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Robert Carroll Janes
Elk Grove, CA -
"Things like somebody being hurt don't faze me anymore like they used to when I first got to Korea. We close our eyes to a lot of it, but deep inside it still hits hard. When there is a casualty we say, "He was a good guy." Then it is never mentioned again. But I think every man's insides cries with sorrow while his surface remains hard. I know I'm that way. It has to be that way or a man would go crazy over night."
- Bob Janes
My name is Robert Carroll Janes of Elk Grove, California. I was born July, 1930 to Robley Carroll and Mary Elizabeth Janes. Their parents were of Irish, German and French descent, but not immigrants. I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, until age 17, when I hitchhiked to California. My early years were spent in central Columbus in my grandparents’ rental house in a “salt & pepper” poor neighborhood. This is because my biological father left my mother in the depth of the Great Depression with five little children ages 2-10 (three girls and two boys). I was next to the youngest.
A Bad Situation
We moved to a house on the West Side after my mother married Sam Dunlap--a vile, profane, evil, vulgar drunk. I do not know enough bad words to describe this monster. He was a commercial artist with the Columbus Dispatch making $25 per week, which was considered good at that time. I know Mother married him to put a roof over our heads. She basically sacrificed her life and happiness for her children. It at least took us out of poverty. Mother eventually got a job with the US Department of Agriculture as a statistical clerk, which kept us going on her salary while the monster drank his. I found out years later that he had molested my little sister in her early teen years. He died on her birthday in 1957, driving drunk head-on into a truck. My little sister said it was the happiest day of her life. At that time she was 25 and I was 27. Sam was in his fifties.
Growing up in the 1930s, I knew we were poor. Half the winter we could not afford coal by the truckload, so we had to buy it by the bushel basket. When I came home in the dark after carrying my papers, I saw the lighted windows and envied those people inside whom I believed were warm and happy. I certainly was not. Going home to a cold house and lousy situation bothered me a great deal. I remember hastening to bed so I could get under the covers to get warm. I also wet the bed until I was 11 or 12.
The war years went better. I was pretty much on my own. I also had a very good friend (Fred Warden) whose parents were better off than mine. I slept and ate there much of the time. During my high school years I was a track runner (hurdles). In my senior year at West High I won the Columbus City Championship in the 220 yard low hurdles and placed second in the Central Ohio District. I also ran the 440 yard dash, usually as anchor for the mile relay. I was Captain of the track team and Treasurer of the class. These experiences enormously raised my self esteem and confidence.
Growing up in the Great Depression was very difficult, as noted above. We did not know where the next meal would come from. My older brother carried newspapers. I started selling newspapers on street corners when I was six years old. Later, I carried newspapers and eventually became an Assistant Substation Manager. At 16-17 years old I was a soda jerk in a drug store. In the early years of the Depression, whatever money we could all gather from our various odd jobs kept us going until Mother got her job. Mother had to manipulate Sam to get any money out of him, but I think he did help with the mortgage.
I remember being well behaved. I was allowed to go wherever I wanted and stay as long as I liked. My mother would only say, “I know you will never do anything wrong, Bobby.” My friend Fred, however, was a little rowdy. His mother liked it when Fred and I were together because she knew I would keep him well behaved. It was only those times we weren’t together that he got in trouble. I was never spanked. Mother allowing me to roam free, plus her faith in me, gave me the gift of self discipline. Having three sisters, she also taught me to trust and respect women. Today I have to struggle to trust men as much. The men in my life growing up were not trustworthy.
I was not close to my siblings as I define closeness. We were all fighting the same battle, each in our own way. Sam hated my brother (who looked like his biological father) and picked on him so much that my brother went and lived with someone else. I looked up to my brother and yearned for his attention and approval, but he was caught up in his own battle, so I never got to know him--or him me, on a personal basis. He served in the Marines in the Pacific in World War II, became a corporate executive, contracted multi-infarct senile disorder and died disoriented and poor at age 61. He married a woman 14 years his senior who would have nothing to do with his family or allow us to visit him during his illness.
It was only in later years that I became closer to my sisters, especially the older ones. For years, in my rejection of all those connected with my childhood, I also rejected them. However, they continued to connect with me. We became very close in the years before they died. I tried to get closer to my little sister, but that only happened shortly before she died. My guess is that she rejected the rest of us because of Sam’s molesting her. She probably thought we should have prevented it. I would have if I had known about it. I threatened to beat him up when he came after me in one of his rages. I was about 14. He backed off and didn’t bother me again.
It was my good fortune to have had a good education from grade 1 through my second Master’s degree. My mother valued education. She dropped out of Ohio State at age 17 to marry my biological father. Her father, Grandpa Roach, was a municipal judge and very unhappy with her for that. He was also a strict Methodist. She freely admitted over the years that she was a little wild as a teen and regretted dropping out of college. She was proud of all our accomplishments in school and made sure we all graduated from high school. She taught me many fine values: self discipline, the work ethic, education, understanding of women’s issues, loyalty, and appreciation for good music, among other values that have lasted through the years. She died at age 94 1/2, sharp of mind to the end. All my siblings are now dead. My brother died at 61, oldest sister at 65, older sister at 76, and youngest sister at 74.
I liked most of my teachers. As a matter of fact, it was the high school track coach, Rufus Glass, who turned my life around by encouraging me to go out for track. By that I mean he pulled me out of my “funk”. Another man who helped turn my life in the right direction was Fred “Pop” Gaugel. Pop was a high school teacher at another Columbus school. He connected with me at a drug store where I worked. He became a surrogate father to me. He picked me up on Sunday mornings to take me to a Sunday School class for teens which he taught. He got me to sing in the church choir which he directed. Having no religious background ever, I was inspired to take classes to become baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran church. That faith served me well in getting through the hell that was Korea and through the years. Today my spiritual beliefs are much different. I would define myself as an “agnostic humanist”. The transition was slow and I’m still seeking spiritual (not religious) meaning.
World War II
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, my sister and I were at the movies. When we got home Mother told us of the attack and that we would be at war with Japan. I thought, “Good. Japan is a small country and we’ll beat them hands down” or something like that. I thought war was glamorous. I was 11. Little did I know. Except for my brother going to war, it did not affect our family much, except for the rationing of certain basics like sugar, butter, and other things. During the war our school had many scrap drives in support of the war effort. We collected bacon grease, scrap metal, paper and other materials for the war effort and were glad to do so. Mother worked and Sam kept on his usual evil behavior. (Years later my oldest sister’s husband, a police officer, beat the hell out of Sam during one of Sam’s drunken rages. He and my sister lived with them for awhile during a difficult period. This was long after I left there.) My brother came home safely as a Corporal in the US Marine Corps. He served in the 1st Marine Air Wing in battles of Bougainville and supporting battles in the Philippines. He sometimes flew as a gunner on a dive bomber. He returned home with malaria, fungus infections and nightmares. I do not remember recruiters coming to our school.
I remember being at my girlfriend’s house during the war when a Western Union agent delivered a telegram next door. Shortly thereafter I heard loud screams and crying. Their son had been killed in action. I’ve never forgotten the screams. My oldest sister’s boyfriend was a B-17 pilot. I have not forgotten her crying when he was shot down over Europe. My other older sister’s husband was on a Navy destroyer somewhere. He survived. Fred Warden and I planned to go to Canada to enlist in the Air Force there. We were 14 or 15. I don’t remember why we couldn’t, but can guess. At the end of the war, people flocked the streets of the “Hill Top” where we lived, kissing and hugging. I did not show up for work as a bagger where I worked at a supermarket in order to join the celebration. It was a very joyous time.
My idolizing my brother at a young age and his being a Marine led to my desire to be a Marine like him. When he came home from the war in 1945, he told me, “Bob, if you ever have to go to war, don’t go with anyone but Marines. Just remember this, when you get out of boot camp you think you can lick any number of sailors or soldiers. Don’t try it”. Good advice. Many other high school athletes and I went down to the Marine recruiting station in September 1948. I can’t remember if we wanted to join the regulars or reserves. I think they weren’t taking regulars at the time due to cutting back from the war levels. We joined an organized unit meeting once or twice a month.
Besides my brother's influence in joining the Marine Reserve, I also wanted to wear that forest green uniform with the red stripes and black emblems. My brother told me that they substituted the traditional leather belt on the blouse with a cloth one because during World War II, too many people got injured in bar fights. Marines apparently not only wrapped them around their fists, but also swung them around like whips so the buckle would cut.
I wish I could remember the few stories my brother told me about his war experience. I know he came home with malaria symptoms and nightmares. Because of my respect and idolizing my brother, I would not have considered joining any other branch of service. It had to be the Marines or nothing. To this day, I am glad I did because of the life circumstances that followed. Being a Marine veteran has been a positive experience in the way I look at life and performed in my vocations.
The motives of my fellow athletes for joining the reserves escape my memory. They were track, football, basketball and baseball athletes from our 1948 West High class of champions. There were about a dozen, I think. We had won many events that year. There was a close sense of camaraderie. My closest friends Fred Warden and Ken Mahan were among them. Our parents, at least my mother, did not seem to care or worry about my joining the reserves. At least they did not verbalize it. My guess is, they were still experiencing the inertia of the World War II experience and were worried about our future with the reserves. By the time of the Korean War, I think they were weary of war and that’s why our war was totally overlooked.
Hitching to Fresno
The day after I graduated from high school I hitchhiked to Fresno, California, and I have been totally on my own since. I went to California for two reasons: to see what my biological father looked like and to get away from the situation in Columbus. My biological father was a house painter. He turned out to be a sociopath with a criminal history. He tried to use our relationship, so I eventually disowned him in the late sixties and had nothing to do with him the rest of his life.
I hitchhiked to California in 1948 and worked in the California Division of Forestry as a forest fire fighter for the summer. Being homesick, I went back to Columbus for the winter, working at the Columbus Dispatch as a “proof runner”. In the late spring of 1949 I again hitchhiked to Fresno and worked for the Division of Forestry as a fire fighter and fire dispatcher. (Actually, I made it to Albuquerque and took the train the rest of the way.)
At the end of the fire season, after working in a toy shop, I enrolled in the winter quarter of the School of Forestry at Oregon State College (now a university) in January 1950. I was required to take ROTC. I don’t remember doing much drilling, but do remember learning much about maps and compasses. That knowledge served me well later when my family and I hiked the high country. Prior to the ROTC, I had had some drilling and military orientation after I joined the Marine Reserves.
Change of Wedding Plans
At OSU I met my first wife. We got engaged and moved to her hometown of Ogden, Utah, where we planned a wedding for September of 1950. At that time I became inactive in the reserves. When the war broke out in June 1950, I was working at the Richardson Company in Ogden. I started as a forklift operator, then became a molder. We made battery cases for automobile batteries. It was hard, hot work, but I made about $90 a week, which was considered good at the time. A member of the church I attended gave me the job. At the time, it was difficult for a non-Mormon to get a job. We rotated shifts so that after a week on the day shift we went to the swing shift for a week, then to the graveyard shift, then back on days. I lost a lot of weight, so was about 170 pounds when I entered boot camp. I weighed about 220 pounds when I got out. It was not fat.
At the outbreak of the war I remember that the newspaper headlines indicated that President Truman was going to send U.S. troops to Korea because the communists had invaded the South. It was to be a joint effort by the United Nations. I don’t think I knew where Korea was until reading the newspapers that followed. I perked up when it was reported that the reserves would also be called to active duty, but I did not worry about it because I was an inactive reservist instead of an organized one connected with a unit. I did not think they even knew my address. I was surprised and saddened when I received the letter notifying me that I would receive orders within ten days. I have no idea how they found my address.
My fiancé and I had planned to get married in September but we moved back the date to July when I got my orders. The church we attended (Elim Lutheran in Ogden) was very supportive of us. Within two weeks my soon to be mother-in-law and the ladies at the church had organized a fine reception in the church basement. The church was filled to capacity for the wedding. What a great honor! The people there were among the finest I've ever known.
After our wedding in July 1950, my wife and I enjoyed a good and loving life for a couple months in Ogden, Utah, until I was off to boot camp. We lived in a small basement apartment. Shortly after our wedding, we took a Greyhound bus back to Columbus, Ohio, so that my family could meet my bride and I could see them before going on active duty. It was a happy and sad time. I remember being in the car with my oldest sister in front of the house where my mother lived at the time. I broke down and cried before seeing my mother. My sister said to me, “It’s okay, Bob. You’ll be all right.”
My wife’s mother and aunt drove us to San Diego from Ogden, Utah, while we expressed as much affection as we could in the back seat of the car. They dropped me off at the front gate at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) late in the evening after dark and the three of them headed back to Ogden. I remember feeling very alone at that point. Little did I know what was awaiting me behind those gates.
When the war began, the organized reserve unit in Columbus was called to active duty as a unit. Since I was in the inactive reserve, I was called up as an individual and therefore had to attend boot camp. Those in the organized unit did not go to boot camp but received a couple weeks training on Guam and participated in the Inchon Landing. I was told that many of them were shot up. In retrospect, I am very glad I went to boot camp. When I got to Korea, I realized how important that training was in making Marines. There were some reserves in our company and there was a definite difference between those who went to boot camp and those who did not.
Training at MCRD
MCRD San Diego was a beautiful site. It was situated on hundreds of acres with a huge parade ground surrounded by buildings with Spanish style architecture. On the fringe were some tents which housed some boots. We were in the beautiful buildings. The camp was next to the Navy boot camp and Naval Air Station. The latter’s big plane engines could be heard in our barracks. Once in awhile we saw some Navy boots marching on the other side of the fence. We laughed, thinking we were so much better, and that they were having it easier. We enjoyed the San Diego weather, but because I started in September, I got the weather experience. It could be foggy and cold.
Once I entered boot camp, a Marine took me to a barracks. The next morning we were awaken about 5 or 6 a.m. with bright lights and Marine drill instructors (DIs) yelling, cussing, and threatening our well-being if we did not get up NOW. I thought I had died and gone to hell. The next few days were spent getting settled into the barracks. Our barracks were in the nice Spanish style buildings at MCRD on the second floor. The DIs started drilling us immediately and marched us everywhere. Orders were always laced with threats and humiliating those who made mistakes. Usually the whole platoon suffered for the mistakes made by one. Punishments were push-ups (grass drill), running around holding the rifle overhead until the arms gave out, plus other physical and humiliating actions.
I was assigned to Platoon 73. There were no minority recruits in our platoon except one Asian (Japanese) person. I did not see a black Marine until I got to Korea. He was in G-3-5. A great guy. He was killed in action. It was then I realized what I had always believed--everyone’s blood is the same color. I wrote about him in one of my letters home when I was in Korea. Everyone else I knew or saw was white. There was no race prejudice that I observed while on active duty; however, in retrospect, I think it strange that the only minority person in our boot camp platoon was that one guy.
We did not get our fatigues and rifles for two weeks. We drilled in street clothes and shoes until we got on schedule. Within those two weeks we had our first haircut--completely shaved bald. Some of the guys took that pretty hard. We even had to pay for it. We were constantly told we were not Marines. The interchange went something like this:
On and on these kinds of transactions took place over the 12 weeks. They became less and less as we got closer to becoming Marines. The DI's comments were always laced with profanity. Some words and phrases I had never heard before, even in the streets of Columbus. Occasionally violence accompanied the profanity. The most memorable statement I heard from a DI chewing out a boot for some minor infraction was, “Boy, I’m going to reach down your throat, grab a hold of your ass hole, bring it up through your mouth, and give you a mustache you’re not man enough to grow!”
We were issued our rifle, which became our closest companion. We carried it most everywhere while we drilled the heels and soles off our “boondockers” on the meat grinder (parade ground). We did everything by orders. We did not go to the bathroom or do anything without permission or unless ordered to do so. Between drilling we attended classes, had to memorize the Marine Corps Manual and General Orders, ran the obstacle courses, learned how to use our bayonets on dummies, and God help us if we didn’t know something when they asked us. We also had to keep our barracks spotless before breakfast--and I do mean spotless.
We were awakened I think around 0600 almost every day. The DIs enter the barracks, turned on the overhead lights, and yelled their usual loud profane orders. I think we then showered in shifts, got dressed, cleaned the barracks, and marched to breakfast. At the mess hall we stood at attention until the DI ordered us to sit. We had a certain amount of time to eat until the DI ordered us out of the mess hall to march to the activity of the day. I remember the food being good and plentiful. We could eat as much as wanted, but were not allowed to leave food on our plates. I believe we had to scrape our plates and put them in a bin. Food was ample and needed as we wore ourselves out on the grinder and other activities. We were not allowed to have desserts, so we poured evaporated milk over bread slices and added sugar. I weighed about 170 when entering boot camp. When I left, I weighed about 220. All muscle. My friend Jim McManus was heavy and lost several pounds. It seemed that those who needed to gain weight did, and those who needed to lose, did.
Another friend in boot camp was Don Sims. He was in my boot camp platoon and fired expert on the rifle range. After graduation, we had lunch and cocktails at a restaurant in San Diego. When we went to Korea, he was assigned to the 7th Marines and I to the 5th. I saw his name on the casualty list in July and was very upset. I do not remember where he was from. I know he went to the 7th Marines. I searched for him on line years ago, but received no adequate results. His name does not appear on the Korean War KIA list, so he must have been among the Korean War wounded. It would sure be great if I could talk to him. We were good buddies in boot camp and after until they split us up in Korea.
Activities I remember in boot camp were the constant drilling, bayonet practice, obstacle course, studying the Marine Corps Manual and learning everything about our rifles. I think lights out was at 2200. Recruits were scheduled in shifts to the “Fire Watch”. The person on duty was on watch in our barracks all night while the rest of us slept. I think that was to get us used to Guard Duty, and the night watches during the war in Korea.
On the parade ground, cardboard horse blinders were put on people who did not keep their eyes straight while at attention or marching. Diapers made out of sheets were put on men who called their trousers “pants”. The DI would say, “Babies wear pants, women wear pants, but Marines wear trousers.” DIs reminded us in the very beginning of boot camp, “Your soul belongs to Jesus, but your ass belongs to me”.
Once while drilling, the person ahead of me frequently got out of step. The DI told me to kick him in the butt every time he did. I didn’t. The DI stopped the platoon, came up to me and told me to turn around. He said, “When I tell you to kick him in the ass, I mean like this." He gave me a very hard kick right where the prostate is located. I sometimes wonder if that’s how I got my prostate cancer. There was another time I was punished. I was caught cleaning my rifle when I wasn’t supposed to. I had to sleep with it one night. Others who dropped their rifles on the grinder had to sleep with theirs. Those are the only times I was punished.
The same man whose butt I was supposed to kick was later slammed and struck against his bunk by the DI. During an inspection in the barracks an officer asked him, “Are you a Marine?”. He replied, “No, I’m a shithead, Sir.” After the officer left, the DI told him, “Don’t ever talk to an officer like that!” He grabbed him by the collar and threw him against his bunk. That really confused us since that’s what we were always called. There was other violence that I don’t remember. I do remember how our senior DI punished the whole platoon severely. We thought he was a sadist. There were about 70 men in our boot platoon. We swore that if we ever saw him in Korea, we would put 70 holes in him. Actually, I did meet him in Korea. He was a pretty nice guy and was glad to see me. But I still think he crossed the line in his physical abuse. His name was Sgt. J.W. Dutkiewicz. We called him (in private), “Duckshit”. Our junior DI was PFC. J.G. Scoville. He was a little easier on us. Our platoon was I-73.
Sometimes there was laughter, but that, too, was punished. One instance I remember was when the DI entered the barracks and barked an order. Someone laughed. He was ordered to put his head in his bucket and the DI warned that anyone else who laughed would get the same order. We could not help laughing, seeing our buddy’s head in his bucket. Eventually everyone was walking around with their heads in their buckets, bumping into each other and laughing. I laugh now as I write this. Another rule was that no one was supposed to receive more than five letters in the mail. If they did, they had to go through a gauntlet of recruits to be slapped on the butt.
After about nine weeks at MCRD, we got a two-week break at the rifle range at Camp Matthews. It was located north of San Diego and is now known as Torrey Pines, no longer a rifle range but an up-scale neighborhood. It was a good break because we were allowed to have candy and the discipline was not as severe. We were there to learn how to use our closest companion, our rifle. We dared not call it a “gun” back at MCRD. Whoever did so was punished, as the DI said while pointing to the rifle and his genitals, “This is my rifle. This is my gun. This is for fighting. This is for fun.” We learned to worship our rifle early on. We were told that every Marine is at first a rifleman no matter his specialty. A lot of attention was given to our knowledge and use of our rifles. Before we went to the rifle range, we were required to disassemble and reassemble it while blindfolded.
At the rifle range I first stuffed myself with the candy that was forbidden at MCRD. There, we were ordered to tell our families not to send candy or cookies, etc. I remember one person who received a box of chocolates. The DI told him, “I thought I told you to tell your family not to send you candy.” As we all stood at attention, the DI poked one piece after another into his mouth until he threw it up.
The rifle range was everyone’s opportunity to pig out on the forbidden food. It was also the time to get serious about using our rifle. The two weeks at Camp Matthews was spent snapping in our rifles, then firing for record. We practiced firing until the important day arrived. We started from the long distance and worked forward because they were expecting some sort of weather aberration. At 500 yards, we were to fire ten times at the target from the slow, prone position. If we missed the target, we got a “Maggie’s drawers” from the pit. It was a red flag. My memory gets foggy here on how they signaled a hit on the target. A perfect overall score was 250 points, I think, from four or five distances. The shortest distance was 100 yards. The positions and rates of fire ranged from prone slow, kneeling rapid, standing rapid, and prone rapid at short distance, I think.
One of the rifle instructors at Camp Matthews cracked up during our practice firing. He ran into the line of fire yelling, "I've got it!" He was not hurt. We were told later that he was a World War II combat veteran and had simply "lost it" during the firing. I can understand that.
On the day for the record, I started out in the prone slow position at 500 yards and got a perfect score. During the second phase I think I also got a near perfect score. When I got to the standing rapid fire distance, the instructor said to me, “Janes, if you keep this up, you’ll fire Expert”. Expert was 220 or more points. I immediately became nervous and self-conscious and did not score high at that range. I did not do as well after that and ended firing 218 as a Sharpshooter. 190 was the Marksman. Below that, one did not qualify. I think they gave us a little extra money for qualifying.
After the rifle range, we returned to MCRD to resume more training before graduation. The day we returned, the whole recruit battalion was assembled on the parade ground. A recruit apparently had written to his mother, who knew a politician, and complained about the harsh treatment at boot camp. The politician sent the letter, or wrote a letter, which the Commander read. After reading the letter to all assembled, he turned to the battalion sergeant and said, “Well done, Sergeant.”
Sometime during boot camp, recruits were required to serve in the mess hall for a week. When it came to our platoon’s turn, Don Sims and I did not have to serve because he fired Expert and I had a sore throat. That’s when I started smoking. Don gave me a Kool cigarette. It felt good on my throat, so I kept smoking them until I was hooked. (I smoked for 13 years--mainly Camels, and quit in 1963.) While our fellow boots were serving in the mess hall, Don and I cleaned the barracks and just sat around talking to each other. It was soft duty until they returned to the barracks to face more harassment.
If there were any troublemakers at boot camp, I do not remember them. There was one boot in our platoon who was from another platoon. He had been set back a week in schedule, which was the worst punishment we could imagine--repeating a week of boot camp. He didn’t make it with our platoon either. He wasn’t a troublemaker. He just didn’t seem to be able to get with the program. I think he was discharged after another try at another platoon. The only World War II salts that I saw were in boot camp and because they were older, they also had a rough time adjusting. None went to Korea with my group.
During boot camp religious services were offered, but we were not permitted to go on our own. I think I went to one. Those who went were marched there and back. There were a couple of Marine-type movies we were required to go to at the camp theater. Tyrone Power played in one of them. And, of course, we marched there and back. We had to behave ourselves or else. The only instructional movie I remember was the one about sexually transmitted diseases. Following it the Chaplain gave a talk about morality. The STD movies were meant to scare us. We got to see a football game where a Marine team played some other military team. We had to sit at attention while watching it unless the DI gave us permission to relax and cheer.
Marines who went to Parris Island boot camp used to call us the “Hollywood Marines”. We called them the “French Marines”. From what I hear, their boot camp was in a much harsher environment. I’ve never been there. I don’t recall being bothered much by insects like I heard they had at PI. The insects and other environmental pests came later in Korea- in force.
Graduation day finally arrived a week or so later in mid-December 1950. We were to parade before the bleachers of families and Marines in review, in competition with the other platoons for the “Honor Flag” won by the platoon with the highest rifle scores and that performed the best marching in the review. Platoon 73 (our platoon), won that flag and was the “Honor Platoon”. In the barracks afterward, Sergeant Dutkiewizc showed his first positive feelings toward us. He said, “I am very proud you, Marines”. And so were we of ourselves. I was nominated with others as the platoon’s “Honor Man”, but it went to another deserving recruit.
Now we were Marines! What a great day--and a great relief. Now we were free of the DIs. Now we could walk freely about MCRD to the PX and the “slop chute” (B=bar). We soon were on a ten-day leave before reporting to our next assignment. I flew to Salt Lake City to meet my wife. We had not seen each other for the three months of boot camp because we were not allowed to go on liberty during that time. Together we celebrated Christmas with her family before reporting to Camp Pendleton in January for advanced infantry training.
I cannot remember being sorry that I joined the Marines except those first several days in boot camp before we got on schedule. My pride in self and the Corps grew so that at time of graduation, I was extremely proud of being a Marine. I have been proud ever since, though I did not say much about it through the years. The boot camp process was tough but apparently works. The change is forever. I did not realize this until many years later. “Once a Marine, always a Marine” is a fact. The hardest part for me in boot camp was missing my wife, dealing with the occasional violence, the constant profanity and rigid military discipline. I went along with the program and emerged a better person.
After boot camp, about mid-December I flew from San Diego to Salt Lake City. My wife's brother and she were there to meet me and drove us back to Ogden. I had a ten-day leave. The first night back we stayed in a local motel, then with her parents for the remainder of the leave.
At the end of the leave we flew back to San Diego, then took the bus to San Clemente. Jim McManus and I, or probably our wives, found a one-bedroom apartment that my wife and I shared with Jim and Pat. It was out the back gate ( San Onofre) of Camp Pendleton, near Tent Camp #2 where Jim and I stayed in a Quonset hut when we had to stay on base during night problems or guard duty.
Jim and I became friends in boot camp. At the apartment, we alternated use of the one bedroom. He and his wife had it one night while my wife and I slept on the couch, and then we would use it the next night. The one bathroom was in the bedroom, so if we had to use it, we had to walk through the bedroom to get there, knocking on the door first. Jim was a big man and the bed sometimes broke down in the middle of the night, so that was embarrassing. But we were friends and it worked out. The main thing was, we were with our wives.
We were at Pendleton for almost three months. Most of the training involved hands-on training in the art of ground warfare. We fired all the weapons of the infantry: .45 pistols, .30 caliber light and heavy machine guns, .50 caliber light and heavy machine guns, bazookas, fragment and illumination grenades, and .60 and 80 (mm?) mortars. We fired them at least once. We had our rifles from boot camp snapped in to our specific needs previously at the Camp Matthews rifle range. We carried it everywhere (except off base). During some maneuvers we fired blanks. I was surprised when I got to Korea that live bullets were more of a “thud” than a loud “crack”.
Off-base training was an amphibious assault at Camp Del Mar, north of San Diego. We climbed down nets from a structure off shore and landed on the beach to occupy it, exactly as they did in the South Pacific in World War II. The other off base training was cold weather at Big Bear, California, for one or two weeks. We conducted maneuvers in the snow against the “enemy”. We learned ways to live and survive in the cold, though I do not remember details. I’m sure it was not sufficient for those who were at Chosin with the old jungle equipment. By the time of the second Korean winter, we had adequate cold weather equipment. However, even then there were cold weather wounds, for good reason.
The biggest challenge I faced at Pendleton was trying to balance the war training with a more normal life with my wife as a husband. Coming off the field after training all day made it difficult to go anywhere. Jim and I took our wives to the movie or restaurant in San Clemente, but usually fell asleep during them. The next biggest challenge was the food at Tent Camp #2 when we had to eat it. It was the worst food I have ever eaten. Getting off base for a normal meal was a treat.
We had to muster early in the morning and usually trained for about twelve hours. We marched up and down hills with packs and equipment, did maneuvers against Marines masqueraded as enemies, and fired most of the weapons of war. We made an amphibious assault at Marina Del Rey. We had a week or two of winter training at Big Bear.
Unfortunately, I do not remember any of my instructors at Pendleton. I remember them as good and concerned about our readiness to engage in combat. There was no harassment as there was in boot camp. They treated us with respect as Marines.
The high point of our training at Camp Pendleton was going through the Infiltration Course where they fired live ammunition over our heads from machine guns while we crawled through barbed wire and small charges of TNT. That was very scary and some people froze. If they did, they had to do it again. On maneuvers, I was always “shot” by the “enemy”. I was usually on the point or on the flank. This worried me some. It was great training, but nothing compared to what I met in Korea. It was enough to help me survive. Actually, I believe that training enabled me to survive. Survival was usually a matter of luck anyway, but I am sure I would not be here today if I had not had the boot camp and Camp Pendleton training. I believe the Marine Corps is the best of all the services, and still is today.
When on liberty, we joined our wives at the apartment, trying to bring some normality to our lives. In spite of the tight space and having to trade off the one bedroom, we got along very well. Jim and Pat were great people. After Pendleton, Jim was assigned to a stateside job, so we lost contact with them while I was in Korea. My first wife and I have fond memories of them and laugh about the conditions under which we lived.
My wife had an aunt in Glendale, CA. Sometimes on weekend liberty, we hitchhiked up to see her and slept there. We couldn’t afford the bus. My wife had a wonderful family who treated me like their own. When my sisters heard about our financial straits, they sent us $25. After that, we took the bus. One day at the bus entrance, there were two Air Force men. They were dressed in their blue uniforms, which looked like the bus driver’s. Like an idiot, I asked them what time the bus left, as if they were the drivers. It was meant to be a put-down. I was in my forest green uniform. They made some snide remark, but did not hit me. Lucky for me. I must not have followed my brother’s advice to not think I could lick every serviceman after boot camp.
One night Jim McManus and I tried to intimidate a young man about our age in a liquor store. He had taken a parking space in front of the store that we wanted, or some minor excuse we used to show our Marine bravado. We saw the fear in his eyes as he apologized profusely. I felt guilty about that encounter. I think Jim did, too. We had our wives with us and just wanted to show off. Jim had a car. I did not. We hitchhiked from and to the base. Rides were plentiful for Marines in uniform and we always made it to muster on time.
It was at Pendleton that Jim Mortensen, Al Seagrave, Bill Ramsey and I became friends. In mid-March, we all boarded ship for Korea. By the time I entered boot camp, I had learned much about the war and Korea through the Ogden newspaper and some radio news broadcasts. I was on leave from boot camp when the First Marine Division got trapped at the Chosin Reservoir. That gave me some worry. My wife, my family, and all my in-laws were very concerned about my future in the Marines. After boot camp and training at Camp Pendleton, I had confidence that if I did go to war, I would be all right. When aboard ship, I had mixed feelings. I hated leaving my wife and family, but part of me was glad that I was going to fight a war. It would give me a chance to “prove” myself as a man.
During my stay in boot camp and in Korea, my wife lived with her parents in Ogden, Utah. At the end of training at Camp Pendleton, some of us were given “special liberty” so we could get our wives or family situated or returned home. We were excused from the parade of the 7th Replacement Draft the next day, a Saturday, I think. We were told we didn’t have to return to base until Monday. When we came off the field on Friday night, we were told that all special liberty was canceled. Most of us went anyway. I drew $100 or $200 advance “dead horse” pay. (You didn’t have to pay it back if you got killed.) We took the bus to Hollywood on Saturday and had dinner and danced at the Hollywood Palladium. I figured it was worth five days in the brig on “piss and punk” (bread and water) to have that time with my wife before shipping out. We returned on Sunday to a motel in San Clemente. Early the next morning I got on the highway to hitchhike back to Camp. It was dark, cold and foggy. I looked back at the motel and she was looking through the drapes watching me go. I filled with immense sadness. I might never see her again. She went to Glendale to visit with her aunt for a few days, and then flew to Ogden to live with her parents during my time away. (The above days may be mixed up. It might have been Thursday that special liberty was cancelled.)
Upon returning to Camp, I was put on Prisoner-at-Large status for being Absent Over Leave. I had to report to the Base Sergeant every hour from muster to lights out. Two days later we boarded ship. The major of the convoy of two ships was on another ship, so he could not hold legal hearings until we got to Korea. In the meantime, I remained on PAL status chipping paint in the boiler room until we got to Korea. The charges against me were dropped. Nothing about the incident was put in my Permanent Service Record Book. It was noted on my insurance record. Others were placed on “extra police duty”, which was never served. One man, a corporal, was only two hours late and lost one stripe. Charlie Nitche, an Iwo Jima veteran, missed the boat completely in order to take his eight-month pregnant wife back to Missouri. He went over with the 8th draft and was given a few days of EPD, which he never had to serve.
Trip to Korea
The replacement draft left San Diego for Korea on March 14, 1951. There were two ships in the convoy. Our ship was the USS Thomas Jefferson APA30. It was not a troop ship. APA meant something like Amphibious Personnel Assault” or similar designation. It was normally used in amphibious assault landings. I think it was used in the South Pacific during World War II. It was considered a small ship by the Navy. It was big to us with about a thousand Marines on board, packed in like sardines. Bunks were stacked five or six high with about 18 inches between them. I was assigned to the bottom deck, along with Arnold Kotke, a big farm boy from one of the Dakotas. We had become friends before shipping out. The ship carried only personnel. I don’t know if it carried personnel from other services. My buddies Mortensen, Seagrave and Ramsey were on the other ship in the convoy, I think. I don’t remember seeing them until we arrived at Kobe, Japan, or Pusan, South Korea.
There were only Marines and corpsmen on our ship. We did spot a female WAVE on board, but she was high above top deck where the Captain was. It felt strange to see a female there. I think sailors were our servers in the galley. It was always buffet style for us. Officers were served in a separate dining room by blacks or Filipinos. The officers I saw were white.
This was my first time on a ship of any size. In boot camp, one dared not call ships “boats” without some humiliating consequences. We learned all the Navy terminology such as “bulk head” for wall, “head” for toilet, “fore", “aft”, “port”, “starboard”, etc. The first couple days I got a little woozy, so I stayed up top as much as possible. I almost lost my lunch when another Marine vomited over the side. However, the wind caused it to simply float off into the air. After that, I was okay for the rest of the trip. My buddy Kotke, however, got sick and stayed that way until we arrived at Pusan. On the bottom deck during storms, the front of the ship rose and shuddered as it lowered to smack the water. Water rushed over the top deck and poured down the air shafts. We were not allowed to go up to top deck during storms. We might get washed away. The water from the air shafts covered the deck and sloshed around as the ship raised and lowered or went side by side. With the water was the vomit of those who got sick. It was quite a mess and took every bit of strength I had to not get sick.
We hit a few storms on the two-week trip to Korea. Being a” small’ ship, it rose and fell or tipped back and forth between waves coming from the side. For a while it felt as if the ship was going to break in two. It was really rough. Following one storm, we were allowed to go on deck The waves were higher than the ship as it moved ahead in the highs and lows of the swells. Since I was PAL aboard ship, I was ordered to chip paint in the boiler room. It was very hot. I felt sorry for the sailors who worked there. The trudging of the huge engines driving the ship was fascinating. On my free time I stayed on top deck as much as possible to read paperback mysteries or just watch the sea. Down below was not a comfortable place to pass time. One day, a few Marines put on a “Happy Hour” in the galley, playing the piano and singing. It was a nice break.
Every day aboard ship we held muster, had rifle inspection and lectures. I think we also had exercise sessions. One day, the Navy gun crews tested their guns. A .20 mm fell short and wounded three Marines on deck. All in all, it was a boring trip, but the food was excellent--much better than at Camp Pendleton. Because we crossed the international dateline, we were one day ahead of my family back home. When it was Easter there, it was Easter Monday on the ship. I went to Good Friday services, then woke up the next morning for Easter Sunrise service.
We were supposed to land at Yokosuka on March 29, but at the last minute the ship got a change in orders and we were sent directly to Kobe, Japan. We stopped for a short time at Kobe before moving on to Pusan. We stowed our sea bags containing our uniforms and non-combat gear in a Kobe warehouse. We took only our combat gear to Korea. While at Kobe, we were given two hours of liberty. Many Marines headed for a brothel, others to a bar. The only time I encountered prostitutes during my tour of duty in the Korean theater was on this two-hour liberty. Young boys were pimping everywhere, trying to sell their sister or another female relative. Two unmarried Marines talked me into going to a brothel. I consented, but had no intention of getting a girl because I intended to stay faithful to my wife. When we arrived at the brothel, we pooled our money, which was enough to buy two girls and three quarts of Japanese beer. I sat in the hallway drinking my beer while they went with the girls. They weren’t long, so we hastened back to the ship. I swear on a stack of Bibles that this story is true. I was married and determined to be true to my wife. I also did not want to catch a disease. I don’t remember the names of those two Marines.
Kobe, Japan, still showed the effects of World War II, especially the economy. It looked poor and shabby. People seemed to be doing whatever they could to survive. It was a sad sight. When we returned a year later, there seemed to be an improvement, but not much. I learned in Kobe and in Korea that it is civilians who suffer the most in wars.
Hard Days Ahead
After being refueled and replenished in Kobe, the ship set sail for Pusan, Korea, and arrived there about the first of April 1951. When we left the ship we were given 80 rounds of ammo for our rifles and one day’s rations. We were transported by trucks to a tent camp. We stayed there a day or two, then were flown to an assembly area behind the front line. I didn’t see much of Korea while at Pusan. The tent camp was just that, a tent city with muddy paths between tents.
The only troops I encountered were those who were leaving when I first arrived at the assembly area behind the line where we would be assigned. They were silent and looked like dust-covered ghosts. They scared the hell out of me. Their condition was unbelievable to one who had just arrived from the paradise and luxury of the USA. They were morose and no comments made. I realized then that my experience as a replacement would be quite worse than I had imagined. Later when on line, I snowed new replacements when they first joined the squad. I knew that it would not be long before they found out for themselves the inexplicable insanity of combat.
An Eerie Sight
From the tent camp we were loaded aboard old two-engined C-47s very early in the morning. It was cold. Volunteers from the Red Cross were there giving us hot coffee before boarding. The Red Cross was very helpful to us during my tour in Korea. They gave us extra food, candy, cigarettes and stationery, and had a full-time representative who helped Marines who had emergencies at home by delivering telegrams to the line and assisting men who needed emergency leave due to a family tragedy or death. I cannot praise the Red Cross enough. They were outstanding in their support for the line troops. I wrote my wife to give them as much a donation as we could afford during the fund drive where she worked.
We flew about 5,000 feet, and I think the cargo doors were left open. There were hard, wooden benches lined along the bulk heads to which we had to be strapped as the old prop motors rumbled us north. While bouncing along, I could see the burning signs of war slowly passing beneath us. It was an eerie sight accompanied by even eerier feelings. What were we getting into? Why the hurry to get us to the front?
At the staging area we were assigned to units. All my buddies were assigned throughout the Division. I was assigned to a light .30 caliber machine gun squad of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment on April 5, 1951. By the time I arrived in Korea, there had been some successful UN offensives. It was fairly quiet on the front when I joined my machine gun squad. All this gave me more confidence that the war would not last long and I would be back home in a few months. How wrong I was.
Besides Arnold Kotke, I knew no one in my squad or platoon. He got sick later and had to have treatment, so missed much of the Spring action. He rejoined the company after I left and experienced the heavy fighting in the Fall. He later visited me one day at the Chaplain's tent when I was a chaplain's assistant. He was reeling from the nightly enemy artillery bombardments on the line. I do not remember if he made it out of Korea. I hope so.
I had only fired a machine gun once back at Camp Pendleton, as we did all infantry weapons. That made no difference. I was now a machine gunner and would have to learn fast. While at the staging area, truckloads of Marines arrived who were going home. They were dirty, covered with dust from the ride, and looked like ghosts. It was a fearful sight and I thought the days ahead were going to be hard. When I arrived on the front line on April 5, the Regiment was located on the East-Central front several miles north of the 38th parallel into North Korea. It was very quiet at the time, so we spent a lot of time learning about the machine gun.
My memory of events when I reached the front line and following is very fuzzy. Other than some incidents, I have to refer to my letters home. I guess I put so much energy into forgetting and not thinking about what I saw and experienced that it got locked into my brain somewhere. During the therapy I had in 2000 for delayed PTSD, much of it was dug up and usually was about all the death and destruction I witnessed. It seemed to get worse as time went on while with the machine gun squad. Each firefight seemed to be worse than the previous one. Years later, deep survivor's guilt would surface. The chronology of events is also very vague and confusing.
I do recall that my first few days on the front line were fairly quiet and uneventful. There was school on the gun everyday. The hardened veterans told us stories of battles past, which scared and amused us at the same time. I was a little nervous and apprehensive about what might follow and if I would handle it well. The veterans also told us about non-Marine units and what little respect they had for them. They also were very helpful in giving advice on how to face combat. One of the things they taught us was, when going into the assault, to “keep a tight asshole”. Fear can cause one to evacuate their innards. They also said, "A miss is as good as a mile" if a bullet or shell came too close. They convinced us that we were the best of everyone fighting there. There was tremendous pride in the Corps and the 5th Marines. Later, I realized why. I came to respect these men very much before the action started. I knew they would "have my back", and whatever happened, would not leave me or anyone else behind, even if I was killed or wounded. A captured Chink Colonel called us the "yellow legs" because of our leggings. He said the Marines "don't eat or sleep, they just fight. They would rather die than give up their positions."
It was not until I joined the squad that I saw any Koreans. They were members of the Korean Service Corps (KSC). They carried ammo and supplies up the mountains to the line on their “A-frames.” A-frames were made of wood struts. They had straight boards down the back with protruding 45-degree slats. They were like an upside down “A”. The KSC and other Korean civilians also washed clothes or cut hair for a pack of cigarettes or can of food. Later on, I saw half starved Korean refugees fleeing from the action. It was a sad sight. I felt very sorry for them.
There were three rifle companies to a battalion, one weapons company (rockets, 81 an d 4.2 mortars, heavy machine guns, flame throwers, etc.), and one H&S Company (mess men, clerks, REPs, etc.). There were three battalions to a regiment and three regiments to the division, plus attached units such as motor transport, artillery, engineers, laundry, etc. (all non-combatants}. Each regiment therefore consisted of nine rifle companies: Able, Baker, Charlie (1st Battalion), Dog, Easy (my company), Fox (2nd Battalion), and George, How, Item (3rd Battalion), plus the three weapons companies, three H&S companies, and attached units.
The 1st Marine Division (reinforced) in Korea was made up of the 1st Marine Regiment (infantry), 5th Marine Regiment (infantry--my regiment), 7th Marine Regiment (infantry), 11th Marine Regiment (artillery), and supportive and attached units. Easy Company consisted of three rifle platoons (approximately 43 men each-- riflemen, barmen, three squads of 13 men to a squad), one light machine gun platoon which was divided into three sections (two squads to a section, eight men to a squad). Those three sections were numbered 1, 2 and 3. The 1st section was part of the 1st rifle platoon, and so on. I was in the 3rd machine gun section, so I was with the 3rd rifle platoon. There was also a 60 mm. mortar platoon which was divided the same as artillery-- forward observers, radiomen, and so on. All in all there were around 250 men to a company.
There was also one corpsman (God bless him) who traveled with each rifle platoon. The Navy corpsmen were the bravest of all men, and what souvenir hunters they were! Our corpsman got himself a Russian carbine and got right in the fight (although he wasn't supposed to). He shot that carbine until he got that famous Marine battle cry to go help a wounded man. The Marine Corps was strictly an infantry team that couldn't be beat. A Marine Corps rifle company had three times as great firepower as an Army rifle company.
Philosophy of Battle
The Marine Corps philosophy of battle was Frontal Assault. As soon as fired upon we went as fast as possible toward those who were firing at us. It usually threw them off balance and hindered their organizing a defense. Artillery and air strikes usually preceded the assault and were called in only if a unit was having trouble taking a hill. They were usually very effective, especially the Marine and Navy pilots flying the Corsairs. The Air Force P-51s were helpful, but the pilots in the Corsairs flew very close to the ground. Marine pilots rotated as “observers” into line companies to control the strikes from the ground. The 11th Marines had forward observers in line companies who “zeroed in” artillery firing. The Corsairs saved our butts a few times, especially during the withdrawal in April 1951. The tanks also helped us during that time. Their movement was limited on the mountain roads. They usually lined up like artillery to give supporting fire with their guns.
Moving the Immovable
When the enemy just didn't seem to want to give, we had a tough time. But when Marines meet an immovable object, it suddenly gets moved. Never before had I seen such bravery and courage among men. It was unbelievable. I don't know what it was that made Marines so stubborn and hot-to-go, but they faced anything and kept moving. When the Army met resistance they either dug in or withdrew and called for artillery and air strikes until most of the resistance was wiped out. The enemy liked that because it gave them time to organize. As soon as we got hit when assaulting a hill, there was no stopping for anything and we went right after them. It threw them off balance and they got flustered because they were used to fighting the Army. Most of them tried to run and that's when we nailed them. We even took a few prisoners. If an enemy position was impossible to take any other way, it got banzaied by Marines. Thank God I was a machine gunner and not a rifleman, because when such antics were pulled, we stayed behind and gave supporting fire. I was trained to be a rifleman and didn't like machine guns at first. I sure did as time went by, despite the heavy load. I don't think I would ever have had guts enough to charge an enemy machine gun like our buddies did a couple of times in the past. Nope, the enemy didn't care for us one bit, and I didn't blame them.
My confidence increased as time went on, both in my fellow Marines in the squad and in the rifle platoon. Many of them became my friends, with whom I reunited 39 years later. I was also confident in my firing ability and personal weapons. At first I had the M1 rifle which had become my intimate companion in boot camp and at Camp Matthews. We knew each other very well. Later I traded it with a wounded man for an M2 carbine which was half the weight. The carbine could switch from semi-automatic to automatic. That was my weapon through the heavy action that followed the last of May and first of June and through my tour. Before leaving the USA, I had also bought a Smith & Wesson 5-inch “police special” .38 caliber pistol. It cost $50. I sold it in May for $50. It was extra weight and I did not need it.
In addition, we carried ammunition for our weapons and a few fragmentary grenades. At Pendleton we learned not to “throw” grenades, but to "shot put” them. I think they went off six seconds after pulling the pin. Contrary to war movies, if one pulled the pin with his teeth, his teeth might go with the pin. Our machine gun was a 1918 A2. I forget who the manufacturer was. It may have been Garand. It was an effective weapon.
My first three and one half months in Korea were spent in E-2-5. I spent 95 of those days on the front line in the machine gun squad from April 5 through July 17, 1951. It seemed like 95 years. During that period were the two phases of the Chinese spring offensives and the UN counter offensives. It was a period when we moved many times once or twice daily with brief, quiet interludes. There were many firefights in which we participated.
When we dug in for the night, even for a few days, “concertina wire” was stretched in front of us. The wire came in loops and was simply pulled out to form a barrier. In front of that may have been “trip flares” which would illuminate the area at night when tripped. There may also have been “trip grenades” which would explode if set off. Later on when the line became stable for a long time, deep trenches on the front side of the line were built with sand bags and more permanent wires and explosives. Our sleeping holes were always on the opposite slope of our fighting holes. At the battalion command post, people built bunkers when the line was stable for a long time.
The incidents I remember with direct tank support were during our withdrawals in April 1951. Between them and the Marine Corsairs, our unit got out with very few casualties--none in E-2-5, I think. Another was when our platoon was on the flank of the company on the side of a hill while the tanks came up the road below. Tanks were very limited when in mountainous country. At night or when we were not moving, they tied in with troops to fill in the defense on the low ground. If the line was static for awhile, a bulldozer or blade attached to a tank would scoop out ground to form a mound. The tanks drove up the mound at an angle to use their guns like artillery pieces and fire accordingly. They were very effective in covering our withdrawals in April, but I was glad I was not a tanker. I thought they were sitting ducks because of their mountain limitations. They had a brotherhood of their own which continues to this day--for good reason.
Most of my time in the machine gun squad I was an ammo carrier. When at full strength (which was rare), a machine gun squad had eight men: two gunners, five ammo carriers, and one squad leader. Ammo carriers carried at least two cans of ammo weighing about 21 pounds each for the gun, plus their own personal weapons, equipment, grenades and personal gear. The loads were heavy. The riflemen made fun of us climbing those mountains. According to them, our battle cry was, “I can’t make it!” At least our loads were not as heavy as the heavier water cooled .30 caliber and .50 caliber machine guns. Each box of ammo contained 200 or 300 rounds of belted bullets, I think. Every fifth bullet was a “tracer”, which helped accuracy in firing at a target. We had to protect our boxes from the riflemen who wanted to get the tracers for their own use.
Two machine gun squads (a section) were attached to a platoon (three rifle squads), three platoons to a company, three companies to a battalion, and three battalions to a regiment. I was assigned to the third machine gun section (two guns) attached to the third platoon of Easy Company. Our squad was at full strength on April 5th after being replenished by us replacements. In the squad were a couple of veterans of the Chosin Reservoir. Our squad leader was a regular Marine and a corporal. His name was “Mel” Mellonson. He loved combat. About a month later, Mel contracted hepatitis and was sent to Japan.
Besides carrying ammo for the gun, ammo carriers also protected the gun and gunners, a favorite target for the enemy. We ran close behind and beside the rifle platoon to support them in the assault. We helped defend the perimeter when set-up on line. I served in the squad from April 5 to July 17, 1951. I never missed a patrol (when the guns went with) or a firefight during that time.
When the Chinese offensive began in late April, we moved into secondary positions behind the lines of the 7th Marines on April 23 because we got a tip that the Chinese were going to hit. The ROK (South Korean) troops were on the 7th Marines flanks, and we were 18 miles north of the 38th parallel just a little east of Chunchon. The Chinese did hit--and hit hard. The ROKs took off, leaving the 7th Regiment's flanks open. The Chinese hit the 7th from three sides, causing heavy casualties. The enemy was smart. They hit the weak spots where the non-Marine units were, knowing that we would withdraw for fear of getting trapped.
The 7th Marines did withdraw, and our company became the furthest point on the front lines. We prepared ourselves for a Chinese hit that night. I went down to the bottom of the mountain to pick up some more ammo for our machine guns. If the enemy hit us that night, we would be ready for them. From where we were, we could watch the Marine Corsair planes bomb and strafe the hell out of the enemy on the next mountain. When the sun went down, I figured it would probably be a long and sleepless night. The enemy only hit at night and they came in droves.
Both of our flanks got hit that night and a few casualties were inflicted. There were Chinese all over the area below us and we withdrew back a few more miles. We were the rear guard and down below us to our rear the whole battalion slowly moved back. A helicopter came in and flew out some wounded. We felt like we were fish in a rain barrel, moving out with the enemy on both sides. All we had was one platoon for flank security and tanks helped guard the rear. I liked those big iron cans, God bless them. We were told in the morning to stand by to move out in an hour. The sun kept going slowly across the sky and we were still there.
My "baptism of fire" was a small firefight during a patrol action soon thereafter. My first sight of the enemy was immediately following this first firefight when we took a couple prisoners. I think that’s also when I saw my first dead enemy. We did not lose a man during that fight. My feelings regarding the dead enemy were one of wonder and indifference. I actually enjoyed that first little fight. I guess it was a way to release all the anger that built up at Camp Pendleton. There, they did things like pay us late in the evening before going off base. I have already mentioned the cancellation of the special liberty some of us had been granted before shipping out. There was also some humor in that skirmish. When the bullets started whizzing I jumped into an enemy built trench which was very narrow. My pack got stuck to the sides so that when called to move up, I had to struggle to get free.
It was also at the end of that firefight that I witnessed a Marine torturing a prisoner. He made him strip, and last I looked, was grabbing his ears and twisting them so that the prisoner fell to his knees and was kicked. In disgust, I turned my head because I did not want to see any more cruelty to this human being. I did not say anything to that Marine because he outranked me. He was also a veteran of several months who I found out later had a reputation for cruelty, even against a Korean civilian. The guilt I felt about saying or doing nothing came out during therapy in 2000. I did not witness any torture after that, but heard many rumors of such. Word finally came out that any Marine caught abusing a prisoner would be court-martialed.
When we finally withdrew, we walked eight hours straight until we were three miles north of the 38th parallel. Truthfully, I was in good physical condition. Mountain climbing with 50 pounds of ammo and weapon, plus a heavy-as-hell pack on the back, made me hard in a hurry.
We were still the furthest forward point on the line. We dug in on the high ground, with the 5th and 7th Marine Regiments forming this part of the line. The draw our squad and the adjoining rifle platoons covered offered perfect fields of fire and no human could possibly come up. The Chinese crossed the river and came our way, but we were ready for them. We had a double supply of ammo for the gun and each man had at least a triple unit of fire for his own weapon. I still remember how scared I was. I could not sleep, listening to every little sound, sleeping with my shoes on.
The first dead Marine I saw was, I think, during our withdrawal. He was with a platoon the next hill over. He was killed the night before and they carried him down the next morning. They said he was a Chosin Reservoir veteran and was supposed to go home on rotation the next day. He was married with children. I felt very sad for him and his family. It brought home to me how serious a business we were in. Later on I became desensitized to not only dead enemy, but also to dead Marines. I believe most of us did to keep from going crazy.
I remember reading a clipping that one of the guys had about our withdrawal from up north. It was titled, "Marines Plod Tortuous Trail," and went on to say how we hated to leave and the tortuous mountain trails we took in the rain and so on. It stated, 'We lived with death. We had steel in our eyes.'" Very dramatic, but so true. According to the Chinese radio, we had been completely wiped out. That's a laugh. They would find out how much we had been wiped out when they met us the next time. According to the papers, we saved the whole front. Small wonder.
What made us the maddest during our withdrawal was that they burned truckloads of candy bars and beer to make room for troops in the trucks. And there we were half starving.
Silly War Movies
The old war movies I saw growing up were actually silly compared to the real thing. Maybe background music would have made it easier? No, but maybe the clean clothes and brief glorious firefights would have... Naturally, no one can duplicate actual combat. I think anyone who has even been there cannot explain or understand it. Combat seemed to be bizarre and unreal to me.
I believe the trainers at boot camp and Camp Pendleton did the best they could to prepare us for combat in Korea. I guess one can only experience it to know how inexplicable it is what human beings do to each other. I did not know the people trying to kill me and they didn’t know me. So why were we? Someone higher up told us to do so. It’s crazy. Combat brings out the worst, but also the best, in a person. Worse in terms of having to do things you were told all your life not to do. Best because of the courage, team work, care for fellow Marines, bravery in facing great challenges, sharing, and many other qualities we hold in human value. I don’t need to describe the worst.
As my friend Jim Bannon always said, “They were the best of times, they were the worst of times.” He once told me that when we were on the move I would say, “Cheer up, it could be worse.” Then he would say, “And sure enough, it got worse.” The Marine Corps training prepared me as much for combat as was possible. It did not take me long to steel myself to the situation. I was always extremely nervous before jumping off to take a hill. Once I got going, the energy of that fear became the will to do my job. By the end of my tour with the line company, I was totally desensitized to death. I even expected my own death and carried in my wallet a letter to my wife “in the event of”. I became so desensitized that I could sit next to dead, maggot-infested, mangled bodies to eat my C-ration meal. I could raise a poncho covering dead Marines--one with his head shot completely off, and have no feeling except a little horror.
In a Combat Zone
When I first joined the regiment we had three hot meals during the first 27 days. That was typical for my 95 days on the front line from April 5 through July 17, 1951. When not eating the few hot meals, we ate C-rations.
Rest Time off line was rare and only a few days at a time. We did not think it was good for men to be on line for weeks at a time. Even when it was quiet, it was always tense. I smoked a lot. The few beers I drank from our "ration" offered some brief relief. It took me awhile to get used to it, if ever. Add to this the filth, bugs and weather (which was always hot and humid or cold and damp) and it could be miserable.
Snapping at the Brain
Twice I came close to "snapping at the brain". One night around the last of April or first of May, we were on a force march walking out of one of the traps when I let loose, screaming like an ape for a break, a rest, or something. It was more fatigue and nerves than anything else. We walked (almost running) down the road to Chunchon without a break, but we kept on going. Jim Bannon, the gunner at the time, stopped, rested his head on the gun, and started crying, "How long? How much more can we take? Why don't they let us alone?" He kept mumbling that. We were carrying hellish loads. I guess that's what did it, plus the sleepless nights of fighting our way out. Just when we thought we we're finished, something happened to lift us up a little. We finally got to the trucks in the wee hours that morning and they took us at top speed through Chunchon. I was new then, and things hit me more. When we were in reserve at Inje, Jim and I and the rest of the squad (Smitty) that was left of those seven men that made up the original squad and witnessed the blowing of our stacks, sat around many a lonely night and laughed at that. It wasn't funny then, but it was now. Those days seemed like a million years ago. It seems now like one long nightmare.
The second time I just about popped we had held up a whole day on a ridge, delivering supporting fire for Able Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, which was having much trouble on the next ridge over. Marine Corsairs suddenly dove out of the sky to bomb, strafe, and drop napalm, mistaking them for the enemy. It was almost more than I could take to see that. In recent years, I have been in steady contact with Jim Mortensen of Vacaville, California. We went through Pendleton together, but got separated when we reached Korea. He went to A-1-5 and was there when the Corsairs attacked. He said that there was a mix-up between the "spotter plane" and the people laying out the "air panels" which were supposed to designate our troops from the enemy. He also said that, miraculously, there were few casualties from the error. Box cars dropped plenty of chow and we really got our fill of C-rations after starving to death for three nightmarish days.
We went on reconnaissance and combat patrols. One lasted five days. Our company was sent out, reinforced, to find out where the enemy was. I remember being six miles into enemy territory and using a ridge as a base of operations for smaller patrols. We took only weapons and ammo and walked over five miles up and over mountains, but still couldn't make contact with the enemy. There were some enemy troops there just before we came, but they pulled out.
By May 8, 1951, things were awfully quiet along the lines except for a few artillery pieces (ours) zeroing in. Lots of patrols were sent out. As a matter of fact, things were so quiet that part of the company went back to battalion headquarters for a day to get three hot meals, a hot shower, and clean clothes. The other part went the next day. When it was my turn, it was certainly welcomed. I got three hot meals. It was the same old Marine chow, but it tasted pretty good. The hot showers didn't show up, so I took a bath in the stream and even shaved off all my beard. I looked almost human again for awhile. I managed to scrounge a clean dungaree shirt and gave a little Korean boy a pack of cigarettes and a candy bar to wash my skivvies.
Rumor had it that we were going to set up a permanent line just below the parallel and not go north anymore because the State Department said we couldn't. We didn't know how true it was. They were setting out barbed wire and stuff, so it could be true. I hoped so. The way things were going, I thought I would be home in no time. Things were looking good for me because I was a 3-B reserve and replacements were coming in right and left. I thought, "Just a few more months of hardship and sacrifice and I'll soon be home."
You might know that as soon as I dug a perfect foxhole, we had to move out. We moved a few hundred yards further down the ridge. We still got that lousy hot chow every other day that wasn't worth walking six miles round trip for, except the breakfast. Everyone got the "G.I.s" (diarrhea), including me. The doctor said it was the change in diet from C-rations to hot chow. It was kind of hard for the old stomach to get used to eating C-rations one day and chow the next. It made me mad that at that time I couldn't eat much, but the swill they fed us wasn't worth eating anyhow. Believe it or not, I felt lots better eating C-rations than I did when I ate that slop they gave us at Battalion H.Q.
Every day we dug and improved positions. The Battalion Commander came up and inspected them and said our particular squad had the best dug positions in the company. Mine was about chest deep with a nice little ledge to sit on and take life easy. I did a nice job of camouflaging, if I do say so myself. We usually dug two positions--one to sleep in and one to fight in. We slept on the reverse slope and fought on the forward slope. That way we were concealed from the enemy until they started coming. It reminded me of the forestry. When the man on watch yelled that the enemy was coming, I would hop out of my bag, throw on my shoes, grab my gear, and away I would go into my fighting hole.
By May 14 they had decided to cut the five-day patrols down to three days because the powers that be realized that five days on two C-ration meals, plus the work and tension involved, was too much for a man to take. We were the first and only company to go out for five days, which meant that we were guinea pigs, so to speak. When I got off that patrol the size 30 pants I was wearing was way too big. (I used to wear 32.)
Spies Amongst Us
A Korean once gave me a short haircut in exchange for a package of cigarettes, a can of corned beef hash, and a bar of soap. The last two articles I gave him for a bonus. Nobody ever ate the lousy hash they put in rations, and even the Koreans got so they wouldn't even take it anymore. Of course, we ate it out on that five-day patrol, but only after we loaded it with garlic. I found out what being hungry was out there. I found out what being scared was a long time before that.
That Korean barber ended up in a prisoner of war stockade. Somebody finally got wise and picked him up. He was a spy and had all our positions and barbed wire mapped out. I thought he had no business up there on the line, but nobody seemed to care so I didn't either.
Dog Company went out on patrol in the same place that we had patrolled earlier and ran into some enemy. The Marines laid on a ridge and watched the enemy change into civilian clothes so as to infiltrate our lines as refugees. After waiting a half an hour trying to get permission to fire on them (a recon patrol always tried to avoid a fight), they finally did and left many, many enemy behind that would never ever again make trouble for anyone.
The enemy did not fight much differently from us except they did not have the fire power that we had. They had no air power. Much of their artillery came from 105s and 155s that they had captured from the US Army in previous battles. Most of the firing that I remember was machine guns, mortars and some artillery, plus our Marine, Navy and Air Force air strikes. The most interesting enemy weapon to me was the “burp gun” supplied to the enemy by the Russians. Actually, most of their weapons and ammunition was supplied by Russia. The burp gun was an automatic “tommy gun”. The longer the trigger was held, the faster it would shoot. Its sound was like "brribrrribrrrrrrit!" We thought it quite humorous, except those who were shot by it like Smitty was.
Our enemy in summer wore clothing similar to ours--dungaree like clothing, only darker. In the second Korean winter, the Chinese wore quilted trousers, jackets and ear-muffed caps like ours. They looked like padded pajamas. My memory is very fuzzy on this. The North Korean I saw on line shooting our way had branches of bushes sticking out of his uniform. He looked like a moving bush. That image, plus many others, has stayed in my brain. It was the closest I saw the enemy, except the Chinese we would run off a hill and shoot as they fled to the next hill.
South Korean Military
Contact with the South Korean military was minimal for me. We had much contact with the Korean Service Corps, non-military personnel who brought C-rations and ammunition up to the line. They were poor, hard-working people contracted by our military. They carried very heavy loads up the mountains on “A” frames. These were back packs made only of open wood struts that looked like an upside down “A”. Once I noticed that their lunch consisted of fish heads and rice wrapped up in newspaper.
Other non-military Koreans were the refugees who came through our line or were seen while on patrol. One instance was a young, thin girl carrying an old man on her back. Another was when a young boy with legs no bigger than my thumb came through begging for food. These were very sad contacts and pointed out to me that it is the local civilians who suffer most in war. I think this has always been true. One only has to look at World War II countries and the Iraqi people today.
Contact with Army Troops
The 2nd Army Division relieved us one time when we were moved to another place on the line. We put out welcoming signs for them which said, “Welcome to the 2nd Army Division. The last time we saw you, you were being relieved by the Chinese People’s Volunteers.” I think they were members of the 38th Infantry. It was only a little friendly rivalry and chiding. Once in awhile we were in contact with Army personnel on the march. Whenever we saw Army troops, we would bark and whistle. Their reply would be, “You might as well bark, you live like dogs, anyway.” That was true. They had much better equipment than we did and they ate hot meals more often than we did. They had the latest combat boots and clothing. Their light .30 caliber machine guns were 1918 A-4s. Ours was A-3. The difference was that the A-3 tripod was in the center of the gun. The A-4’s was in the front, allowing better control and more accurate firing.
More serious contact was made on line when an Army squad tied in to our squad. We did not like that because of what we had heard about their history of retreating. Somebody told them that if they ran off on us, we would turn our guns on them. I have already mentioned about the morning I saw an Army 2nd Lieutenant pleading with his men to get back up the hill until we Marines relieved them. Another contact earlier than that just stated was with the 187th Regimental Combat Team. They were on our left flank. We were behind another Marine unit. General Almond flew in by helicopter and angrily told the commanders of the RCT to catch up with the Marines. I think I was there at the time, or at least heard it from someone who was. I think we were taking a break along the road at the time the helicopter landed.
Following our last big fire fight when we were down to about 50 percent strength, dirty, exhausted, scraggly and staggering down the road, Army troops along the road felt sorry for us. They gave us food and candy. There was no whistling, barking or mutual chiding. All there was, was mutual respect. We all had stopped the 2nd phase of the Chinese spring offensive with the help of the Air Force, Navy ship guns and Marine and Army artillery. We did not know it at the time, but history records it as that. Two stars were added to our Korean Service ribbon.
Foxholes & Bunkers
I do not remember living in a bunker. When I was on line, we moved so much there was no time to build one. Later when I was with the Chaplain, I lived in a tent. When the line became stable in July, I remember building a reinforced foxhole which might pass as a bunker. It was covered with a poncho and reinforced with sandbags. It had dirt shelves and seats. On the "fighting side" of the slope, which was always built first, we put sandbags around it, strung barbed wire in front, and, if there was time, we planted trip grenades. That was only if we stayed for a few days. The "fighting side" hole had no cover, so it was subjected to the vagaries of the weather. On the "living side" of the slope, the little frogs got into the hole and couldn't get out.
Occasionally I had the opportunity to take a cold water bath in a stream. Boy, did it feel good, especially when I washed my feet. Some nights I slept with my shoes on, and after a week or ten days the feet became very unable to live with, if you know what I mean. The only clothes we took off when we retired for the night were the shoes, nothing else, so a guy got pretty stinkin' dirty in a short time. Still, it didn't seem to hurt much. As mentioned above, however, whenever we passed any Army soldiers on the road, we poked fun at them and barked like dogs. The only come-back they had was, "You might as well bark, you live like dogs anyhow." We didn't have the gear they had, but any one of them would tell us, meek like, that we were the best over there.
It was often weeks before we got clean clothes on the line, and then they were usually used and laundered. If our dungaree trousers or jacket was not torn, we might not get a clean one. Usually, our dungarees were extremely filthy, white with constant perspiration, and torn by the time we got a change. As for a shower, I remember only one during my 95 days on line. It was a cold shower. There was another opportunity for a shower, but by the time we got to the site something was wrong with the stove, so we turned and walked back to the line. One time on the move we took a long break by a lake, so the skipper gave us permission to jump in and soap down in the cold water. Other times we washed our face, hands and arms if near a stream very long. The Red Cross supplied us with razors and soap occasionally, so I heated water in my helmet over the fire and shaved using soap as shaving cream. We washed our “privates” from a helmet of water. That was called a “whorehouse douche”. Everyone’s body was filthy and smelly, but we could not tell because we all smelled the same. We often laughed at our condition.
I got few opportunities on line to brush my teeth, primarily because water was very scarce and precious. We did not want to waste it. If we did brush our teeth, we used water from our canteen without toothpaste. After brushing we swished the water around in our mouths, then swallowed it. It gave us a little extra nourishment. That was what we were trained to do at Camp Pendleton’s course in “field hygiene”. When I got home, the VA sent me to the dentist at no cost to try to repair the damage done to my teeth while in Korea. The VA also paid for an eye exam and my first pair of glasses.
The weather in Korea reminded me of the weather in Rock Island, Illinois: cold and damp in the winter and hot and humid in the summer with no Spring or Fall. Our nicknames for Rock Island were “Sinus Gulch” and “The Armpit of the Nation”. The seminary president used to say, “If they ever gave the nation an enema, they would put it in at Rock Island.” Korea was that way to me. Add the flies and other insects in abundance, plus the mud, rain and fog.
May was the rainy season and took a toll on our shelter halves. There were times when the wind changed and blew all the rain in the open end of the shelter. I woke up one morning in a puddle from head to foot and everything was soaking wet. When it let up, I got out of the wet bag and changed my shelter a little and half-dried out my gear and sleeping bag. It continued to drizzle and the heavy fog that had left for a while that morning came rolling back in. I remember wishing that the sun would come out. Rainy days in Korea reminded me of Oregon. Imagine living in the Oregon outdoors during a week of their drenching wet rains. A week of Oregon rain was two days of Korean rainy days. At least, that's the way it seemed to me. Korea had the darndest weather I have ever seen in my life.
It was quite a challenge living outdoors in the winter. On the line, we usually had only a poncho or shelter half pitched over our foxholes by tree branches and open on the sides. When it rained, we plugged the sides with anything we could find. When I later got the lucky transfer to Chaplain’s Assistant, I lived in a tent with the Chaplain, an enormous improvement. When the line became stable after I left, Marines built bunkers which provided more shelter and safety. At battalion command post, some of the troops built bunkers. We sometimes piled sandbags around our tent for protection from possible bombardment. We also dug channels so that rain water would drain around the tent, not through it. In winter at the battalion, we had a gasoline stove. On line, there were warming tents where the Marines could go to enjoy a hot stove for awhile. There was also much snow, which made it difficult to navigate the mountain trails.
The line remained stable much of the winter with mostly patrol action. We had heard stories of the frostbite problem during the Chosin Reservoir action in December 1950. Marines tried to fight with World War II jungle clothing and “mucklucks” on the feet which actually fostered frostbite. We also heard that a few Marines and Army soldiers purposely exposed their limbs to the cold in hopes of being evacuated from that horrible scene. I do not know if that was true, but after we were issued the equipment for the second Korean winter, we were told that anyone getting frostbite would be court-martialed. My guess is that it depended upon the circumstance, such as a long winter patrol.
We were much better equipped for the second Korean winter than American troops were for the first. We were issued thermal boots and warm parkas, as were the line troops. Chaplain Power and I went up on line to give communion to a platoon going out on a night patrol in the bitter cold with wind. While waiting for the patrol to return, he and I slept in our bags in the open on a helicopter pad cut into the side of a mountain. They were out most of the night. They had lain for hours below the enemy lines waiting for someone to show themselves. Finally, a young Chinese soldier got out of his hole or bunker to urinate and they grabbed and muzzled him. We escorted that prisoner back to the CP in the morning. There is a photo of that prisoner in my photo album.
No one in my company was taken prisoner by the enemy. I heard that someone in another company was taken prisoner while on patrol in the Punchbowl. He apparently became a straggler due to illness or exhaustion. I do not know if this is true. I think we all (or at least I did) could think of nothing worse than being taken prisoner, however it never crossed my mind at the time. It only did later.
I do not remember who our officers were. We didn’t see them much--at least I didn’t. The sergeants and corporals ran everything. There was a 2nd lieutenant who became the platoon leader early on, but he froze during one of the early firefights. Our gunnery sergeant, Mike Ruffalo, had to take over the platoon to finish the fight. After that, the Lieutenant was transferred elsewhere. I still have the image of him kneeling behind a large rock while the rest of us were heading up the hill while being fired at. GySgt Ruffalo was at the E-2-5 reunions I attended years later. Together we wrote the first Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws for the organization. We corresponded for awhile. The last I heard, he was in a veterans’ home in Barstow, California. I’m not sure if he is still alive. What a fine Marine and leader he was.
The past comforts I once knew were nothing but vague images of a dream. Necessities like hot water, a bed or even a hard cot, fresh fruits and vegetables, and fresh, hot food were considered nothing less than the most lavish luxuries. The worse it got, the better it was. We made jokes about each other's misery and it was quite morale building. I'm afraid Bill Mauldin left out a lot of things when he drew those cartoon in "Up Front." But what he did draw was 100% correct. We were always thirsty.
The water we drank, which was mountain spring water, tasted just like Ogden City water and made me homesick with every gulp. That was because of the Chlorine pills we put in it to purify it. Water -- what a precious commodity!
One day's C-rations (three meals) consisted of seven cans about the size of Campbell's soup cans. They were supposed to last one day. Three cans contained three of the following variety: hamburgers, pork and beans, meat and beans, wieners and beans, beef stew, sausage patties, chicken and vegetables, corned beef hash, spaghetti, and ham and lima beans. My favorite C-rations were ham and lima beans, beans and wieners, and spaghetti and meatballs. The C-ration box also contained cans with such things as suckers, hard crackers, jam, candy. They also contained a variety of other items such as a small packet of coffee, powdered milk, or a disk of cocoa that we used to flavor our drinks. The remaining can was fruit of some sort. Therefore, one meal consisted of one can of "heavy" and one can of "light". A packet was also added which furnished cigarettes, gum, water pills, a small hand towel, and toilet paper. Live on those everyday and we even got so we liked them.
When we got our rations every day, it was just like opening a Christmas package to see what we got. After everyone got his box open, they ran all over trying to trade a can of something he didn't like. It was quite funny. I got two hash and one beans one day and I'll never get over that. We couldn't even give hash away, it tasted so bad. It was difficult to heat so we either threw it away or gave it to a KSC worker. Later we found a way to make the corned beef hash more edible. We took our entrenching tool (small shovel) and put it in the fire, getting it griddle-hot. Then we made patties and fried them on the shovel. There was just enough grease in it to fry it good. It was "different" and kept us from throwing it away like we usually did. When in a hurry or during heavy rain storms, we heated our can of food over “canned heat.” Because it was ineffective at getting the food hot, we just ate the food cold. One time we were given World War II “K-rations” like the ones used when Marines invaded a Pacific Island. They were very skimpy with dried bars. They were nothing compared to our C-rations and they were very unsatisfying. They were like eating nothing.
In late June (it was hot!), the impossible happened when they brought some ice cream to us at the front. Of course, it was like soup and we only got about three mouthfuls, but it was delicious. It was also torturing. The guys hummed and hawed, trying to squeeze the most enjoyment they could out of it. It was the first ice cream I had had since I left the ship at Pusan.
Once we were next door to an Army artillery outfit. They always ate hot chow. We had just come off line after two weeks of hell and were starving to death, so we Marines went to various Army chow halls to try and scrounge some leftovers. Another guy and I were the only ones at this one tent and things looked pretty promising until 15 other Marines came walking up. The Army lieutenant got perturbed and told us to clear out. Everybody did except me. I was busy talking to Seagrave and Ramsey, whom I hadn't seen for some time. The soldier looked at me and said to clear out. Very sarcastic like, he said they didn't have enough to feed us, too. He said, "You've got your own rations." I gently told him in the worst tone I could manage that C-rations got a little tiresome after three months. He said, "We get them once in a while, too." I said, "Yea, once in a great while," then went on to tell him to take his hot food and jam it. I then walked away. They were eating food like cake, macaroni and cheese, Coca Cola, and all kinds of things. Even Army line companies carried a chow tent with them. We didn't get anything like that. We had to beg, borrow, and steal what little we did get. Maybe that's why we were so damned good at fighting.
We were able to come down from the line long enough to have hot chow around May 16, and I must say they finally put out some decent food for a change. I snuck in the line twice one morning and ended up with four eggs, two sausages, three boxes of cereal and two oranges--and drank about a quart of powdered milk. It was No. 1. Then for lunch I ate fried spam, peas, potatoes, cake, peanut butter and bread, and that whitewash they called milk. It was pretty good, but I wondered at the time whether or not I would be able to climb back up the mountain with all that chow in me. The food at the CP was much better than on line, and hot, unless we were on the move. As mentioned, on line we ate C-rations most of the time. The few times we went to the rear for a few days’ rest, we received hot food. Sometimes the food was good and other times it was not as good as C-rations. The hot breakfast was usually good with scrambled eggs made from powder, good bacon, and pancakes.
I never ate any Korean native food. We were warned not to because of the human fertilizer used to grow it. We were also warned not to drink the native alcohol because it could make us blind. There were horror stories about what happened to men who indulged in native food or drink. Before Korea, I did not drink other than an occasional beer with a buddy in the California Division of forestry. I drank no alcohol before or after my marriage until Korea. On line we received a beer ration of two or three cans a week. Because they could not get the ration up to us sometimes for several weeks, when we did get it, there would be several cans. One time after a patrol in July, I drank five cans of warm beer. Another incident when we forced marched to a rest area, we received another ration of several cans. I gave most of mine away. On that same march, we stole a case of whiskey from an army jeep a fifth at a time. I think I wrote of this in my book of letters. Officers received a fifth of whiskey a week. The Chaplains did not drink, so they gave the whiskey to their assistants. We had no problem using it to party or exchange a bottle with the battalion cook for a steak dinner.
Probably the best food I ate in Korea was the roast turkey and ham and mashed potatoes and gravy received on the Marine Corps birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas--especially the Marine Corps birthday, which was the most bountiful. The cooks went all out to provide a large delicious meal on that day for everyone. Helicopters flew the meals to the men on the front line. It was a nice change from C-rations. The menu usually included roast turkey, ham, vegetables, potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin or apple pie. They were great feasts. When the line was stable and weather permitted, galleys actually cooked hot meals for the men on the line. My experience with these holidays was while I was with the Chaplain at battalion command post. The food was much hotter and better than on line.
The stateside food I missed the most in Korea was a tender beef steak and the banana cream pie that my wife’s aunt would bake. I also missed the pot roast and pea and potato salad my wife’s mother made frequently. My wife’s father grew fresh peas, tomatoes, corn, and many other vegetables in his back yard garden in Ogden, Utah. We lived with them off and on. Every Sunday when possible, her family and my wife and I would meet at their house for a pot roast meal with all the delicious accessories. My wife’s parents, Lee and Elma Hess, were my family, too. I loved them and they loved me like their own son.
Dressed for Combat
During the time that I was on line, my clothing in summer consisted of old World War II dungarees and jungle “boon dockers” (boots). We also had the leggings that can be seen on World War II footage of Marines in the Pacific. We had the dungaree cap and the helmet with a camouflage cover. A web belt held our dungaree trousers up. To that was added another wider web belt with holes which could accommodate canteens, first aid kit, pistol holder and anything else needed. I think clips of ammunition could be attached in a case for that purpose. In addition, rifle men tied a bandolier of ammunition clips around their waist or over their shoulder. I can’t remember how we attached grenades to our clothing. For my M-2 carbine, I taped or tied two clips together in the opposite direction so that I could reverse them when one became empty. I also had a case tied to the stock where I could store a long clip. My M-2 carbine clips held about 30 rounds, I believe. One did not have to be on line very long before the clothing became torn and filthy along with our bodies. The shoes were totally inadequate for the mountains and the loads we carried. They wore out very quickly and many times were hard to replace.
By the time winter came, we were supplied with much better boots and jackets, although the dungarees remained the same. We were issued parkas and long underwear. Only one pair of thin socks could be worn in the thermal boots because they kept the feet so warm. We were given thick caps with ear muffs which could be tied under the chin. I forget what they were called. It seems to me we also received a sweater and thicker shirts. Added to this clothing was a thick down sleeping bag. They also issued long underwear.
The Blunt End of War
I got a kick out of trying to talk to the Korean laborers they had around the reserve area. The best statement I heard one day from a Korean who traveled with our company. He said, "U.S.M.C. - No. 1 (best), U.S. Army - No. 10 (no good)." We talked all afternoon trying to explain to each other what different things meant in our own language. This one particular guy explained to me in a roundabout way that he was going to school in Chunchon before the war and his mother was there. Then he asked me if the Chinese were in Chunchon yet. I told him I didn't know. I told him, "Chinese would soon be no more," as I made like a machine gun. The Koreans really bore the blunt end of the war. Hardly a house was left standing, and only the old people were left to cultivate the paddies. The Chinese carried off a lot of young men and women during one of their retreats.
We had a little Korean boy with the company that we picked up when we walked out of the second trap in April. He was living in a cave on the 38th parallel, and as we walked by he came wandering out half-naked and half-starved, so we picked him up, hoping to drop him off in a South Korean village so someone would take care of him. He remained with us for quite a while. The boys fed him, clothed him, and taught him naughty words to say to other Marines. He had a better pair of shoes than I did. His name was Pisan.
The outdoor life I lived when I was in Korea was something I would really have relished when I was a boy. I used to eat this stuff up: living under the trees, sleeping in the open with the stars as my roof, living in the mountains as if I were part of them. Without the Chinese and the flying bullets, it would have been a camper's paradise. There was not much to hunt or fish, but with plenty of food a mountaineer would really have fun.
Korea was a forester's paradise--plenty of room for land and soil improvement. All the small bit of reforestation that had been done there had either been burned out by napalm or cut down by the enemy to afford him protection from our great firepower. By early May summer was underway and the wild apple trees were breaking out in colorful blossoms. Strawberries were showing their first signs of progressing as the little yellow blossoms peeked their heads through the evergreen duff. Many wild flowers displayed themselves amid the blackened areas and added their bit of color as if trying to cheer the faces of the worn, trampled-over, fought-over mountainsides. It was God's way of showing that He was still there, and that through his warring ways man couldn't destroy all of the little natural beauty that remained there.
The days started getting longer and the sun turned our white skins to a deep bronze under the coat of dirt that quickly collected on us. The air was filled with the throated strains of the hummingbirds, pheasants, magpies, undisturbed by the clank and thuds of entrenching tools and Marines' loud profanity as they dug vainly at a root or a rock in the bottom of their foxhole. The streams got smaller as the sun drew the cool moisture into the air. From lack of mental exercise, my mind grew stagnant along with the rice paddy water, and I wondered if I would ever be the same again, or ever again take for granted the wonderful luxuries that American civilization had to offer. To keep my mind from growing too stagnant, I began working out homemade algebra problems. I found out that I had forgotten a lot of what I had learned when I was in school.
I also never saw so many different insects and varmits before--and in such quantities. The frogs, which were everywhere, even on the highest mountains, were the funniest looking things I had ever seen. They were dark green with black speckles and bright red toenails. It liked to have scared the pants off of me the first time I saw one. They hopped in our shelters, slept with us at night, and hid in our shoes. They just raised hell in general. On quiet nights they sang and argued with each other like crazy. They were a pretty good alarm, though. When they stopped croaking, we started looking.
We were in our 38th day on line on May 15, 1951. I guess they considered the lull in fighting at that time, plus three days a week of hot chow, was a rest. But it just wasn't the same back in the rear as it was up on the line. A man couldn't relax up there, no matter how quiet it was. Every man stood a watch every night while on line, whereas back in the rear he only had to stand a short one every three nights or so. Not only that, back there we only watched like a stateside fire watch. On line it was different.
It was quite funny to me to think of the habits that a guy formed while in combat in Korea and imagine what would happen if he went home with the same habits...such as: going into the bathroom and bracing the legs before sitting down (developed on the mountain sides) and then trying to dig up the floor in an effort to cover up the product. Then at meal time coming in with filthy hands, putting a can of beans on the stove, eating them, and then throwing the can in a corner. At bedtime, going into the backyard, digging a hole and throwing out a sleeping bag and checking with the wife what time you had to stand your watch. Then there would be, of course, the rolling out at the slightest noise or diving for a hole when a car backfired and other such oddities that made up our present life. I found out that I could get used to anything after a while and it wasn't so hard to take. I did have to break myself of sleeping all sprawled out because my sleeping bag wasn't big enough. I learned to sleep with my field jacket as a pillow and discovered the hard way that the ground didn't serve the same purpose that a mattress used to. After living like I had to in Korea, I decided that I would never complain about anything again after I came home.
Leisure Time Activities
Occasionally I went to church service. When possible, the chaplain held three services a day. They gave me quite a lift. It seemed funny going to church with a weapon strapped on my back and ammo around my waist.
During quieter times we had time to read some of the old magazines they gave us. We shared the magazines amongst ourselves. I remember that we started reading a mystery story entitled, "A Shot in the Dark" that was in Colliers magazine. We were unaware that it was a serial until the very end, when it left us dangling in mid-air with "continued next week." I wrote to my wife, asking her to try to dig up a May 26 and June 2 issue of the magazine that carried the ending of the story. Looking through those magazines at the pictures and ads, it seemed almost impossible that such wonderful things existed. They certainly didn't in Korea.
I remember just laying there on the steep mountainside on a spot I had leveled off. I had my poncho over me for a shelter and was writing a letter home. While I wrote, the rain drops spattered and made sounds like raindrops when they landed on the poncho. The artillery in back of us let go now and then, and in the distance a volley of small arms fire broke loose where the 1st Battalion was taking some ground. All hell sounded like it was flying through the air when those boys let loose.
If we were by a stream or river we could generally take a swim and bath. Once I blew up my rubber mattress, and despite the many leaks had a lot of fun floating around in a river. It was as crowded as a stateside pool on Sunday, only less modest, if you know what I mean. It was surprising what one day of relaxation could do for us. That day we swam all day, threw stones in the river, sang, and raised hell in a gentle sort of way.
Letters from Home
Packages and letters from home were very important to us. Mail was received regularly, but it sometimes stacked up so that at the end of a move, we would receive many letters at a time. It took at least 20 days for a letter to go to my wife and the answer to come back to me. It took about 10 days for a letter to reach her from me. A lot could happen in that 10 days. We might have moved all over Korea in that time. My mood and being probably changed a hundred times in ten days, depending on the situation. I explained in a letter to my wife that:
Most of the few packages I received from home contained canned fruit and Kool cigarettes. They arrived in good condition. Kool cigarettes were not included in the C-rations or Red Cross supplies. As mentioned, I got hooked on Kools in boot camp. In Korea, I smoked whatever cigarettes were available, plus the Kools my wife sent me. I smoked a pack or two a day of Camels, Chesterfields, or whatever was in the C-rations or sent up by the Red Cross.
On the front line, I yearned for canned fruit, probably because of the sugar and nourishment. There never seemed to be enough of it in C-rations, so I asked my wife to send it. (The only gambling I did was playing Hearts for a large can of fruit while on the line.) When a package arrived, it was immediately shared with my buddies, except the Kools. Sharing everything was the usual practice when anyone received a package of goodies from home. I learned at that time the value of generosity, and that has lasted throughout my life.
One time I received a package of cookies from the women’s church group in the Elim Lutheran Church, Ogden, Utah. My wife and I were members there. The package took two or three months to get there. Amazingly, by our standards, the cookies were still edible. They tasted like they had just been made. Of course, the squad thought so, too. They lasted about ten minutes. I ate about a dozen and the squad ate the rest. The two cans of beer I drank on top of the cookies made me feel fine until about two a.m., when I threw every bit of it up. Oh well, it tasted good going down, anyhow.
Most of my mail came from my wife. I occasionally received letters from my sister, mother and father-in-law whom I considered my "dad." He was the only one I could write to about the details of what was really happening--things I did not write others for fear they would worry too much. Stationery to write letters home sometimes got awfully scarce. They sent us a tablet and one envelope for the whole squad in our PX rations. What a joke. Around May 14 during mail call, the guys got packages as far back as February. Naturally, things like candy and fudge were melted or moldy. The only things that lasted were packed in cans. I told my wife that it was a good idea if she would enclose an envelope and writing paper when she wrote a letter to me. Usually, the envelopes I had on hand stuck together, and sometimes I couldn't get to my pack when I heard from her so I could answer. We dropped our packs as soon as we hit the stuff, and there was a good chance of losing it. I always addressed an envelope before I wrote to her because I never knew when we might have to move out and I would have to cut my letter to her short.
I asked my wife to send me a paper now and then so I could know what was going on in Korea. On "quiet" days we had the time to read letters from home. We also had opportunities to read news clippings about what was going on in Korea. I remember reading in the San Francisco Chronicle that the Marines saved the U.N. lines from disaster in May/June 1951 with the help of the British Brigade and Korean Marines. I didn't know that we had done that much.
I usually read letters from home over several times, then burned them. I hated to, but I had to because I was so weighted down with equipment, I didn't have room for them. That probably sounds funny, but you'd be surprised how heavy even a few letters got while climbing those mountains. The only clothes I had were on my back except for two extra pairs of socks and one pair of skivvies. I threw away some dungarees, skivvies, socks, part of my sleeping bag, and any gear that wasn't absolutely necessary--and still wished that I could throw something else away.
One letter that my wife sent to me filled me with joy when she told me that we were expecting a baby. When I first found out we were going to be parents, I was so happy that I laid down in my hole and cried like a baby. All night long I laid awake and thought and made plans. During my long night watches, I thought and dreamed and made plans about us and our baby. It took me away from my surroundings for awhile and sometimes it was a great let-down when something snapped me back to the present. A few weeks later I received this heartbreaking letter from my wife:
I wrote back to her:
This was the only bad news I can remember from home while I was on the front line. We had wanted that baby very much. It was necessary for me to keep a clear mind at this time because we were on the move and I was in a combat situation. I received her letter during the attack on Hwachon toward the end of May. My insides ate away at me, but I had to try not to think about it. It was a hell of a feeling having my hands tied like that and helpless to do anything to help her. Smitty was a great comfort and support for me. Most of the firefights I was in took place during the UN counter offensives in May/June 1951.
When I was with the line company I never missed a fire fight or patrol. While on line (and even later when I became a chaplain's assistant), diarrhea was common among the troops, especially on line. Most of the time there we obtained our water from creeks and rice paddy streams. I’m not sure the chlorine pills killed everything in our canteens. Plus, sometimes we were so thirsty we simply drank whatever was available, by-passing the chlorine pills. Thirst was a huge issue on line, especially when on the move. Many men came home with parasites. We ate c-rations for weeks at a time. Sometimes food sent from home caused vomiting--not from contamination, but because of our “stuffing” on better-tasting, sweet food. Smitty had dysentery so bad one night that he was incontinent of bowel in his sleep. The next morning he asked if I had any clean “skivvies”. I gave him the only extra pair I carried in my pack. I was very fortunate that I did not have diarrhea as bad as some did. If someone had dysentery while on the move, he would have to drop out of the column, do his business, then try to catch up. That was risky if his place was near the end of the column.
We were in several firefights during the spring UN counter offensives, but I do not remember all the hill numbers. When I first joined the company we were about 18 miles above the 38th parallel. During the Chinese spring offensives, we ended up several miles south of the 38th when our flanks gave out. There were two weeks of combat in May that were nothing short of hell and were the worst for me during my time in Korea. We were moving and fighting every day. In one of the early firefights in May, a Marine got shot in the groin--every man's greatest fear. I can still see him rolling on the ground screaming how much it hurt. It could have been on Hill 815. It seems to me that the 7th Marines passed through us during that incident, but I am not sure. These many years later, the chronology is mixed up in my mind, but I know for certain that Hill 815 came before 808 in chronological order because the hills show up in the cartoons I drew and sent home.
We moved about 200 yards up the ridge on May 18 and dug in. We were in business again and it got heavy. All night there was an artillery duel and our guns finally won out. The shells from our guns came so close over our heads that I felt as if I could reach out and touch them with my hand. There was no sleep for anybody. Since sun-up the Marine Corsairs and Navy Panther jets gave the enemy on the next high ground from where we were about 1000 yards away seven kinds of hell. They really pasted them. The next day (Sunday) was a nice and quiet afternoon. We didn't have to worry so much about the enemy in the daytime.
While we were on the move we had strict orders that we were not to bark or whistle at the Army troops who relieved us. That made us mad and we had to have some fun, so we made many, many signs and hung them all around the place. As we moved down the hill, we met the Army coming up and we didn't say a word. One soldier said to us, "U.S.M.C. - U.S. Muscle Corps." A big soldier, who was catching his breath on the trail, told us how far it was. We told him we walked that far every day just for hot chow. He said he would starve to death before he walked that far for chow and one Marine said, "Ah, hell, it's just a short walk." The soldier breathlessly said, "It's a short walk for a Marine, but ah'm in da army, tho." We got a chuckle out of that.
When we reached Battalion H.Q., I got a package of letters and had just time enough to read the letters and strap the package to my pack. During a break I opened it, passed out the candy, and stowed the Kools. Another guy got a package, too, and we ate during the whole march. As reported in more detail later, also at Battalion H.Q., there happened to be an empty Army jeep with a crate of Schenley's Canadian Brand whiskey in it. Being rather chilly because of the rain, some of the boys decided they needed a stimulant. One by one they nonchalantly walked past the jeep and each grabbed a fifth and hid it in his jacket. All during the march guys swiped boxes of chow off of passing trucks and passed it around. As we passed different outfits, we yelled at guys we knew and had one big circus the whole fifteen miles.
Hills to Remember
It was on Hill 808 that Ernest Hightower took out two enemy machine guns (a heavy and a Namboo or light) by himself on June 1, 1951. He was killed in the process when he failed to see an enemy to the right of him. He went fast though. His wife Carol delivered their baby daughter Patricia Gale ten days later. Ernest James Hightower was awarded the Navy Cross posthumously. He was a real guy. I can still see him climbing that low rocky ridge while we gave supporting fire. When moving up afterward, I saw his body with a single hole in his head. He was a great big man and rifle squad leader from Portland, Oregon. The citation for his Navy Cross reads as follows:
For many years after the battle in which Ernest Hightower was killed, I felt very guilty about his death, ultimately thinking I may have been responsible for it. One of my continuous nightmares through the years was that I had murdered someone. When I awoke, I believed that I might actually have. It was a terrible feeling.
Years later, I connected that dream to Hightower's death. At the E-2-5 reunion in 1990 the guys were talking about it. The nightmares ceased after that. My guilt probably came from the day before when I yelled at one of his men for wearing a Confederate flag on his pack. We were on the move on the line. Hightower came up to me. As he looked down at me, he said, "Leave my man alone." I protested the wisdom of wearing all that color, which could attract fire. I also said something about the North had won the Civil War. At that point, he threatened to kick my butt. Looking up at that big PFC, I meekly said, "Okay" and got back with my squad. He could have turned me every which way but loose.
Everyone I knew in Korea was a "war hero", including the Chaplains. However, Ernest Hightower stands out as a special hero. Other than the special acts by a special few, I think we were all heroes.
The hill that stands out most in my mind was numbered 900 something and was in the Punch Bowl area. We were in a fierce firefight to take it two days after Hightower was killed. The enemy who were lucky enough to flee the fight on Hill 808 simply went up the next hill. We could hear them digging in during the night. They were North Koreans, who were much tougher than the Chinese. The Chinese had placed the North Koreans between them and the Marines while they retreated north. We jumped off early in the morning to take that hill.
I saw some heartbreaking casualties in Korea, but in particular I remember the Marine on my left, 18-year old Charles Alfred "Baby-san" Miller from Toledo, Ohio, when he was killed that day on June 3, 1951. The Marine on my right (I think he was Harold G. Andrews) was wounded and I bandaged him while he awaited help from our corpsman. Baby-san was shot in the chest and I saw him pass away. There was a young kid whose folks probably took great pains in raising him for 18 years. He never had a girl and had never known the happiness of sharing and giving with a wife. He never had a chance to know what life really was, because his life had been run for him for the 18 years. He never had a chance. I guess that's a reason why I didn't want anything but girls. Why rear a boy for 18 years, teaching him the right way of life, telling him what's right and what's wrong and how to be a clean, God-fearing man--then have him taken away to war, taught how to kill and be tough, and then maybe never return?
The fire that day was horrendous and whizzing everywhere. Leaves were falling as a result of the bullets. Corpsmen were running around treating the wounded while I grabbed the ground as close as I could. Bannon was on the gun. When he called for "ammo up", I remember seeing a camouflaged North Korean soldier moving about 10-15 yards away, firing. When I got the ammo to Bannon, he yelled, "Get down before you get your head shot off!" I did. That was the closest I came to seeing the enemy who was firing at us. Fortunately, I never had to engage in hand to hand combat. It was a strange moment seeing an enemy that close who was not fleeing. The firefight became up close and personal. Others in my outfit who were killed in action that day were Richard A. Buttery of Sharan Springs, New York and Ralph J. Papa of Brooklyn, New York.
Right after the last fight was over and we had secured the hill (our company against 300 enemy), I sat down in a blood-spattered hole and tried to cry. I couldn't. It was a feeling I'll never forget. I thought maybe I was cracking right down the middle. Maybe it was just a climax to that two weeks of hell of which every day was worse than the day before. Maybe it was hunger and fatigue mixed in with seeing guys I lived with, fought with, and laughed with, fall down beside me, never more to talk again. Maybe it was the feeling of being safe again, with victory, and not being scared anymore--which I was, more scared than I had ever been in my life. I guess it is such incidents that make Marines so fierce. Marines have a comradeship all their own in battle, and seeing a guy like Baby-san go down was enough to make anyone bitter at the people who did it. I tried not to get hard, and I hadn't been cruel up to this point in my tour of duty in Korea, but they said I would be before I left there.
They also said that if we made it through the first series of fights, we had it made thereafter. You can't live to kill and remain the same or you would never live through it. There were things that we had to shut our eyes to at the time they were happening and forget about later. I feared God greatly during those days because I never considered myself a killer. In Korea it was just something to laugh about--and I did. That was the only way to do it. I had no regrets about the yellow beings I took to hell, because it would have been them or me. I think that this fight in the Punch Bowl was the last firefight I was in until the one in late June while on patrol. It was also the worst firefight I was in during my time in Korea.
There is no such thing as “friendly fire”, but that’s what it's called, unfortunately. The absolute worse incident I witnessed is when our Marine Corsairs attacked Able Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines on the next hill over. This took place around the 1st of June 1951. We had taken our objective by mid-afternoon. Able Company was having some difficulty taking theirs, so our machine guns were called up to support them by firing across the draw ahead of them as they moved toward the top. Able called for an air strike. We watched in horror as at least two Corsairs swept in upon them strafing and dropping bombs or napalm. I had three good friends in Able Company, and watching that attack just about drove my exhausted mind and body over the edge. As it turned out, someone had placed the air panels the wrong way. Air panels were brightly-colored pieces of cloth that were placed in such a way that the pilots could tell where the Marines were. My three buddies were James Mortenson, William Ramsey, and Al Seagrave. None of them were hurt in this incident, but they were wounded in later firefights, two of them severely. In 1995, Mortenson and I met after 44 years. I spoke to him about that day the Corsairs hit them. He said that through the years he did not know if that had really happened or if he had dreamt it. As our relationship continued, he said that Pete McCloskey mentioned it in one of his books. The accidental attack also may have been the one written about in the book, “Accordion War” by Charles Hughes, a corpsman with the 7th Marines in 1951.
The next incident of mistaken fire was when our company commander led us up the wrong hill in the fog, an understandable mistake. We got hit that night by our own artillery (Army, I think). At least one man was badly hurt. I mentioned this incident in one of my letters home.
May Massacre Aftermath
On May 18, we were relieved by an Army unit. We were told we were going to the rear for a rest. We "force marched" about fifteen miles to Hongchong. We were told we would be held in reserve to plug any gaps in the line, if necessary. About halfway there, our company took a break along the road. Across the narrow road from us an army jeep with a trailer was parked in front of a squad tent. The trailer contained something covered by a canvas. No army troops were around, so one of the Marines went to the trailer, looked under the canvas, and discovered a crate of Schenely whiskey. He plied the top off the wooden crate with his bayonet and slipped a fifth into his dungaree jacket. Each man in our squad and some riflemen sauntered by and did the same thing. Just as the crate was emptied, we got the word to move out.
When we arrived at the rest area there were also eight cans of beer waiting for each man. The two-can weekly ration had stacked up because they were unable to get it up to the line for some reason. It was the first night we could relax after forty-one days on line. Many of the men partied well into the night with beer and whiskey flowing freely. I was very tired so I drank one beer and hit the sack. Then I drank one while standing watch, gave two away and packed four.
Very early the next morning, May 19, we got word to board trucks and thought we were simply going further back to a better rest area. We rode about fifteen miles, and then walked about six miles to relieve an Army unit. We were back on line after only eight hours in a rest area! Some non-Marine forces had retreated the night before so we had to go up to hold the line. The Army troops told us later that the ROKs on their flank retreated and left their flanks open. Where we were now was the place where the 5th Marines jumped off into the attack during "Operation Killer" in March. The Marines had all the ground secured for miles around two months earlier. Everyone was mad and Bannon, our gunner, screamed at the soldiers, "Once, just once, why can't you guys hold on to the land we take for you? Just once!" They grew red in the face, but said nothing.
The army troops did not wait for us to relieve them in their positions. They came running down the hill while we were stumbling up because of much partying the night before. An Army 2nd lieutenant at the bottom of the hill pleaded with his men to wait for us to relieve them. They paid no attention to him and kept coming down the hill. We secured our positions at the top and held the line, but we endured a tremendous barrage that night. The Air Force B-29s, Navy big guns off shore, and the Army and Marine artillery behind us laid down the barrage right in front of us all night. The earth shuddered beneath us as the bombs and shells exploded. The next morning the Corsairs continued their support. I sat in my hole to watch the show. It was wonderful to know that those guys were on our side. The Marine pilots were noted for the close support they gave us "grunts" but we never got to thank them. The second and last large Chinese offensive was halted by the horrendous fire from all branches of the U.S. military. Never again would they be able to mount another massive assault.
I do not remember which Army unit we relieved that day. When we jumped off after a day or so, we saw dead Chinese troops and supply animals everywhere, ripped apart in many grotesque ways. There were female nurses with Red Cross emblems on their caps. There were dead camels and horses. I have never seen such a mass of death and destruction in my life! Later on we discovered about 200 dead and wounded U.S. soldiers--mostly dead--who had been ambushed by the Chinese as they fled in retreat down a draw, so we were told. This action shows up in Korean War history books as the "May Massacre", when 120,000 regular and 60,000 reserve Chinese and North Korean troops tried to annihilate the 2nd Infantry Division between May 16 and 20, 1951.
I'll never forget the soldiers lying dead along the road, or the radio man in the tent, head lying in front of the radio as if asleep--or the young pale blonde boy at roadside without a visible wound. These images, along with many others, have haunted me for years.
On the Offensive
We were on the offensive and got the enemy on the run. Now east of Chunchon and seven miles south of the 38th parallel, we were very busy every day. This was the toughest I had ever had it in my life to date, I decided that infantry was for the birds. We did the most, deserved the best, and got the least. If I ever had to serve again (which I swore I would shoot my leg off before I did), I was determined that I would get in the Air Force.
I thought that I would be a better man after this. Things like somebody being hurt didn't faze me anymore like they used to when I first got to Korea. We closed our eyes to a lot of it, but deep inside it still hit hard. When there was a casualty we would say, "He was a good guy." Then it was never mentioned again. But I think every man's insides cried with sorrow while his surface remained hard. I know I was that way. It had to be that way or a man would go crazy over night. It was something every man there wanted to forget, if one could forget that kind of stuff. No man wanted to purposely hurt someone, but when good buddies got hurt, it was not hard at all to repay the responsible parties and laugh about it afterwards. It was a dirty job that had to be done, so we did it, got it over with, and forgot about it.
In a letter home in 1951 I wrote that the only man that knows what war is, is the man who is serving in a line company. Even many Marines who were rear echelon in Korea didn't know what it meant. A rear echelon Marine picked up the stories of experiences that we on the line had and also bought souvenirs from us that we got when we overran a hill. Then he went home or wrote home in detail about the bloody battles and action he had been in, when actually he didn't know what it was all about. We who did the fighting and the dirty work tried to forget a fight when it was over with because it was more terrible than anyone can imagine. I could have had enemy weapons or a number of things that were there when we took a position, but I didn't want them. The thought of past firefights made me sick and I didn't want anything to remind me.
I carried a tooth I knocked out of a dead enemy's mouth for awhile after my first fight, but then I got so sick of misery and death that I gave it to another Marine who liked to snow the new replacements. No man in his right mind wants to remember or talk about this. A guy that goes home and talks about what he's been through probably never even saw the front line. Nobody can tell you what war is like. You've got to be right there on the spot. Then the feeling you have is un-describable hell. I figured that there was nothing I could do that would send me to hell, because I was already there.
Lost in Fog
Since I was with E-2-5 during the spring and summer, I never noticed any problems affecting our weapons, except one instance. It was around the Hwachon Reservoir/ Punchbowl area. We took all the ground back in two days that the Army units had lost, then we broke through the enemy lines and went hog-wild and gained lots of ground. Our company alone took the battalion objective and we were so far ahead of everyone else they didn't know where we were. We got cut off from the battalion by the weather (three days of fog and rain) without radio or air contact. We went two days on one and a half meals and one day on no food at all.
About the second or third night, we set up a perimeter on the top of a mountain. The only water our squad had was what I had collected in a poncho and poured into my canteen and others. After a night of raining and shivering, we again arose to thick fog. Suddenly the fog lifted and the sun came out. The other companies caught up with us, the skies cleared, and they dropped chow to us from flying box cars. These big planes had a large (for then) cargo area flanked by two propellers on extended thin fuselages. They were probably Air Force planes. Those beautiful flying box cars flew close into the valley across the road to drop C-rations and ammunition for rifles, BARs and machine guns. They were dropped in nets or bags with small parachutes. We very quickly retrieved them. I think the enemy was on the next hill over. I'm sure we could not have maintained our offensive without those supplies.
Our squad tore all our weapons (the machine guns, carbines, .45 pistols and M1 rifles) down and spread them out on a poncho. We cleaned the gun first, then our own weapons. All of the sudden all hell broke loose. Bullets were flying and men were running from a northern direction, bleeding and clenching their wounds. We threw our weapons together and took off north a few yards to return fire. I had an M-2 carbine which could fire automatic or semi-automatic. While putting my carbine together, I was shaking so badly that my trembling hands dropped the sear spring into the mud. A sear spring worked like a switch that could change the firing mechanism from semi-automatic to automatic. Without it, my carbine would not fire correctly and would be useless. Luckily, even though shaking severely, I was able to recover it, clean it, finish reassembling my weapon, and quickly join the squad a few feet away in returning fire and going into the assault.
We found out later that in the fog we had ended up in an enemy command post, and neither they nor we knew it. When the fog lifted, we completely surprised a battalion of the enemy. This was on the southern rim of the Punch Bowl area. We continued on to take more and more ground and stopped with only 50 percent of the company left. We paid a terrible price and the going was tough, but the enemy paid much higher than we did. I think it was then that another company or a 7th Marines unit passed through us to continue the fight to the Punch Bowl.
The chronology of the above events is unsure in my memory. My book of letters may make them more clear, but even they are confused.
When the Korean Marines relieved us, we thought sure we were going to get a rest, but we got orders to go relieve some Army unit so they could rest. We walked about 15 miles and got about five or six miles outside of Inje, somewhere behind the lines. We then had to go back on line the next day. I didn't know exactly where we were or where we were going. All I knew was that everybody was pooped and sick and tired of fighting. All we wanted was just a few days rest and hot chow. The enemy were probably going crazy trying to keep up with us, we shifted so much.
We had been on line for sixty days as of June 6, 1951. Nobody has ever seen a rougher-looking bunch of men than we were. We were actually crummy. The last I touched hot water was April 4 at Pusan, except the time a month previously when I heated a helmet full the last time I shaved. During all that time I changed clothes once, and the only time they were off was when I got a few opportunities to bathe in a stream. If the replacements joined us before we had a chance to clean up a little, we would probably scare them to death.
The 1st Battalion relieved us and we were able to come down off the hill we took the day before and set up on low ground by a river in regimental reserve for a couple of days. Actually, the whole regiment gravely needed a rest, and I had hopes that we would be relieved in a few days. It was pretty hot so the skipper said we could have two hours. Everyone went crazy with joy, threw off all their crummy clothes, and dove into the river. It was wonderful. I soaped myself down about ten times before the scum finally came off my skinny body. We were a few hundred yards from the line--just enough to relax a little bit. The company was desperately short of men, but replacements were due in shortly.
Order to Appear
About this time I received a letter from the Draft Board of Columbus, Ohio. It was a notice to appear for a physical in Columbus. I wrote back and said that I would love to, but was currently too busy. They wrote back to assure me that they had changed my draft registration status, and under separate cover sent a can of candy to me for my 21st birthday, which occurred while I was serving in the Marine Corps in Korea. The day came and went without much ado. I'm sure I received cards and packages from home. I didn't feel too different when I turned 21, except that I could now go into a bar and buy a drink without turning red. All I lacked was the bar! I was with the Chaplain at the time. When I was with the Chaplain, the most celebrated birthday was that of the Marine Corps Birthday on November 10. The food and ceremony surpassed even Thanksgiving and Christmas. So it is today.
We shifted to a new sector after a tough fight. We walked quite a few miles on a road and there were lots of Army soldiers riding by in trucks and standing along the road. We were beat, and felt it. Just a handful of half-starved, dirty, stoop-shouldered skinny Marines struggling to make our legs move down that road. One of the soldiers remarked to our company jeep driver what a bunch of scroungy-looking men we were. The jeep driver told him, "They should look beat. They've only been on line for the last hundred and some days without a break" (actual record-breaking Battalion time). The soldier couldn't believe it. A lot of them felt sorry for us and passed out chow and "pogey-bait" that day.
Sick of Fighting
The middle of June saw us still in reserve but there were rumors that we were going to have to go back on line. I dreaded going back on line after being in reserve. I was so sick of fighting. Fighting for no reason at all, seeing buddies get hit just for a useless, lousy cause. I felt that there was just no sense in it. If it would have been for a cause it would have been different. I realized years later that there was, indeed, a good cause that made Korea and the world better and safer.
I wrote to my wife on June 13, 1951:
There was a memorial service for battalion casualties of the 1st Battalion on June 15 while we were in reserve. They lost more men that we did on that last push--300 W. 37 D. Each battalion held its own memorial service and each one was as sad as the other. In the 2nd Battalion service, the two chaplains put on a wonderful memorial service. Each man's face showed the heavy sadness in his heart as the names were read off. Even the battalion commander, who sat next to me, had tears in his eyes. I wouldn't have wanted to be in his shoes. He sent us into battle. He gave the orders. I wrote to my wife that I sometimes wondered what long-term effect this experience would have on me. I wondered if I would ever forget it or the names of guys that fell beside me. Sometimes I had nightmares and woke up in a cold sweat shaking. Sometimes the slightest sound brought me out of a sound sleep and on my feet. I guess it just went along with this life. Things like that hit deep inside and it took awhile to explode them. I always considered myself too sentimental for my own good.
The morning of June 17 we moved right in back of the line to relieve the 1st Battalion the next morning. Whether or not we actually jumped off and continued their attack remained to be seen. I hoped not. I dreaded going back up. It made me shudder to think about it. When we were on the move forward, we went from dawn to dusk. If there was any time left over before dark, weapons had to be cleaned and then there were holes to be dug for our own safety. Usually we were so bushed at the end of a day the only thing we could do was try to get all the rest we could before morning.
Later that night at chow I was sitting enjoying a hearty meal when a bunch of refugees came walking through. They were old men and women and little kids that were so starved and diseased they could hardly walk. One little kid had legs about as big around as my thumb. He looked me right in the eyes just as I started to shove some chow into my mouth. I couldn't eat and got tears in my eyes. It just got me. I thanked God right then and there that we lived in a land of plenty and would never have to bear these real misfortunes of war--the people who really suffered. I gave them my bread and all the other guys passed theirs out, too, except those inevitable bitter few. Then later the mess sergeant passed out oranges, bread, and potatoes to them. Those poor little kids. It made me feel so doggone bad and made me feel so thankful to have what I did. Maybe I had been away from the line too long and was getting to be a softie, because I had seen them like this before. Maybe I didn't look close before, but I did this time and it really got me.
We relieved the 1st Battalion on June 18 and I saw Ramsey again. Seagrave wasn't with him. He had been shot three times. Normally that would be a "stateside wound" that warranted going back home, but by the Fourth of July he was back with the company (and not looking too good). It was great to see old Ramsey again. By that time we had just two ammo carriers in the squad and I was one of them. We were as bad off now as we were when we came off the line three weeks earlier. There were only four left in the squad--two ammo carriers and two gunners. We had no squad leader.
At this location we set up what was known as the "Badger Line." There wasn't much going on during that time period. We pulled patrol now and then. The ROKs were set up on either side of us--something I didn't like. I sometimes wished that the correspondents had enough ambition in them to climb those hills and come up to where the war was being fought. Maybe then somebody back there would realize what it was. Some of the conditions of the men and their equipment (Marines, at least) would have been hard to believe. We had guys in our company that were almost barefooted, and yet they still couldn't get shoes for them.
I wrote in a letter, "In the last war, Marine battles lasted anywhere from 72 hours to 30 days. This war just went on and on without rest for anyone. Our battalion, which had been down to almost nothing three times since the war started, put over a hundred days on line (61 for me) before we went into reserve for ten days (four days actual rest). And here we were back on line again, bringing my total to 68 days on line out of the 75 days that I had been here. I am second gunner for the time being. I have decided that I will request to be knocked down to second ammo carrier when the squad gets back to par. I discovered myself getting too shaken up the day before and don't want to take any chances." Around that time I was feeling as if I was pressing my luck too much. I just wanted to get home again, I guess.
We went on patrol June 25, 1951, and on that day Thomas R. Higgins of St. Louis, Missouri and another man (Art Busby, I think) were wounded. It was also on that patrol that, when we were fired upon going up a hill, someone in front gave the word to "go back down." Everyone turned and started running for cover. An officer at the base of the hill yelled, "Where the hell do you guys think you're going? Get up there!" We meekly turned and trudged back up the hill. We got pinned down for hours trying to get the wounded men out. Unfortunately, Higgins was mortally wounded.
The next morning I went to church service. The chaplain came up on line and held services at each of the companies locations. That was the first time he had done that, and I was glad because I was critically wondering why he didn't come to the men up here. I also got shots that morning for sleeping sickness and Japanese something or other. All afternoon we strung barbed wire, and cut down young trees and filled sandbags for our bunker. I still must have had some forester's blood in me, because it sure hurt to cut those young trees down.
We expected the enemy to come that night, but they didn't. I don't know which was worse--fighting or waiting. Waiting, listening, straining our eyes trying to see through the darkness. There was no moon. The minutes seemed like hours and the hours seem like eternity. Every little noise or ruffle of leaves made us jump and strain our eyes and ears again, and caused us to raise our weapon at nothing but the darkness in front of us. One of the guys got the devil scared out of him in the night. He said he was sitting there when something made a lot of commotion in the bushes behind him. He first lost ten years of his life, then spun around, carbine in hand, ready to crank off a few rounds, when what should come bounding off the brush but a little old frog with red toenails and hopped happily on his merry way. I split laughing when he told us the next morning.
We continued going on patrols (some of them hellish), and digging and stringing barbed wire again all day. In addition, we had to stand watch 4 1/2 hours out of each night. There were only four men in our squad and two men took it one half the night and two the other half. Then they expected us to get up at seven, start working, have one hour for lunch, and quit at five. That was the trouble with staying in one place so long. It got more like stateside Marine Corps every day. When were we supposed to sleep? The officers we had at that time were new and didn't seem to realize a man couldn't watch all night and then work or climb hills all day. The one good thing about staying in one place was that, even with all the B.S. we had to put up with, it still beat assaulting the high, high mountain peaks. And, almost every day we got an apple or an orange or a couple of hard-boiled eggs apiece.
General Thomas (1st Marine Division), General Almond (X Corps), and General Van Fleet (8th army commander) came up and looked over our lines. I felt honored that the great man himself got to see my own little foxhole. Van Fleet was B.S.ing with some of the men in Fox Company just a few yards from us and told them, "The Marines have taken their last objective for awhile. They won't have to climb any more hills." I hoped he meant that. The Division had been on line since February--one and a half months longer than was advisable for a division. The maximum was supposed to be 120 days.
Fox Company was up the line test-firing weapons, which made me nervous. I hated the sound of a weapon going off anymore. I spent some more time digging. The landscape reminded me of pictures I once saw of World War I. There was now a shoulder-deep, two or three-mile trench all along our ridge in Korea, and it was supposed to be that way all along the front. In front of us were about four different barbed entanglements, plus booby traps, trip flares, and mines. The 105's guns, 4.2 mortars, 81 mm mortars, and 60 mm. mortars had the front all registered in. What a line we had there.
In the middle of the night I got the devil scared out of me. A chipmunk or ground mole got caught in a concertino (barbed) wire and made a lot of noise like someone running up the hill right in front of me. I was half asleep when it started, jumped on my feet, and was set to fire my carbine and throw an illumination grenade when the thing started squealing. Then I knew it was an animal. I shook for a long time afterwards. I was standing watch and it sure woke me up. That's what I mean about waiting--staring at nothing but darkness and dark mountain silhouettes in front of me, depending on my ears to pick up any movement. I walked up the line a few feet and talked to Paul "Red" Campbell, who was also on watch. He was as shook up as I was. It was fun laughing about it the next morning, just like "Blackie" and the little frog that scared him to death.
War and Politicians
We heard that a cease fire was called for on July 2, 1951, but somebody apparently didn't tell the enemy because they began to throw artillery at our lines about a mile in front of us. You don't know how really insignificant you can feel until mortar and artillery starts dropping in on you. We found out that the cease fire rumor was just baloney.
My wife sent me clippings about the war and the politicians associated with it. I wrote to her that I was very disgusted. The clippings she sent made me mad. Young men's lives didn't mean as much as votes or the money those stuffed shirts were making. Neither side would gain anything if the war kept on. Both sides were going to lose heavily in human lives. We would never push them from North Korea, and we would never be pushed from South Korea. We would go back and forth like a yo-yo and many more young men would lose their lives or some physical part of their bodies. I decided that what counted with most Americans was losing that big business and money they were making and the votes they were getting. We came over to Korea to run the aggressors from South Korea. We did that three different times.
25 Percent Watch
When the line was quiet, they cut the watch down to 25 percent after two weeks of 50 percent, so I only had to stand between midnight and 2 a.m. During one of my watches the wind was blowing and the sky was clear as a bell. It was very cool and the bushes were waving back and forth, making all kinds of noise. It gave me the creeps. I didn't know what was the matter with me anymore. I didn't get this jittery at night even when I first came over. It must have been that we hadn't been hit at night for several days. Sometimes I was so sleepy when I got off watch that I still couldn't sleep for thinking.
The battalion sent out patrols every day. Each company took turns each day, so we pulled it every third day. Sometimes the whole company went and sometimes just a platoon or more was sent out. I thought it was strange, because they knew where the enemy was and every day a patrol went out, someone got hurt. You can always find trouble if you look for it. Red was sure P.O.'ed that he had to go out. I remember him sitting a few feet away from me, heating his chow and swearing to himself. I didn't blame him. The guys just didn't want to take chances anymore because we thought the war might end soon.
By this time I was the only one left in the original squad I started with. Two of the other guys had been transferred for the time being to man another gun down the line. I wished that we had our old squad back. I thought it was the best of the six in the whole machine gun platoon. There were only four left in our eight-man squad, but a new batch of replacements was due in any day now, so I hoped that we would get up to T.O. again. We hadn't had a full squad for several weeks.
Leaders of War
I’m sure there were other officers there, but I only remember three. One was the 2nd Lieutenant I have already written about. Another was a Captain, who I think was our company commander. It was said that he tripped on a flare that was strung in front of the line and got hurt, so was shipped off to a hospital. There was a Lieutenant Colonel or a Major on that June patrol. When we turned to run back down the hill for cover, he yelled, “Where the hell do you guys think you’re going? Get back up there!” We turned sheepishly and trudged back up the hill, then got pinned down for hours. That was the first time in Korea (and last) that I saw Marines turn back when being fired on. I’m ashamed to admit that I was one of them. I think everyone on that patrol had been through so much that we had become gun shy.
Over all, it was the sergeants and corporals who ran our war, but in my letters home, I spoke of seeing Army General Almond, General Van Fleet and General Thomas, Commander of the 1st Marine Division before the French relieved us (in June?). They were highly respected by the Marines. General Almond was Commander of the 10th Corps and Van Fleet of the 8th Army. Almond had high respect for the Marines. In my book Morning Calm Broken is a commendation from General Almond for the 5th Marines’ performance in May/June. There is also a Presidential Unit Citation for the Division that includes the battles in September. It describes how we basically saved (my words, but also in a newspaper) the front and division after being attacked from three sides, then driving the enemy back to cripple him for any future large assaults. Following the failure of the Chinese spring offensives they called for peace talks.
Other than American troops in Korea, I remember the British, French, Turks and the Korean Marines. The British had a good reputation among us, as did the Turks. I didn’t hear much about the French, but assume they were adequate. The Korean Marines were as tough as we were. The Turks were said to have been very brutal but effective in their fighting. All of these troops were much more respected among us than the American Army and the ROKs.
Jack Benny Show
There were two USO shows that I attended in Korea. When on line, Danny Kaye and Marilyn Maxwell put on a performance somewhere back in the rear. I think trucks transported us to see them. The show was marvelous and very morale building.
The other show I saw was Jack Benny. On July 5 half the company got on trucks to go see Benny's USO show. I was one of men who got to see it. The show was really swell and Jack Benny was outstanding. The movie star Marjorie Reynolds was there and a couple more famous entertainers. Jack Benny said that he was in the Navy in World War 1. He said they placed personnel according to their civilian occupation, so his one buddy who was a street cleaner in civilian life was put on a mine-sweeper and his other buddy who worked for a wrecking company was put on a destroyer. Then he paused and said, "I'll never understand why they put me on a ferry boat." His show was terrific. For a short while it took the guys home again.
It was quite a spicy show with much profanity in it. The Chaplain apparently complained to those back stage. When Benny heard about the complaint, he laughed and became even more vulgar. He said something like, "I understand the Chaplain is upset because we cuss too much on this show. Well...." and then he continued with even more profane words and jokes. Otherwise, his was a great show and the troops loved it.
I hope Jack Benny knew how much everybody appreciated him coming over to Korea. The day the show took place was exactly three months to the day that I had joined the line company--three months of the worst hell, the toughest ordeal I had ever had to bear in my life. That two weeks of hell from 20 May to 10 June was the worst fighting my company had ever had since the beginning of the war.
Having a sense of humor about the absurdities of our situation kept us sane. We laughed about our miserable, dirty bodies, the bugs and weather, some combat events and even our dead enemies. Many events were not humorous at the time they happened, but were funny after the fact. One event spoken of earlier was when we emptied a crate of whiskey from an Army jeep to party on the road to a rear rest area, only to be called out early the next morning to stagger up a hill to plug a hole in the line while Army troops were running down. Another humorous event was when we were attacked while all the weapons were torn down being cleaned. It was not humorous at the time, but it was much laughed about later.
Many a night when fires were allowed, we sat around telling jokes, talking about home and laughing much at the various absurdities of our lives. I was the only married man in the squad. When I once talked about my wife, I think it was Bannon who said, “You better hope that sailor is paying the rent.” Bannon told me years later that while on the move I would say, “Cheer up. Things could be worse.” He replied, “And sure enough, they got worse.”
The little things of that miserable life were also funny, such as the cute frogs and feeding them flies. While on the move, if we had a break, we would catch flies and feed them to the frogs. It was quite entertaining. I learned how to catch a live fly and am able to do so today. The trick is to sneak your hand behind a sitting fly and close it rapidly as he takes off. That's because flies fly backward when they first take off. I'm sure everyone is very happy to know this. The secret is out.
The line came to a halt when the UN and Chinese started peace talks in July. The line where we stopped in July was basically the same as the DMZ today. The East/Central front was north of the 38th parallel. On the West, it dipped a few miles below the 38th. The East/Central front was very mountainous. The further we moved into North Korea, the higher the mountains became. It was very beautiful--much more beautiful than in the West, which had lower hills and not as much greenery. (Maybe it was burned away by the constant fighting there.)
There were a few men in my company that had been in Korea for eleven months and had spent at least six of them on line. Up until this time I had had 83 days actual time on line, not counting that measly ten days in regimental reserve. Our battalion had more time on line than any other unit in Korea. I had only been with the company for 95 days, and hadn't missed a single day, firefight, or patrol.
According to my letter home, the good old "fighting 5th" was last to leave the line after losing most of their men and gaining most of the ground. We already knew that we were the best. The next best was the 7th Marines. They were responsible for the breakthrough at Hwachon. They passed through us, broke through, and then we passed through them, and they went back in reserve. While the peace talks were going on, the 1st and 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines were assaulting hills. They took an expensive beating, but still kept on taking hill after hill. The 9th draft that joined us was almost exterminated. They sure stepped into the stuff. I was glad that I had had a little time to get indoctrinated before I stepped into it.
My letter continued, saying that every day I discovered one of the guys I came over with wouldn't be going back. It was a shock, because some were such darned good guys. Not many of us in the 7th Draft were left, either. Cpl. Damon, Helms, Moody, Hightower, Baby-san Miller, Swisher, Papa, DePallis and some others would never be coming back home again. Those guys were all in our company back in the States. I was with Hightower when he got hit. As I mentioned before, I also saw Baby-san Miller pass away. He was lying right next to me when he got hit. Swisher passed away a minute after he got it. DePallis was singing, "I'm Going to Love You for the Rest of My Days" when he went down.
My wife sent me a clipping with a list of Marine casualties. I had cried only once since arriving in Korea, and that was when we lost our baby. But reading over that casualty list just about got me. I knew them all. Higgins and Buttery were listed. I was with them when they got hit. Two guys in our section carried "Hunch" all night until noon the next day through the mountains to the Aid Station. All the guys in the old outfit felt bad when I told them he died. We sure did like him. He had been over here for a long time and was due to go home.
When I first came over, I used to think that it would be nice to catch a slug in an unimportant place so as to get away for awhile, but when the stuff started whizzing around, I sure changed my mind in a hurry. Everybody did. All I got up there was a few scars on my hands, a little bit of fungus on my feet, and a little shook up in the nervous system with nightmares and such. I never missed a day, a patrol, or a fight with that good old company, yet I came through unhurt. I can't thank God enough for that.
The men that I knew who were killed during my time on line were Marines I knew by sight and name, but not closely. They were either riflemen or in another machine gun section. Any interaction would have been while on the move. When we set up in the defensive mode, unless we stayed awhile, close interactions were mostly with our own squad, the other machine gun squad in our section and the riflemen/BARmen dug in on our flanks. That’s how I became close to “Red” Campbell.
In early July my buddy Red got a break. He was made the new Catholic Chaplain's Assistant when the other one got hurt. There would be no more ridge-running or assaulting hills for Red. Although he really deserved it, he was going to be missed around the company. There were three of us who got to be pretty good friends: "Sol" (a Jew), "Red" (a Catholic), and me (a Protestant). There was no prejudice in foxholes.
Thanks to Red, I was transferred from Easy Company to Regimental Headquarters on July 17. A new Protestant Chaplain came in and needed an assistant and Red mentioned me to him. I came down and talked to the Chaplain and got the transfer. I was thrilled to get the job and it was one that I really wanted to make good on. I considered myself a very lucky Marine. I knew that I wouldn't have to shoot at any more people now. I hoped I would be a better, stronger person and no doubt more broad-minded. I was getting too old too fast on line. Thank God it was over.
Technically I was assigned to H&S Company, 5th Marines. However, the chaplains served each battalion of the regiment in rotation. We traveled with the Battalion Aid Station. I was still in harm's way, but not nearly as much as when I was with the line company. There would be no more firefights, C-rations, patrols, etc. for me. I took a kidding when I left the line company. "I would be a rear-echelon pogue now."
Christian faith was extremely important to me in Korea. It kept me going. I prayed more then than at any time in my life. I was baptized and confirmed at age 17 at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in the "bottoms" below the "hill top" in west Columbus, Ohio. Pop Gauggle influenced me to become Lutheran and to join the church. As mentioned in the beginning of my memoir, after I hitchhiked to California I served as a fire fighter in the California Division of Forestry for two fire seasons and then enrolled at Oregon State University in the School of Forestry. At OSU, I met my wife at Luther House, a gathering place for Lutheran and other students. We became engaged during the spring semester when she invited me to her home for spring break. Neither of us returned to college at that time because we ran out of money.
The faith from the Lutheran perspective was very important to me, but I accepted others no matter what religion they were. My buddies in Korea were Marines, and that transcended any religious or political differences. Faith also enabled me to become a Chaplain's Assistant and get off the line. Chaplain Jolly, a Presbyterian, told me he wanted me because he was impressed with my Lutheran background. He had great respect for the Lutheran Confirmation education.
Chaplain Bash Power was a very brave and dedicated man to the front line troops. We visited the line frequently. He was nominated for a Bronze Star, but it was reduced to a letter of commendation due to something I did. I had criticized the procedures of the Regimental Supply Chaplain (who was Don Jolly, the first Chaplain I assisted). Previous to the new procedure, we received supplies and equipment donations directly to battalion. The new procedure required me to drive back to Regiment CP to pick up the items. I believed that to be a waste of time and driving. Bash's boss, the Regimental Chaplain, came to Battalion to confront me about my criticism. "Bash" told him, "If you have an issue with my man, you talk to me, not him." I was ordered to leave the tent while the two of them argued about me and the new supply procedure. Bash questioned authority as I had, and suffered the results in order to protect me. He and I have been in email contact for man years. In the 1990s, I brought him to the 1st Marine Division reunion in San Diego. He lived in one of the suburbs of San Diego. I think he was widowed at the time. Our contact has drifted off the last few years due to our growing older.
Incidentally, "Chaplain Bash" taught me how to play cribbage, which we played almost daily. There was no gambling, however. The only gambling I was exposed to while in the Marine Corps was poker marathons at Camp Pendleton and gambling aboard the troop ship on the way home. I never participated. When not giving services on line or other activities with the Chaplains, I wrote poems and reflected on my line experience. When I was on the line and it was quiet and we were not on the move, we played hearts. I also tried to write my wife every day and read whatever newspaper or magazine was sent up to us by the Red Cross.
My combat experience in Korea had been “conventional warfare”. That is, there was a front line across Korea facing the enemy’s front line with a “no man’s land” in between where patrol action took place if neither line was moving. Forward listening posts were set up at night, manned by a couple of riflemen to warn of approaching enemy. We in machine guns were very happy that we did not have to do that duty. The guns would have been too vulnerable and the squad needed all its men around the gun. I think I would have been a nervous wreck out there, and respect the men who had to do it.
Most of the fighting I was in took place during daylight, although some units were hit at night. Nights were spent on 25%, 50% or 100% watches. This made for a lot of tension and one did not dare go to sleep no matter how exhausted. Moonlit nights were better than the sheer blackness. My hearing today is very good. I credit this to those long, dark night watches when I became able to identify the source of the slightest sound: a leaf falling, a mouse running in the dirt, or an enemy making noise trying to draw fire so he could discover where our guns were. I personally never had to fight at night, thank God. We might jump off in the early morning darkness, but by the time we reached our objective it would be daylight. We always seemed to secure our objective before dark, then set up in defensive mode. Patrols also went out in early morning and returned by late afternoon (except the five-day patrol that E-2-5 took). During the withdrawals in April (“Advance to the rear. Marines don’t retreat."), we moved south at night and there was some firing at us. We actually walked out of three potential traps. I was green then and it was a very scary situation.
After the 1st Marine Division moved to the Western front in April 1952, I understand they started setting up outposts manned by several Marines. I am not clear how the outposts functioned, but I know they were attacked and Marines were killed or wounded there. I think it was during one of those attacks that Duane Dewey fell on a grenade and earned the Medal of Honor.
Headquartered at Inje
After leaving the line company, I was headquartered at Inje, North Korea where the whole 1st Marine Division went for a rest in August. It was wonderful back there. It felt so good to be living like a human being again. For a while I was overwhelmed with surprise because it came so suddenly out of a clear blue sky. I had to stay clean and shower all the time. I kept my dungarees sparkling clean, brushed my teeth every night, and slept with only my shorts on. I even combed my hair. Opportunities to shower and receive clean clothing were much more frequent than they were when I was on the line. As a matter of fact, I was expected to be as “squared away” as possible at battalion command post (CP). I think it was the 1st Battalion Commander who held an inspection when I got dinged for my hair being too long. I was required to get a haircut, then report it to the commanders’ aide. That incident made me wish I was back on line where it did not matter how I looked.
The whole division was off line getting a rest that they greatly deserved. My regiment was on standby in case of a breakthrough. Inje was a swell rest area. The boys in my old outfit did nothing, which was about time for them. They had more beer than they could drink, and most of them really showed it. I went over to visit them and I had a great time talking to them. I knew that I would feel kind of bad when they went back on line without me, though I wouldn't have wanted to go back. I had come to know and like some of those guys during my three months time spent on line with them. They were not like friends you meet while at work. They were the men I had lived and fought with--sometimes even our lives depended on each other. I knew that someday I would forget their names, but also knew that never would I forget their character and bravery and the miseries we went through together. I am writing this sixty years later and I still haven't forgotten them.
Sometimes I felt a little guilty being in the rear, but I never forgot how it was on line. Those were the men-- every one a hero, and I knew that I would remember all my life what the real Marine goes through. Only one man can talk intelligently of what war is, and that's the line trooper.
Making the Rounds
All of the chaplains that I served with were wonderful men. The first chaplain I worked with was Chaplain Don Jolly. He was a United Presbyterian minister, but there was no segregation in Korea. His congregation consisted of all faiths of men. All believed in the same thing. His services were held on any day of the week that any Marines were available to come worship. Besides our regular services, we held a short devotion every night in our tent and had a good number attending. This is quite ironic, because we received and were susceptible to enemy artillery fire.
When the Army didn't furnish protection for our artillery soon after I became a chaplain's assistant, the Marine Corps had to send a company that was supposed to be resting. Charlie Company had to establish a perimeter around the 11th Marine Artillery. The chaplain and I went up near the line by Charlie Company. I know the guys up there appreciated it. It was my suggestion that the Chaplain visit the line companies more often, which I think was why we went up on line quite a bit after that. We visited all the companies in 1st and 3rd Battalions and interviewed every man. There were close to two thousand men. When I was on line, I witnessed one visit by Chaplain Johnson. I was impressed. That's why I advocated strongly for the Chaplains to visit the line troops frequently. Jolly did not, but Chaplains Power and Pfenning did. Division was in reserve most of Chaplain Jolly's tour, so his lack of line visits was understandable.
Chaplain Jolly was also a confidant to the men. I remember one time a Marine received a "Dear John" letter from his girlfriend or wife. The Marine requested a leave home, but was denied. The Chaplain counseled with him, but the Marine was devastated.
When we were back in reserve and the Division was getting a rest after six months on line, we had a choir and a Korean boy who played a field organ. This was the first choir in the history of the 5th Marines, and Chaplain Jolly was responsible for the forming and directing of it. I got some of my buddies and they got some of their buddies and we formed a choir. We obtained a small pump organ that we carried around in our Jeep not only to enhance worship, but to enable the choir to sing better. Our first choir performance was "Softly and Tenderly." The chaplain and another Marine and I made up the bass section. It sure felt wonderful to sing and take part in church activities again. The choir faded out after Chaplain Jolly rotated to regimental headquarters.
Besides helping in the services, my duties as chaplain's assistant included answering all correspondence, writing condolence letters to next of kin, bearing stretchers for the wounded, and riding shotgun for the ambulance at night until the Chaplain put a stop to it. He was worried about my safety. All in all, I managed to keep myself busy with these things and keeping the men supplied with morale building material. I loved my job.
Chaplain Jolly told me that I was smiling a lot more than when I first joined him, although he said that I yelled out in my sleep once in a while. I hoped that I would get over that before I went home. Every now and then an experience came back in a dream. Still, I was not near as nervous as I used to be. I didn't stand any watch at all at night, so I got a full night's sleep on a nice, soft stretcher. I was getting back to normal again.
Sometimes we gave three or more services in one day, going to 3rd Battalion, 1st Battalion, and so on. When our boys were back in the fight, such activities are impossible. But we held Divine Services whenever possible. When our boys were on line, our main job was taking care of the wounded and dying. The horrors of war in Korea were indescribable. Americans can be proud of the way our men underwent untold hardships there and still maintained a constant faith in God. We thought that God won many souls over there.
I found out how really stagnant my mind had gotten while I was in the line company. When I first joined the chaplain I could hardly talk and think straight or intelligently. I had also forgotten a lot of common courtesies, too. I guess that was a result of too much, too many, and not enough. Heaven knows what I would have been like if I had put any more months on line, so I was certainly lucky to get this new job. I got to see my buddy Paul "Red" Campbell often. Good old Red. If it hadn't been for him, I would never have even known about the job. Funny how things happened that way. Paul was from Glendale, California. My wife and I visited him in Glendale shortly after I got home. He seemed very depressed at the time. In retrospect, he was probably experiencing PTSD. I tried to find him 38-39 years later when I was looking for Smitty and Bannon. I was not successful. I believe that becoming a Chaplain’s Assistant in July 1951 saved my life. I owe that to Paul. I have never forgotten him.
Praying for Peace
During the Division's rest in August (since we came off line), rain or shine over a hundred Marines of the 2nd Battalion gathered together every morning at 6:15 by the river and prayed together for peace. I wondered if anyone back in the States was doing that. These men had seen their buddies fall to the ground. Some of them had shed their own blood on this soil, only they had lived to tell about it.
The chaplain and I gave all our services, running all over in a jeep up and down all over dusty, winding mountain roads. I was tired, but not that weary, fatigued, done-in feeling like I had experienced on line. I remember taking a little ride with the Chaplain up to the Wichita Line. I discovered it was up at the same place where our company had hit all the stuff. I was feeling fine before I went up there, but that road (what was left of it) was the one that my company force-marched out on after two weeks of hell. At that time (June), there was nothing but dead enemy all along the road.. All those same old hills were familiar and stirred up memories of past events that I had pushed to the back of my mind.
One day while a Chaplain's Assistant, I was standing along the road watching a unit of 7th Marines moving through. Suddenly I heard someone yell, "Hey, Bob!" It was a fellow track man from high school. He had been a pole vaulter. I think his last name was Palmer.
Now and then I went to visit the guys in my old outfit and always got a warm welcome. I missed those old boys in the company and sometimes I wished that I were back there. I sure hated to see those guys go back on line. My best friends in the machine gun squad had been James S. Bannon and Earl J. “Smitty” Smyth. Smitty had been a merchant marine before joining the Marine Corps. He, as well as Bannon, were a couple years older than I was. Smitty was the one I went to for support when I was depressed for various reasons. In turn, he depended on me to help carry him up those damned mountains. I was younger and stronger.
I can’t believe that I cannot remember the names of our corpsmen, or even those in the Battalion Aid Station the Chaplain and I were next to, but I have not forgotten their courage and bravery. In combat, they ran around treating the wounded while we hugged the ground or hid behind rocks or in a hole. In the firefight when Baby-san Miller was killed next to me, I was hugging the ground so tightly that a corpsman came to me and turned me over to see if I was dead too. One of our corpsmen had a Russian rifle used by the Chinese and North Koreans. During one fight, I saw him firing away with that rifle along with the rest of us. We got a kick out of that.
We never thought of corpsmen as Navy. They were the bravest and most respected men not only in our company, but in the Marine Corps. They thought of the wounded first before anything else. When the Chaplain and I were set up by the Battalion Aid Station, they worked hard and were very sociable. Once in a while they gave me a little medicinal alcohol mixed with canned grapefruit juice. What a nice treat that was! Of course, they liked it, too. The Chaplain, a tea-totaler, never seemed to mind. Today I am proud to say that an FMF Corpsman is the Commandant of our Elk Grove Marine Corps League Detachment. I think he served during the Vietnam era.
In looking over the E-2-5 casualty lists, I see that no one was listed as killed or wounded in July of 1951. Therefore, the patrol I wrote about earlier must have been on June 25. I’m fairly sure that Higgins was the one who died before we could get him out. I’m not sure who the other wounded marine was or whether he later survived his wounds.
After I left the company in July 1951, there was a bloody battle for Hill 812 which decimated E-2-5. Many of the Marines I knew were either killed or wounded in it. The ridge running perpendicular in front of 812 ran into the enemy lines. At the end of the ridge was a rocky peak called “Luke the Gook’s Castle”. I don’t think Gook’s Castle was ever taken, but I am not sure. Easy Company took a beating on that hill. John M. Murphy from Denver was in our machine gun section and was liked by all. He was killed on Hill 812 on September 18, 1951. Albert R. Semple from Cleveland, who came over in the 8th draft and became our squad leader because he was a Corporal, was killed the day before. I remember he carried a large can of cherry jam (my favorite) on his back. Once in awhile he would share it with me. Rifleman James Padilla, from Pueblo, Colorado, was killed on Hill 812 on September 17.
I was not with the company then, but Bannon and Smitty (the only remaining veterans from the original squad during this battle) were. They were severely wounded. In my book of letters is a letter from Smitty written from a field hospital. There is also a letter from Bannon written many years later, telling of his experience of being left for dead on 812 and being saved by a friend of his. Other men I knew who were wounded on 812 while I was at Battalion Command Post typing letters for the Chaplain were Russell B. "Blackie" Black, Herbert E. "Elsie" Borden, Frank J. Bucemi, George J. Bush Jr., Alvin M. Collins, William T. Connors, Frank D. Delaney, George W. Howell, Arthur R. Landry, Herman R. Lawery, and James V. Pella.
I got a copy of the Leatherneck magazine and looked over the casualty list for the operation in September and found the names of all the guys I knew. Smitty's was there, too. All the guys I came over with who were in my old section had been hit at least once. Good average. There were not many men that put in nine months on line and came out without a scratch. As a matter of fact, I didn't know one. Ed Kotke and Al Collins were the only 7th draft men left that I knew, and both of them had been hit. Collins was the only one left in the section I started with. He had just got back from the hospital, as did Kotke. Kotke was the only one in the whole machine gun platoon. Kotke was at Pendleton with us and was in my squad for a while before he got evacuated in May. When he came back he was transferred to another section. Jim Mortenson knew him real well (he was in his squad at Pendleton) and he chummed around with Weeks quite a bit. Kotke was a pretty good Joe and we were still pals while I was chaplain's assistant.
Gildo G. Depolis, a real friendly guy, was WIA. James Pella was a rifle squad leader and a very friendly, effective leader. In 1990, he said he remembered me as “Bobby” and called me that at the reunion. I always hated to be called “Bobby” as I was growing up. He was the only one I did not mind doing it. We reunited in 1990 in Las Vegas and have kept in contact over the years. Gunny Michael S. Ruffalo and I also reunited in 1990 and stayed in contact until several years ago. He was from Barstow, California at that time. I believe he worked for the railroad. Donald W. Venton was in our squad. He was from New York. The day he was wounded I came around a curve on the hill we were attacking. He was shot in the knee, and even in his pain thought he might have a wound that would send him home. I heard later that he died from shock, but his name is not on the Korean War KIA Casualty List. There were many other names on the list that I recognized, but cannot now remember details of our relationships.
The hardest thing for me being in Korea was being away from wife and family. The next most difficult was coping with the fear, anger, violence, death, personal hygiene and deprivation of adequate equipment and environment. Specially, "Baby-san" Miller killed on my left and the Marine wounded on my right left me questioning through the years. When my old buddies Smitty and Bannon went back on line in August, I felt lost and guilty. Their severe wounds in September accentuated my guilt years later and drove me into therapy for PTSD in 2000.
Marines in Korea were the first to use helicopters in ground combat. When with the Chaplain, I witnessed Marines boarding helicopters to fight guerillas. This was the first time I saw helicopters used for other than evacuation of the wounded. The wounded were rescued by Bell helicopters which had stretchers on each side of the glass cockpit. The helicopters I saw in October 1951 were different. They were enclosed on all sides. I do not remember what they were called, but they were the ones who would bring in supplies.
Life and Death Goes On
One day while serving as a chaplain's assistant, I went ransacking houses for straw mats with my buddy Dewey. He and I came across a dead Korean woman in a house about 100 yards from where we were. It was hard telling how she died--by disease or at the hands of a soldier of one of the armies fighting there. If I had seen something like that five months ago, I would probably have lost my insides. I wished I had a dollar for every dead, mauled body I had seen since.
We held a memorial service for a boy who was accidentally shot with a .45. Chaplain Don Jolly and I were there with him when he died. I think this might have happened in August 1951 when the Division was in reserve. Two Marines were sitting in a tent cleaning their weapons. One accidentally shot the other and killed him instantly. A bullet was still in the chamber of his .45 pistol when he began to tear it down. The Chaplain was called in immediately to help the Marine deal with his deep grief over killing his best friend. That was one flaw with the .45. It was easy to not notice when a bullet was still in the chamber. If one did not make sure the chamber was clear, it could be deadly. We had to postpone the dead Marine's memorial service for a while because one of the guys in our Bible class was killed on a patrol. What a shame. I was sure thankful that I didn't have to do that kind of stuff anymore.
There were probably many accidental injuries throughout the troops in Korea. No human being or organization is perfect. I remember one twilight evening on line when one of the riflemen walked toward us wearing a souvenir North Korean cap. I raised my carbine to challenge until I recognized him. We always asked the password first before taking action in those instances. While on the front line, daily passwords were created. I do not remember who made them up, nor do I remember any of them. I know that some were very funny.
When with the Chaplain, I helped out at the aid station, bearing stretchers, riding shotgun at night, anything I could do to help. I didn't have to do that, but I felt that I had to do it. We heard that peace talks might reopen. Everyone was sure praying hard. I believed those politicians back in the States didn't want it to end, or it would have ended before this. The boys up on line were digging in and setting up a defense similar to the one they set up in June and July when the peace talks were going on.
Stateside newspapers carried stories about an offensive in which the Marines planned to "thrust deep into North Korea". But that came to a standstill and we had to abandon the original plan of taking the high ground. We were in a terrible defense set-up around the first of October 1951, and it was rumored that we might have to pull back a few thousand yards for the winter. We had planned to take the high ground directly in front, but couldn't do it because the 1st Marine Division suffered 2,000 casualties (200 KIA) in about two weeks. It was a good thing I wasn't with my old outfit, because there was not much left of them. The 5th Marines were now on line now with the 1st Marines.
Battalion CP in October was about 1,000 meters from the front line. We had a little excitement when we first got up there. The North Koreans got through the lines and they ambushed our ambulances between here and the line and between here and back to Regiment CP. Battalion's response was not to make any more night runs and a man died because of it. That certainly wasn't the Marine Corps I knew up on line--letting a few scraggly rats run the place. I offered to take five good men, preferably line experienced, and set up a trap for the infiltrators. I would have armed them with all automatic weapons and illumination grenades & fragmentation grenades. I knew I could have got them that way, but the CO didn't want to take the chance. Instead, he took five inexperienced rear-echelon Marines and put them all in a jeep to follow behind the ambulance. That went over big and the enemy had a field day. They got quite a few men. When the people in the jeep got ambushed, they hauled ass down the road as fast as they could go.
After that, things were pretty quiet and they caught quite a few infiltrators. Before we moved up to this new location the enemy got back to our last CP, kidnapped three jeep drivers who were driving at night, stripped them, killed them, booby trapped their bodies, and left them on the road for us to pick up. They also mined the roads and caught a truck, bulldozer and tanks the next day. They even got back to the Regiment CP and mined and booby trapped the roads back there. We still had incoming mail (artillery) and casualties where we were, but I built a nice bunker. It was all in a war.
When I was with the chaplain, I was sick once briefly. It was during the winter when I developed a brief case of bronchitis. I coughed so hard I spit up a little blood. The chaplain sent me for an X-ray, which showed nothing serious. Part of me was hoping it would be serious enough to send me home, but it wasn’t.
Christmas in Korea 1951
On Christmas Day, services on line were even more spiritual than usual. We finished one and two-thirds companies by 1 p.m. that afternoon, but it started snowing. The trails were so slippery from ice and snow that we couldn't make it the rest of the way, so we came back and had to go up a day or two later when the snow packed down a little. The trail going to George Company was almost straight up and down so the chaplain didn't want to risk any broken bones. It was bad enough without snow. It snowed so hard on Christmas Day that some of the tents caved in under the weight.
The service that struck me most that day was held on the helicopter landing high up on the ridge that Howe Company controlled. It had just started snowing and during the service all we could hear was the gentle noise of the snowflakes. Even the enemy stayed quiet and I believe it was the first time it had stayed quiet for so long since I had been there--about 45 minutes of nothing but the snow falling, the men singing, and the chaplain ministering.
In terms of battle, it was quiet along our lines on Christmas Eve. There was the same old clamor that went on day and night, but no attack came. The Marines were ready again Christmas night just as they were on Christmas Eve, but the snow cut down on patrolling activities a bit. We had our Christmas dinner at Howe Company and it was about the same as Thanksgiving--plenty to eat. It wasn't flown up to the guys this time, but instead was cooked in the company galleys right up on line.
I celebrated the New Year by beating the chaplain in a couple of games of cribbage. I felt so low the next evening I had to do something, so I dragged the chaplain out and we went for a walk down the road. The snow was still about a foot deep and the air was cold and crisp. The sky was fading away and the snow crunched under our feet as we walked. There wasn't much to talk about, so we just drank in all the beautiful scenery. Here and there were scattered the footprints of animals walking across the snow. Other than that and a few trails made by humans, the snow blanket was completely unbroken and it glistened brightly. Nobody dared to stray off the well-beaten path because of the land mines.
Down the Ladder
With the holidays now over, I figured the hardest part was behind me. It felt much better to be going down the ladder than up. It was much easier going from January 1952 to March 1952 than it was from April 1951 to January 1952. (I joined E-2-5 April 5, 1951.) I hoped to be home by Easter in April 1952. The thought of spending three more months in that place got me, and sometimes I found myself wishing I would slip and break an arm or a leg and get out of there. Yes, it was that bad.
Each day things grew more tense and it appeared like any moment all hell would break loose. We had all hoped against hope it wouldn't come, but from then on we knew that it was just a matter of waiting. According to plans, the 7th Marines were to relieve us on January 10th and we were to go back and rest for a few weeks. In a way that was welcomed, but sometimes I thought I would rather stick it out up near the line for the remainder of my tour. It got on my nerves back in reserve as much as it did on the line, so what the hell was the difference. The only difference was that back in reserve there were movies every night, three meals a day, and a little peace.
As mentioned previously, the 5th Marines were on the East/Central front during the first eleven months of my tour. We ended the counter offensives in the Hwachon Reservoir/Punchbowl area. In April 1952, the First Marine Division was moved to the western front just below Panmunjom, the site of the peace talks. The Chaplain Pfenning and I could see the spotlights at night which marked the location of the talks so no one would hit it with planes or artillery. It was a month shy of when I would head home.
At some time in the last few months I was in Korea, the word came down that rotation home would be after twelve months, beginning with the date assigned to our first unit. That scheduled me to start home in April, 1952. After January, Chaplain Robert Pfenning replaced Bash Power. We continued to visit the line troops. Pfenning decided to carry a side arm--a .45 pistol, which was fine with me. In March, the First Marine Division moved to the Western Front just below Panmunjom where the peace talks were taking place. At that time and shortly before, I knew I would be going home soon and became gun shy.
During the final month with Chaplain Pfenning, I was not required to go on line as much or send off a patrol. The Chaplain was very understanding and did not expect me to take any more chances. As it was, every noise from artillery or firing on the line caused me to jump abnormally. I know now that it was due to the PTSD from my front line experience. My startle reflex became very acute and has lasted to this day. All I wanted to do was get out of there before I met the fate of many of my friends and buddies. I felt guilty about my feelings, but could not prevent them. I was ecstatic when I received the order to start for home. There was no fanfare when I left, only the usual goodbyes and handshakes. The further we got from the line, the more relaxed I became.
There were two other Chaplain Assistants who received orders for home at the same time as I. One was Bob Johnson and the other was Dewey. (That was his last name.) I believe Paul Campbell left before I did. We boarded trucks which took us and other home-bound Marines to a railway station. We were loaded onto freight cars for the trip to Inchon Harbor where we would board the troop ship, William S. Weigel. The ship was privately contracted with either Military Transport Service (MTS) or Military Sea Transport Service (MSTS).
Somewhere along the way to the harbor, another Marine passed around a canteen full of homemade raisin jack. I do not know the percentage of alcohol, but it was enough to have a great time during the trip. When we reached Inchon, we were ferried to the troop ship. On the way to the ship, we noticed the hospital ship, U.S.S. Hope. That was a grim reminder of what we had left behind. Many mixed feelings washed through me when I saw that hospital ship. I saw no arriving replacements when leaving Korea.
When we boarded the William S. Weigel, all the comforts of home were offered as much as could be aboard a troop ship. The food was outstanding. It was crowded, but we were going home and that made all the difference in the world. Overall, the mood aboard the Weigel was very positive. The ship accommodated about 5,000 Marines. Marine corporals and below were required to serve a week or so on mess duty. I was a sergeant, so I volunteered to serve in the ship’s library. I also assisted the ship’s chaplain as he required. I actually did very little on that ship. A few friends were on the ship with me, but I do not remember who--possibly Dewey, Johnson, and Bill Meadows, an ambulance driver when I was with the Chaplain at Battalion CP. When we reached San Diego, Bill Meadows, my wife and I got together a brief time before heading home.
Aboard the Weigel on the way home, there was not the sea sickness I witnessed on the way over aboard the much smaller USS Thomas Jefferson APA 30. This may have been because the Weigel was much larger and that men were more relaxed homeward bound.
Liberty in Kobe
The only stop on the way back to San Diego was at Kobe, Japan, for three days. When we arrived in Kobe, many of us headed to the Red Cross Club. It was our first taste of normal life after over a year in Korea. We first showered, and then ate a delicious steak dinner at very low cost. During the rest of the three days in port, we headed to a bar after being granted liberty from our troop ship. Liberty usually began after quarters were cleaned and lasted until 11:00 p.m. (2300 hours). Many of the Marines were given some kind of medicine before departing ship for treatment after using prostitutes. I refused because I did not need it.
My buddies and my favorite bar in Kobe was named "Harbor Light". There we drank beer, danced with Japanese girls, and enjoyed Western music played by Japanese musicians. We got a kick out of those Japanese musicians playing and singing the western songs in English. They wore cowboy clothing as well. The girls were not prostitutes. The club closed after our 2300 deadline to return to the ship. We were told that any girl leaving with a serviceman would be fired. Those girls, however, were groped by us as we danced and drank beer. They put up with a lot of our bad behavior. I felt guilty for several years after, even though I did nothing but dance and grope. They were only trying to survive. Some were mothers and the only support for their families. In retrospect, I believe the higher ups allowed us to behave this way in Kobe to "blow off steam" before reaching San Diego.
We were not permitted to be a minute late in returning to the ship without being punished. After liberty our corpsmen examined the men for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)--especially gonorrhea, a common after effect of those who indulged in such activities. The Navy Corpsmen collected stool, urine and blood samples from everyone. I remember feeling very sorry for their having to examine all that crap before reaching port. What a job! The corpsmen also made Marines "milk down" their private part to assure there was no foreign fluid. If that appeared, the infected Marine was immediately placed on medicine and maybe quarantined. Hence, our beloved corpsmen were not only called "Doc", but "pecker checkers."
It took about two weeks to reach San Diego. Aboard the Weigel there was a library and a ship’s newspaper. There were also 24-hour poker games. Other than watching the sea foam from the bow or stern of the ship, I do not recall other entertainment. The trip home was much more relaxing than the one over. Since then, however, I have had no desire to take an ocean cruise as some of my neighbors have.
Sailing into San Diego harbor, many of us were on deck watching the approaching paradise that was San Diego. I was overawed at the clean, brightly-painted pink, blue and white houses that lined the harbor and beyond. I had almost forgotten how beautiful and clean and bright my country was. It was quite a contrast from that which we came. There were a few people waiting at the dock when we arrived. No bands and no fanfare--only a group of family members. No one was there to meet me. Buses transported us to the Marine Recruit Depot for processing. There was no debriefing, only a physical exam. I was one of the lucky men who did not have a parasite upon returning from Korea, so I was released immediately from active duty. Many others, even though married with families, were quarantined upon returning to San Diego until their parasites or STDS's were treated successfully. After passing the physical, Marine recruiters asked me to sign over from the Reserves to the regular Marine Corps. They promised another stripe if I would do so, which would have made me a staff sergeant. I told them, “You must be crazy! I am married and I just came out of a war.”
The reason my wife was not waiting for me at the dock was because I had made prior arrangements with her to go to her Aunt Olga’s house in Glendale, California and wait for my phone call so she could make arrangements to meet me in San Diego. However, I secretly arranged to surprise her when she arrived at her aunt’s. I hid behind the front door and surprised her as she entered. It was a sweet reunion. After a short visit with Olga, we flew to San Diego and stayed in a motel there until I was finally processed from active duty on May 4, 1952. We then flew to Salt Lake City, Utah, where her family met us to drive to Ogden, Utah.
Although released from active duty, I was still in the Reserves until I was discharged in September 1953. My enlistment had been extended one year due to the war and the tense situation throughout the world, especially with Russia and China. After discharge from the Marine Corps Reserves, I had no thought or desire to serve again until the early 1960s. I never touched a weapon again after release from active duty except when serving in a color guard for the River City Chapter, First Marine Division Association, during special events in 1992-1993. My four children grew up without weapons, toy or otherwise. I did not realize until recent years that this was out of revulsion to my war experience.
On arrival in Ogden in 1952, my wife and I lived with her parents. During the summer before leaving for Columbus, I worked as a Small Arms Assembler at the Army Depot in Ogden. Our crew refurbished and assembled light, air-cooled .50 caliber machine guns.
Starting a Family
As soon as I returned home from Korea, my wife and I wanted to start a family. As mentioned earlier in this memoir, my wife had a miscarriage due to worrying about me while I was in Korea. A member of her family had been killed in World War II and she was present when the telegram arrived. The doctors blamed the loss of our baby on my absence. We wanted that child, so began immediately to build our family. The following summer after release from active duty in 1953, our first son Craig was born. He is now 58 and a university professor. After several years at the University of Colorado in Denver, he and his professor wife took assignments to Simon Frazier University in Vancouver, British Columbia. Craig’s PhD from the University of California in San Francisco is in Medical Anthropology. He is an expert in health care systems who conducts research and consults internationally.
Son David was born in January 1955 and became profoundly retarded as a result of phenylketon urea (PKU), an amino acid imbalance. He was born normal, but began showing signs of abnormal development. No one could diagnose why. The disease, whose diagnosis and treatment was unknown at that time, caused his brain cells to be destroyed over time. We were forced to place him in a wonderful Lutheran Church institution, Bethphage Mission in Axtell, Nebraska, at age four. He died at age 28 in a fire at Bethphage.
Son Steven was born in February 1959 during my last year at Augustana Theological Seminary. He became a Registered Nurse in California in 1986 and is now a Hospice Consultant in Bozeman, Montana.
Daughter Carol was born in September 1964. She joined our family a few months later. After having three sons we wanted a daughter, so we sought for and were given this beautiful girl. She and her husband now run a small business in Brownwood, Texas.
Answering the Call
I believed strongly that I was called to be a Lutheran Pastor, so at the end of the summer of 1952, my wife and I moved to Columbus, Ohio, where I enrolled into the pre-seminary program at Capital University, a Lutheran College. I liked going to college and the classes I took. As it was for me in high school, I liked most of my professors.
Fellow students in the universities I attended after coming home from Korea were as indifferent as everyone else I encountered. Most of them did not even know a war was going on. I had had one quarter of studies at Oregon State College School of Forestry in early 1950 before I married and went to war. I resumed my education after the war at 22 years of age, married, and starting a family. I was more mature than most of my college mates and was too busy studying and working to discuss the war with anyone. Their perspective of life was much different from mine. The age and experience gap was wide. They were typical college students seeking an education and having as much fun as possible along the way. With one or two exceptions, the gap was the same at the Seminary. I do not remember the subject of the war being raised, only that I had been in the Marines, as was another older seminary student.
I enhanced my GI bill subsidy by taking odd jobs. One job I remember was at a candy factory in Columbus, paddling cooling melted sugar on a marble slab. The next day the ladies would dip balls of the cream into chocolate to make chocolates. I had no idea until then how chocolate candies were made! When we returned to Ogden at the end of the second semester, I was hired into a pre-war job at the Richardson Company in Ogden. We manufactured auto battery cases. I was a molder, running presses which molded hot asphalt mix into battery cases.
We returned to Columbus in the fall of 1953 to continue my studies. The tuition was higher than I could afford, even with the GI subsidy and odd jobs. Therefore, at the end of that semester, we returned to Utah where I transferred my credits to the University of Utah College Of Education in Salt Lake City. I decided to become a teacher instead of a Pastor. My major was in Social Studies. Because there was a pastoral vacancy at Elim Lutheran Church in Ogden, Utah, I was asked to fill in for a few months as a lay preacher. The stipend helped us to get by.
In 1955 while a Junior at the University of Utah, I was asked to start a new mission in Roy, Utah, a few miles outside Ogden. We lived in Roy during the summer and commuted from Salt Lake while at the University. The new church, which required much work and community contact over the months, was organized in June 1956, the time of my graduation with high honors from the University of Utah. Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Roy celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1981, and I presume is still there. I lost contact after leaving the ministry in 1985.
Short Teaching Career
When I got my Phi Beta Kappa key graduating from the University of Utah in 1956 with high honors, I gave it to my mother. Following graduation, I was recruited by representatives from Bakersfield, California school district to teach at Bakersfield High School. Before graduation I had committed to teach in the Salt Lake City school district. However, Bakersfield offered much more salary and benefits. Salt Lake officials were unhappy with me, but I did not turn down the better offer. We moved to Bakersfield at the start of the school year in September 1956.
I was assigned to classes in 10th grade world history and general math. My main assignment was teaching ninth and tenth grade math to “point one” mentally retarded youth considered to be “educable retarded” under a new California law. Two other teachers assisted in the program, which included social studies and English. Because it was new, we wrote the curriculum as we went along. It was very hard work. My three classes with the “retarded”, plus the two in world history and math, required four preparations a day plus the attending paperwork. I was up until 11:00 p.m. nightly preparing lesson plans and grading papers. By the end of the school year in June 1957, I decided that teaching public high school was not for me. Once again, I felt the strong call to become a Lutheran pastor.
After the summer in Bakersfield working as a bottle inspector and load manager for R.C. Cola (Nehi Beverages), we filled our small homemade trailer with our belongings and hauled it to Rock Island, Illinois, the home of the Augustana Lutheran Theological Seminary (now Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago). We left with a couple hundred dollars and no idea where we would live when we got there, but we knew that the “Lord would provide.” We ended up in a government-funded, low income apartment, then later in a duplex owned by a fellow seminary student. The latter was an improvement over the roaches and noise of the government complex. Between classes at the seminary, I worked many odd jobs the first year to support my family. After that, the Bear Company employed me as a janitor/maintenance and night watchman. After three years of the most difficult education program I had ever experienced, I graduated cum laude with the Master of Divinity degree in June 1960, and was ordained a Lutheran Pastor.
My first call was from the Board of American Missions, Augustana Lutheran Church, to establish a new Lutheran Church in Oceanside, California, the home of Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base. After smothering myself in work and studies at the University of Utah and theological seminary, I now engulfed myself in organizing the new church in Oceanside. After knocking on several thousand doors in Oceanside and Carlsbad, we organized King of Kings Lutheran Church in December 1960. Our first buildings were constructed by 1962 on a large lot overlooking Oceanside Boulevard. King of Kings Lutheran Church in Oceanside recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and construction of a larger sanctuary/fellowship building. I was not able to attend the event for various reasons.
After the church was established and the first unit built, I expressed an interest in becoming a Navy Reserve Chaplain. My wife rebuked that idea immediately. After the worry she had gone through while I was in Korea, she wanted no part of it. I could not blame her, so I never brought up the subject again. As history would prove, it was probably a good decision.
In retrospect, I realize my obsession with work was blocking out my memories and feelings from my Korean experience. I had continuous nightmares and laughed them off. My wife remembers my paranoid behavior. I kept a baseball bat under the bed to fight off potential intruders. Many Marine families joined the congregation, which, in retrospect, likely amplified my repressed feelings from the war experience. Apparently my feelings about the experience were buried in my subconscious. My obsession with work and studies protected me for years until they finally broke through in 1990 when the first Gulf War began. (I call it “Bush War 1”.) After five years in Oceanside, I accepted the call to a large urban church in Inglewood, California (Holy Trinity).
Break from Ministry
Needing a break from ministry in 1967, I accepted a position as personnel and administrative manager for the western region of Booze-Allen Applied Research. They were a subsidiary of Booze-Allen and Hamilton, a reputable management consulting firm with headquarters in Chicago, IL. The Western Region office was in Los Angeles close to the Los Angeles airport. I had personnel and administration responsibility for the Los Angeles office, plus satellite offices in San Diego and San Francisco, California; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and I think one other.
In 1970, it was obvious to me that the Vietnam War would drain off our Research and Development software contracts for hardware for that war, which was expanding in scope. One of my jobs was to project manpower use six months into the future. It became apparent that I would be without a job at BAARINC, along with our scientists and engineers. I shot-gunned my resume to every company I knew and received three offers immediately. I accepted the highest offer with a real estate firm in Beverly Hills on Rodeo Drive as personnel and facilities manager. For various reasons, the relationship did not work out.
In order to get out of Southern California, I told the Bishop I was available for a call. He had been after me to return to parish ministry. I interviewed and accepted the call to a struggling mission church in Milpitas, California. My nine years with that congregation were among the best years of my life, and certainly my time in the ministry.
One day in 1979 the Bishop at the time stopped by my office to tell me that he had submitted my name to two other congregations. I interviewed in San Mateo, California, but withdrew my name the next day. Next, I interviewed at Grace Lutheran Church in Santa Barbara, California. I did not want to leave Milpitas because my family and the congregation of the church there had become extended family. Under pressure from the Bishop, I accepted the call to Santa Barbara. The relationship did not work out, so I asked the Bishop to get me out of there after fifteen months. Lutheran Church of the Master in Sacramento called me after being recommended by a church council member who knew me in Milpitas.
In the meantime, the experience in Santa Barbara began to take a toll on my marriage. We arrived in Sacramento in October 1980. During my four and one half years there, my wife and I received individual and couple therapy. We worked hard trying to save our marriage, but in the end it was not to be. I had become severely “burned out” on ministry. She filed for divorce in May 1985.
Fortunately, in 1977, I had received the Master Degree in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling from the University of Santa Clara, a Jesuit university in San Jose, California. In 1978, I earned a California license in the same subject. I resigned my ministry in March, 1985, and became a Senior Mental Health Counselor for Sacramento County. Two years later, I was promoted to Mental Health Program Coordinator. I officially retired from that wonderful job in September 1995. After a few illnesses, I went back to work six months later in the same position in a consultant role, finally retiring in 2003 at the age of 73.
MaryAnn and I married in November 1985, and have spent the past 26 years together. She also retired September 1995, but worked a few part-time jobs and volunteered at various church and social agencies to stay busy. I did not work part-time after 2003, but performed volunteer work in the Lutheran Church and local social agencies. At present, I do no volunteer work, simply exercising at the gym and attending various activities at our Del Web senior community. MaryAnn recently sang with the Consumnes River College Chamber Singers. Currently, she sings in our Glenbrooke Community chorus. In addition, she attends an informal women’s group and will sing on Easter with a local Methodist church choir.
For several years after I got home, my thumbs swelled up when holding a garden hose watering the lawn or plants, even in summer. During the winters in Rock Island, when I walked up the hill to the seminary, my exposed face would break out in welts, which went away in the warmth inside. The doctor told me it was caused by my exposure to cold in Korea. I believe it happened on that bitter and windy cold on that helicopter pad. Surely some of those Marines on that patrol got frostbite. After about 15 years back in California, my cold problem disappeared.
Some changes I noted after returning home were evident to me and also to my wife. In retrospect I realize my survivors’ guilt drove me to bury myself in studies and work basically to my advantage. It made me a great student, but a poor husband and father until 1963 when exhaustion made me realize I could not continue the fast pace and entered therapy.
Another change was in my perspective of life. I was more mature and tended to "look on life with quiet eyes". I became a rescuer by nature, which enhanced my interventions in ministry, mental health and family emergencies. I learned generosity and the value of team work. My value of loyalty committed me to whatever causes I espoused. I learned how to live and survive in the outdoors, which enhanced our family life and was passed on to our children. I learned self pride and self discipline. I had a greater perspective of world politics and cultures. I had a sense of accomplishment and empathy for the life struggles of people in other countries. I discovered that I could put another foot forward when I swore I could not and that I was stronger and tougher than I thought I was. The Korean experience built in me a sense of determination to complete whatever task I took on. Negative results of my experience in Korea were some paranoid feelings. I am hyper vigilant. To this day, I have very sensitive hearing and am a light sleeper. My startle reflex is acute.
After effects of the war did not surface in me until the start of the first Gulf War. I sublimated my real feelings by plastering my car with stickers, flying flags on our house, and advocating support for our troops in Iraq. By 2000 the feelings had turned to more negative and serious manifestations which drove me into therapy. That same year, my sons wanted me to accompany them to Korea, or I, them. That sounded like a good idea until I checked the itinerary on the web. The trip would travel to the same places where I had been with Easy Company in the machine gun squad (Hwachon Reservoir and the Punch Bowl). The sight and thought of that felt like a stab in my stomach. I became very depressed. My survivors’ guilt became acute. Nightmares returned in force. I rejected the idea of return thinking that I could not tolerate the feelings it would bring back. Instead, I entered therapy and received treatment via EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing). Therapy brought the symptoms under control, which began at Gulf War 1 and reached their peak when considering that revisit to Korea. Jim Mortensen took the trip and reported to me how much the Punch Bowl had changed for the better.
A year ago, a Vietnam Marine veteran recommended that I apply for disability for PTSD after hearing me express details of what I was still experiencing. I did not want to apply because I had made an adequate living and did not believe I should. He insisted, so I reluctantly applied and was awarded ten percent disability. My VA counselor thought it should be thirty percent, as did my friend. But I feel guilty receiving even that. It is like being paid for surviving when others did not. In addition, I had already received eleven months of combat pay (1952), GI Bill for three years of college (1952-1955), GI loan our first house (1967), plus dental repair and eye glasses (1952). I had never expected to receive more, but now I am receiving a small deposit every month for PTSD. I still meet with a Veterans Administration Counselor who has helped me reframe and deal with some of these current symptoms. Overall, however, the positive values I gained from my experience outweighs the remaining negatives. Now I appreciate the experience of Korea, but would not want to go through it again.
Why the Forgotten War
It is my understanding that an army division is deployed at the DMZ. I have no opinion about this, other than it may be only a symbol to support the South Koreans and a reminder to North Koreans that we still intend to resist any aggression from the North. The saber rattling on the part of the North Koreans bothers me greatly. I believe the leaders are and have been mentally ill. Obtaining nuclear war capability threatens the fate of the whole world, as does Iran’s.
The Korean War was sandwiched between the Vietnam War and World War II. Korea followed five years after World War II. I believe Americans were still weary of war and simply did not want another. The fear of a World War III nuclear holocaust was also prevalent. In spite of the horrendous casualties and conflict, people seemed to deny that the war existed. As I mentioned earlier, I, and every Korean veteran I have talked to, came home to total indifference, as if we had never been gone. Not many years later, the Vietnam War began to build up. It divided the country. As Vietnam vets returned home, they were met with hostility. Memory of the Korean War was lost as Americans focused on Vietnam. No great movies or books were created about the Korean War. When news media talked about our wars, they spoke of World War II and Vietnam, skipping over the Korean War as if had not happened. I notice this on television and articles even today. People I meet today seem to know nothing about the Korean War, or even that it was. But they are aware of World War II and Vietnam. If they do remember Korea, they think of it as a small conflict somewhere in the past. I suppose the history classes in schools and colleges don’t say much about it. Even I did not realize until many years later the staggering number of casualties and the significance of the Korean War.
Korea was a strange land to me. I knew only that I was there to fight a war against North Korean aggressors and their Chinese allies. My main thought was to fight for my buddies and the honor of the Marine Corps. It simply became a job that had to be done until I could go home. At that time, I had no idea of the tremendous significance of the war. In retrospect, I am proud not only of my service with the Corps, but what all of our forces did to bring about a thriving democracy in South Korea. The war, as the first test of the United Nations' resolve to fight aggression in the world, also set American foreign policy for the next 50 years. The policy changed when President G.W. Bush called for preemptive war, and then invaded Iraq. Unlike Iraq, the Korean War changed a peasant country into a thriving democracy. It is only in looking back that I realize that the United States should have gotten involved against the aggressor in Korea. At the time, I did not understand the entire picture, only that I was called to active duty to fight a war.
I think General MacArthur had every right to go north of the 38th parallel as long as we were fighting the North Korean aggressors. I do not believe he should have crossed into Manchuria or that he should have bombed China as he wanted. That would have been disaster for the United Nations, would have prolonged the war indefinitely, and possibly would have caused a World War III nuclear holocaust. MacArthur had to be reminded that Generals do not make foreign policy, Presidents do. It is one of the most important rules of our constitution. Thankfully, Truman did not cave to MacArthur's ravings and fired him.
No mistakes or misjudgments by the United States or the United Nations come to mind that would have altered the course of the war. I do know that we Marines were sorely under-equipped, at least during my time on line.
The chaplain who stands out the most in my mind is Bashford S. "Bash" Power. Bash tried, and succeeded, to bring civility to Marines in an uncivil environment. Chaplain Phenning also brought that attitude to the line during the latter months of winter 1952. Chaplain Don Jolly accomplished many things while we were in Reserve in Inje, North Korea. He started a choir and interviewed several hundred men as to their spiritual needs. I cannot say enough about these good men. Their humanity, dedication and bravery inspired me to think about entering the ministry.
All three Chaplains I served with in Korea were good, brave men. Bob Pfenning, a Lutheran (Missouri Synod) pastor, visited the line often, as Bash Power did. In the 1960s, Pfenning and his wife happened to visit Oceanside, California, where I was working to start a new Lutheran Church. While looking for a Lutheran Church one Sunday morning, he saw my name in the Yellow Pages and surprised me by attending our worship service at King of Kings Lutheran Church. It was a joyful reunion as we reminisced about our time together in Korea. He later wrote an article about me in the Navy Chaplain magazine entitled, "Proving Ground for Preachers?" He spoke of our surprised meeting and was very complimentary of me.
Searching for MIA
About eight years ago, I met the owner of the Sudverk Restaurant between Davis and Vacaville, California, off of I-80 west of Sacramento. He is a decorated Korean Marine and a member of the Yolo County Detachment of the Marine Corps League. I was told by Jim Mortensen, the Detachment Commandant, that this Marine spent all of his free time looking for MIA troops in North Korea. Other than this, I have heard and read only general information about searches for MIAs in Korea. I cannot judge whether or not these searches are adequate. I think the Sudverk owner personally financed his trips with an organization whose name I have forgotten.
Reconnecting with Buddies
When I came home I lost contact with all my buddies and friends. I hear that others did the same. We took up life where we left off. I buried myself in studies, work, and starting a family. It was not until many years later that I attempted to contact them or their families. Jim Mortensen got in touch with me when he saw an article in the Sacramento Bee in which I was interviewed about my involvement in the war. That was July 1995 before the dedication of our memorial in Washington, D.C. Not long after that, Jim put me in touch with Al Seagrave from a suburb of San Diego and Bill Ramsey from Omaha, Nebraska. Jim Mortensen is from Vacaville, California. We met immediately and are good friends today. Not long after, Jim and I met with Seagrave and Ramsey at the 1st Marine Division Reunion in San Diego. Prior to reuniting with Jim Mortensen, I contacted Jim Bannon of La Jolla, California. After several months of searching, I found Earl J. Smyth “Smitty”, of Seattle, Washington. We reunited at the 1990 E-2-5 reunion in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was a great moment hugging that old seaman when he stepped down from the rail car.
As mentioned earlier in my memoir, Earl J. Smyth (Smitty) was my best friend in Korea. He is also mentioned in my letters home. We were ammo carriers most of the time and helped each other carry the ammo cans up the damn mountains. He was a few years older than I was, and seemed to have more difficulty than I did in getting up the hills. I helped him as much as I could by sometimes pulling him up the rough spots. If I reached the top before him, I went back down to help him up. He reciprocated by being my confidant when I was depressed about something. Smitty had been in the merchant marine and decided to join the Marine Corps as a regular Marine. He was single and had false teeth. He was a fine man and we complemented each other in many ways.
After Korea, we lost touch with each other for 38 years. When Smitty arrived home from Korea, he became a machine gun instructor at Camp Pendleton. He told me years later that, during that time he got drunk and in fights in Tijuana, Mexico, then get demoted. He was still not married, so after his enlistment he rejoined the merchant marine as a deck hand. When we reconnected in 1990, he told me he smoked pot and drank during his many years in the merchant marine. He was forced out eventually because he was caught with drugs and lost his certification. He married late in life to a woman who he said was an alcoholic. He died about the same time as Jim Bannon in 1995. I am sure that Smitty’s behavior after Korea was due to his combat experience. He was in the squad two months after I left and was severely wounded on Hill 812 on September 18, 1951. He took a burst from a burp gun up his side while going down the mountain after ammunition for the gun. The letter he wrote to me from the field hospital is in my book of letters home.
Jim Bannon and I became good friends 38 years after the war. When the first Gulf War broke out, I had a strong desire to look up Bannon and Smitty. I found Bannon right away because he was on the roster of the 1st Marine Division Association. He lived in La Jolla, California. I called him on the phone and we got together many times in La Jolla and San Diego. We especially liked Anthony’s Fish Grotto, which was either in La Jolla or San Diego. Bannon was raised in Kansas and attended a military school. After the war he was assigned to the embassy in Paris, France. There he met his wife. They had three children: Mary Elizabeth, John and Richard. MaryAnn and I met two of them at Jim’s home in La Jolla, California: Mary Elizabeth and John. Jim’s wife had died from cancer years earlier. Jim taught at the local high school.
Bannon died suddenly shortly before the dedication of the Korean War Memorial. Smitty died on May 27, 1995 in Seattle at the age of 68 years. Bannon was in a restaurant with his son John at the time his aorta aneurism burst. I was asked to speak at Bannon’s burial mass so I prepared a short talk about our experience in Korea and how he behaved so bravely. I purchased my plane tickets to San Diego, but Mary Elizabeth changed the date of his funeral and I was unable to take leave from work at the changed time. I sent my eulogy to her and she had someone read it. Mary Elizabeth, John, and I kept in contact for a few years, then lost track. Mary Elizabeth (now Manke) moved to Colorado and got married. John is now a Lieutenant in the Coast Guard. When Jim died, all attempts to reach Smitty to tell him about Bannon failed. I concluded that he must have died also. I grieved their deaths more than my own brother’s.
In my letters home I mentioned other people whom I vaguely remember today: Depaulis (first name not given), Harvey, Jack Love and Solomon “Sol”. He was not mentioned in my letters home or elsewhere in this memoir. I also remember Ernest "Gab" Gabrielson of Arizona. He was in .60 mortars. After serving in the Marines during the Korean War, he taught journalism in various Arizona high schools. When he retired, and after his wife’s death, he moved to Tucson and became an author. The .60 mortars traveled alongside our guns in close support of the rifle company. Technically machine gun and mortar units were designated as Weapons Company. However, they were all assigned to specific units. The only time Weapons Company met as a group apart from their line companies was in Battalion or Division reserve.
The E-2-5 Korea Association held its first reunion on the east coast in 1989. I heard about the next and attended the 1990 reunion in Las Vegas, along with Bannon and Smitty. MaryAnn and I also attended one in New Orleans a year or so later. They were great reunions and reconnected me with many old friends and acquaintances in the company. Mike Ruffalo and I were asked to write the by-laws to incorporate the organization. In the meantime, President Bart Dauberman (Zephyrhills, Florida) and I had a disagreement on the smoking policy at reunions. I wanted the meetings and banquets to be smoke free. He did not. The by-laws were approved by the organization, but the difference between me and Bart continued. I never lost respect for him, but could not tolerate the heavy smoking at reunion events, so did not attend another reunion. Jim Pella and I remained in contact. In 2008, Bart and I reconciled. There had also been a split between Bart and the organization and half the members dropped out. I supported Bart. A few months ago, I received a notice that E-2-5 Korea was being disbanded. The week following I received an e-mail that a few were trying to revive it. Sad, but so many veterans organizations seem to have power struggles and controversies. This is understandable considering that war veterans are strong people with definite opinions.
We also attended the 1st Marine Division Reunion in San Diego in the 1990s. There, I reunited with Chaplain Bash Power. We took him to the reunion. I was in the color guard of the 1st Marine Division River City Chapter until it went defunct when our President turned out to be a fraud. In spite of my and a few others’ efforts, we could not revive the chapter from the ashes of betrayal. After that some of us veterans of all services attempted to organize a local Chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association. The effort failed. I joined the Marine Corps League, active first in the Yolo County Detachment as Junior Vice Commander and color guard. Jim Mortensen was our commandant and was my sponsor. After moving back to Elk Grove, California, in 2007, I was active in the Elk Grove Detachment until vision and other problems decreased my physical involvement outside of meetings. For my buddies, I march in every parade I could because many of them cannot. I will do so as long as I can walk. After that, I will ride to honor them.
No Special Medals
No special medals were awarded me. I received the Korean Service Medal with four campaign stars, the United Nations service medal, American Defense Medal, Korean President's Medal, Marine corps Reserve Medal and Good Conduct Medal. Also awarded were ribbons for the Presidential Unit Citation and the Korean Presidential Unit Citation. I am most proud to receive the Navy/Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbon. This ribbon was awarded many years after the Vietnam War. Korean veterans who served at Battalion command post forward are eligible for this ribbon. Battalion command post was located between one-half to three miles behind the line depending upon the terrain. Chaplains Power and Pfenning frequently visited the line troopers after I left the line to serve with them.
Courage and Bravery
In retrospect, I would describe my time in Korea as a bad experience that worked much good in my personal growth and values. I recounted these earlier. I feel sad that those who were killed or wounded cannot do the same.
My strongest memories of Korea are the courage and bravery of my fellow Marines and Navy corpsmen. Even though memories of fire fights are muddled in my mind, I am still amazed at what Marines accomplished with sub-standard equipment in an extremely hostile weather and physical environment. I remember the beauty of the North Korean mountains and valleys which were not yet bombed or burned off by combat. I remember what good and brave men the Chaplains were. I remember how filthy we were, along with the utter exhaustion. I remember the death and destruction and bloated, maggot ridden bodies of our enemy. Strangely, the only noise I remember was the zing of bullets and the dull thump of bombs and artillery shells. I expected that sound to be louder than it was, probably because of war movies I had seen before Korea. Last, but not least, I remember missing my wife, family and the life style I knew before Korea.
If a student in the future used my written experience of the Korean War, I would want them to first remember the thousands, perhaps millions of people on both sides who were killed, injured, displaced or otherwise suffered from this terrible (as usual) war. The next issue I want them to remember is how the United Nations successfully stopped communist aggression against a sovereign nation for the first time in its young history. Finally, as mentioned above, I would want them to emphasize the success of the “Truman Doctrine” which established American foreign policy for the next fifty years until changed by President George W. Bush in 2000. Truman’s policy was to fight aggression anywhere in the world while preventing a nuclear World War III. That included rebuilding countries, friend or foe, under the Marshal Plan following World War II. Hence, not only Korea and World War II nations were rebuilt, but Vietnam as well. All became thriving nations. Truman, a World War 1 Army veteran, did not like the Marines and tried to abolish the Corps. In spite of that, he was a greater President than only history affirms.
My personal opinion and experience is that World War II veterans returned to respect and glory. Korean vets returned to total indifference, as if we had never been gone. We were expected to take up life where we left off. Vietnam vets returned to undeserved anger and hostility. As a seminary professor once said, “Indifference is worse than hate”, because if one loves or hates, they still care about the other. Indifference, however, leads one to simply not care about the other. It is no wonder that our important victory in Korea has been totally overlooked.
When I came home from the war, I did not say much about it, nor did anyone ask. Once in awhile my having been in the Marines was mentioned. Over time, when the subject arose, I told of incidents that were humorous after the fact, such as when we were hit while cleaning our weapons when the fog lifted, or the whiskey we took from an Army jeep trailer on the march to a rear area. The nightmares I had through the years, I simply laughed off and told my wife and family not to wake me so I could resolve whatever caused them. Once in a while my youngest son and daughter asked me about my experience, but I blew them off. When they asked if I killed anyone, my reply was simply, “I don’t know.” In retrospect, I guess I could not talk about it.
All I can do now is tell people about our war if the subject arises. I wear caps and place bumper stickers making reference to the war. I also march in parades and have joined many veterans’ organizations. I am a life member of the 1st Marine Division Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Korean War Veterans Association and the Marine Corps League. I am a member of the Marine Corps Association and past member of the E-2-5 Korea Association before it recently disbanded. Korean veterans are dying off over the years at an increasing rate. Not much is printed or reported about this, yet I frequently hear about the World War II vets and the current problems of the Vietnam vets. I do not resent this, only that Korea and its importance in American history is overlooked again.
Once A Marine
To this day, I am convinced that the training I received in boot camp and Camp Pendleton made the difference between living and being wounded or killed. I believe today’s boot training is even more preparatory for combat, and has to be. My generation had the “benefits” of the hardships of the Great Depression. Today’s entitled youth do not. A Lieutenant at Camp Pendleton told me years ago how difficult it was to make Marines of today’s youth because of their comfortable lives while growing up. I understand today’s boot camp training includes the “Crucible”, which comes as close to the combat experience as possible. I am glad I did not have to do the Crucible, but think it is valuable in the making of Marines at this time. When I was in Korea, some of the Reserves did not go through boot camp. The difference in attitude and behavior between them and us was notable. The ones I knew were less disciplined and knowledgeable about care of weapons and safety of self and others. I am very happy that I completed boot camp and believe it served me well in Korea.
“Once a Marine, always a Marine” is a fact in my life and all other Marines I know from whatever war. Even though I was on active duty less than two years, the pride I carried through the years never wavered. The pride increased as years passed. I realize today that my display of car stickers, Marine Corps memorabilia and clothing is a sublimation of the absurdities of combat mixed with pride of accomplishment. In addition, there was my adulation of my brother who served in World War II in the Pacific. The bottom line is that boot camp makes Marines the way they were and are. The change is forever. Marines from all generations have a bond that transcends time and other relationships. When I walk into a store today with my Marine cap, other Marine veterans of whatever age or war approach and talk to me, and I, them. I did not know years ago, but the “change” really is forever. When I die, I want a Marine color guard present and the Marines’ Hymn sung with pride by fellow Marines.
My service in the Marine Corps has had a tremendous influence on my life. My war experience and the mental and physical response to it directed my life for years to come, be it unconsciously. Only in recent years have I become aware of this. I mentioned previously how I buried myself in work and studies to avoid feelings of grief, guilt and perhaps rage. The experience has also made me a better person than I would have been without it. I have recounted the positives in previous writing. Add all of this to the mix of tremendous pride and sense of accomplishment and I am aware of who I am and how I got here. The fact that I was a combat Marine was always a plus on my resume through the years. My deep regret is that those who did not make it home or were physically handicapped did not enjoy all the benefits I received.
Semper Fidelis taught me much in life. When I commit myself to a cause or a job, I follow through until it is finished. The self discipline and pride in the education and vocations I pursued stemmed from the values I learned in the Marines. The determination to complete whatever task, no matter how difficult, carried me through my university and professional life. The experience and values I received from my experience in the United States Marine Corps has and will affect my life to the grave. In spite of the negative experience, the positive and pride to bear the title far outweighs the negative.
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