it had more troops than could be handled with comfort. Except for the fact that the stench of the ship made me sick, I had no trouble with getting my sea legs back.
Luckily we had no really rough weather. The only thing we had was a rain squall or two. It took us about fifteen days to get to Korea. There was no entertainment on that scow. I was supposed to work on the Marines' personnel record books. I took them topside so that I could get my work done because it stank too much below decks. There was no further training on the ship. None could have been conducted because too many men were sick. The only stop that the ship made was at Kobe, Japan, for one night and then we went on to Pusan, Korea. No military personnel were allowed to go ashore in Japan. The reason for stopping was unknown to the Marines.
It was on the ship going to Korea that I met Herbert Cy Wong, along with a couple other Chinese people and a Polish kid named Ron Ziolecki. Herb and Ron had gone to school together in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and I was from Sheboygan, 50 miles north of Milwaukee. The funny thing is that all three of us--Herb, Ron, and I ended up in the same section. Ron eventually ended up in the Division Drum and Bugle Corps.
Dirty Little War
We got to Pusan, Korea, at 1830 on approximately the 15th of October. I was a Private First Class (PFC). The debarking process started immediately. Ron and Herb joined the S-2 section in H&S Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division (later I joined them by getting transferred to H&S Company). I joined ‘G’ Company. My final assignment came after we reached our final destination. I was assigned to Fire Team #3, Squad #1, 3rd Platoon, "G" Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division.
Except that it was a little cooler and it had red clay and mountains, Korea was no different than some of the islands on which I had landed during World War II. We could tell immediately that we were in a war zone. We were not allowed any lights and we were issued live ammunition and told to lock and load our weapons. We traveled by truck to where our regiment was located. The trucks were open and the weather was turning chilly. The only natives we saw on the trip to the regiment were workers for the companies. They carried supplies from the rear up to the front lines. I don't know the correct spelling of the name, but they were called "coggidors". Sometimes they got wounded or killed while packing supplies to the front. I don't know the exact location of the whole regiment, but my company was on a ridge facing one of the highest mountains in Korea when we got there. It was called Hill 802 (meters). We stayed in that particular area until we were relieved in January of 1952. We were in a static position at that time.
Before I got to Korea, the American forces had re-taken the territory up to the 38th parallel and stopped. By taking this territory, the U.N. forces were back in the position where they had been when the war started. That was how the war in Korea was different for me than World War II. When I reached Korea, a temporary cease fire was already in effect due to the peace talks, and we were in a static condition. In World War II, we kept moving forward until we had moved from one end of the island to the other. We made our landing, fought until the island was secured, returned to our advanced base, and practiced for the next operation. In Korea, we were on a small peninsula attached to a greater land mass. There was a lot more ground to cover than on some small island. Since we were in a static condition, we sent out patrols to probe the enemy’s positions. Later after I transferred to S-2, I often went out on these patrols.
A typical day was spent cleaning our weapons, going to the Battalion area to get a shower, eating and talking, and waiting for the next assignment. Usually at night during this time frame, we tried to take prisoners. This tactic meant that we had to go out on raiding parties to find them. During these times there was always a chance that there would be a fire fight with the enemy, but no major happenings took place during October-January.
I was assigned as an assistant Browning Automatic Rifleman. I knew no one in the platoon and I took the place of a man who had been killed. I had a fire team leader who was just seventeen years old and he didn't like me because I replaced his buddy. Under the circumstances, I remained an outcast while in that unit. The other members of the fire team would not talk to me other than making remarks in order to anger me and get me in fights and other troubles. Since the personnel in the platoon had no idea what ethnic background I had, I was often called "Jew-boy" and "dirty little Jew." My background, of course, was pure German. That, too, led to my being ostracized. Also, if any menial jobs came up for the company, I was always ordered to do them when my first fire team was called to send someone to do them. The other members of the fire team were from the southern states in the United States and I was from the North, being from Wisconsin. Therefore, I was considered to be two steps lower than a rat in a hole. A black man was assigned to the team and the fire team leader assigned him to the same bunker that I was in, saying, "You're a northern 'nigger-lover', so sleep with him." These were the things which I had to put up with.
I don't know the whole story, but part of it was the fact that I had been in World War II and also that the name Hertensteiner sounds Jewish to some people. I was with a group of people who did not like Jews, and they thought I was Jewish. I was also older than the rest by about five years. The man that I replaced was a close friend of two of the fire team members from what I was told. Since the fire team leader was only seventeen years old, he was afraid that I would try to take over the fire team. As far as prejudice is concerned, I would imagine that there is still some left against the Jewish members of the Corps. I was later transferred to another fire team in the same platoon (I understand that the reason that I was changed to a different group was to cool things down), and there was a complete turn around from the first fire team. I was much friendlier with the members of that group. When I moved to the new fire team, the fire team leader, Cpl. Patrick Leahy, became very friendly toward me. He didn't act like a snot-nosed brat. He knew what had transpired in the first team. He was a Boston Irishman who knew what prejudice was. When there was work to be done, we did it together.
On the evening of 7 January 1952, the whole platoon was assigned to go on a raid of the enemy's lines to capture at least one prisoner for interrogation purposes. We got in a fire fight and everything began to happen very fast. The platoon sergeant (Sergeant Shipke) ordered everyone to charge and I worked my way through the deep snow to a burning trench-line. It seemed that everyone was having trouble getting his weapon to fire. The snow was hip deep and while the rest of the platoon were moving up the back of the ridge, the thermite grenades went off. Everyone went down in the snow to keep from being shot. In the process, the rifles, pistols, machine guns and other weapons froze. The weapons were all full of snow except for mine. (Because of my experience in World War II, I kept my weapon clean and dry.) My fire team leader, who was acting as my assistant, asked me for my Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) and he gave me a Thompson sub-machine gun which was jammed. When he yelled, "Hey, Herk! It won't work!," I proceeded to sit down with the trench-line fire to my back and while sitting there on point (the first person closest to the enemy) on a ridge above the rest of the platoon, I began stripping down all the weapons in the platoon so that they could carry on the assignment. I cleaned up and returned to firing condition every BAR and M1 rifle in the platoon. I also returned a Browning light machine gun to firing condition. Meanwhile, I made a good enemy target with my back to the fire. For this, my Company Commander thought that I should be transferred to a better job. When the chance for transfer came along, I grabbed it and ran.
International Tent Burners
I was assigned to H&S-3-1, Battalion S-2 Section. It was located with the other companies, G, H, and I. The Battalion Commanding officer was in H&S Company. I was assigned to the S-2, Intelligence Section as a scout-observer. The job of a scout observer was to go out on patrol with a unit from one of the letter companies and observe the terrain and possibly enemy positions. Where we went was usually behind the enemy lines at night with the scouting patrol. My typical duty in the static position was to take the Division Intelligence report to the company commanders. That's how I became friendly with the Company First Sergeants. One of them, M/Sgt. Andy Jackson Bays, became my 1stSgt. at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, after we came back from Korea. As I mentioned earlier, I was good friends with Herb Wong and Ron Ziolecki, both from the Milwaukee area. We all ended up in the same section in H&S Company when I was transferred to the company. We all made it home at the same time, being in the same replacement draft. I haven't seen Ron Ziolecki since we were all discharged in 1953, but Herb and I stay in contact by phone and Christmas cards. We also visit each other when we get a chance.
Like all of the other Marines in the company, I fell into a daily routine. When on line I washed and brushed my teeth daily. When in the battalion area, I took a hot shower. I would get to the battalion about once per week. Going to the battalion area was done in relays, so many men at a time.
Most of the food was called C-rations. These were cans of high protein food which one could heat individually and eat--spaghetti, ham, meat and beans. If I did not want to wait for the food to get warm, I could eat it cold and get the same nutritional value from it. (They were much better than the K-rations of World War II, which tasted bad and were eaten cold.) The food in the reserve areas was much better than the food on line. It was usually hot and fresh. By that I mean that it was not frozen or removed from tin cans before being prepared for the people to eat. By the way, our interpreters ate with us. I tried the native food one time, but I didn't like it. It was during a move from one theater to another and my friend Hwang Seung Mo invited me to his cousin's house. I can't really remember what we ate for the meal. Since returning to the States, I have eaten many Oriental dishes. I would have to say that the stateside food that I missed most was good old Sheboygan summer sausage and bratwurst.
War was always a serious situation, but there were some times that were less serious than others in Korea. One of the less serious times was the eating of Christmas dinner--a turkey dinner with all the trimmings on 25 December 1951. It was the best meal that I ever ate in Korea, but we had a heavy snowstorm and the temperature was 17 degrees below zero that day. Hot meals were delivered by helicopter from the rear and served hot all day long.
Most of the guys had a sense of humor which showed at various times. The one funny thing that really stands out in my memory, however, was the tent burning. When I got to the S-2 Section, we had a corporal named Patrick P. Ricca who always added gasoline to the diesel oil that was used in the space heaters. This was used to make the stove fuel burn hotter. Then he would turn the heater up until the pipes got red hot. This would start the tent on fire and we would have to put it out. After that we would get a new tent and he would do the same thing. It got so bad that the S-2 Section got the name "International Tent Burners Association." At this time we had one German, one Chinese, one Polish, one French, one English, and one Italian in the group. So you can see how we got our name.
Combat Duty in H&S
One night I went out on patrol as the patrol leader when we almost ran into an enemy ambush patrol on the way back. I called my friend Hwang Seung Mo, who was my personal interpreter, over to me and told him to call to the enemy patrol leader to come over to him. There must have been something wrong with the accent used by my friend, because the enemy patrol leader came with a knife in his hand. At this point I rose up and tried to hit him low in the abdominal region, but he kneed me in the face. I never stopped my movement and I then struck him across the throat, causing him to drop his knife and put his hands to his throat and gag. I kept moving and grabbed him in a 'Japanese strangle' hold and broke his neck. At this point, Hwang Seung Mo called to the rest of the ambush patrol to scatter and go home. We then proceeded to go back to our lines after gathering what intelligence we could from the dead body. I warned the other members that they had better not mention anything about what happened as I didn't want anyone to know how I got the bloody mouth. I could trust my friend and interpreter Hwang Seung Mo not to say anything and, until now, I've never mentioned it, not even to Herb Wong, my best friend. Since I was the chief scout-observer, I was also in charge of the interpreters unless they were assigned to one of the letter companies. I always kept Hwang Seung Mo with me and we became good friends. All interpreters were South Korean and they had to know how to speak English.
When the Battalion was off line, I took the daily intelligence reports to the companies and I got to know the Company Commanders and First Sergeants quite well. Conditions were definitely better, too because I was with my friends Herb Wong and Ron Ziolecki. We were friends on the ship taking us to Korea. As I have already mentioned, the section chief, a Master Sergeant, understood how I had been treated when I first arrived in Korea. I also made sergeant six months after I left G-3-1.
The weather conditions varied quite a bit from hot to cold. When I first got there, it was the fall of the year and the weather was fairly cool. This was the rainy season, which made walking very hard because the red gumbo would stick to our shoes and the mud made everything very slippery. The winter season was very, very cold. On Christmas Day of 1951 it was 17 degrees below zero and we had a heavy snowstorm. We wore heavy "long johns", regular utilities, heavy parkas, cold weather caps, heavy woolen socks, and new thermal boots known as "Mickey Mouse boots" to keep warm. The name came from the fact that they looked just like the boots that Mickey Mouse wore. They kept the feet very comfortably warm. All one had to do to keep his feet warm was to wiggle his toes and they would warm quickly. In the summer we wore light under-shorts, shirts, and utilities. For shoes we wore regular field boots. We only wore our flack jackets when we were on the outpost line of resistance (OPLR). An OPLR was a line of resistance which was placed up to a 1000 yards in front of the Main Line of Resistance. The OPLR was to be the first line hit by an enemy force so that the main body of personnel could be alerted to what was happening and could prepare themselves for the battle.
The Battalion was on all three fronts--eastern, central and western. Actually, I had no real vivid memories of that time since most of the time was spent off-line. The Royal Canadian Highland Regiment, also called the RCR, was on line next to us for about three months. I got to know their intelligence NCO quite well since we attended the two-week 1st Marine Division Intelligence school at the same time in the middle to late June of 1952. We also had the Korean Marines on one side. I never got to work with them, but there were times when I took my interpreter and we visited the Korean Marines to exchange ideas. One thing that I do remember about the Korean Marines is that their officers were very brutal. One instance that I recall is that one of the communications men was on the land line (telephone) trying to make contact, but no one was answering on the other end. The officer grabbed the handset out of his hand and struck him with it, causing a deep slash across the man’s face.
We had very little problem with the civilians. When we did, I got my interpreter and on orders from the Colonel (Battalion CO) went out and removed them from their homes or area. I always felt sorry for them when I had to do this because I had no home of my own and I could sympathize with them. I always left it to my interpreter to explain why they had to leave their homes. I learned that the Oriental person must always think of how his/her speech and action must always reflect honor upon his/her ancestors. Honor was always paramount to anything else. I once went with Hwang Seung Mo to evict a Korean family that was in the firing zone. He wrote something on the side of the building and when I asked him what it was for, he answered that it was to ward off evil spirits and to honor that family’s ancestors. That made me much more respectful of their mores and customs.
As to the North Korean/Chinese enemy, they were a mix of old and very young. The officers and NCOs were usually among the older troops, while the Privates and PFCs were as young as 10 and 12 years old. At times it felt like we were fighting children. Since they were trying to kill us, we had to defend ourselves. Other than that, their method of fighting was not very different from ours. Of course, they did like to charge in a great mass of humanity, not caring how many troops they lost. I was never in hand-to-hand circumstances with either Korean or Chinese troops except for that one time when I killed the Chinese patrol leader. I was never wounded in Korea. In fact, neither was anyone from my platoon in G-3-1. That's because of the static position we were in when we were just holding what we had taken back from the Communist forces. Since we were in a static position due to the cease fire condition, we did very little actual fighting. So, there was not much wounding or killing of personnel. We were very lucky. Mostly, we went on night patrols to see if we could pick up a prisoner or two. Since the enemy was in a static condition, too, they didn't fight differently than we did except for the spies they sent over to our area once in a while. We caught a few while they were acting as interpreters for the letter companies. G-3-1 was one of the companies employing an interpreter who later turned out to be a spy. Due to the facial configuration of most Marines, no American spy would have lived for more than a couple of minutes if sent to spy on the enemy. Herb Wong was the only person who could fit the bill, and he was much too valuable for that. The South Korean government sent spies to the enemy instead. We always supplied our own security. We held watches all night long through changing personnel every two hours.
I did have the opportunity to see our corpsman in action. It was the springtime of the year and field conditions were rather muddy and wet. We were located on a ridge in the central section of Korea and I had been assigned to observe the enemy in that district. One of the Marines in the company with which I was working got his leg blown off because he stepped on a land mine. The corpsman had to do a field amputation and I helped him. I held the man's leg while the corpsman removed it. The Marine was in shock and kept rambling on about how he had a million dollar wound. I don't think that he knew he had lost his leg from the ankle down. The corpsman did a very professional job and did not show any more emotion than he would for any other serious wound. That is, he didn't talk about how bad it was. He just went about his job while offering sympathy to the man. As for me, all that I did was hold the man still while the corpsman did what he had to do. War conditions one so that the taking off of someone's leg is all a part of it. I'm not saying this disrespectfully. I don't think that I handled it in any way that showed the man how serious the wound really was. A helicopter arrived and the man was air-lifted to one of the Navy hospital ships. We all saw how helicopters were used to remove wounded from the front lines. The only other time that I saw a helicopter used for military purposes was to bring the Commandant of the Marine Corps (General Shepherd) up to my observation post. I understand that they were used extensively by the Army, but I never saw them.
The first time I met General Shepherd was in 1949 when I was stationed at Quantico, Virginia. At that time he was a Lt. Colonel and I was a PFC. The occasion was a fire in the barracks of the student lieutenants and I was somewhat instrumental in getting it under control before the fire department got there. At that time I was working under Captain Lindsey, who invited me to eat at the Student Officers Mess. Colonel Shepherd was there and that's how I first met him. When he was Commandant, he came up to my observation post while I was in another bunker making something to eat. I heard a lot of noise in my OP and I ran out sans helmet, skivvy shirt, jacket, and flack jacket right into a big group of high ranking officers. Of course, Lieutenant Kelly was there and he told me to get lost. The Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Armitage, said, "Wait, we might need you." He then turned to the Commandant and told him that he had someone who might find the George Company Command Post. The General called me over and asked me if I could. I asked him what part of the George CP he wanted and he said that he wanted to see the "six." I pointed him out to the General. I got a couple of 'atta boys' for that one and I also got a Section Officer somewhat angry at me.
Our whole Battalion received great support from heavy weapons. We often watched the air support personnel just about land their aircraft on the hill at full speed on their throttle and then drop their bombs and napalm. The artillery worked with us by having forward observers on line with us. They called in fire when we needed it. Naval gunfire was the most exciting of them all. The USS Wisconsin and the USS Missouri sat off the east coast near Wonsan, and fired at the targets called in. Usually it was Hill 802 and we could hear the sixteen inch rounds come in. When they hit, they shook the ground for about 1600 yards around. Those two ships could fire on any target given them anywhere on the Korean peninsula, their range was so great. I can't really remember any time where we used tanks. They always supplied cover from Division Headquarters since we were in a static position. They were more like artillery than supplying close-in support for us.
The officers kept changing, sometimes so fast that we couldn’t keep up with them. As for my immediate superior, 1stLt Thomas R. Kelly, I’ve always tried to live by the adage, "If you can’t say anything good about someone, don’t say anything at all." Suffice to say that I disliked him. There were other people that I did not get along with--that was going to happen in a group that changed as often as ours. I got along with most of the people, however, even if I was not the most cheerful person around.
At first we moved from the eastern front to the central front for a period of about two or three months. Then it was a move to the western front in late May or early June for the rest of my stay in Korea. Each move took a day or two. All movements were made by 2 1/2-ton 6x6 trucks. These were rather large vehicles for transporting material and personnel. Nothing eventful happened during these moves. On the western front, we were just below Taedak San, the highest hill in South Korea. The Battalion’s job was to make sure that the negotiators at Panmunjom got out safely if armed hostilities broke out again. Since the main objective was to get the North Koreans and Chinese to retreat from Taedak San, we had a "few little battles" like Bunker Hill, Carson, Reno and Vegas. Bunker Hill came first during the time Herb Wong and I were getting ready to leave Korea. As a scout-observer, I went up to the combat area where fighting was taking place on Bunker Hill to observe how things were going and to take to the Colonel any information that I could gather from the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the fighting to take back with me. I stopped doing that and going out on patrols when the draft I was in was pulled off line for the whole division, but I was ordered by my Section Officer to go out to Bunker Hill just three days before I was to go home.
I was ordered a second time by 1st Lieutenant Thomas R. Kelly to go out to Bunker Hill and I could have refused, but I was anxious to find out what was happening there. Two of my scout observers came back with combat fatigue and I wanted to know why, so I went out to see if I could help in any way. Since I was at my OP and not in the battalion area (H&S Company), no one else knew that I was going to Bunker Hill. Only Lieutenant Kelly knew and he wasn't saying anything. He had been told once that I was not to go to Bunker Hill. That time, as I was preparing to go, my Section Chief, a Master Sergeant, went to the Colonel over the head of the OIC. The Section Chief was the highest ranking enlisted person in the unit and the Section Officer was the Commissioned Officer who headed the section. The Section Chief went to the Colonel because the Colonel was the only person who could countermand Lieutenant Kelly's orders as Section Officer. The Colonel called the OIC in and told him that I was to step "not one foot" in front of the Battalion CP, which was his tent, until it was time for me to go (meaning go home with the draft). I understand that there were two Major Generals sitting with the Colonel discussing the way the operation on Bunker Hill was progressing. According to the Master Sergeant who stayed for the conversation about me, the two Generals made the suggestion that I should join the rest of the men getting ready to go home. As I said, the whole draft throughout the division was pulled off line and either sent to a rest area or kept in their CPs. Therefore, I was the only one who was still in the midst of a combat situation.
I spent my second to last night in Korea on Bunker Hill in the middle of the battle. Lieutenant Kelly wanted me to go out to drag a dead enemy body back. The ground was bare, and I would have had to crawl out over 150 yards to get that body. I refused unless he crawled one foot ahead of me on the way out and one foot behind me on the way back. We argued about that and I knew that he would not do anything because the Battalion CO had told the Lieutenant that I was not to set one foot in front of the battalion CP until my detachment was well on its way back to the States. The Colonel wanted to know where I was for the last few days and I told him that I was just wandering around to see what was happening. Had I told the Colonel the truth--that Lieutenant Kelly had ordered me to go out to Bunker Hill, there would have been one less 1st Lieutenant in the Battalion.
As it was, I almost missed going home with the draft. After I came back from Bunker Hill, I spent my last day on my Observation Post, only coming off at evening. Running into the Company Commander and the 1st Sergeant, they asked me why I was not checked out yet. I told them that I had just come down from my OP and they handed me a checkout slip and told me to just put my things in a pile. The only thing that I was careful with was my rifle. The rest of my 782 gear (mess gear, packs, cartridge belt and flack jackets), I just threw down. They signed me out and told me to go see the Colonel. The Colonel said that he would miss my delivering the Division Intelligence Report (one of my daily jobs). We all shipped out that night.
When I left the company, I think that the feeling was more relief than any other feeling. I believe that was true for all of the other people going home. The only thing that I remember about the train ride was that it was very late when we left the battalion area--about one or two o'clock in the morning. We should have left around ten or eleven o'clock at night.
On the night that we left Korea for home, the 1st Sergeant of George Company, who was a friend of mine, was on the train also. He told everyone on the train that some G-3-1 Marines had been killed and captured. Since I didn't know any of them personally, I really was not too upset, except I felt that someone fell asleep at the switch. As the Company Commander, I would have put the entire Company on full alert, expecting something like that because the Communist forces would hear about the movement of troops out of the area.
I believe that we left Korea on 15 September 1952, exactly 11 months after I arrived there. I was a Buck Sergeant (E4). If memory serves me correctly after all these years, the ship that took us back to the States was the USS Bollinger. I've been on so many ships during my career that the names run together and some have been forgotten over time. Herb Wong, Frank Chang, Al Hew, Ron Ziolecki, and I were on the ship. I was also friendly with some of the staff NCOs that I had worked with while in Korea.
Although there was no entertainment on the trip home (not even any old movies that I can recall), the mood of all the passengers was one of happiness that they were going home. My mood was also one of happiness because I was going to see my family, including my little niece Donna Jean, who was born while I was in Korea. My friend Frank Chang was one of the troops who got seasick on the return journey. He had to spend all of his time in bed in the ship's sick bay.
My duty on the ship was to stand Supernumerary of the Guard. That was a do-nothing job, especially on shipboard. One time it was rather close since we had some Puerto Rican army on board and they thought that they did not have to obey any of the ship rules. They would not stop playing their guitars and making a lot of noise, and noise travels throughout the ship. I went to quiet them and they just kept doing as they pleased. I got the Officer of the Day and they would not listen to him either. The Commander of the Guard was a big burly Master Sergeant who had been the First Sergeant of G-3-1. When he came into their sleeping quarters, he grabbed the guitar out of one of the player’s hands. The Puerto Ricans always tried to make out that they did not understand English. "No habla Englasa, habla Espanola.” That worked until the First Sergeant held the guitar like a baseball bat and told them that if he had to come back and quiet them down again, he would smash that guitar over somebody’s head. That got them quiet in no time flat and we never had trouble with them again. They learned to speak and understand English in a hurry.
The ship did not stop anywhere on the two-week trip home. The big thrill for me was sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge. In all my travels in the Eastern Pacific, I had never before sailed under "The Bridge." We disembarked on Treasure Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay in California. I don't think anyone was waiting for us as this was a Naval facility. As I remember, we were taken immediately to the processing center barracks and held a few days so that everyone could be sent to his next duty station or discharged.
The first people we met after that were members of Frank Chang's family in downtown San Francisco. There were five of us who decided to go to a tavern/Chinese restaurant that Frank's mother owned. While there, we all ate some of the best Chinese food that I've ever tasted. After that, we went to various places around town--places like Fisherman's Wharf which had Joe DiMaggio's restaurant, plus other scenic places.
I was transferred to Philadelphia Navy Yard. Since I had just re-enlisted while in Korea, I had three more years to do. I had "shipped over" while in Korea so that I could come home with my friends with whom I had gone to Korea. At the Philadelphia Navy Yard, I was on the Marine Corps Liaison Team to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Philly. We coordinated the transfer of Marines to the hospital when they were wounded or otherwise incapacitated. I always felt that I was not a ‘post trooper’--that is, one who would rather shine his brass and shoes to mount guard than to be out in the field teaching young recruits how to be Marines.
After my ‘cruise’ was up, I attended college at Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin. At age 30, I was the oldest student in a school of 801 students. My goal was to be a high school history teacher. Since I had no one at home any more, I went a little wild for a prolonged period of time. As mentioned before, both my brothers were married and my mother and aunt were deceased, so I had no one to tie me down to one place. I started to lead my own life in the way that I wanted. Also, it was felt by my brothers that I should have settled at home instead of thinking of making a career of the Corps. This led to some disagreement between my two brothers and me.
My new duty station was in Philadelphia Navy Yard. I remained there until the middle of August 1953, when I finally got my wish and was transferred to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. While at Philadelphia Navy Yard, I received a couple of head injuries from an automobile accident. It happened 4 April 1953. I was traveling from the Navy Yard to Lakehurst, New Jersey, along with three other men on, as Snoopy would say, “a dark and dreary night.” Actually, we were in a very heavy rainstorm when I told the driver of the car that I would drive if he got tired. (I knew how to drive, even though I did not have a driver’s license.) I fell asleep and he sped up, which was a stupid thing to do. We came upon a traffic circle and he lost control of the vehicle. According to the New Jersey State Police Officer, we hit that circle at an estimated speed of 85 mph. The vehicle tumbled over a couple of times and the other three people were thrown out. I remained in the car with my head hitting the windshield and then going through the right hand front window. After going to sleep, the next thing I knew, I woke up in the Navy Dispensary at Lakehurst. I was going to get up and the doctor came over and told me to lie still. I told him that I had to work and he said that he thought that I did my work on Saturday. I said that this was Saturday. He then told me that it wasn’t Saturday, but that it was Wednesday and that I had been unconscious for four days. I found that I had suffered some damage to some nerves in my head. When I was at Carroll College, I found that I had a hairline fracture to the skull due to the accident. I found this out by going to the VA doctors in Milwaukee. This was caused by the accident that I was in while at Philly. It had nothing to do with my being wild. I was beginning to calm down by then.
I lost no buddies in Korea. We all came home together. However, I worked on body escort duty for Marines who were killed in Korea after I was back from Korea for about six months. When a military serviceman is killed, no matter where or how, a military service is always appointed to go with the body to its final resting place. Escort personnel are appointed according to enlisted and commissioned officer rank. Since I was enlisted, I escorted enlisted deceased. The job was not voluntary, but it gave the escort people quite a bit of free time. The first time out I had some problems getting things done the way they were supposed to be done. The body was supposed to be moved feet first and the baggage handlers took him off head first. I had to hold up the entire train until I talked to the Station Master and got things straightened out. On my second time, I had a hard time getting a color guard for the man’s funeral. By the way, when on body escort duty, the escort answers only to the Commandant of the Marine Corps. That is directly to him, no intermediaries. When I asked the Major in charge of recruiting for a color guard detail, he refused me. I asked for a phone and I told him that I was going to call the Commandant. He didn’t budge from his stance, so I asked for an outside line. When I got it, I told the operator that I wanted the Commandant of the Marine Corps in Washington, D.C. I got one of his aides and the major in Detroit decided that it would be a good thing to give me an honor guard detail which, by the way, included the major dressed in a Technical Sergeant’s blues.
I was never sure whether I wanted to make a career of the Corps. I think that the military was a place for me to hide when things didn’t go according to plan. As it happened, I ended with twenty good years of service when I was retired from the Corps. I had what was known as ‘broken time.' It was not consecutive time in the service.
I left school without completing the courses that I had taken, so obviously I didn't make it as a history teacher. The work ethic just wasn't there. I enlisted in the Air Force. I had to give up my previous rank of Sergeant (E4) and start at the beginning as an Airman 3rd Class (E2). I have always considered enlisting in the Air Force as the biggest mistake of my life, except that I met my wife there. Her name was Mary Carol Townsend, and she was also in the Air Force when I met her. She was originally from New Jersey. When I got married, I called on my two brothers and they came running. They were happy to finally see me settling down. After that we got along quite well. The wives kept up a correspondence with each other. Carol and I married on 29 April 1961 in Bellevue, Nebraska, and our first child was born on 14 May 1962. We now have three girls (Robyn Pearl, Cheryl Haines, and Jennifer Lynn) and also had a part in raising a granddaughter. We have six grandchildren.
It is hard to describe my various duty assignments while in the Marine Corps because they converge on each other. I was supposedly a clerk-typist, but I ended up doing many other things in place of being an office Marine. The last assignment that I had as a regular Marine was as a record book clerk, and that followed me wherever I went in the military service. At one time, I ended up in charge of training troops to march in formation besides being the SRB clerk. I was also in charge of making entries in Officers Jackets. Since the Officers Jackets were always locked up when they were not on the Colonel’s desk for signature, I was the only enlisted man who had a key to the 300 pound safe in which they were kept. This caused friction between a very junior buck sergeant and me. He thought that he should also have a key to the safe. I never carried that particular key around with me. I usually left it in the First Sergeant’s desk where it was always safe. I had known the 1st Sergeant when we were in Korea together. That gave me a buffer between the Company Commander and me. The Company Commander was a Captain who was buddy-buddy with this junior sergeant, which made things hard for me and the 1st Sergeant, who was the only one running the company.
After my four years in the Air Force, being stationed at Altus AFB and Offutt AFB, I finally left the Air Force and joined the Marine Corps Reserve. I retired from the Marine Corps Reserve on 3 July 1983, as a Staff Sergeant (E6). I was the oldest Sergeant in either component of the Corps until making Staff Sergeant. At my retirement from the Reserves, I was fifty-six years old. When I went back into the Marine Corps Reserve, I set a record for anyone over the age of 40 years to re-enlist unless his time was consecutive. Now, because of what I had done, people can re-enlist at the age of 50 years if they can pass the physical. My final retirement from the Marine Corps was on my sixtieth birthday, 9 December 1985. All Marine Reserves that put in their full complement of years retired at the age of 60.
Early in my military career I had difficulty adjusting with retirement, but the last time, when I was retired from the reserves, I was married and had a family, which helped me over any bumps. I attended an electronics school in 1963 after I received my discharge from the Air Force. After that I worked for McDonnell-Douglass and other electronics jobs until my eyes got too blurry to see properly. When I started needing reading glasses to see what I was doing, I decided to change my work to something that I could do without glasses. The reason was that I felt that I could not do a good job while removing and putting my glasses on all the time.
In my retirement, I am a member of the Marine Corps League, the "Devil Dogs"--the fun and honor society of the League, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Fourth Marine Division of World War II Association, the local German Society, the Sisters Cities Club, and the St. Charles County Genealogical Society. I read quite a bit--mostly books by Louis L'amour, including his modern day novels. Of course, I watch the news quite a bit on television to get an understanding of what's going on in the world. I also watch the Packer games with a group of other people from Wisconsin and we formed the Packer Backers.
I think the United States should have sent troops to Korea in the first place in 1950. We were in a position to help the Korean people until the politicians began dictating the war. I also think that MacArthur was right in going north of the 38th parallel. To me, it was the only good decision that he ever made, including those in World War II.
As in all wars, one has to go in and finish off the enemy. This is the big mistake that the United States and the United Nations made during the Korean War. Another mistake was not wanting China to enter the war outright, although they had troops there as "volunteers" to help the North Korean Communists through most of the war. If the Chinese Communists had entered the war on the side of the North Koreans, we could have declared war formally and not had a "police action." By doing this we could have mounted a full-scale military and civilian action against them.
The only good that I see coming out of this "conflict" is that we kept the South Koreans free and made them a good trading partner. The people themselves are grateful to us for keeping them free. I keep hearing stories about that from others who have gone back. I have never revisited Korea myself, but I would like to go back and take my wife with me.
I give a qualified yes to whether or not the United States should still have troops stationed in Korea now. In case the Communist forces should attack again, we will have troops on the ground and be able to handle the problem much more expeditiously. I rather expected the recent crisis in North Korea regarding the threat of atomic weapons, seeing our penchant for letting the enemy do as he pleases. Politicians again.
The Korean War carries the nickname "The Forgotten War" because no one paid any attention to the things that were happening over there when the war broke out. The war was only a "conflict," not a real war in the terms of reasons for fighting. People still don't pay any attention today as to what is happening in Korea. World War II veterans are treated with more respect and appreciation than Korean War veterans. The World War II veterans got it all. As a World War II veteran and a Korean War veteran, I could see and feel the difference.
It is very hard to deal with a closed government such as North Korea when it comes to recovering our missing in action. The only way to make sure that all of our killed and missing in action are brought back, both dead or alive, would be to go in and search for them ourselves. But that would be cause for another war.
I have never really talked to the members of my family about my Korean War experiences. One never tells about things that happened in war to a part of society which doesn't understand. But should a student someday read a copy of this memoir, I would want him or her to know that we were fighting for the freedom of the South Korean people and, in a way, our own freedom. We were there to keep the Communist forces from taking over the government of the South Koreans. The South Korean Armed Forces were not well trained at first and very small in numbers, just as they are today in size. If we would have allowed the Communist forces to take over South Korea, Japan would have been next and we would have lost all influence in the Far East. Loss of influence would have meant that the Communist forces could dictate our role in the Far East. That would have been a tremendous loss of freedom for us.
I received my military training during World War II and it was that experience which carried me through in Korea. My time in Korea can be described in a nutshell as quiet, however. The fighting was just picking up again when we were preparing to come home. My wife says that I suffer from nightmares, but they are nightmares in which I am always fighting the Japanese, not the Koreans or Chinese. My personal experiences in Korea are not conducive to being friendly with Korean War veterans who attend company or battalion reunions, so I go to reunions of my World War II organizations rather than the Korean War ones. In September of 2007 we will have our 54th reunion of the 4th Marine Division of World War II in Louisville, Kentucky, and I am planning on going. We are growing very thin in ranks.
I haven't searched for buddies from the war since I returned to the States. I've been lucky because fellow Marine Herb Wong has been in contact with all those that matter, and he has kept me informed about them. I did have one big surprise one day in February of 2007. I answered the phone and the person on the other end started talking about our time in Korea together. I said, "Ron Ziolecki," and I hadn't heard from him directly for 55 years. Herb and I had discussed him on and off over that period of time. There is a strong camaraderie among all honorably discharged and retired Marines, not unlike a fraternity. We have our own organizations to which we belong. We help Marines needing help. We have birthday balls each year and hold parades on each birthday.
If there is anything that I have not mentioned in this memoir about my time in Korea and the United States Marine Corps, it is buried so deep in my memory that I have forgotten about it completely. There are always some places and things which are very difficult to bring back into memory because they are too painful.
General Orders for Sentries:
[Excerpt from Warrior Culture of the U.S. Marines, copyright 2001 Marion F. Sturkey]
The eleven General Orders for sentries never change. They constitute the unyielding bedrock upon which Marines enforce military security in the United States and throughout the world. General Orders dictate the conduct of all Marines on guard duty. These orders apply to all Marines at all bases and outposts in time of peace, and in time of war. Marine recruits in boot camp must memorize these General Orders. Woe be unto the unfortunate recruit who can not shout out, verbatim and without hesitation, all eleven of them. Such a recruit will incur a firestorm of wrath from his Drill Instructor. There is sound logic for this rigid training. The eleven General Orders will guide each Marine throughout his years in the Corps:
Code of Conduct
Article I: I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
Article II: I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.
Article III: If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and to aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.
Article IV: If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information nor take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them in every way.
Article V: When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country or its allies or harmful to their cause.
Article VI: I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.