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Kenneth R. Kendall
"War is not a nice thing, and living life during a war is a very hard thing. There will be things you will see or do that will stay with you for the rest of your life. You will be scarred by these things. "
- Kenneth R. Kendall
I was born on September 2, 1930, in Marion, Williamson County, Illinois, the eldest son of Royce Thomas and Mahala Josephine McDowell Kendall. My father was born on July 1, 1901 in Thebes, Illinois, south of Marion. Mother was born on January 8, 1910 in Little Rock, Arkansas.
My father fell when he was four years old and broke his left thigh bone. He was put to bed for two weeks and the bone healed side to side rather than end to end, leaving his left leg 5 and 7/8 inches shorter than the left leg and him a cripple. My earliest memory is father owning a truck, and hauling general cargo such as coal for home heating and beer from St. Louis, Missouri to for a local distributor. He also hauled Italian immigrants to St. Louis to see the sighs, such as the zoo. He lost the truck around 1934 because of the Depression. He worked odd jobs that could be found, trying to feed the family which, by 1934, was three adults and three children. I have a brother Donald Gene Kendall, born March 14, 1932, and a brother James Ralph Kendall, born October 27, 1934.
His last good job was running an elevator in a bank/hotel for $10.00 per week. He was fired from that job so that a woman who would be paid a lower wage could be hired. This was around 1935. Around 1936 or 37, he was hired as a time keeper on Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects. Around 1939, a large project was started. It was to be an ordnance plant to manufacture bombs, shells, and land mines. He worked as time keeper during construction and transferred to the plant time keeper office as the plant started producing. After World War II was over, the ordnance plant shut down and he was out of a job again. He again worked odd jobs until he was hired at a state highway garage as a janitor. He stayed with this until he retired.
Mother worked in early years in a restaurant that her mother-in-law owned on a corner of our home lot. She worked there until the restaurant closed around 1937-38, again due to the Depression. In 1939 or 40, she started working at the ordnance plant making bombs, shells, and land mines. She then started a new restaurant in a new building built where the old building was. She ran that until 1960, when she left and worked in Waukegan, Illinois at a bakery and movie theater until retirement.
I attended Lincoln Grade School kindergarten through grade six. I attended Washington Junior High School for grades seven and eight. I attended Marion Township High School, grades nine through twelve, graduating in May of 1948. While in school, I worked. Around the age of seven or eight, I started selling White Clover salve, Grit newspaper, and magazines door to door. Around age nine (1940), I started setting pins in a bowling alley evenings and days. In addition to my bowling alley job, I went "junking" in 1942. That was an honorable profession during World War II, because it helped the war effort.
I just recently saw a program on the History Channel about Axis Powers POWs who were held in the USA during World War II. This brought back memories of my youth and the summer of 1946. I worked in the Washington, Illinois area, detasseling hybrid seed corn for Pioneer Hybrid Company, harvesting dwarf sweet peas. When weather was too bad to work outside, I worked in a cannery canning peas and other vegetables for Libby Canning Company. I also cooked the vegetables in large pressure cookers. It was at this time that I saw where POWs had been kept in 1946 or 1947 in a POW holding camp in my area of southern Illinois. The place where we lived was old barracks that had been used to hold German POWs. The area was heavily populated with German immigrants, and we were told the POWs felt at home there. One time there was a count of the prisoners who had returned to the barracks after a day's work in the fields, and they were one prisoner short. The Military Police assigned to guard the POWs went back out to look for what they thought was a runaway prisoner. However. they found the guy on the highway, hitchhiking to get back to the barracks as he did not want to miss supper. The History Channel program also told me one aspect of the POW holding that I had known That is, we held the POWs even after the war was over, giving them schooling to learn the American way of democracy. Now that I think of it, this was perhaps leading up to the "brainwashing" of prisoners of war that was conducted during the Korean War.
Besides my work in the fields and for the cannery in 1946, I was also a janitor/usher in a theater and a janitor in a ladies clothing store. (That job was embarrassing at times when I had to move unclothed mannequins in store display windows to clean and my buddies walked by outside the windows.) I was in a Boy Scout group for a short time, but left as I had no money for uniforms. My money was needed to help at home. I had buddies that were in Scouts, too, but they quit also and the group just folded up.
Our family contributed to the war effort, like everybody else did those days. My great aunt had adopted a girl who we later found out had a twin sister adopted by a family in Herrin, Illinois about ten miles away. My cousin was married and her husband was in the U.S. Army in the Pacific campaign, and later was in forces occupying Japan. Her twin sister was married also and her husband was in the U.S. Army and was in the D Day Invasion. He was wounded during the landing and sent to England for two weeks to recover. He was sent back to his unit and in less than a day was wounded again and sent back to England for two weeks to recover. He was sent back to his unit again, and in two days wounded again. This time he was sent back to the States to train new soldiers.
My school also had activities relating to World War II. There were school-conducted war bond/war stamp sales every week and collection of items valuable to the war efforts. As explained earlier, as an individual I collected metals, papers, and other items needed in the war efforts.
I lied about my age when I was around 12 years old. I was a big boy, so I was accepted when I said I was 15 years old and joined the civil Air Patrol (C.A.P.), a training unit of the U.S. Army Air Corps. We learned military things like how to march and line up in formation. We studied enemy and friendly aircraft silhouettes and other such training. In 1943, I attended a two week summer stay at Chanute Air Base in Rantoul, Illinois. We continued in learning military training and had a ride in a C-47 airplane. In 1944, an Airplane Pilot Training (PT) 17 was sent to the Marion Airport where we trained and studied. We were taken for a ride in this airplane. It had two wings and two cockpits. The real pilot sat in the rear cockpit while we took turns riding in the front cockpit. We wore a leather hat with earphones in it and while in the sky were told to hold on to the joystick, put our feet on the rudder pedals, and then bank and turn the airplane. I am sure the pilot had a near death grip on his joystick and strength enough to out-push us on the rudder pedals.
An aside to this ride: If you have seen the movie, "The Great Escape," it was about an escape from a German POW camp in World War II. During the preparations for the escape, an English prisoner who worked doing the forgery of documents and such went blind. He was assigned to an American pilot played by James Garner. They were to steal a German plane and fly to freedom. The starting mechanism on that airplane was like the one we flew that day. A crank was inserted into a hole not very far back from the propeller. The crank then was turned, which started a large flywheel to spin. When it was spinning fast enough (the whine it made was the gauge) and the crank pulled out, the pilot engaged the starter into the flywheel. It usually took at least two and as many as four times before the engine would start and continue running. Meanwhile, the person turning the crank had to stand stock still as you were less than 15 inches from the spinning propeller. In the movie, James Garner told the blind guy to stand still or he would be kissing the propeller--and to think that we were children (teenagers) doing the same kind of procedure.
I spent two weeks in the summer at Chanute Air Force Base at Rantoul, Illinois, while I was in the Civil Air Patrol. I remember that, while I was waiting at the railroad station in Rantoul to catch a train to go home to Marion, a man and woman came up and started talking to me. They asked if I would like some cookies and milk. Being a typical teenage who was always hungry, I said sure. They then told me that I would have to come to their church and be baptized before I could have the cookies and milk. There was time as my train was not due for some time, so off I went with them. (I must stress that times were different then than they are now.) I was prayed over and told I had been baptized and saved and now I could have the cookies and milk.
While in C.A.P., I also clearly remember the time when an Army Air Force officer was in charge of us cadets sometime in 1943 or 1944. When I asked him how to line up properly when in formation, he said that he looked for something on the person in front of him to line up on, like the dirt spot on the back of my neck. This snide remark stayed with me for the rest of my life, as I scrub the back of my neck as hard as I can when showering so as to get rid of the dirt I imagine is on me.
I believe that my decision to join the Army was a combination of factors. I was working a nothing job at a dairy. The only good paying jobs were in the coalmining industry, and I did not like the idea of working underground. My best friend and I were bored and out drinking when one subject led to another and we decided to join the army. The next day we told our parents and walked to the enlistment office to enlist. They were both concerned, but realized that I was determined to enlist, so they gave me limited blessings. My friend had bad eyes and in a pre-enlistment questioning was asked to take off his glasses and read the chart on the wall. When he said he could not see the wall, he was told to forget the Army and go home. Why I did not walk out with him, I have never figured out. So I guess the reason I joined was "whim and boredom."
I could have joined some other branch of the service. Though I may make some reader of this memoir angry, I have to say that I never thought much of the Marines. At the time I enlisted, my opinion of the Marines was not a favorable one. I didn't want to join the Navy because I could not swim. I am not sure why I didn't join the Air Corps. I had the C.A.P. experience. But I decided to join the Army, enlisting on September 23, 1948.
My friend who was turned down when we tried to join together later enlisted during the Korean War. His eyes were still bad, but they allowed him to join and he was kept in the States during his enlistment. He ended up stationed in Colorado, operating a bulldozer to make "rice paddies" in Colorado for the filming of one movie on the Korean War starring Robert Mitchum. This also brings to mind the fact that my middle brother, Donald G. Kendall, was near totally deaf in one ear, but he was allowed to enlist during the Korean War. He spent most of his enlistment stationed in Germany.
From home in Marion, Illinois, I was sent to West Frankfort, Illinois, for an overnight stay. The next day I boarded a train, along with others, and was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for almost two weeks of processing. While still at Fort Knox and processing, there were eight new recruits who committed suicide by hanging themselves on a water tower. We were in Company C, 45th Medical Battalion. It was an actual unit, but only used to process new recruits before being sent to basic training units. I also remember that it was at Fort Knox that I first ever saw a guy with a venereal disease. He was quite a hairy guy and he had crabs. He was given DDT powder to apply to his groin area. Upon dashing the powder on himself, the crabs started to move all over his body. It was funny seeing him rolling and so forth on the ground to scratch the itching. We also had a guy who believed all that he was told. In a formation, the Captain commanding us asked if there were any questions. This guy asked if it was true that we would receive shots in the left hall with a square needle.
I then boarded a train for transportation to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where I took basic training. No one that I knew prior to enlistment traveled with me to the training camp. The train arrived around 1 a.m. There were 2 and 1/2 ton trucks waiting for us, and as I boarded a truck, the smell of the exhausts of the trucks imprinted itself. To this day, when I run across that peculiar smell, I am taken back in time to getting off the train, being somewhat confused, a bit apprehensive, and kind of wondering, "What did I get myself into???" I am not too sure how many of us had been on the train, but we were driven to some barracks buildings and there were bunks with blankets and pillows for us to sleep on.
The next day, we were awakened around 7 a.m. I seem to remember that they took pity on us for getting in so late. We were introduced to our sergeants. After breakfast, we were taken to a large supply room--not the regular company supply room--and measured for and issued clothing. We also received sheets, blankets, and pillow and pillowcase. We were assigned to a bunk in an assigned barracks building. I cannot remember ever being interviewed or tested or anything that determined which company or platoon we would end up being assigned to. There was some kind of testing that we took at Fort Knox. That may have been sent along with us to make that determination.
We were assigned to three sergeants from World War II. Their names were Sgt. Rubin L. Harvinson, Sgt. Roy A. Prince, and Sgt. Eugene C. Satterly. A good friend from my platoon wrote down all the names of the sergeants, the names of all 30 of us guys, and our home addresses, too. Several years ago, he located me through the KWVA address book and since then we have located 20 of the 30 guys of the I&R Platoon. Of the 20, 13 of us are now living and seven are known to be dead. We are still looking for the other 13. Nine of us get together once a year.
We were warned at the beginning that it was expected of us to be regular in clothing and underwear changes. We were also supposed to shower regularly and brush our teeth regularly. I cannot remember any open mouth inspections, however. I didn't remember it until I read an old letter that I wrote home, but we were lined up and marched to church on Sunday.
The training was an eight-week basic training (a very basic basics). World War II was over, so there was no great emphasis on training. We first were introduced to basic military information--formation, attention, at ease, right shoulder rifle, marching and various commands. The unit was in the Fourth Army Command, 37th Regimental Combat Team, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, and in the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon. My platoon did extra studying in the areas of gathering intelligence about an enemy, such as strengths in manpower, armor, mechanized vehicles and supplies while doing reconnaissance in the enemy's area and on advancing against an enemy. Parts of the platoon were designated as scouts, lead scouts, and flank scouts. We did both in-classroom and in-the-field study, using maps and compass for navigating with little or no landmarks to use to figure out our location. We also studied and learned methods of concealment to both conceal ourselves and to detect the enemy's concealment. For instance, there is nothing in nature that has an absolute straight line. It might be straight for several feet, like a tree truck, but eventually it will curve. That is what is needed to detect--something straight that the enemy forgot to break its straight lines. We did the usual rifle range shooting for proficiency and marksman medals, but only with the rifle.
During basic, we never had any kind of training in various other weapons such as pistols, grenades, bazookas, or any others. We took paper tests (at least in my platoon) for our I&R subjects like map reading and compass knowledge, camouflage, and recognizance of various vehicles and airplanes. We saw a few movies during basics, and I believe they were all educational. This was in the time between World War II and the Korean War and nothing of a propaganda nature was involved in our training. Being so close behind World War II, we all were still feeling the "good war" feelings of World War II.
If memory serves me (it's been a long time), we were awakened by our sergeants at I believe 6 a.m. Breakfast was at 7 a.m., lunch at 12 noon, and supper at 5 p.m. There was some give and take, as these times were not cast in concrete. All in all I would say our food was great. Of course, we were moving and doing all day and we needed calories badly, so whatever was put on the mess tray was eaten. Second were also allowed when there were leftovers. The meals were generally scrambled eggs with toast and jelly, bacon, milk, and coffee for breakfast; a light meal, lots of time being cold cuts with bread for lunch; and a hearty meal like pork chops, pot roasts, shit on a shingle (bits of meat in gravy), meat loafs and such heavier foods for supper. Usually we had green beans, corn, or peas for vegetables. We also had coffee at lunch and supper, and we usually had a dessert like sheet cake three or four times a week. While on maneuvers, we were fed the K-ration type of foods, and on a few occasions during basic training the K-rations were fed to us in place of a meal. The reason for that was to get us accustomed to the food and its tastes (or perhaps to use up stocks left over from World War II). During 1949 and part of 1950 at Fort Benning, we were served the K-rations. In 1952 in Camp Cooke, California, we were again fed K-rations.
It doesn't seem to me that our training was regimented, because we jumped from one thing to another. Yet it might have been the plan. I did learn that you cannot figure out the inner workings of the Army. After supper we were mostly free and on our own through the week. We could hang around the barracks or take in a movie if we had the money. At that time, a recruit's monthly pay was a whopping $75.00 a month. We could check out the Post Exchange (PX), too. Most items were quite cheap as there were no taxes on items. Cigarettes were about 20 cents or less a pack. We could also explore the post. There was the "old post" area with carved out of solid rock jail cells. One of them once held the Indian chief Geronimo. There was also an area where Geronimo was said to have jumped his horse off of a cliff to a river below.
During the weekends, we were able to visit in the town of Lawton, Oklahoma. Beer was 3.2 percent alcohol, so you had to drink a whole lot before feeling any effects beyond an urge to visit the rest room. A joke was that it was called "Airplane Beer" (Drink 1 and P - 38). A P-38 was an airplane used in World War II. I also liked to visit the White Swan Cafe. They had real good chili that needed to be washed down with quite a few beers to cool the mouth and throat. Nearly every Saturday night enough of a fight happened that smashed the front door, a wooden door with oval glass near the size of the door. It was in Lawton that I visited my first house of ill repute, but I chickened out at the last minute for two reasons: I was scared, and I didn't have the cost of the transaction.
We were responsible for the housekeeping of the barracks and were split up for various jobs, like cleaning the latrine. At times there was a complete cleanup of the barracks. A job that we also had was "fire guard." Each barracks had a fire room with a furnace that burned coal to heat the barracks and I think to provide heat for hot water. The fire guard tended the furnace all night, doing two jobs--first keeping the furnace burning and second, to be an early detection in case the furnace caught the barracks on fire. If it did, we were supposed to wake the guys who were sleeping.
Our instructors were quite fair with us. At times it seemed to me that they actually cared for us, so really, there was no strictness beyond trying to instill basic military knowledge in us in case we would ever need it down the line. We were never mistreated in any way or fashion. One time I dropped my rifle and had to sleep with it. Several times rifles were referred to as "guns" and we had to repeat the poem, "This is my rifle" (holding out our rifle), "This is my gun" (holding our penises), "This I use to shoot with" and "This I use for fun."
Another time, we were out on the rifle range shooting for marksman badges. It was quite cold in November. The person on the loudspeaker giving instructions cracked an ethnic joke ("this shooting is like shooting Jews in a rain barrel"). Even though the joke was different from what I had ever heart (like shooting fish in a rain barrel), I thought I was expected to laugh. I was laying in the prone position to fire and the next thing I remember was someone cracking my bare hands and fingers with a riding crop. In the cold weather it hurt quite a bit at the time. But when I got back inside where it was warm, the pain became almost unbearable. The person who had hit me was a major and the officer in charge of the firing range. He never said anything to me as he hit me and I was at first unable to determine why he hit me. Later I figured it out as having to be my laughing at the joke. At the time I also was ignorant of the fact that an officer should never strike an enlisted man and that I could have filed charges against him. But I was raised that authority must be obeyed and had teachers who used paddles on me. I never pursued the case that I rightfully had against the officer. Because of this incident, I wondered why I had joined the Army, but on the whole I enjoyed my near five years of service. The Jews joke was the only prejudice I saw in the Army. This was 1948 and the Army was still segregated. Without blacks around, no prejudice was seen.
I also remember that, while out in the field on maneuvers, I tripped and fell and opened a deep puncture in the palm of my left hand. I was sent off to the medical tent for treatment. The person(s) there sent me back to the platoon without any treatment. I was told that after supper I should wash my hands and the cut in the garbage cans where we cleaned our mess kits, then rinse and return to the medical tent. This person then spread the cut as far open as he could, then dipped a cotton swab into pure iodine and swabbed the inside of the cut with it. He then squeezed the edges of the wound together, and with a fresh cotton swab, swabbed the edges of the cut so that they were cauterized together. He placed a homemade "butterfly" type adhesive tape across the cut. Looking back on this today, I realize that this person, whoever he was, was acting in a sadistic manner, causing great pain from the lye soap and hot water in the mess kit washing cans, then using raw iodine inside an open wound, cauterizing the wound with the iodine. The heck of it is that I never have known why he did what he did.
Beyond this, I never received any harsh punishment while I was in basics. I was just told I should do better at learning the things that we were being taught. I also cannot remember ever seeing anyone else being disciplined beyond the "Can't you learn what is being taught to you?" type of dressing down. As far as I can remember, we never were punished as a platoon for the mistake of an individual, either. When a person made a mistake, it was always him getting yelled at or having to do pushups type of punishment. At times the platoon continued to do marching drills if there was a large amount of mistakes, but that was it. We didn't have any troublemakers in our platoon. We really were lucky in that we all hit it off well with each other, considering we came from vastly different kinds of backgrounds. Some jokes and pranks were done, but there was no dissention in the platoon. We had fun while on off time, exploring the area, cutting up while taking pictures of each other and hamming it up with our rifles and such, but no organized kind of fun things. There were no drop outs from basic training. Dropping out was not allowed like it is in today's army.
Ft. Sill is located next to Lawton, Oklahoma, about 40 miles north of the Texas state line and about 120 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. It is southwestern desert country--dry, sandy, windy, and with sparse vegetation. It is warm in the spring and summer, and cold in the fall and winter. (I remember that, during one wind storm, a lot of sand blew into our barracks building, coating everything in the building. The tumbleweeds were piled high against the side of the building.) There were tiny but aggravating sand fleas and assorted other insects. One morning as I started to put my foot in my boot, I turned it upside down to shake out the usual sand. a spider of some kind the size of a penny match box fell out and got away. I don't think it was a tarantula, but after that boots were checked more often. There was, to my memory, no physical or health conditions of the trainees from or by insects, etc.
For me personally, the only thing that bothered me during basic was my physical abilities. I had smoked from age ten or eleven, and did not have the wind for running and long marches, especially when wearing field pack. I was also a bit slower in learning some things. At the time, I didn't have an appreciation for my instructors, but later when I saw that all they had done was to prepare me for whatever might befall me in my Army life, I appreciated them a great deal. Even so, I don't believe that basics prepared me for combat. I think all of us had a false sense of being combat ready, even though we had really had only a minimal amount of real training. Had we been sent into combat n short order, we would probably have suffered great amounts of casualties, just like what happened in Korea right after the first American troops started fighting. They were "garrison-occupation" troops from Japan and like us, probably had a minimum of real training.
My basic training during October, November, and December 1948 was to me at that time a more or less serious training. Truce, there was no war. Also, the term "Cold War" was still quite new and hardly used at that time. We were told that we were scheduled for advanced training after this basic training, and that we would become part of an elite outfit of some kind in Europe. Of course, that story changed along the way to some other story and the end result was that, in my estimation, we barely received any real training at all, much less any training that would be of any great use in combat. The reason for my thinking this way comes from talking with other soldiers later and comparing my training with the training they had received.
Still, I was more self confident about myself by the end of basic training, and I was used to being with different kinds of people. I could navigate myself in daily military life and survive. I had been the kind of a person who thought the best of everyone else and many times had been taken advantage of because of that. I still never became a cynic, but I was less trusting than before at the end of basics.
At the completion of basics, there was no organized celebration. We went from one day doing basic training to the next day watching the bulletin board and listening to the rumor factory about what was going to happen to us next. There had been a lot of rumors during training as to what kind of a unit we were training to become. We were to become an elite, quick strike unit like we see lots of today. We were to go to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for advanced training and then be sent to Europe and be in readiness for anything. The Cold War had become hot/cold war around then, there were the early testing of nuclear weapons, the A bomb secrets had been leaked to the Soviet Union, and some time along in there the Soviets closed off access to West Berlin by ground and the Berlin Airlift was in force, and war jitters were prevalent. In other words, it was a time of very much worry and wondering by the government about if a new war would be starting at any time.
After so many rumors as to what would happen after basics, we ended up being sent to various units across the country. Just before leaving Fort Sill, those of us who knew we were to go to Fort Benning made plans to get together when we arrived there. Four of the guys and I ended up in Third Infantry Division Headquarters and Headquarters Company in Fort Benning, Georgia. On the way from Fort Sill to Fort Benning, I was given some leave time at home. It was factored into my travel time between the two forts. Thinking back, it had to have been a short time--perhaps only a few days.
I wore my uniform while home on leave to sort of show off a bit to impress the guys and girls. After that there was little comment other than, "You're home, huh?" and "What are you doing next?" I visited my grade school and especially my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Baggett. He was my first male teacher and was more strict than the women teachers I had before him. He caught me cheating on a geography exam once, and I was to be punished with a whipping with a paddle. Before starting, he said to me, "I am going to give you this spanking today and I will have forgotten about it by tomorrow, but you will remember it the rest of your life." Boy, was he right. At that visit I asked him, "Can you remember that spanking you gave me?" He replied, "No, but you still do." And to think I still remember it today, a good sixty years later, and that it was over cheating on geography, a drawing of a map if I remember.
I went to Fort Benning, Georgia, next. I remember taking a Greyhound Bus and getting off at the terminal to ask how to get transportation to Fort Benning. Remember how I described the smells of truck fumes at Fort Sill? Well, I can still smell the smells of that bus station in Columbus, too. I thought for years that the station was underground, but when I returned to Columbus a few years ago, I discovered that it was still in the same place and it was under a large roofed area.
I had no advanced training. We went about regular military life in garrison. There were times of some training and visits to the rifle ranges to keep up proficiency, but no advanced training of any kind. Instead, I had several occupations while at Fort Benning. I arrived shortly after January 1949 and was assigned to Third Infantry Division Headquarters. On arrival (shortly after the first of January 1949), I was assigned to Third Infantry Division Headquarters and Headquarters Company. The Headquarters side or section consisted of the actual Headquarters of the Division from the Division's Commanding General down to sections such as G1-G2-G3, the Chaplain's office, etc. The Headquarters Company consisted of the clerks that staffed the Headquarters sections and the Company Motor Pool, the Company Supply Room, the Company Kitchen, the Defense Platoon, and other sections. The Defense Platoon provided defense and security for the Division Headquarters from guarding the Commanding General's and Staff Officers' quarters and the offices of these officers and the living quarters of Liaison Officers from attached units. They also guarded the living areas of the enlisted personnel and outer perimeter of the whole Division Headquarters.
After several weeks, I was transferred into the 15th Infantry Division's Service Company. I was assigned as a driver of a two and a half ton truck. After several weeks more weeks, I was transferred back into Division Headquarters Company. No reason was ever given for the transfer out of and back into Headquarters Company. This time I was assigned to the Motor Pool. The Division was just getting reactivated and there was a need for drivers in the motor pool. The bulk of the personnel being assigned to the company and motor pool were from large cities like New York and such places that had public transportation. The guys being assigned to us had never driven before, so several of us were assigned to teach them how to drive! As you can assume, we did have our work cut out for us, but all survived--both teachers and pupils.
After this experience, I was assigned to Headquarters Commandant Office in the Division Headquarters as an office clerk. (I had taken typing while in high school.) My duties included typing, filing, stencil making, and general clerk duties. Also, the office was the scheduling office for obtaining Jeep drivers from the motor pool to drive the officers of the Division Headquarters (G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, Chaplain's office, Special Services office, and other such offices. After several months in this office, I was assigned back to the Company side and into the motor pool. I served as a driver for several months. I remember that one officer that I drove was an old time Cavalry officer. When calling for a ride, he always requested "a horse."
During my stay at Fort Benning, I became good friends with the Division's chaplain, Colonel Rush (Catholic) and Assistant Chaplain, Lt. Colonel Kendell (Protestant). It turned out that Lt. Colonel Kendell's family name had originally be spelled Kendall (the same as mine), but that there were two Kendall families in town, so his ancestor had changed the spelling. Though friends with the two of them, I never attended on my own any of their services. I can only remember attending church twice before going to Korea. I attended a mandatory church service during processing at Fort Knox, Kentucky, in 1948, and another in 1950 while in Camp Stoneman, California, waiting to leave for Japan.
I mostly enjoyed my time at Fort Benning in 1949 and 1950. The cities outside of the base were Columbus, Georgia, and across the Chattahoochee River, Phoenix City, Alabama. Columbus was a typical camp city that liked the income from having an Army base, but hated the soldiers that made them their living. Phoenix City was a wide open city where lawlessness was rampant. One guy from my Company killed a guy while on the bridge between the cities, and tossed him into the river. Neither city bothered to investigate the murder, as each felt it was in the other city or state's jurisdiction.
During 1949 I started dating a girl from Columbus. On New Years Eve 1949, we went with some buddies to Phoenix City, ending up at the Phoenix City Country Club. sometime during that evening, after I had become quite drunk, I got angry at the girl for flirting with some other guys. I was on the porch outside trying to walk it off in the fresh air, when a person holding broken beer bottles in both hands started to attack me. The girl happened to come outside to check on me at that time. Being a big girl and the person attacking me being somewhat smaller, she knocked him down and kicked him in the ribs several times. She then took me inside and I sat a chair sort of off to the sides. More fights started to break out, mostly between soldiers and civilians. While sitting there, someone grabbed me by my hair and tipped my face up. He said he was looking for whoever it was who had kicked him in the ribs, as he thought they were broken. Along about that time, my girl and my friends all got out of the area. We were lucky to get out as the fights increased and turned into a near riot. Both Phoenix City and Fort Benning MPs were sent there to restore order.
A favorite spot I visited near the end of every month was a pawn shop where I got $5.00 for my watch to tide me over until the next month's payday. I also go the tattoo I now have on my left arm to cover up the one I had put on in 1948 between high school graduation and enlisting in the Army. The first tattoo cost, I think, about $1.50 and a couple of beers at a carnival. It was a picture of a girl's head with long flowing hair. I was working in a dairy at that time and had to climb into huge vats that milk was processed in and scrub them. The soap from scrubbing got into the tattoo and infected it. My scratching made it look bad, so I got the new one sometime in 1949. It is an eagle standing on a limb to cover the girl's hair, and it cost about $3.00 plus several beers.
Saving money was never possible given the pay in those days. A recruit's pay was $75.00 a month. By then I had been promoted up to Private First Class (PFC) and must have been drawing at least $85.00 to $90 a month. Items bought in the Post Exchange (PX) were cheaper than off base. Cigarettes had no tax at all and were probably 20 cents a pack or less. But I was in with a drinking roadhouse running crowd, and a lot of pay went for that occupation. In Columbus, Georgia, there were several clubs, but the real action was across the Chattahoochee River in Phoenix City. There was a club called "Beachie Howard's" that was frequented a lot by the Airborne troops. Another was "Cliff's Fish Camp", where the price of a fish dinner included a companion with dinner. After dinner, she cleared the table and finished out the "dinner" with SEX on the table.
When times were real hard, we bought Aquavelvet after shave and strained it through slices of bread. It tasted a bit like a mint Schnapps. I usually ended up pawning my wristwatch every month just before payday for $5.00, reclaiming it after payday. At one time a couple or three of us discovered a parking meter head was somewhat loose. Over time, we managed to get it off the post. We took it back in an alley and tried to bust it open, but never were able to open it. It probably did not have a couple bucks in it. It was just the challenge it offered to bored GI's.
At one point, I was assigned to the Company side Kitchen and started training as third cook. I am not sure how long I was in the kitchen, but after a serious burn to my left hand I was moved again and assigned to the company supply room again, using the typing skills I had learned in high school. I remained in the supply room until we left Fort Benning shortly after January 1, 1950 for amphibious training.
We traveled first to the Camp Pickett, Virginia, Marine Corps base for Operation Portex amphibious training. I sailed first from Charleston, South Carolina to Camp Pickett, Virginia, on a regular troop transport. Then from Camp Pickett to the Puerto Rican island of Vieaques on a regular troop transport. While unloading off the troop ship, I saw a guy slip while climbing down a cargo net to get on an LCI. His legs were caught between the ship and the LCI and they were crushed.
The training we went through was like the amphibious landing shown in the "Saving Private Ryan" movie, only without an enemy firing at us. Day after day we were driven to the bay area where we boarded the landing craft. The front ramp was raised and closed, the craft was driven out into the bay, and then turned around and ran full speed back to shore. The ramps dropped and we, dressed in full field dress with full field packs and combat boots and carrying rifles, had to run as fast as we could across the sandy beach. This divided the men and the boys in a hurry. After catching our breath and a quick smoke, we did it all over -- again and again and again all day.
While we were on Vieaques Island in the Caribbean, it was quite cool at night and rained a lot during the week or so that I was there. On the last night on the island, several of us slipped away and visited the only town on the island. There I was given a "Mickey Finn" and came close to passing out. A buddy caught a local woman trying to steal my watch off my arm and slapped her. From there it got bad. At tat time, one of the guys who had traded his Army clothes for civilian clothes started posing as being in the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC). The people backed away from us and we made our escape. During the escape, a guy nicknamed "Mule Train" and I stole a burro to ride and were chased by a lot of people. We were late in getting back to camp and near missed the ship to leave the island. Upon getting back to the camp area, we found that all the tents were down except for ours. The Mickey Finn had left me thirsty, and I drank all the water I could get. I found a can of "C" rations of ham and lima beans to eat and this made me even more thirsty. As we got close to the LST I would be riding back to the States on, I saw a big pot of lemonade in a tent belonging to the harbor masters in charge of the loading of the ship, so I grabbed some of it.
The trip back to Charleston was aboard a Landing Ship Tank (LST). An LST is a flat bottom scow that rides like a bucking bronco in high seas. Loading the vessel was a hard and dirty job that day. After getting done, I headed for the sleeping compartment. On the way there, I was very sick from all I had eaten and drank.
Our job included chaining down the heavy equipment to ready them for the trip, and to keep watch over them during the journey. Two rows of two and a half ton trucks were chained down on either side of the hold, and two rows of tanks were between the trucks. On the way back from Vieaques, all the ships stopped in various ports for shore leave. My ship stopped at Saint Thomas of the Virgin Islands, but I was not allowed ashore as punishment for going AWOL on Vieaques. Leaving Saint Thomas and heading for Charleston, South Carolina, we were caught in a bad storm. The ship moved in several directions at the same time, slamming into waves and causing the tanks to move around. (Just to give you an idea of how rough the sea was that day, when the entire stern of the ship was covered by sea water, bags of potatoes on a platform about twelve feet up over the deck floated away. An open porthole window in the galley acted like a fire hose, allowing sea water to come through it.)
We had to go down into the hold area and dart from safe place to safe place, jumping out of the way and climbing up on other trucks or tanks to avoid being crushed to death as the tanks were free of their chains and moving in all directions. This was one of the most dangerous jobs I ever had. We grabbed new chains, hooks, and turn buckles and finally got the tanks chained down. All the chains and equipment were greasy, so we were a mess covered in grease from head to toes. The ship did not have the capacity to change enough sea water to fresh water beyond drinking and cooking needs, so the showers were cold sea water. If the Sailors had any sea water soap, they did not share it with us, and regular soap does not work in salt water, so we never got completely clean until back in Fort Benning.
Upon returning to Fort Benning, I continued in the supply room until June 20, 1950. I had decided to stay in supply and wanted to attend a Quartermaster Supply School, but I was told I did not have enough time left in the service. So I decided, "What the heck. I will take a short and reenlist for three years." A "short" is a short discharge of one minute, and reenlistment right away. I did that on June 20 and the Korean War started on June 25, 1950. I reenlisted because I wanted to go to school. I guess in the back of my mind, I might have been thinking of making a career out of the Army. Had I not reenlisted like I did, I would have been given the "Truman Year" extension of my enlistment like a lot of guys did receive.
There was no schooling during the short discharge, as it only lasted a minute or two. I was immediately enlisted again in the Army. The schooling that I went to after being reenlisted only lasted about six weeks because I was needed back at Fort Benning to help load the equipment and leave with my unit for eventual service in Korea. I went to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to the school. It was to be ten weeks, I think.
When I got back to Fort Benning, I returned amidst the packing of the equipment of the Division. It was a hard job loading the entire Division's equipment, as the Division had been gutted of nearly all of the men who were sent to Korea early on in the war, leaving us with about 2,000 guys in what remained of my Division. After that was completed, we were loaded on a troop train and left Fort Benning, headed to Camp Stoneman, California, sometime around August 15, 1950. My total time at Fort Benning was from just after January 1, 1949 to about August 15, 1950--a total of about twenty months. While at Fort Benning, I was promoted from the rank of recruit to Private and then later to Private First Class. While in Korea in 1951, I was promoted to Corporal, which was the rank that I stayed at until my discharge on June 20, 1952.
I was as surprised as much as the next guy when the Korean War started, and I wondered where Korea was. I (we) knew of Japan, China, and Pacific Islands where Americans were stationed, but not Korea. Being Gung Ho about going to war never entered my mind that I can remember. I was focused on heading off to quartermaster school and had no idea that in a short time I would be recalled to Fort Benning to head off for Korea. I did learn in time that I would be heading back to Fort Benning and Korea, and told my parents who lived in Marion, Illinois (which was not too far away). They were able to visit me for a day at Fort Knox before I left to return to Fort Benning.
I had been dating a girl in Columbus, George (location of Fort Benning) off and on, and was writing off and on to a girl in my hometown. It was nothing serious with either one as far as I was concerned, but later I learned that the one from my hometown (I wrote her from Japan and Korea) was serious and thought that I was serious.
To personally prepare to leave only consisted of writing my parents and the girl back home. They were concerned naturally, as the only information I had at the time was that I was headed for Korea. Only later did I find out that I was going to Japan first. There was no concern with preparing myself mentally, as in those days, when you were told something, that was it. No discussions or such.
The Division equipment we loaded was everything from all the rifles, pistols, machine guns, and other weapons of an infantryman to tanks, cannons, trucks, jeeps, and other mobile equipment, to picks, shovels, and earth moving equipment of the Engineers to clothing and other necessary items. In other words, every piece of equipment issued to a Division. Our equipment was in good shape, having been mostly in use since World War II. Our maintenance schedules were kept up to date. The Third Division was a bit of a "show division" and we were well equipped. Finances for the military, especially the Army, had been cut quite a bit after World War II as the extensive use of the Navy and Air Force and the use of and continued testing of nuclear weapons had lulled the public and Congress into thinking that the foot soldier was obsolete. Little did they know!
It was an interesting trip by troop train from Fort Benning, Georgia to Camp Stoneman, California. Being summer, we were wearing "Sun Tans" khaki clothing. The troop took over a week and extra clothing was in our duffle bags in baggage cars. We could not wash more than our face and brush our teeth, which was great training for later in Korea and going months at a time without a bath. In the troop train, we were low priority traffic versus military equipment heading West to be loaded on ships and sent to Korea. Every time during day time that we were sent on a side track to allow other traffic to go through, we were herded off the train and exercised, working up a sweat and adding to our overall aroma that developed on the trip. Meals consisted of guys lugging pots of food from a baggage car converted to a kitchen and serving us in our seats. The train was almost always moving all the time and rocking and leaning on curves, so there was also constant spillage of food on our clothes, too. The train route we took was a southern route and the only geographic feature I can remember was traveling past the Great Salt Flats in Utah at night under a bright full moon. It looked like snow as far as I could see. Altogether it was an experience. Not "bad", but something that I have to look back on every once in a while and smile at what was happening.
The Division's equipment had traveled on freight trains and arrived in California before we did. It went directly to docks and was loaded on ships for transport. I am not sure if it went to Japan for storage for us until we would need it sent to Korea. After loading the equipment, I never saw any again until I was in Korea. A friend who was in the 703rd Ordnance Company told me that he and others rode as "guards" on the freight trains, living in the caboose with the train crews as the trains traveled West. When we soldiers arrived, we were kept busy for several days being processed with shots, a new one called "JAP-B", and getting the complete series of shots all over again as the Army was not taking a chance that we were missing any shots. We also were processed where all paperwork on us was brought up to date.
As I think back on it, we were living in a vacuum to a degree. We had very little information as to what was going on in the world and in Korea. We hardly had seen a newspaper and none of us had a radio of any kind. The real transistor small radios had not been developed. I had a radio while back in Fort Benning, as we would listen to it at night while in the barracks, especially to country music. A patent medicine named Hadacol was popular and sponsored a lot of the programs we listened to. There was a song composed about it called, "Hadacol Boogie." If you ever get a chance to hear it, please listen to it. The local Columbus radio had a disc jockey who put on a stuttering voice when saying a show sponsor's name. For example, the "Power Packed Heat and Light Company" became "pow pow power pac pac packed he he heat and li li light company." One of the guys in the company and I had forgotten who it was until the mini reunion in Canada last month of guys I took basic training with. When a discussion was taking place, several of us did a spur of the moment singing commercial for Royal Crown Cola. The commercial went "Royal Crown Cola - Red and Yellow Bottle - Tastiest Drink in Town - Pick up a Frosty Bottle of Royal Crown Cola." A friend of another guy who worked at the radio station remembered that the stutter was named Stanley.
Going on, we really did not have much information on what was happening in Korea. At the time we arrived in Camp Stoneman, the North Koreans had pushed the South Korean and U.N. forces into the Pusan Perimeter, but I cannot remember hearing anything about the situation. I spent around a week in Camp Stoneman after traveling from Fort Benning, mostly being processed with things like getting shots (one was the JAP-B). We were restricted to base, but as usual, quite a few managed to slip off base. I did not try to do that.
From Camp Stoneman we road ferry boats to the San Francisco harbor, Port of San Francisco. There, the Salvation Army was on the docks giving us all a free coffee and doughnut while we waited to get on the ship. After everyone was boarded, we sailed from San Francisco, California, headed for, we thought, Korea. We left on August 31, 1950, I believe. (My birthday is September 2 and I celebrated my 20th birthday at sea.) Our last sight of home (the USA) was the Golden Gate Bridge.
We learned later that we were going to Japan first to finish training American GI's and to give some training to South Koreans who were being gathered up to be trained and mixed in with the U.N. troops. As it turned out, my Third Infantry Division ended up having the greatest number of Korean soldiers intermingled with Americans.
The ship that took me to Japan was the General Darby. I heard it had been named for one of the Ranger Groups that had fought in World War II called "Darby's Rangers." I am not sure if the story was true. The ship was a "General Class" troop transport. It was much larger in size than most other troop transport ships. Size-wise, it was like a civilian cruise ship. An uncle through marriage rode on the Queen Elizabeth from the USA to England in World War II. That ship is tied up in Long Beach, California, as a tourist attraction. It was next to the Howard Hughes airplane, the "Spruce Goose," which was moved a few days ago to Oregon, I think.
The ship had two engines and two screws (propellers - wheels) versus others that had one engine and screw. The accommodations still were spartan. We slept on canvas that was laced to a steel tubing frame, and these were mounted six bunks high and side by side. The toilet was a long tank with boards across it that you sat on. Sea water was pumped into one end and flowed out the other end.
Hand-drawn sketch of Bunks
(Click picture for a larger view)
Hand-drawn sketch of the toilets
(Click picture for a larger view)
Being a General Class, it had a bit larger crew of sailors and a larger ship's PX. This trip I wrangled a job in the PX. We sold items across the counter and stocked pop and candy vending machines in various locations on the ship. We had a funny (to us) incident happen in the PX. In addition to all the male military personnel, there was an unknown number of female military personnel onboard, too. They were Women's Army Corps WACs and nurses. They lived in the same area of the ship that officers lived in, and pretty well stayed there. An Army Captain came to the counter and quietly asked for a box of sanitary napkins for one of the females. A buddy working with me reached to a shelf and got the box and kind of slammed it down on the counter. In a loud voice he said, "Here you are, Captain. Your box of Kotex." The Captain got red in the face and quickly paid and left. It was one of the ways we enlisted could get our licks in without getting in trouble. (There is another sanitary napkin story coming later on in the Korea segment of my memoir.)
We had around 2,000 military personnel onboard, I think. As far as I know, we did not have any cargo. Almost the whole amount were from our Division, in fact, near the whole Division. It had been cannibalized for replacements being sent to Korea in the early days of the war. Two guys I later ended up working with for over 35 years were in the Seventh Regiment of the Division. They were in Fort Devans, Massachusetts. They were sent to Korea to a different area. They were on the western side of North Korea, while I was on the eastern side.
A funny story with them was that they were friends from grade school. They started work at Inland Steel Company together on the same day, and then enlisted in the Army on the same day and left Inland. They took basic training together and ended up in Fort Devans together. (One was in the 7th Regiment, the other in Engineers.) They lost track of each other until in North Korea. The infantry one (Hank) was marching on the road. When he looked to the side, he was Mike working on the road. Small world at times. A friend of us both, Norman Strickbine, told me that as he was withdrawing from the west side of the Chosin Reservoir, he glanced up at a guy on top of a tank shooting a 50 caliber machine gun to hold off the Chinese. He was surprised to see one of the Sergeants who gave us our basic training back in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
We were in a typhoon on the way to Japan, but it didn't have a name. The naming of typhoons, hurricanes and other storms had not started back then. The ship was large so we rode reasonably smooth, yet when waves were right both of the screws came out of the water when the bow went down hard. This freed the screws of the job of pushing against the water so that they speeded up in their spinning, causing the ship to vibrate and shake from end to end. When walking below decks, you needed to keep close to something you could grab hold of and hang on when the ship rolled or shook. On stairs you always had to hold on to the railings, and on top deck you stayed away from the railing and close to the walls of the ship as a wrong move near the railing could put a person over the side of the ship.
Entertainment was near non-existent on the ship. We did have a library where we could get books to read. There were also some nights when movies were shown on the deck. And, there was the usual BS that went on endlessly. I knew several guys onboard ship as we all were from the Division Headquarters Company. Two of the guys I knew the longest in my Army service were among them. They were Bill Sigerseth and Herman Bauersachs, who were from the platoon I had taken basic training with in Fort Sill.
There was nothing "eventful" that I can remember from the trip beyond circling. While we were on our way to Japan, the Inchon Landing took place on September 15, 1950. We learned of the landing from a shipboard newspaper in an explanation as to why the ship was sailing in giant circles. I am not sure if we started the circling a day before the landing or exactly when, but it was only a few more days' sailing until we arrived in Japan. The thought was that if the landing had gone bad, there was a ship in a day or two's sailing distance with 2000 plus GI's on board who could be shoved into the invasion as additional manpower. Plus, at the time we sailed in circles for three days, there was a typhoon in the Pacific and we were in the outer fringes of the winds. Those were three rough days of sea sick guys. Being shown movies on trench foot and gut wounds these three days, with the ship pitching and rolling from the force of the waves and wind, didn't help matters. I never got sick on any ship trip of the eight times I was on a ship, but I did get queasy one of those days. I always got up early in the morning and tried to have a job onboard ship. This way, I got treated a bit better and was assured of getting fed early, too. On one morning I slept late, and got caught having to clean up the compartment and then had to watch films of things like gut wounds with intestines hanging out and trench foot where it showed breaking off toes that had turned completely black. Finally I was free to go top side. Down in the compartment of the ship below the water line, the movement was very minimal, but on reaching top side the ship was pitching side to side and front to stern quite a bit. I finally got to light up my first cigarette of the day and inhaled in deep. Wow! Things started to spin around a bit and bile tried to make it up to my mouth. After a few minutes it cleared, and that was as close as I ever came to being sick.
The ship docked in the Kokura, which was, at that time, a medium port city. It was on the southern island of Kyushu. I traveled by Japanese train across the country to Beppu, Japan. It was hard to sit in the train seats, as they were built for the shorter Japanese people, and it was a strange sight to look out the train windows at Japanese women working in the field and not wearing any clothing above the waist.
Then we were transported by truck to the top of a mountain named Mori, where there was an old Japanese army camp. We were in the back end of open dump trucks, and the tail gate on the truck was closed. The wind that we were still getting from the typhoon was so hard that we were sitting on the truck bed in several inches of water, and still wearing suntan clothes. After getting set up at the army base, we were then given South Koreans who had recently been "drafted" to train and integrate with our ranks. We stayed there for a length of time--near a month, I think.
Our job was to help train Koreans to integrate them into the U.S. Army. This was sometimes very funny, other times very sad, with a range of emotions in between. These poor guys usually were "drafted" while walking along a street or road. A truck going by carrying South Korean army troops would stop and force the person onboard the truck, and then drive on and grab other guys. They were loaded on rust bucket ships in Korea and sailed to Japan. The weather in September was still bad. That month is a time of storms in the Asian area of the world. The draftees were sea sick and scared. As I think back, I have to give them great credit for having survived the great experiment.
The following concerns only what I could observe in my own area. We set the Koreans up in the same quarters we lived. We were in "buildings" with wood frame floors and sides and covered with tent canvas tops. I was in supply and had a hard time finding Army clothing for Koreans due to the fact that most were much smaller than Americans. The supply of small-sized clothing was limited. I could not get full mess gear for them. They had only a canteen cup with a large spoon. I also had a hard time keeping their tents supplied with batteries for lights. They were so frightened that they tried to leave lights on all night long.
While at the mountaintop base, we slipped away and visited a house of ill repute in a town on the mountainside. Japan was still trying to recover from World War II, and it was reflected in the prices that were charged. Usually instead of money there was a barter system where we exchanged things like soap and blankets for services.
Our mess set up was that the mess Sergeant blew one blast on a whistle and the GI's walked to the chow line and went through, getting food and then eating it. After all GI's were out of the mess tent, the Sergeant blew two blasts on the whistle and it was time for the Koreans to eat. They ran, not walked. The ground was slick as it rained nearly every day. If a person in front slipped and fell, he was run over by those behind him. The Korean put what food, no matter what it was, in the canteen cup and covered it with as much sugar as they could. Then they repeated the process. Following eating, the majority then went behind the tent and threw up as the American food was too rich for them. That was part of the reason why they were so hungry all the time. Also, our mess Sergeant had been a prisoner of Korean Marines who fought for Japan in World War II. He had no love for Koreans, so he was probably skipping on their rations. Also, if he caught one bending over, he would drop kick the guy as hard as he could. I do not like the memory, but it was of the times and we believed it was just due for what the Sergeant had suffered at the hands of Koreans.
An aside story about the mess hall is that the Commanding General's secretary (we called him "Mary" because he was a very slight homosexual guy)--was not required to ever serve any KP time or such. But once when it was time for the Koreans to eat breakfast, Mary stayed in the mess hall and got in the serving line. He was wearing an olive drab (OD) shirt with an OD sweater over it. He put an orange in each shirt pocket and pulled the sweater down again. As the Koreans filed through the line, they were elbowing each other and snickering at the sight of what looked like a GI with a pair of breasts. The story made the rounds of the company in short order and we all had a great laugh.
The mess hall was also the place where movies were shown. When "Captains Courageous" was shown, the heroine was named "Kim." A great percent of Koreans are "Kim" also. When the name was spoken, the Koreans were started to hear a familiar name. I was interviewed a day or two later by a reporter from a national news agency and told him this story. I also told him about finding it hard to secure clothing and combat boots for the Koreans due to their size. They were smaller than Americans, but their feet were wider than the usual American feet, and I did have trouble getting them clothes and shoes. The reporter sent a story back to the States and it was printed in papers all across the USA.
When the Koreans arrived, they had no idea of military life and had to receive the basics like attention, formation, marching, etc. The Koreans had been occupied by Japan for many years, and most Koreans understood Japanese quite well. So with Japanese interpreters, we muddled along. Minus the interpreters, we got by with "Pidgin English" and gestures. One time I had to take a crew of Koreans to a supply facility to pick up a few squad-sized tents. I didn't have an interpreter, so had to show them with gestures what I wanted done. Each tent weighed about 300 pounds and I needed them picked up and put in the back of a truck. They caught on quick, but I was surprised when I figured out by the sound of their voice and gestures that a different soldier appointed himself as the boss on each tent lift. I noticed that the average Korean seemed weaker in upper body and arm strength, but once a load was placed on the "A-frame" that they used to carry things on, he could carry the world on his back.
During this trip I remember one Korean rubbing first my white skin and then rubbing the black of the sole on his boot, and asking why there was a difference in color between white soldiers and black soldiers. It dawned on me that most had never seen a black person. I am not sure why they were segregated from us, but in Japan the Koreans lived in tents by themselves. Once in Korea, I never saw a tent that was occupied by just Koreans only. There were tents of GI's only, but this depended on the duty of the occupants and not segregation. The language barrier fell before the culture barrier, as we both were so very different from one another.
On this same trip, I also had my first and last experience of driving a truck with right side steering wheel and on the right side of the road. What gave me a fit in driving was that, as I tried to shift gears, I tried to use my right hand. I kept banging my knuckles, as the gear shift lever was on the left side.
Although I was one of the American troops to train Koreans, I do not think that much of the training I had had in basic training was of any help to me in Korea. The only two things that stood out from basic training that seemed to be of any help in Korea were that (1) I had trained in what was called an Intelligence and Reconnaissance (I&R) platoon and I learned to read maps and could find my way around when driving in Korea. And (2) I learned the tip for detecting camouflaged positions--to look to see if the thing you are looking at has any completely straight lines, as nothing in nature ever is perfectly straight. My basic training was a short training of peace time, and I never received any kind of advanced training, so that none of my basic training really ever was of any use to me during the Korean War.
While we were at the mountaintop camp, a friend I had known for over a year confessed to me his age. He was only sixteen years old, and we had just been told that we would leave in a couple of days for the port city where we had arrived in Japan to board ship to head for Korea. The concern bothering him was his age and as to whether or not he should tell our Company Commander his real age. So I told him to turn himself in and he was taken away from our Company right away and I guess sent back home.
After we finished the training in Japan, we boarded a ship at Beppu, and sailed to Wonson, North Korea. I am not totally sure of the dates, but I think I went ashore in Wonsan in the second week in October, 1950. It was morning, and the memory that stays the most with me is that, while the ship was at anchor in the harbor and we were waiting for landing craft to take us ashore, there was an emergency. The ship's sirens were activated (just like in the movies -- WHOOP, WHOOP, WHOOP), and over the ship's intercom came the message, "Stand by for collision." This was repeated several times. Then a voice said, "The ship approaching on the Starboard Bow has lost steering. Stand by for collision." This, too, was repeated several times.
All of us Army personnel were kind of shook up as we had never heard this kind of message before. I was especially concerned as I did not have a life preserver on. I can't swim and the water had to be ice cold. In a few minutes, the voice on the intercom reported that the oncoming ship had recovered steering and the emergency was over. Meanwhile, I could tell that this was a war zone even from the deck of the transport ship. I could hear the sounds of artillery being fired and exploding on shore.
We then boarded the landing craft and completed our trip ashore. On landing, the damage and destruction was quite obvious to sight. I remember that most everything--the buildings, etc.-- were destroyed or damaged in some way from the previous fighting and shelling that had happened before I went ashore. It was also obvious that we were in a war zone from the amount of equipment and supplies that was on the dock area and elsewhere nearby. After arriving ashore, I could hear small arms and machine gun fire faintly from quite a distance away. There passed through my mind a thought of "what kind of a mess am I in now?" It was a shock to the system to leave Japan, arrive in Korea, and realize that I was now in a combat zone, even though not in a front line company. This was in the Fall and I did not notice a smell that I later noticed in 1951 when the weather warmed up. The smell came from the Koreans' use of human waste as fertilizer. There were some Korean people hanging around the port area when I went ashore. Whether they were of South or North Korean origin, I did not know.
I was already in an established unit upon arrival in Korea. I had no squad or platoon assignment because my company was Headquarters & Headquarters Company of the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division. I rode in a 2 1/2 ton truck with supply room equipment to the company area. It was a building inside a walled compound that had been the main police headquarters of the city of Wonsan.
I am not sure the first time that I saw an "enemy" in Korea. I had been in Wonsan for perhaps two weeks when there was an announcement that an attack on our location was expected for that evening or night. A few other guys and I were assigned to a location (sort of a listening post) outside of the walled compound. While there, we heard strange sounds and jumped out of hiding with rifles pointing to confront an old Korean man (a Papa-san) leading an ox pulling a cart. I guess we scared him quite a bit and we, not knowing what else to do but to point our rifles at him, herded him inside the compound. A guy was sent to summon our Company Commander and in the meantime, the ox had a bowel movement on the ground. Our Company Commander, who was a "nasty nice type" of a person, arrived in a few minutes. Wouldn't you know it, he stepped in the bowel movement on the ground. He went ballistic on us and chewed us out to a fare-the-well. He had us remove the old man, ox, and ox cart and send them on their way. He sent us back to continue our listening and watching. We didn't laugh at him to his face at the time it happened, but afterward it was funny to think about our commander stepping in ox poop.
About a week to ten days later, I was with a group of guys, being lead by the Lieutenant who was in charge of the supply room section of the company. We captured around 16 or 17 Koreans who had been sending messages by blinking lights from a hill near our compound to some hills several miles across a valley like area. We brought these Koreans back to the compound and after some early questioning, one guy was singled out. I was told to take him inside the building and hold and guard him inside our company orderly room. Shortly thereafter, the Company Commander arrived in the orderly room and asked me why I had this Korean in the room, especially since there were tactical maps covering the walls. I told him that I was doing what I was told to do by the Lieutenant, but the Commander was not happy with the answer. I got a good chewing out and was told to take the Korean back outside. Later we transported the Korean to a South Korean Counter Intelligence Agency (CIA) unit, where it was determined that he was a North Korean soldier. The poor guy had kept his enlistment papers on him, as well as orders promoting him to a PFC rank. He was smacked around by the CIC because of his stupidity. I never found out what happened to him after we left him with the South Koreans. But with him being dressed in civilian clothing and not in uniform, he was probably judged to be a spy and executed. These two incidents were both times of great tension and heart pounding for me.
The first dead enemy I saw was between Wonsan and Hamhung, North Korea. I was driving an open Jeep and he was laying there (at least his remains from the waist/chest area up, including his head) on the roadway. The rest of him had been smashed flat by tanks, trucks, and Jeeps like I was driving when they passed over it. I was sickened for a few moments, but was busy and did not have time to dwell on what I had seen. Later I thought about it some more, but was not too moved as I considered it a consequence of war. I am not sure if he was the enemy of if he was a South Korean. Later, as I was walking across a field, I stumbled and near fell when I tripped over a foot and lower leg of a Korean (South or North?) sticking out of a shallow grave. By this time I did not give a second thought to it.
The first dead American(s) I saw were in Hamhung, North Korea. Just outside the area where I was, there was a Marine Graves Registration team set up. They had several tents set up and the dead Marines were stacked inside the four corners of the tents. They were arranged lying on the ground three bodies long ways. Atop them were three more bodies lying crosswise, and atop them were three more bodies lying long ways. The bodies were being processed for burial at this facility.
The next dead American I saw was a guy from my company who died in the building where the company had been living when the building burned. He had been on guard duty and had just been relieved when he discovered the building on fire. While waking up the guys in the building, he ended up becoming trapped in a room with bars across the window. He burned to death. Following the fire burning itself out and the discovery that he was missing, we looked through the rubble and found what was left of him. I will tell more about this fire later in this memoir.
My basic training had been quite minimal back in 1948, and what training I did get was being a scout ahead of the rest of the troops. I had training in amphibious landings, but I did not land on an enemy-occupied shore when I landed in Wonsan. Being from the "rear area", there was not that much that applied to my previous training. But our Commanding General believed in keeping his Headquarters as close to the front lines as he could get it, so we were under attack by enemy troops very often. We mostly worked a day type of a job in the motor pool, the supply room, and other type jobs, and then spent part of most every night doing guard duty around the company area.
The weather when I first entered Wonsan was still Fall and kind of a mild one at that. That is interesting considering the extent that the temperature dropped to later on. The clothing I had at the time was adequate for the temperature at that time. As it got colder later into November, I could notice that the clothing was not adequate, but it was all I had so I had to make do. I wore two sets of long underwear under the fatigues that I wore day in and day out. I also wore a field jacket coat that had a detachable hood. The gloves were leather outer shell with cloth (I think it was wool) liner. Both had openings on the right fore finger that allowed the finger to be free of the glove for use on a rifle trigger.
At first the only boots I had were the regular combat boot style. At some later date I was issued the "Mickey Mouse" type of boot that had rubber soles a couple of inches up and leather uppers sewed to the rubber lowers. These came with several pair of ski socks. I was to wear two pair of the ski socks at a time while the other pairs were to be under clothing to keep them warm and dry them out. These boots later were a source of great disagreement due to the rubber lowers. A person's feet did sweat when moving a lot, but when not moving, the boot became quite cold. A lot of trench foot and frozen feet during the Korean War were believed to be caused by the boots.
During my first weeks in Korea, I was in the Wonsan area. It was a port city on mostly flat level land. The flat land extended out a few miles to where it was ringed on three sides by hilly, but not very high, mountains. While I was in Wonsan, my unit lived in the former police headquarters. I don't know if it was the police station for just a city or a larger area (like we have counties and states). But it was quite a large building inside a walled enclosure.
From Wonsan we moved north to a city whose name I cannot remember. We stayed overnight due to the fact that the road continuing north was controlled by the North Korean Army. We returned the next day to Wonsan, where we found out that the rest of the company still in Wonsan had heard that our group had been ambushed and wiped out. This trip was through hilly to mountain-sized features. After staying at Wonsan for several days, we headed north again after the road was reopened. We went through the same hilly to mountain terrain until we reached Hamhung, North Korea. There, the company lived in a two-story former school building, sharing it with the Headquarters of the Division Artillery units. My quarters were in a tent outside the building that housed the supplies of the supply room. the Hamhung area was flat land with mountains to the north and west. In the mountains to the north was the actual location of the Chosin Reservoir. The winter weather started to get really cold and the temperature ended up dropping to lows of 30 to 40 degrees below zero.
Our building in Hamhung was on a slight rise above the surrounding area. Up until this time there was no reason for concern for having any kind of a foxhole or trench, as the fighting had been some distance away. One night the building caught fire for an unknown reason and the wooden floors, which must have been dried out and were treated with something like linseed oil to hold down dust, caused the fire to burn harder and quicker. One of my friends (mentioned earlier) was killed in the fire.
Due to the fire, the guys living in the building lost much of their clothing. In order to have shelter, they had to walk about a mile and a half to a building that had been used as a mess hall. One guy who was on the second floor had stripped down to shorts and undershirt and was sleeping in a sleeping bag. When awakened, he jumped out of the second story window dressed as he was. He stood up and then hit the ground running. The funny thing was that he was not hurt at all. A few guys who had salvaged a few clothes passed them out to that guy and others who needed the clothes. It was kind of a surprise later to find out that, even though all the guys walked half clothed in around 15 or so degrees below zero weather, not one person to my knowledge got even so much as a cold. It was a serious situation, but some humor was found watching Korean firefighters leaving the scene so fast after the bazooka ammunition started to ignite and explode. Equipping the guys with what was left of the items in the supply room wiped out the supply room for the rest of my time in North Korea, as well as my job as the supply clerk, so this left me with no job during the rest of my time in North Korea before evacuation.
Due to me living in the tent, I had been mad at the time that the guys living in the building had been able to take a kind of spit bath and get decently warm. I was assigned to guarding what was left of the burned building. It was a fairly bright moonlit night with quite a bit of snow on the ground, too. The area where I was stationed was in front of the remains of the building. They were still burning in some areas and glowing from the embers in other areas. This was my first real fear time as I was framed against both the moonlit snow and the burning embers of the building. The thought ran through my mind that the fire had attracted enemy soldiers to see what was happening. We had been told that there was a great problem developing with North Korean soldiers wearing civilian clothing to hide in the lines of civilian refugees who were passing through our lines in a steady stream of humans desperate to flee from the fighting and escape being trapped in the areas controlled by the troops of the North Korean regime. I could "feel" the rifle sights of the enemy centered on me, and I tried to become as small as I could.
While standing guard, I tried to stay in as much shadow as I could, but there weren't many shadowed areas under the moonlight. There was some vegetation around the area, but not much. There was no reason at this time for any kind of a fox hole or trench, and besides, it would have been impossible to dig one due to the temperatures freezing the ground concrete hard. I carried with me an M-1 rifle. I could feel the hair on the back of my neck standing up as well as I could "feel" a cross hairs or "V" sight of a rifle pointed right at me from behind vegetation across the compound area. That was a long remainder of a night, and one of the most scary times I experienced while I was in Korea.
We were very mobile, moving up to Hamhung, then to Hungnam, North Korea on the east coast between November 1, 1950 and December 23, 1950, when I was evacuated to a ship off shore of Hungnam called the USS Bayfield APA #33. About two weeks prior to boarding the ship, my company had ceased to exist because nearly everyone had been sent out to ships for transport to Pusan. During that time, some others and I survived by raiding train cars scrounging for food rations and making do. At night we slept in a cave-like space that we had created with sacks of rice in a bombed out warehouse. We shared our body heat in order to survive in below zero temperatures without any heat source until it was our turn to be evacuated from Hungnam by ship. During this time, I found a Jeep to drive and drove northwest until I saw a sign saying, "Beyond this point you are under enemy observation." I turned back to Hungnam and waited for a ship. We had time to watch the coming and going around us. We saw Korean civilians so desperate to leave that they packed around 14,000 people on board a merchant ship that normally carried only freight. There was no place for the people except in the cargo holds, where they were packed in.
I don't remember having water, although I know I must have had some during those two weeks. The cold was very bad--well below zero--and I cannot remember liquid water. The Army always had large canvas bags called lister (?) bags that were filled with water, and purification tables were used in the water to purify it for drinking. With it being that cold, the water would have froze in the bags, so now I wonder what I did have to drink during that time.
When I boarded the ship on December 23, I had my first full meal and water and coffee in about two weeks, and the first bath that I had had in about two months. On December 24, while standing on the deck of the ship, I saw a large explosion on shore. I later learned that it was a stack of artillery shells that was blown up to keep the Chinese from capturing them.
I worked on the ship's garbage detail. We gathered garbage from all the areas of the ship that was not the duty of the ship's sailors to gather. My job was burning trash in a fire brick-lined incinerator. Knowing that excess ammunition was in the trash--thrown there by the guys who had it left on them when they evacuated Hungnam--we took fun in throwing in the trash and getting the door shut before the ammunition started to explode. Once, a hand grenade in the trash exploded and busted some of the bricks in the incinerator. The Navy got mad, but we thought it was fun. A friend of mine stumbled in one of the ship's corridors and hit the trigger on a Russian burp gun that he was keeping as a souvenir, firing off all 72 rounds. We stood stock still as the bullets ricocheted around us without hitting one of us. We quickly scattered out of the area, and the guy tossed his trophy overboard so that we would not be caught with it. The Navy got mad again over this damage, because they had to repair the damage to wiring, pipes, and paint done by the bullets.
A fun trick on troops ships was catching someone sitting on the toilet, deep into thought and not watching what was going on around him. The toilets were a long, rectangular trough open on the top with wooden boards across the opening every so many inches along the tank. These boards were for sitting on when having a bowel movement. The troughs had a slight slope in them from end to end, and sea water ran in constantly at the high end to a drain at the low end to carry away the waste and paper. Our fun was in making a raft out cardboard and placing on it wadded up toilet paper, lighting the paper, and placing the raft into the current of sea water to float it under the guy sitting on the trough, singeing the hair around the rectum.
After about a week trip on the ship, we went ashore again in Pusan, South Korea, and we started moving north again. I had no specific duties for several weeks due to the constant moving north by convoy. We moved every few days for about three to four months, traveling through various small villages and towns in two and a half ton trucks. It was around 10 to 20 degrees below zero, and we had no covering or canvas top on the truck to break the wind, so it was very cold. We usually huddled two guys together and covered ourselves with shelter halves and blankets. Day after day we loaded on the trucks and rode in the convoy north, stopping around 3:00-4:00 p.m. to put up tents for the night to sleep in. It was quite a challenge to put up these tents because it was so cold it was hard to spread out the tent and attach the ropes. All we had were wooden pegs to drive into the ground, and the ground was like concrete.
A couple of days, as the convoy paused and we were in a small town, a couple of guys got out and scrounged up something to drink, like the Korean rice wine and once something like brandy. This we drank to try and keep warm and obliterate time spent riding on the trucks. It also added to the problems of putting up the tents and trying to drive the tent stakes in while we were hung over. We were not very good at getting the job done.
We went through Chinju, Kwangju, Chonju and Taejon, and then on to Seoul and beyond north of Uijongbu. At one time the Division traveled to East Central Korea to Chungpong, then back to the West Central area and Seoul. Uijongbu was the farthest north we went, then in October of 1951 we headed south again to Seoul. The Division was in several operations along the way, including those with the names Wolfhound, Thunderbolt, Exploitation, and Task Forces Myers, Tony, and Fisher. We participated in Operation Ripper, Tomahawk, T.F. Growdon, and Operation Pile Driver, to name a few. The Division was involved in many battles, at times pushing the enemy back to the north, and then ourselves being pushed back to the south. We were on the western side of Korea and then were pulled out. In a day and night drive, we rejoined the battles on the east central regions of South Korea, then back to the western area.
During the time frame that the Division traveled to East Central Korea, two things stand out in my memory. Two guys on guard duty were playing Russian Roulette and the gun went off. The guy was holding the pistol at an angle and the bullet went under the skin, but not through the skull, and around to the rear and exited. Both were court martialed for "attempted destruction of government property" and sentenced to Company Punishment, where they were to dig a hole six feet wide and six feet deep. The temperatures were still below freezing and the ground was frozen as hard as cement. We were moving a lot, so they never did complete the digging of the hole until it had warmed up a couple months later.
Sometime around the time we entered Seoul, we found a brewery with beer still in a vat. Lots of people were coming with various things to get beer in. When someone climbed to the top of the vat to look in, he found a dead Chinese soldier floating in the vat. As far as I ever knew, no one was sick from the beer. Our Commanding General was Robert H. Soule, who had no love for the Chinese due to having been kept on house arrest in the late 1940s when stationed in China after World War II. As we approached the city of Seoul, he sent a message that was dropped by a spotter airplane over Chinese lines. In the message he stated that he planned to occupy Seoul on a certain date and intended to use a certain building as his headquarters. He wanted the Chinese to have the heat on in the building and electricity and running water working. The Chinese completely destroyed that building as a result of the message.
The main thing I remember about Uijongbu was that the Engineers had put up a sign reading, "This is Uijongbu." Someone had crossed out the "is" and wrote "was" so it read, "This Was Uijongbu." The latter was pretty much accurate as there was very little left standing over five feet high in the town.
I was in the Division Headquarters Company and we were a little ways behind the actual front lines. We had a platoon of the Company called the Defense Platoon whose job was to secure the outer edges of the Division Headquarters area. They were augmented by a platoon named the "Honor Guard Platoon." They were guys recruited from front line units who were kind of spit and polish guys. During the daytime they were used as Honor Guards for VIPs and such. Also, there was the use of other members of the Company--like the motor pool, and these drivers, mechanics, and parts clerk (me) also did nighttime guard duties surrounding the area. We were busy during the daylight hours with "daytime jobs", and then did our share of the nighttime guard duties. This made it quite tiring, as we got very little sleep during the night doing our two hours on and four hours off shifts.
It became a common practice to carry a hand grenade with us on guard duty. We held the handle on the grenade and pulled out the pin, throwing it away from us in the dark so we could not find it. Then we did our tour of guard duty holding this grenade and passing it on to the guy who relieved us. No one ever fell asleep that I know of while doing the guard duty in this manner.
I was never in a direct firefight with an enemy, only being shot at various times during enemy attacks in the company compound areas and a few times while driving alone in my Jeep back and forth to the Ordnance Company getting supplies for the motor pool. Those latter times, I put the gas pedal to the metal and drove as fast as I could to get away from whoever was shooting at me. I never was involved in hand to hand combat, and I never was wounded. I remember being particular scared in February when we were north and west of Pusan. There was a full moon shining as near bright as daylight, and there was a couple of feet of white snow on the ground. Again, I was alone walking guard around a bunch of tents. Like I had done at Hungnam, I tried to be as small as I could, and slipped from shadow to shadow.
One other time of great fear for me, I was driving my Jeep alone at night, heading to the Division's Ordnance Company for badly needed spare parts for the Company's vehicles. I was driving without headlights, using the blackout lights on a narrow dirt road crossing a mountain. While rounding a curve with a drop of several hundred feet a few feet to my left, I was fired on by someone with an automatic weapon of some kind.
Since I was not in a line company, we didn't get tank support like they did. I remember one incident, however, of tank support/help. Sometime in August of 1951, during the monsoon season, there was a report that the Chinese had obtained napalm and we were to be bombed with it. As to where the Chinese would have gotten both the napalms or the planes to drop it with, or the ability to fly over us since we owned the skies over Korea was never explained. Anyway, there were several tanks equipped with bulldozer blades on them sent to the Division Headquarters area. They scooped out large holes in the ground for all the tents of the Headquarters, including the tents that we slept in. What good this would have been or really how bad it would have been was quite a great subject for discussions for a long time. These holes were a danger, especially at night. Not only could they be stumbled into, but the bigger danger they posed came one night when a monsoon rain hit us and flooded all the holes. As far as I can remember, everyone escaped out of the holes alive, but it could have been real bad, either from the flooding or if we had been bombed with the napalm, it would have just flowed down into the holes and burned everything and everyone.
During the time I was in Korea, I only knew two men who were killed. One was the guy who was trapped in the burning building in Hamhung and died. The other guy was a pilot of a light aircraft. I only knew him slightly through his crew chief, who was a good buddy of mine. The pilot's airplane was shot down and it was believed he survived the crash, but was tortured and then executed. I don't remember his name or the state he was from, but I remember that they pinned his Lieutenant bars through the skin of his forehead.
There was a lot of concern over being captured. The concern began when some of the guys who were taken prisoner by the North Koreans in the early days of the war managed to escape and told of what the enemy was doing to POW's. Then some who were taken prisoner by the Chinese managed to escape, and we learned about the mental aspects of the Chinese treatment of the POWs. This scared the average guys.
Sometime in 1951 when I was pinned down in a foxhole/trench one night, two things happened that still stand out in my mind. The guy next to me reached into a pocket of his field jacket to pull out a letter to re-read, and found that the letter had been cut in half from a bullet that had gone through his jacket without touching him. A few moments later as we were being attacked again, the Lieutenant called out to me, "Kendall, stick your head up and see if you can see where the firing is coming from." I answered, "F--- you, Sir. If you want to see where they are, stick your own head up!" I did not get in trouble for my answer to him, but in a short time I was transferred from the supply room to the motor pool section of the company. I continued in this job until I left North Korea on October 24, 1951. The reason I know this date is that my mother saved all the letters I wrote while in the Army and later gave them to me. I found that date in one of my letters to her.
After being transferred from Company supply to the Company motor pool, I was the parts clerk and driver for the Motor Officer. My role in all of this was my usual job in going to the Division's 703rd Ordnance Company for parts for the vehicles, stripping needed but good parts off of vehicles I found on the trip that had been wrecked or blown up, and driving the Motor Officer in the lead vehicles of the convoys as the Division moved from place to place.
I had my own Jeep to drive to the 703rd Ordnance Company for parts, as well as a tool box of tools to use to strip parts off when I found a wrecked vehicle. During one of these trips to 703rd Ordnance, my left knee was sticking out the side of the Jeep body, and froze from the cold and wind on it. When I arrived at the 703rd, I tried to get out of the Jeep, but since the knee would not bend, I fell to the ground. A couple of guys saw me and picked me up. They helped me to an open fire in a barrel, where I managed to warm my knee up enough to get it to move again.
We continued north as the Chinese were pushed north, and were on the move a lot. Our Division stayed towards the western side of the Korean peninsula, but one time we were pulled back and then made an end run to the east and around to the middle of the peninsula to stem the breakthrough that the Chinese had made in that area. I remember that on this trip I was driving the motor pool officer and some other officer who had bummed a ride with us as we made our way up over a mountain pass. We ran into tanks that were moving in the opposite direction. The tanks had to maneuver so that one tread was on the road and the other up on the side of the mountain. To get through, our trucks had to scrape their sides against the tanks. The trucks that had dual tires on the rear wheels had the outer tire of the dual setup not on the road, but hanging over the side in open air over a several hundred feet drop off.
Our Jeep led the convoy in a pull back (we didn't use the word "retreat"), with air bursts of enemy artillery exploding over head and showering us with shrapnel. Meanwhile, line companies were firing at the Chinese from the side of the road to hold the road open for the Company to get through. A Lieutenant who was the Motor Officer was my immediate supervisor. When we came under fire, I was wearing just a soft hat and air bursts of artillery started exploding over our heads. I remember trying to feel behind my seat for my steel helmet so I could put it on. The Lieutenant told me to keep my eyes and mind on the road and he would get my helmet for me. I also remember him being very shaken after we drove through a field safely and a two and a half ton truck behind us was destroyed by a land mine it drove over. Either our Jeep was not heavy enough to set off the mine, or the truck was heaver or wider and hit the land mine. The driver of the other truck was not hurt.
I continued driving and then my right front wheel fell off. The officer who had bummed the ride walked up to see what happened to the truck behind us, and then saw my Jeep sitting there minus the right front wheel. He was quite shocked and kept mumbling about all the mountain roads we had covered that day, only to have the wheel fall off while on level ground.
I can't say what the quality of his or other officer's leadership in a direct confrontation with the enemy would have been because these officers were not involved in leading soldiers in front line combat type of service. We soldiers just took who or what we were given as officers and tried to exist with them as we tried to exist and survive the war.
During this time, in addition to the "daytime" type of jobs in keeping the Company's vehicles running, I helped along with all the rest in taking turns at night as guards around the perimeter of the Company's area where we lived. My role was just as a member of the Company to keep it functioning. I did nothing heroic.
Since I was in the Third Infantry Division Headquarters Company, the only persons of the other national forces serving in Korea that were with the Company were the liaison officers and enlisted personnel of the various forces. It was interesting to stand in the chow line and hear several different languages being spoken at the same time. I do have some memories of other nationalities I met in Korea.
The Turks were said to be hard fighters who did not like to waste ammunition, so most kills were by a single bullet to the forehead. They liked to make bayonet charges, and forever were sharpening their knives and bayonets. They would nick their arms with the knife or bayonet to draw blood before putting it away. I also remember that during my time in Korea, the South Korean troops had a very bad reputation of withdrawing as soon as any attack was started on their lines. The Belgium troops were happy when they were attached to the Third Infantry Division, as the Belgium people remembered fondly the Third Division's role in freeing them from the Germans in World War II. English officers were very haughty. An English Major assigned as a liaison officer had several enlisted men with him and they had to stand guard outside his tent, even though the Division Headquarters Company's Defense Platoon, along with assigned other members of the Company, provided security around the entire area. There were some problems associated with different languages and usage of various words in a language by the people of that language group.
I had little contact with the enemy. The North Koreans I helped capture in Wonsan were mostly young, and the only other time I was close to more than one at a time was when I was close to a group of around eight or ten Chinese prisoners, and they were all young also. A couple of times I saw other prisoners--Chinese officers--and they were mostly older. I would say they were in their thirties. As to being good fighters, I have no personal knowledge of this. I was told that when the Chinese attacked, it was in waves of soldiers. The first couple of ranks were armed with Russian 9mm burp guns and a canister of 72 rounds of ammunition. Ranks after these were armed sort of catch as catch can--some with old bolt action rifles, some with pitchforks, and others with no weapon at all. The Chinese officers used both psychological means and chemical means to get their men to attack. An attack was usually preceded by blowing of bugles and beating on drums and wash tubs, accompanied also by dancing around bon fires. A captured Chinese officer brought into our area for medical attention had a leather bag like school children's book bags back in the 1930s and 40s. In the bag were various drugs like opium that the officers gave to the soldiers. I was told that the Chinese did not seem to care how many of their own troops were killed in these kinds of attacks.
At Division Headquarters we generally did not need fire support, but on a few occasions when Chinese were nearing the Headquarters or protecting the evacuation route, we were provided with some artillery support and fast firing weapons like the Quad 50's which were used to turn back the attacking forces. The occasional attacks that did reach into our area were mostly during the nighttime. There was also in 1951 nighttime "attacks" by an old bi-wing airplane with its engine slightly out of tune. It was a harassing factor that caused an "air raid" alert, where we had to spend time in trenches when we otherwise would have been sleeping. The pilot carried a few mortar shells and hand grenades that he dropped out of the airplane. We were instructed to not shoot at the airplane, which we were sure we could hit, as it would give away our exact position and pinpoint us for mortar or artillery attacks. We also could not strike a match or use a lighter to light a cigarette at these times. Yet we also knew that with the ebb and flow of "civilians" who came through, our position was always known by the enemy anyway.
One night there was a big fire fight a short distance away. A lot of spent machine gun bullets and tracers fell in our area, and the tracers burned holes in the tents. One of our mechanics, who was drunk quite a bit of the time, walked around with a bottle in his hand as the bullets were flying all around him, shouting, "Give 'em Hell Boys. Give 'em Hell!" He was a kind of a pain as a mechanic, as he also suffered a lot from the shakes and was always cross threading brass fittings on engines and ruining them. I had to get more every time I went to Ordnance.
There were some World War II veterans in my Company. Mostly they were the upper Non-Commissioned Officers and Commissioned Officers. This was, I think, a big plus as they were more experienced and offered more stability to us. These ere mostly guys who had stayed in the Army after World War II ended.
We started getting assigned to us guys who had joined the reserves after service in World War II and were called up for service during the Korean War. They were referred to as "Retreads." Most of them were quite unhappy about being called up and for some there was a big sacrifice on their part, as they had started their lives, married, worked at a job, and bought a home. Suddenly, they were back fighting a war and earning only military pay.
I know it is written and touted that, "We were fighting a war in a land we did not know and for a people we did not know," but that was not my memory of the feeling at that time. Like the retreads of World War II, I was not all that happy to be in Korea. I cannot remember any great feelings of "Hooray, we are here to help the people of South Korea fight off the invaders from North Korea!" I felt sorry to a big degree for the suffering I saw going on with the civilians, but that was the extent of my regard as far as Korea being a country worth fighting for. In hindsight, I know now that with our effort in Korea and those later in Vietnam, we were the start of the downfall of the Communist dictators' dreams of world domination.
Upon arriving in North Korea, our clothing was "state side" winter issue of long johns underwear, fatigue pants and shirt, wool socks, leather combat boots, field jacket with hood, leather gloves with wool inserts, a hat with earflaps that could be tied under the chin, and helmet liner and steel helmet. Both the right hand glove and insert had slits that the index (trigger) finger could be stuck through for firing a rifle. This issue of clothing was never sufficient to keep a person warm.
While I was in North Korea in the Wonsan, Hamhung, and Hungnam areas, the weather was very cold, dropping to lows in the thirty to forty degrees below zero range. After arriving in Pusan, South Korea, in January of 1951, it was still very cold, in the ten to twenty degrees below zero range. Sometime in February we moved into a new area and set up the tents (larger squad tents slept about 12 men) for sleeping in. We were all exhausted after a long day. Trying to drive wooden stakes into frozen ground to hold the tent ropes in place was nearly impossible. The person who was in charge of setting up the heating stoves and the fuel for them failed to put a full fuel can on both stoves, so during the night, the fuel ran out. The temperature inside the tent dropped to the low twenty degrees, which was the same as it was outside the tent.
My cot was near one stove. When the stove worked, the heat from it had melted the snow around it and walking had churned the moisture to a mud. So when I laid down, I took off my boots and dropped them close to the stove in this mud, figuring on them being warm in the morning. Well, in the morning I discovered that my boots not only were not warm, but frozen solid in the mud. I had to ask a friend to get a pick axe and chip them out. I put them on then and hobbled outside and up to a barrel with a fire burning it. I held the boots over the flames to melt off the frozen mud. I never again in that cold weather just dropped my boots by the stove at night.
Slowly over the next months the temperatures started to rise. By June and July it really heated up into the upper ninety degrees and possibly into the low one hundred degrees range. After Spring arrived, there was the usual rains and on up to in August 1951, when the monsoon rains arrived. By late September it had started getting cooler, and when I left my company in about the middle of October 1951, it was dropping to low thirty degrees and upper twenty degrees range at nights.
We had a lot of trouble with our vehicles in the extreme cold, so we had to keep them running nearly constantly. That was not bad with diesel engines, but it was very hard on gasoline engines. To insure that the vehicles would start and run, there were people assigned to monitor the vehicles and other items like electrical generators with gasoline engines. The persons started and idle ran the engines for a length of time--say an hour--and then shut off the engine for a while, with the length depending on how cold it was. This procedure was repeated day and night.
After evacuation from Hungnam and arrival at Pusan, I received warmer clothing, including a hooded parka, leather and rubber boots called "shoe pacs" that were nicknamed "Mickey Mouse boots", and four pairs of ski socks. We wore two pair of socks at a time, keeping the other two pair under our clothes and next to your body to keep them warm and dry. These items of clothing were better, but still the could seeped through all the clothing you could wear and sapped your strength. Sometime in 1951, I froze my left knee while driving a Jeep. Jeeps never had much leg room, and my left knee stuck out beyond the body of the Jeep. The temperature was way below freezing, probably even below zero at that time.
When the weather warmed up again, we went back to wearing just fatigue pants and shirt, regular issue combat boots and socks, helmet liner and helmet, and ponchos to put on when it was raining.
As for the enemy, the only clothing I ever saw the Chinese wearing were quilted cotton pants and jacket. I don't know what they had on underneath. They wore quilted hats with earflaps and some kind of a rubber tennis shoes. I have no idea about the socks. They suffered much worse in the winter than our forces did.
We had South Koreans assigned to us. My 3rd Infantry Division had the greatest number of South Koreans integrated into our ranks of any division in the war. The reason for that was that our division was stripped of soldiers at the start of the war. They were sent to Korea to add to the strength of those units fighting in Korea at that time. When we arrived in Japan, we were given great numbers of South Koreans to put into our ranks and try to train, along with soldiers from the USA who had not quite finished their training. We had to finish off their training. We also had both military and civilians attached to us to be sent across into the enemy lines as spies.
Wherever we stayed, we always had contact with Korean civilians, and we did not necessarily know whether they were South or North Koreans. There were attempts to limit their numbers as there was always the danger of spies in our own camp, and even a possible suicide type of attack by someone who looked innocent.
We were approached often while on guard duty by young children wanting to know if we wanted to "F--k their sister", or begging for candy or cigarettes. GI's are usually a soft touch when it comes to children. As it has been said in the past, it is true that "War is hell on women and children." The Korean civilians were used also as "pack mules", carrying on the "A-frames" they wore on their back the heavy items of war (ammunition and heavy parts of weapons like base plates for mortar tubes). They were especially used in this manner by the line companies.
We always had civilians present at the can where we dumped the unwanted food from our mess gear, too. They were grabbing for the scraps of leftover food. Refugees constantly came through our lines. One young boy stands out in my mind, as he wore only a thin shirt and rubber shoes while walking through snow so deep his privates were dragging in the snow. Another time one boy hanging around the side of a convoy got caught with his head between the dual tires on a 2 1/2 ton truck. When it started moving, he was killed. One time while in my Jeep, I came across two young boys who were injured playing with an electric cable that ran through their village. They were going into shock from the burns. Another guy came along at that time in his Jeep, and we used what first aid stuff we had in our Jeeps. He backed me up as I threatened the civilians to get blankets from their homes to cover the children.
I saw the usage of "adopted" children as house boys or girls. There were many more boys than girls since we were all males. I did see the use of a young woman by a shower unit of the Quartermaster corps. Her hair was cut short and she wore baggy fatigues. She was shared by all the members of the unit, spending every night in a different man's bunk. The biggest concern for civilians in the immediate area was that they were working for and spying on us for the Chinese and North Korean army.
I remember being on guard duty all night long, paired with a South Korean soldier. There was a big push by a large Chinese force down a valley between two high areas in my location. The artillery waited until the Chinese were completely in the valley, and then dropped shells at each end of the valley to hold them there. Artillery also dropped shells on them while they were trapped in the valley. There were infantrymen stationed on both high grounds with .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, firing into the Chinese below them. That night there was an estimated (I later heard) 10,000 plus Chinese soldiers killed.
Two memories of that incident stand out the most in my memory. One is hearing the machine gun fire so much that we learned the various gunners by the type of bursts they fired from their guns. Each seemed to individual in their use of the machine guns in their type of burst of firing--from two-shot, three-shot, four-shot, or five-shot types of patterns. Also at times there were long strings of shots too many to be counted. The sound differences between the .30 and .50 caliber guns remain in my memory. The other memory of this night was that the South Korean soldier I was with had been a Professor of Music in a college before the war. He spoke fair English, so we passed the time talking. He sang to me and taught me national anthems from many countries around the world. That was quite a thing to be happening during a time when thousands of Chinese were being killed in the valley below.
I also had the opportunity to see how the natives lived. Their lives were spent in dire poverty and squalid living conditions. When they could find a house to live in, it was usually very damaged from the battles that raged back and forth over the same ground time after time. It seemed like there was a shortage of wood to use in heating. The houses generally had a semi-detached kitchen that was outside, and the chimney from the stove/oven ran through clay tile cylinders under the floor and then up through the roof. This way, the heat from the stove/oven was used to heat the house before exiting through the roof. Others existed as best as they could without any shelter.
There were only two times that I was ever close to the U.S. Marines in North Korea. Once was in 1950 and the other in 1951. They were holding the east side of the Chosin Reservoir and their rear elements were next to where I lived in Hamhung. Contact occurred when the Marine fire engine responded to our building on fire. I also visited a Marine Graves Registration team next to where we were living. I was interested in the processing of the dead bodies for burial. The guys working at the job were as gentle and reverent as they could be. The bodies were in various shapes and positions due to either rigor mortis from death or from freezing after death before rigor mortis set in. To fit the bodies into the mattress covers that they were put into, their arms and legs needed to be straightened out. To do this they had to be broken and forced into position.
Another thing I was impressed with was the handling of their personal effects. Rings and watches were removed and billfolds, personal papers, pictures, and all were placed into small bags to be sent home to next of kin. Another thing that was interesting (don't feel grossed out over this) was that all the packets of candy, sugar, food, cigarettes, and other such items were removed and kept in a box for use by the personnel doing the processing. The major reason for such salvage was the condition of never knowing when a supply of food and other necessities would cease to exist. In 1951 during the end run maneuver the division was involved in, we were next to some Marine unit that I never knew or have forgotten who they were.
The only American women I can remember seeing while in Korea were nurses at hospitals that I saw from a distance. A good female friend of mine from childhood was in Korea the same time as I was. She was a nurse, but I never got to see her. Once (mentioned later in this memoir) I saw American women who were in Jack Benny's USO show.
The only other American woman I saw in Korea as a reporter from some magazine. I saw her as she was driving her Jeep past the shower company where some others and I had been trying to take a shower. It was one of the times when the machinery had broken down and we had all waded into a nearby stream to rinse off. We had just come out of the water and were shivering in the cold. We were all naked. The woman reporter slowed and then stopped her Jeep to stare at us for a couple minutes before taking off again.
I never saw a prostitute in the living and working areas of any location I was ever in though, as mentioned earlier, there were many times when I was approached by young children of both sexes soliciting sex with their sister. During my year in Korea, I never saw organized prostitution of any kind. I was involved in sexual activity in Korea only once. Another GI and I talked to a Korean soldier in our unit about wanting to have intercourse and he said he knew of a place we could go. We went off the main road at night to a house in the middle of nowhere. We had gone beyond rational thinking by the time we arrived in the home, and we threatened people with our rifles. I feel that we ended up raping the ones we had intercourse with. Thinking back on this, boy did we take a chance considering that we could not tell a North Korean from a South Korean and could just barely determine a Chinese soldier by his round facial features.
There was pretty much a universal "gook" mentality toward the Koreans--both South and North--and the Chinese, too. There was pretty much contempt for the South Korean army forces and worry about them holding in a major battle. There was some dislike for the Puerto Rican soldiers who were part of my division.
There was also a lot of dislike for the black soldiers, especially in regard to the availability and cost of the prostitutes, as the black soldiers tended to be willing to pay a higher price, and this did not set well with the white troops. My division had (I think) the last four all black units still in existence in the military. We were not exposed to the integration that was taking place at the same time as the war was going on.
There was more of an unknown factor in regard to the forces of the other countries like the Turks, Greeks, Belgiums, etc., and not so much prejudice toward them. It is still a mystery to me that there could have been any amount of an efficient war conducted considering so many different nations participating and the different languages being spoken.
Not being in the front lines, I never saw much of the enemy's weapons except for some captured weapons. The Russian burp guns were a rapid fire sub machine gun type and were used quite extensively b the enemy. In addition, they had old-fashioned types of rifles. The interesting thing about these rifles was that they usually were of a .31 caliber type, using .31 caliber ammunition, but the rifles held and fired .30 caliber ammunition, which was the primary size of ammunition that the US forces used. There was concerted efforts to keep our ammunition from falling into the enemy's hands, as it could be used against us.
One time a captured artillery cannon (of undetermined country of origin) was brought to Division Headquarters for examination. I later hauled it behind a two and one half ton truck to the docks in Inchon. It was loaded later on a ship and sent back to the States to the Aberdeen, Maryland Ordnance Proving grounds. There is was examined and studied. It was, to me, an unknown caliber and the size looked to be about a four-inch opening. The ammunition for it was interesting. The shells were a good six feet long.
The reason for studying the piece was that the shells could pierce the turret of tanks like a hot knife going through butter. We had nothing equivalent to it. About eight years ago, while traveling along the eastern part of the USA, I stopped at the proving grounds to check to see if they still had the cannon. I was told they didn't. It was destroyed in the testing and examinations of it, but there were records of it being there. While there, I was able to see one of the atomic cannons of the early 1950s. The last time I had seen one was in 1953 while stationed in Nevada at the Camp Mercury, Nevada nuclear testing site.
The only sickness I can remember was a few times having diarrhea, perhaps from the food I ate. Even in the super cold temperatures, I never had even a small cold. I once was hit with the diarrhea before I could get out of my sleeping bag, and did mess in it. But a good sleeping bag was so valuable, I wiped it out as best as I could and continued using it up until it warmed up enough in 1951 to get rid of it. As mentioned before, without a chance to bathe, we all smelled quite bad and I was no different.
From when I first went into Wonsan in around mind-October 1950 until I was onboard ship in Hungnam harbor on December 23 or 24, 1950, I never had a shower. But I was able most days to at least wash my hands and face in the morning. I never grew much facial hair, so I was able to get away without shaving except for a few times. I did not change into clean clothes until after boarding ship where it was warm and where warm shower water was available.
After leaving the ship in Pusan, it was the same situation over again due to the cold and conditions. It was up into late March 1951, I think, when we first had a Quartermaster Shower Company set up in our area along the banks of a stream. The Shower Company placed intake hoses into the water in the stream and pumped this water into some kind of heating chamber and then it was pumped into the shower area where we entered and were able to shower. As we entered the area, there were bins in a room inside the large tented area. We stripped off our clothes and placed them in the bins. We next walked to the entrance to the showers and were given soap, wash cloth and towel, if we did not have them. We left these items behind and walked into the next area to be issued clean clothes from skin out, including coats and such in cold weather. This continued off and on (more off than on) until it turned cool again in September 1951. After cold weather set in again, I did not have another shower or change of clothes until I arrived in Japan by ship sometime in late October 1951 on my way back to the USA.
A problem that seemed to affect the Shower Companies was that they seemed to break down quite often, and usually right after you stood under the shower head and were completely soaped up. That's when the water stopped. Then to get the soap off your skin, you had to walk out of the tent and to the stream of water nearby and climb down into the water to rinse off. And boy, was it usually cold!
Because I was never in the front lines, I have no knowledge of the food served there. In my company, the food we were served came from what were called "100 Man Rations", instead of rations for one man at a time. The food came in large gallon-type cans, and was heated and served. It was a lot of beef and pork in some kind of a gravy, and was usually quite greasy too, although it was probably loaded with calories needed to keep up our strength. There were some canned vegetables, too. Most of the time the bread was biscuits that were baked by the cooks. At times we received fresh white bread from Quartermaster supplies, but it was few and far between.
Once we had the entertainer Jack Benny and six or eight good-looking girls who were with him eating with us. They had scattered out, not all standing and eating at one table (we had stand-up tables), eating among the guys. At one point, Jack Benny called out, "Girls, don't you think this is the best food you have ever eaten?" Boy, were the groans and cat calls thick after that. I have always thought that the entertainers were having to choke down the food like we did. The food was filling and, as I said, loaded with calories to keep us going, but it was mostly bland. The cooks tried to spice it up, but it was never great tasting food.
On rare occasions, we got something different and good to eat. I recall that sometime in 1951, someone I knew made a trade and got some eggs. We scrambled some to eat. Also, one time we had ice cream and doughnuts! As parts clerk for the Company motor pool, I had to sign for two large trucks that were delivered to the Division. One truck was set up for making ice cream, and the other for doing doughnuts. They were driven to various areas where units of the Division were at, and fresh ice cream and doughnuts were provided to the men of the units.
I think the stateside food that I most missed (and I think every other GI in Korea felt the same way) was fresh milk. We had reconstituted dry milk, but it was a far cry from fresh milk. I did run across a very enterprising unit one time. They had converted the back end of a three quarter (3/4) ton truck into a carrier/stable for a cow, and they had their own fresh milk. They kept the canvas on the truck closed as much as they could to hide the cow so that they would not have to share in the milk supply.
All of our drinking water that we had in our water bags (that we filled our canteens from) and the water used in cooking, was treated water. No one to my knowledge seemed to ever be affected by that water. When showering at the Shower Companies, this water was pumped directly from the stream, and it was not treated. When showering we used this water to gargle with and rinse our mouths, so this was "native water" we consumed.
I drank, smoked, and gambled before and while I was in Korea. For drinking, we mostly found the local brews, wines, beer, and hard stuff. We used the wines to distill alcohol, and also cooked up some raisin and apple jack. Some raids were done on medical alcohol, too. I was lucky with the stuff I drank as there were a lot of guys dying, going blind, or coming down with other illnesses from bad booze, such as that run through a radiator in the distilling process. Cigarettes were available as part of our rations. Sometimes they were quite old and harsh, but they improved to fresher ones as war went on and fresh rations were made. (Many of the rations we had were leftover from World War II.) Gambling was very minor in Korea, amounting to a bit of card playing as far as I can remember.
During my year in Korea, there was never very much "leisure" time for anything. My war duties were much of a sun up to sun down condition. Then at night I usually had at least a couple of hours of guard duty, with air raids rousing us at other times. The little bit of leisure time I did have was mostly taken up with visiting friends who, though they were in the Company, I had little time to see during the regular course of our duties because they lived in other tents.
I spent several American holidays in Korea during my year there. The first one was Halloween 1950, which was not noticed. The second was Thanksgiving. Most of that year in Korea plays like a closed loop VCR in my mind. I cannot bring Thanksgiving to mind--why, I don't know. The next was Christmas 1950. It stands out in my mind pretty well. I had just been evacuated from Hungnam and was aboard ship on December 24, 1950. There was a great explosion just off the docks, and shortly thereafter wounded were brought onto the ship. I found out later that the explosion was a large stack of ammunition (artillery shells, I think) that had been stacked up for demolition so that the Chinese would not get them. A platoon had been close when an officer walked up to the stack, pulled the pins on a couple of hand grenades, and tossed them in the pile. He then ran as fast as he could to get away. One wounded guy brought onboard my ship was in terrible shape and died right at midnight going from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day. That was a somber and sad ship that day.
As Christmas of 1950 approached, it was the only time I felt really discouraged about how the war was progressing. The Chosin Reservoir campaign had just taken place. We had been told that we would be "home for Christmas." I guess like a lot of other guys, I believed that statement. But when the time came and Christmas was near, we were getting in a worse position hour by hour. After being evacuated from Hungnam to a ship in the harbor, the wounded man dying at midnight was my real low point. Within a short time, the resilience of youth brought me back.
I think I spent New Year's Eve and Day aboard ship just before I left the ship and we headed north again. The next American holiday was July 4, 1951, and I can't remember anything about it. I had one birthday during my time in Korea. It was my 21st birthday on September 2, 1951. For the life of me I cannot recall anything about that day. It was, I am sure, just another workday among many others. I can't recall anyone else ever mentioning to me that they were having a birthday either.
Another day we had a break from work when the country entertainer Grandpa Jones put on a USO show close to where I was. He had a small band of three to four guys, and several pretty girls. I went to see him as i had seen him perform at a show near my hometown sometime around 1946 or 1947. The time that Jack Benny and his group spent an hour or so with us during lunch, they did not put on a show. The USO shows were done primarily for the front line infantry troops when they could get off the line for a break.
I was a friend with everyone in the Company, and really had only one "better than the other" friendships that I can remember. That was not a "buddy for life" kind of friendship. Perhaps it was different in line companies where death and injury were a minute by minute situation. This friend of mine was from Ohio. I cannot remember why him especially, particularly since we were in different sections of the Company. He spent almost all of his time in the Light Air Section. They had spotter planes which were used to check on the enemy, and he was a crew chief of one of the airplanes.
There was nothing really special in our friendship. We were just very good friends until we were on the way back home on rotation. He had a nervous breakdown sometime around June to August 1951 due to the death and torture of the pilot of the airplane he maintained. He spent some time in a mental ward of a hospital until he was judged to be okay and returned to duty.
While we were in Japan on rotation home and processing, we were moving from one area to another and hand carrying our own records (something I had never seen done before or after). He and I slipped off to a secluded corridor in the building and I kept watch while he looked through his records and removed all the records pertaining to him being committed to a mental ward. We both made it back home safely and exchanged a couple of letters. He was out of the Army and started to earn a living while I still had a year and a half yet to serve.
We lost touch with each other, but I often wondered what had happened to him. Sometime in the late 1980s, I discovered my Society of Third infantry Division, and was assigned to Outpost #33 of the Midwest. Around the mid-1990s, I noticed my friends name on the address list of the Outpost. I wrote to him, we exchanged a few letters, and then made plans to attend an Outpost meeting. We were tickled to see each other when we met. One of the first things he asked me to confirm was the story of the dead Chinese soldier found in the vat of beer. He had remarried and had a son later in life. The son was around 16 or 17 years old. My friend was pleased with the fact that I had shown to his son that he had been telling the truth all along with that story. The Outpost get-together went along real nice and we had a nice Saturday evening supper and visitation. The next morning, there was mass confusion in regard to trying to hold the Outpost meeting before having breakfast. My friend was upset and said he was never coming to another Outpost meeting. He never did return. I sent him a Christmas card every year after that, but he never returned one to me. Then sometime in 1999, I had a call from his wife telling me that he had died several months before. She wanted to know if I could help her in getting compensation from the VA. I explained to her that, since he had not been receiving any compensation and had no claim against the VA, it was near impossible to start and process a claim at this point when he was dead. I never heard from her again.
We had two guys who were half a bubble off all the time. One sent back home to have a revolver and ammunition sent to him. They were on guard duty one night and bored, they started playing Russian Roulette. They emptied the cylinders until one of them fired. The guy was not killed or badly hurt, but they were court martialed on attempted destruction of government property. They were sentenced to dig a 6 foot by 6 foot by 6 foot hole, as what else kind of a punishment could you give in a war zone. The ground was frozen and we were moving a lot. It took months of digging and scraping before the hole was finally done.
Another time, when making camp for the night, there was confusion as several guys had been drinking. The ground was frozen, so to drive a wooden stake in it was near impossible. The two guys trying to do the job were beyond common sense. The one holding the stake kept telling the other to swing the axe and hit the stake. The one with the axe kept saying, "No, I can't. I might hit your hands." The first guy insisted, saying, "Go ahead. If you hurt my hands bad enough, maybe I can go home." Weird sense of humor, but it helped during a difficult situation. I cannot remember any one person in my company who kept everyone laughing, yet there was almost always some laughter going on. It was impossible to be serious constantly, as that would really drive a person crazy.
About the time that we were getting ready to cross the Han River and move into Seoul, I was driving to or back from Ordnance when I saw two soldiers on the side of the road, facing each other about 25 feet apart. Something did not look right, so I slowed down to see what was going on. It turned out that they were shooting each other so as to get a bad enough wound to get shipped back to the States. They didn't shoot each other in any vital area that could kill or cripple them for the rest of their life, however. After finding out what they were up to, I kept on moving to get away from them.
Once, the members of the Honor Guard Platoon dug up a dead Chinese soldier, cut off his head and thighs, and boiled the flesh off to create a skull and crossbones for their tent. Boy, the smell of boiling human flesh is a real bad smell--close to the smell of burning human flesh. Another time one of the mechanics in the motor pool was tossing a truck radiator into the back of another truck when it caught one of his fingers and nearly tore the finger off. He grabbed it to stop the blood flow and started grinning and laughing, saying, "Now I can get some Penicillin legally and clear my VD along with my finger." The military mind at that time condemned VD and punished the person who sought treatment, causing soldiers to try and hide their VD.
My theory was that I felt a person has to go a little bit crazy in war situations to keep from going a whole lot crazy!! I remember that another guy went over the edge, got a couple of cases of hand grenades, and tossed in one or two of them into the hole where dead Koreans were being buried. We all had a tremendous laugh out of this, as we figured that these holes were not being marked very well and then covered over. Several years later, someone would be digging a hole and uncover these hand grenades. By that time, the pins that kept them from exploding would have rusted away, but the explosive would still be good. Then BANG would go the grenades. We really thought it was a funny thing to do at the time, though today I realize how crazy these acts were.
I remember another funny incident, too. The Company's First Sergeant was real scared of snakes, and one day a snake was discovered in the Orderly Room tent. The Sergeant took after the snake with a Carbine rifle on full automatic fire and emptied several magazines of bullets trying to hit the snake. We never knew if he killed it, but he did hit box after box of Company records and put bullet holes through the records inside of them.
I saw atrocities that were far from funny in Korea, too. I remember that a group of civilians were herded into the remains of the basement of a building in Wonsan. They had been rounded up by the South Korean Counter Intelligence Corps. Although I don't know it for fact, I believe that they were executed shortly after I saw them. Another atrocity that comes to mind is seeing the bodies of a man and woman positioned in intercourse and hanging from a limb of a large tree out over the roadway.
The latrines in my company were a large squad-type of tent and the toilet was a long rectangle with holes cut in it where you sat. The outhouses of then (at least 90% or better of them) were built as two holers or better, as going to the toilet was somewhat of a friendly (not social) affair. It's a little hard to explain this, but the situation existed at the time. In Korea, it was more efficient to have the multi-hole setup.
Once while sitting there, a guy I knew came in and sat next to me. We got to talking. He told me of an incident that had happened in the area of the Division's Finance section. They were always quite a few miles further away from the area where we were, close to the front lines. This guy told me about a guy from the Finance Section who I slightly knew. He had killed another GI over a Korean woman. The guy that did the killing was a white person. The guy he killed was a Puerto Rican from the Puerto Rican Regiment that was part of our Division. The woman was a South Korean.
The racial situation of that day was that, what a shame it was that a "white man" had ruined his life by killing a "Puerto Rican man" over a "Korean woman." This incident was so ingrained into my memory that hardly a time goes by when I am using the toilet that my mind does not immediately snap back to that day in Korea and listening to the guy tell me the story. Why this has remained with me so intensely, I cannot answer.
The mail that I received regularly was from my family, with my mother doing the most of the writing. I also got some letters from the sister of a girl I had gone to school with. She was one year older than me. We dated a little after I returned home in 1951, but it was nothing serious. My mother also sent packages of cookies and cake packed in popcorn. Most packages arrived banged up or damaged in some way on the outside wrappings. Pretty much all of the stuff like cakes and cookies were banged up and in crumbles, but still edible.
I remember others getting long john underwear and scarves from home, as well as that unusual item--the revolver those two guys used to play Russian Roulette. A couple of guys got "Dear John" letters from girlfriends back home. Beyond a few days of mopping around, they seemed to get over it fairly quickly. One guy got a letter saying that one of his parents had passed away. He received a leave and left Korea to go home, but did not make it home for the funeral. Even though we were sure that he would be reassigned in the States, the next time we looked up, there he was right back with us there in Korea. The Red Cross arranged and paid for his transportation back to the USA, but later made him repay the amount they spent on him.
I requested some particular items to be sent to me from the States a couple of times. Once I asked for a pipe and pipe tobacco. Another time I requested some Ronson-type lighter fuel and flints for my cigarette lighter. We were using high octane aviation gasoline in our cigarette lighters, and it was dangerous. To light a cigarette on a windy day, you held the lighter away from you and spun the wheel. When the gasoline lit, it put out a fairly big flame, and then you lit your cigarette at the down wind end of the flame.
In early 1951, as we were working our way North again, we received a shipment of cans of beer. The major brands had each contributed to a shipment. The beer was in the hold of a big freighter when it was shipped to Korea. There was a big storm and the beer broke from its pallets and cases, and tumbled on the floor of the ship's hold. The sea was breaking over the ship too, and flooded a lot of water into the hold. The cans at that time were made of steel. The tumbling around in the sea water caused the cans to rust on the outside, so it was hard to determine the name of the beer on the cans.
To make matters worse, it was still very cold in South Korea at that time. The beer had been for us for Christmas 1950 and New Year's Day 1951, but due to the evacuation of North Korea and the general situation, the beer was held for us until January 1951. Due to the low temperature, the cans of beer were partially frozen. Instead of using the old kind of triangle can opener, we had to use our P-38 can openers and cut off the end of a can. We then spooned the beer out and let it melt in our mouth.
At about the same time, the Women's Christian Temperance Movement (WCTM) in the USA took up a collection of around $3,000 to purchase fruit drinks to be donated to the military personnel fighting in Korea. That much money in those days was a lot more than $3,000 today, but in no way would it have been enough to buy fruit drinks for all the military in Korea.
I went on R&R (rest and recuperation), though we referred to it as I&I (intoxication and intercourse). I spent seven days in Japan, in the city of Sasebo. (I think it was Sasebo.) Most of the time was spent in chasing after something to drink and looking for women. Then resting. I did make a telephone call to my parents. With the time difference it was around 3:00 a.m. at home. I can't remember the time in Japan. It was probably sometime in the afternoon. The cost was $156.00 in 1951.
While I did not have to go back on the front line when I returned to Korea, all of the guys, including me, felt that we were getting a break from the war and would deal with returning when that time came. On my R&R trip before boarding the airplane to fly to Japan, we had to surrender our weapons. This disturbed a lot of guys, since they were a constant part of us at all times. The reason for giving them up was that the previous R&R group had their weapons and someone not wanting to go back to Korea had forced the pilot to fly back to Japan. It was the world's first skyjacking. On my trip, someone did manage to smuggle with him a .45 caliber pistol. While he was in a whorehouse, he took it out and shot into the ceiling, killing someone on the floor above.
There were rumors every day after the rotation home started, with different numbers being quoted as the points necessary to be rotated and the allocation of the points by months in service in Korea and jobs such as Infantryman. Later somewhere north of Uijongbu it came time for my rotation home as I had accumulated enough points I was told by the Company's Clerk in the Orderly Room that my turn would be the next day.
When it was time to leave, I went around saying goodbyes to some of my friends and giving some last minute instructions to the guy who was taking my place as parts clerk. I also gave away some things I had, but would not be taking home with me. I was both glad and sad to leave. I was real glad I was heading home and would not be spending any more time in Korea. I was also glad to be going home before real winter could set in. At that time, it was only October, but it was already extremely cold day and night.
Then holding the rank of Corporal, I left my unit on October 24, 1951. While glad to be heading home, I was also sad at leaving guys I had known for so long. I didn't think about it at the time that I would never see any of these guys again. I never wrote down the names and address of the guys I served with in my near five years of service. I also never had any pictures of each guy, either by himself or in a picture with me. I never kept a daily journal of my thoughts and observations of every day I was in the Army.
I left Division Headquarters Company in the back of a two and a half ton truck with other guys. We were driven south quite a few miles to the location of the Third Division's Replacement Company for processing, where we stayed for several days. One day I heard my name called on the intercom to report to the orderly room. I was at first scared that I was going to be sent back to my Company for more time in Korea. But I discovered when I got to the orderly room that one of the clerks was a guy I knew from my hometown. He was the younger brother of a guy who was in my graduation class. (My own brother served in the military during the Korean War, but he spent his time in Germany in the US Army in an armored division.) When he spotted my name on the rotation list, he wanted me to take some messages home.
The next day there were several hundred of us lined up by alphabetical order, going through processing. One stop was for an examination we called "Short Arm Inspection." In case you have not heard the term, it is a check for one kind of V.D. where the soldier (in those days there was very little circumcision) would "skin back" his penis and "milk it down" while a doctor watched to see if any substance emerged from the penis. A guy I knew was near the front of the line as we were lined up alphabetically. He stepped up to the doctor and skinned it back and milked it down several times real quick. The old doctor sitting there bored at looking at one penis after another commented, "Son, you really know how to do it." The soldier replied, "Yes Sir. I practiced last night!." Everyone in line heard the words and started to laugh. Soon the whole bunch of us were rolling on the ground and it took a long time to get order restored and all of us lined up again. I remember that one of the cooks in the mess hall was pulled out of line and sent back to the Company for medical treatment as he did have active VD.
As we processed for rotation, we spent several days and nights waiting for final orders. I remember it being very cold and the tents had not yet been equipped with stoves for heating. We were provided a shelter half (one half of a pup tent) and three blankets, and canvas folding cots to sleep on. So we pooled our resources. Two guys would sleep together on a single canvas and wood-legged cot, with one shelter half on the cot and two blankets on the shelter half. Then the other four blankets were put on top. We slept in our clothes (long underwear, field jacket, leather gloves with wool liners, two pairs of socks and our boots, and hats with ear flaps tied down over the ears), plus we pulled the blankets over our heads. We were all getting pretty ripe by that time, as it had been several weeks at least since having a bath. But it was a situation where we all were ripe and no one smelled worse than anyone else.
From the Division Replacement company we were taken to board a train to travel to Inchon for loading on a ship to be transported to Japan. It was to be a short trip of no more than forty miles, and should not have taken more than six hours. Instead, it took almost three days. Incoming trains loaded with supplies had high priority of the train tracks and we were low priority, so we were switched on sidings as one came through. Since the trip was to be short, we were not given any rations or water and we finally got hungry. When on the siding, we raided the farm fields for what vegetables were left in them, like radishes, cabbage, and such, as well as drinking water from the farm wells. It was risky to eat and drink these things as the Koreans used human excrement as fertilizer. Our systems were not used to this kind of food and water. We had been warned all along about eating foods and drinking the water, but when we had no choice between being hungry and thirsty and local water and food, you give in to your needs.
I have been told by friends who were in line companies that they even drank water out of the rice paddies when they were thirsty and no treated water was available. As far as I know, the stuff I ate and drank never harmed my body, but I do not know that for sure. I have always wondered. In the last several years, I have heard of Korean veterans developing things like Korean Hemorrhagic Fever and a parasite called a Liver Fluke. I guess I was one of the lucky ones, as I never have developed any disease except for the peripheral neuropathy I have in both legs and feet and both arms and hands (to a lesser degree) that was a result of the super cold, thirty to forty degrees below zero temperatures in North Korea in 1950 and south Korea in January and February 1951.
When we arrived in Inchon, we were processed again through some other Replacement Company. We were deloused in both Korea and Japan with DDT. I did get body lice while in Korea, though I am not sure where I got them. We were in close contact a lot and some sharing of clothing went on. This could be how the lice were passed. In the extreme cold of North Korea, there was little bother, though all of the civilians passing through our areas were doused with DDT. In 1951 after it warmed some, the lice were worse. We got clean clothes at shower companies that could have been infected with the lice. Plus, once a person got a sleeping bag, he never let it get away from him. This was a great location for lice to survive.
I have been racking my brain for years trying to remember the last part of the name of the ship that took me from Korea to Japan. It was "Marine Private....". It seems to me that the last name was something like Jones, Smith, or such. On board ships, the Navy did not permit smoking and gambling below decks in the holds where the soldiers slept, but the crowd I was with was a bit unruly. The Navy was afraid to venture into our areas. We were still wearing the clothing we had been wearing in Korea for at least two months without a bath or change of clothes. I can't remember anyone taking a bath on ship, as it was only a few day's trip and there was no clean clothing to change into after showering anyway.
Our records went along with us as we processed, and there must have been some interviews, but I can't remember any. While in Japan for further processing, we were given our records for hand-carrying them from point to point.
After riding the ship to Japan, we were taken to an Army Camp named Camp Mower. I have no idea where it was located in Japan or on which island. Upon arriving in more 2 and 1/2 ton trucks, we were marched onto a parade field where we had to strip naked and drop our clothing and anything else we had on the ground. It was later burned. This was in late October 1951 and it was quite cool in Japan, but not the real cold like I had experienced in North Korea. We were all shivering. While standing there, the local Japanese women who worked on the base were constantly walking by the parade field and looking at us. I had an idea of how animals in a zoo felt being stared at.
From the parade field we were marched to a building where we first had another short arm inspection, and then were sprayed from head to foot with DDT for decontamination, as we were covered with lice. Then we went into a building where we were watched closely as we showered to make sure we were getting clean. Again, we were doused from shoulders down with DDT. Then we were issued clean underwear, socks, shoes, fatigues, jackets, and hats. At this camp, we had more processing and some medical processing, and it was in this hospital hallway that I helped my friend from the Company dispose of the mental health information on his records.
We were under quarantine, but while at this Camp Mower, quite a few guys slipped through the fence to visit the local prostitutes. I didn't do that out of fear of the stories of disease I had been hearing. Instead, I took advantage of going to the bar on the base and having some American beer for the first time in over a year. I was shocked once when I saw a group of guys drink all the beer they could hold, then make themselves throw up to make room for drinking more beer.
The ship I rode home on was the General William A. Weigel. I only knew one man from my company, and I did not see him one single time from Japan to San Francisco after boarding the ship. We were assigned to different holds to sleep in and that ship load was the largest group at that time leaving Korea, Japan, and heading to the States. I later found out that there were 4,414 soldiers onboard the ship.
The whole trip home took around two weeks. It was a straight trip from Japan to San Francisco, without any stop over anywhere. The ship was running on only one engine during the trip, which caused a problem with having enough power for everything on the ship. On the way home, at first we had three meals a day. With the amount of soldiers to eat, we got in the chow line when we got up in the morning, ate our breakfast, and then got back in the back of the line as the line was now for dinner. Then we ate and got back in the line again for supper. As we got into a warmer climate, this was cut back to two meals a day--in the early morning before daybreak, and in the evening after the sun went down. The movies on deck which were our only entertainment were discontinued at this time and the evening meal was served during the time the movie showing normally would have been. I remember that there was no ventilation running to force cooler air down into the sleeping areas, so lots of us spread out on the open decks to try and sleep until some Navy Officer came by and roused us up and sent us back to the troop compartments.
The general mood on the ship was that it was great to be going home and that the problems of the feeding and sleeping were not bad enough to totally dampen the good mood. I was in fairly good spirits the first couple of days, knowing that I was going home. But then I developed a bad, very itchy rash on my back. We had received only two sets of clothes--underwear and outer wear--and I had tried to wash my underwear, failing to get the soap out of them. This set off the rash. So I went on sick call. It was held on an upper deck of the ship and after getting breakfast, I got in line. WOW! The line extended two times around this entire deck (a whole lot of guys!). After waiting out the line, it came my turn to go in and see the doctor. He was not in a good mood. The first question from him was, "Have you got VD, too?" My reply was, "No doctor. I have this itchy rash on my back. Look." He prescribed some lotion for me and said to get someone to rub it on my back. Boy, I guess that all the guys with the VD had been quite busy during their last days in Korea.
Meanwhile, I am among this great number of guys and only know one guy for sure and had not seen him, in fact never did see him on the entire trip. So here I was with the lotion and the job of finding someone to put the lotion on me. I ended up splashing as much as I could on my back and trying to smear it around. I guess I did some good, as the rash was finally gone by the time we hit San Francisco, California.
As usual, I sought out a job on the ship as it always gave you some extra freedom to move around. You also generally got to eat before regular chow time, and there was time to eat a bit more. This trip I ended up in the galley doing various jobs that were given to me as soon as I finished a previous job and looked around to take a rest.
We hit some rough weather on the trip, and I saw a new sight on the chow line that I had never seen before. Several of the guys serving were seasick, but still working and serving the best they could. The guy spooning out the mashed potatoes had his serving spoon in his right hand and was holding the handle of a bucket in his left hand. He spooned out as many servings as he could, then held the line up while he turned around and threw up into the bucket. Another guy was serving pieces of cake. They were baked on large pans called "100-man serving pans or trays." He had set up a new pan and gave out only a dozen or so servings, when he suddenly threw up all over the top of the whole pan. He just picked it up and set it aside, grabbed another pan, and continued serving. The really funny thing about this was that, even with the motion of the ship and guys queasy to begin with, I didn't notice anyone else being set off throwing up themselves because of this. No one was bothered enough that they got out of the line because of the sickness of these guys. We had all been through an awful lot and had learned to live with things that we had never thought we ever could. Also on this trip, we were still existing on the issue of only a couple of sets of clothing and the great number of guys, so that a lot of us passed up on bathing for days at a time. We were already used to going without baths for a long time in Korea.
A couple of days before reaching San Francisco, California, while working with others mopping the decks of the galley, we hit a hard wave and the ship lurched. I ended up getting hit with the end of a mop handle on my left temple. It near knocked me out and left me with quite a shiner of a black eye for getting off the trip. The eye cleared up in a few days during processing and on the trip by troop train back to Illinois.
When the ship docked, there was a band waiting that played quite a few songs as we got off the ship. We were marched to another part of the dock and boarded ferry boats that transported us from the docks to Camp Stoneman, California, where we were processed some more before being sent on our way home. I can't remember there being any emotion more than being happy to be home and the chants going on of "Mamas lock up your daughters tonight, for we are home!" It sounds corny now, but it was fun shouting it at that time back then.
I can't remember the actual process of disembarking, but it had to be that we were assigned to small groups and took our turn at leaving the ship and marching to the ferry boats that took us to Camp Stoneman. We were not allowed any chance to do anything after getting off the ship except to board the ferry boats for the trip to Stoneman. Once there, we were assigned barracks buildings to live in during our processing. We were issued new clothing and bedding. By that time, it was getting late in the day. We had a sack lunch that we ate while on the ferry boat--the same as the sack lunch we ate when riding from Camp Stoneman to the docks at San Francisco a year before. After supper, we were free until the next morning. The only thing I can remember is visiting the Post Exchange (PX) for some things like razor blades and candy bars.
After I was processed through Camp Stoneman, I rode a train to Fort Sheridan, Illinois. It was an interesting trip, as we were traveling in troop train cars that had been hooked on the back end of a civilian train. We were allowed to eat in the dining room car after the civilians had their meals. We did not have to pa for our meals as the Army was paying the cost of us eating, as well as the cost of riding the train. But the dining room porters after serving us passed through the car placing small tip saucers on every table. They had "salted" the tip sauces with several quarters in each one, and were shaking and rattling the tip saucers, but I don't think they picked up much from us.
After arriving at Fort Sheridan, I was given furlough to home then back to Fort Sheridan for reassignment. I was sent then to Fort Ord, California, for processing and reassignment in the Sixth Army area (western states). At Fort Ord, I tried to get on the burial detail, accompanying dead soldiers being brought back to the States for burial. The burial detail was a coveted assignment as you received separate rations money to cover your travel expenses, eating, and housing in motel or hotel. The travel on train most often had to be paid, if you could not find someone that would give you the money you spent. Then on the train you hardly ever had to pay for meals as someone almost always paid for your meals. The housing was done the same way, or you stayed with someone from the family. Another side benefit was that it was an emotional time and the women of the extended family were said to be cooperative also. I was only a Corporal and the person needed to be at least a Sergeant, so that deal fell through.
Then I was assigned to Camp Cooke, California, near Lompoc, California, to the 161st Ordnance Depot Company of the 393rd Ordnance Battalion. A trip was made to Camp Irwin, east of Bakersfield. Then back to Camp Cooke. Then to Camp Roberts, near Paso Robles, California. Next I was sent to Camp Desert Rock, Nevada, about 90 miles north of Las Vegas. Then I moved to Camp Mercury, Nevada, and finally back to Camp Roberts, where I was discharged on June 20, 1953.
At Camp Cooke, we ran the Post Ordnance Department. At Camp Irwin, we inventoried the Camp's Ordnance Department. At Camp Roberts, we were busy with the change to 3623rd Ordnance.
When I was at Camp Cooke, oil had recently been found on the grounds. We were in the process of moving the entire camp personnel out so that the camp could be shut down as a military installation. I was in the 161st Ordnance Depot Company, which had around eight semi-tractors and many flatbed trailers for the tractors. We got the job of hauling a lot of the supplies and materials that make up a military camp to a new location.
During the moving process, while my background was being checked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the unit was renamed as the 3623rd Ordnance Maintenance Company. Our home changed to Camp Roberts, California military reservation near Paso Robles. From there, we were sent to Camp Desert Rock, Nevada, which was about 95 miles north of Las Vegas. After a few days at Camp Desert Rock, my company split in half, with one half remaining at Camp Desert Rock, and the other half--the half that I was in--moving about five miles away to Camp Mercury.
My radiation exposure came in 1953, long after I had been in Korea, though there were soldiers who were being trained at the Nevada Test site in 1951, 1952, and 1953 who were getting this training before being sent to fight in Korea. I had a good friend who was part of a battalion of Marines from San Diego, California base who trained in Nevada in 1953. They were to be trained by being exposed to close distance to an explosion of an atomic bomb, then were sent back to the base and scattered through the various Marine Corps units where it was thought that they could be a steadying influence on fellow Marines by being a person who had been there before and lived to tell about it and to explain just what was happening as atomic bombs were exploding around them.
The testing that my unit participated in was done at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. The site was divided into three main areas: Camp Desert Rock, Camp Mercury, and the test site areas such as Frechman Flats and other named areas. Camp Desert Rock was used mainly for the processing in and out and housing the various short-time military units that were being brought in for each individual test shot of an atomic bomb. Camp Mercury was the location where the scientists who assembled the bombs lived and where the various VIPs who were at the tests were housed. My unit was split in half, with one half at each camp.
We ran motor pools and handled test site test objects. The personnel at Camp Desert Rock mainly drove the two and one half ton trucks that transported the military personnel from the camp location to the trenches very close to ground zero. Personnel were in these trenches during an explosion. Desert Rock personnel also transported some test items to the actual testing location.
I was in the test series from March to June of 1953 with the code name "Upshot-Knothole". I think there were eleven atomic devices exploded in this series of tests, but there may have only been ten. the U.S. auto makers had donated 150 brand new cars for test items. We drove them into place, recovered them for study, and replaced and recovered them again. We drove bus loads of VIPs to the test sites and to the viewing sites.
These tests were conducted for various reasons:
During the testing, the others and I in my Company were like "jacks of all trades." We were an ordnance maintenance company, and we operated the two camps' motor pools. We did various jobs in the motor pools, such as mechanics performing mechanical work on the vehicles assigned to the camps. We drove two and a half ton trucks with various military personnel to and from the trenches and fox holes. They were in close to ground zero when bombs were exploded. We drove several types of busses, including school busses, to carry various VIPs and high ranking military personnel out toe ground zero location the day before an explosion so they could see the power that was built to hold the bomb up in the air for its explosion, and the underground recording structure about 1,000 yards from the tower. It was 15 feet thick concrete walls, floor, and roof, and under about 15 feet of sand. In it were various test instruments and cameras to record the results of the instruments. These were protected from the explosion by the entrance being on the away side from the tower and the entrance tunnel making three changes in direction and a "blast proof" heavy steel door at each turn. Usually only the last door held. The first and second doors were destroyed in the explosion. Also, the trip out was designed to expose the VIPs to a "bit" of radiation and to calm their fears of being in a radioactive area.
On one trip, though, I was driving a school bus of the VIPs and I had on board as usual a "radiation safety officer." This one was a young 2nd Lieutenant who was kind of puffed up with the importance of his job. We halted at the ground zero spot and he stepped off the bus and turned on his Geiger counter to read the extent of radiation at that moment. He then pulled out his slide rule and did a couple of calculations on it. (Can we at this stage of hand-held calculators remember the use of slide rules?) Then he re-boarded the bus, and in his most impressive authority-type voice told the VIPs on board that, "This area is quite hot and I can only let you stay in the area about 15 minutes maximum, because if you stayed much longer than 30 minutes, you would be as fried as southern fried chicken!" We also handled various test items as mentioned before--the automobiles and a side job that occurred quite often of locating a vehicle and or person. Sometimes a scientist checked a military vehicle out of the motor pool and drove off without checking gasoline or oil and the vehicle ran out or broke down some way. Then we had to drive around the area to locate the vehicle and/or driver.
The government essentially took no precautions to ensure our safety during the testing. We were issued film badges occasionally, and we wore them day in and out every day. But we were not always issued a new film badge and the old one was dropped into a container in the motor pool area. I cannot remember these badges being labeled with our names or Army serial numbers, so I wonder if they were ever checked for radiation and/or cross-checked as to who wore them.
The clothing we wore at all times was regular army issue fatigues and combat boots. We did not have wheeled creepers that we could lay on to slide under the vehicles when we worked on them. As we wiggled underneath the vehicle on our backs wearing our fatigues, we stirred up the dust on the floor of the garage and breathed the dust that was radioactive. Also, as we worked under the vehicles, there was a constant falling from underneath the vehicle of dust and sand that we disturbed as we worked. This dust and sand fell into our mouths, nose, eyes, ears, and inside our fatigues, and this dust and sand was also radioactive. This has pertained only to my type of unit and the type of activities we were involved in. There also were military personnel who were trucked to fox holes and trenches that were very close to the actual ground zero area of the explosion. These troops never were issued any kind of protective clothing, and as soon as the bomb exploded and the first 15 minutes or so seconds of the white light from the explosion passed, were required to stand up and face the ground zero area just in time to be hit with two effects of the explosion:
We were never really warned or told of any kind of dangers that could result from our exposure to the radiation. The only pre-test instruction I can remember was when standing at the blast observation area for the very first test on March 17, 1953. These areas were as close to ground zero as four miles and as far away as ten miles. This area was about four miles from the tower. The announcer told us over a loud speaker system to turn our backs to the tower--which we could see as it was lit up with lights. Then we were told to close our eyes. At the first explosion I was at, the announcer forgot to tell us to put our hands over our eyes. When the bomb first exploded, for about 15 to 20 seconds, there was a white light a thousand times brighter than the sun. With this white light was also a massive release of radiation, so that a person can see through his closed eyelids, though it is a rosy sight due to blood in the eyelids. You can see the soldiers standing around you, but even more so you can see the outlines of their major bones and dog tags hanging under shirts and coats. The effect created by the massive release of radiation is sort of like you are standing in a giant fluoroscope like doctors use to see inside of a person's body. This was quite a shock the first time it happened.
A side thought is that, when the bomb explodes, there is not the loud sound of a bang like conventional bombs or TNT make when they explode. Instead, we heard a growling-like sound. We joked about it, saying it was like a dragon out in the desert growling.
One funny story that I can tell happened when two of my friends and I missed the VIP bus to the observation site due to having been drinking. We jumped into my car and headed to the site, since we all had secret clearance credentials and could go nearly everywhere we wanted to go in the entire test site. I parked my car among the buses that had carried the VIPs out to the observation area. One friend fell asleep in the back seat of the car and was passing gas. So the other friend and I rolled down the car windows and left him there while we walked to the observation area. This other friend had been a prisoner of war of the Japanese during World War II. He was starved to near death and became a compulsive eater. He was a Mr. 5x5 in size as a result. This particular test yielded an unexpected near double amount of explosion. Though we were about ten miles away, we felt it a lot. As the shock wave traveled toward us, I tried to get my friend to turn sideways to ride out the shock wave. He was a bit late in turning and was thrown to the ground on his back. He looked sort of like an upside down turtle. After getting him to his feet, we walked back to my car and found our friend still sleeping. It was quite funny at the time as it was quite cold in the desert at that time of night (which was actually morning around 4:00 a.m.).
The other funny thing to look at was all the VIP busses around my car had left their windows closed, and all the windows were shattered from the concussion from the explosion. I have always wondered what I could have done about my car windows if I had left them closed and they had shattered also. Since we were under strict secrecy rules, how would I have been able to replace my windows or report it to my insurance agent when I could not speak about what was happening at the test site.
I'm not sure when we became aware that there might be danger involved in nuclear testing. We joked among ourselves about being guinea pigs and glowing in the dark--kind of a dark humor. We were never told that there would be either short or long-term effects from the exposure to radiation. Over the years since, I have wondered about the effects on myself from the amount of radiation I received. I was at the test site for nearly five full months, and the whole area was radioactive to different degrees--even to the bunks that we slept in. Our motor pool garage had a concrete floor, and as vehicles were brought in for maintenance, a person checked them with a Geiger counter and then drew chalk circles on it with numbers inside the circle. These numbers were the degree of radiation at that point on the vehicle.
I now belong to the National Association of Atomic Veterans (NAAV) and the National Association of Radiation Survivors (NARS). The NAAV group is made up entirely of ex-military personnel who were in one or more test series. The NARS group is made up of both ex-military and civilians. I have not been active with the NAAV group, but in the past was one of the regional vice presidents of the NARS group, representing six states. I am no longer a regional vice president of NARS, however.
I have only three health problems at this time that I think can be related to my exposure. I was testing a battery for a vehicle one time and the rubber bulb on the tester popped off the glass tube and both eyes were filled with radioactive battery acid. I had never had eye trouble before this, and then I needed to wear and use glasses. I also have hypertension and have had it from shortly after I was discharged from the Army. I read one article on the effects of radiation that stated that these massive bursts of radiation that passed through our bodies at the time of the explosion were "frying" the beginnings of plaque in our arteries, and starting an early buildup in our arteries.
I have also itched over my entire body constantly since I was discharged in June of 1953. It is the type of an itch that occurs below the surface of the skin and can’t be "reached" by scratching the surface of the skin. When a bad bout occurs, it is like I am receiving electrical shocks under my skin. This, in turn, triggers a scratch response and since I cannot reach the itch on the surface, I scratch until I tear my skin and start to bleed. Most of the year I sleep wearing heavy sweat pants and shirts for pajamas as the material in these items is absorbent. If I don’t wear them, I bleed so badly that the sheets are bloody and my wife has to change them daily.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has run a few tests, as did my private doctors. I was also checked at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. So far, there is no conclusion as to what I have. One doctor will say I have eczema. One doctor will say I have psoriasis. And one doctor just shrugs and scratches his head. No one has been able to tell me definitely what I have that causes the itching.
Though I have only received a small amount of my records, I have requested copies of my military records. The explanation from the government for me not receiving the requested copies is that there was a "fire" that burned the records at the records center in St. Louis, Missouri. But anyone who has ever served in the military knows that the military never ever had any records done in the singular form. At the very least a record was done in duplicate, so it makes no sense that the Records Center would claim that there was only one set of records of individuals, and it would be at the St. Louis Records Center. There is a definite stalling program by the Department of Veterans Affairs in regard to granting claims for compensation by atomic veterans.
During the presidential terms of both Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush, their Secretaries of Energy both notified their president that there were records of American military personnel being used as guinea pigs in atomic experiments. Both President Reagan and President Bush told their energy secretaries to bury this information back into the department’s records. During President William Clinton’s term, his energy secretary also informed him that these same records describing military personnel being used as guinea pigs had been found. He gave the order that these records could be declassified and made available to whoever wanted to see them.
I never went too much crazy after returning from Korea. I was still in the Army for around a year and a half after leaving Korea, and this combined with a slow trip back to the USA back from Korea by ship slowed my reactions to returning to civilian life. With getting married shortly thereafter and the concerns for providing a living for my family, I had no real problems returning to civilian life. I drank some and chased women while I was still in the military in California and Nevada. At home in Illinois, I got hooked on a young girl who was messed up in her head, but I finally got over her. Mostly, I was just glad to be back in the USA and away from the war. Funny now thinking on that time, I cannot remember giving any thought that I might have to go back to Korea. The war was dragging along and peace talks were on. Since then, I have learned that there were discussions about using nuclear weapons against the Chinese in Korea, along with the idea of spreading radioactive waste on the ground from side to side of North Korea, just south of the border with Manchuria.
I did not re-enlist. I just took my discharge. I did think about re-enlisting for a couple of minutes during discharge processing, as I was asked if I wanted to re-enlist. But that was a quick and easy decision to not re-enlist. The war was still on and the military (Army) was changing--for me, too much at that time--with things like integrating the troops. I, like a lot of other guys, was not comfortable with these changes. I was discharged from the Army on June 20, 1953, after four years, nine months, and twenty-eight days of service.
After receiving my discharge, I attended two years at Purdue University’s Calumet Campus in Hammond, Indiana. I took a course connected with steel making in conjunction with my job at Inland Steel Company in East Chicago, Indiana. I lived at home and attended classes either in daytime or nighttime, depending on what shift I was working. It was heavy on Chemistry and Mathematics relating to steel making.
I also married three months after discharge. I married Mildred Mary Holley of East Chicago, Indiana (the harbor section of East Chicago) on October 17, 1953. We have had four children. Our first born, Penny Lynn Kendall, was born November 28, 1954. She passed away on January 8, 1955, with her death listed as "a virus." That was a buzz word in the 1950s. Our second born was Karen Kay Kendall, born August 7, 1956. She married Donald Batson and they have one child, Samuel Kendall Batson, born March 14, 1992. They reside in Anthem, Arizona, about 15 miles north of Phoenix. Michael Alan Kendall was our third child. He was born October 3, 1957 and passed away on December 31, 1957. His death was also listed as "a virus." Tamara Lynn Kendall was our fourth child. She was born August 24, 1960 and is the widow of Timothy R. Biggs. They had one child Gregory Ryan Biggs, born October 19, 1982. They live in Chesterton, Indiana, about ten miles east of our home in Portage.
After we married, my wife did not get pregnant for some time. I wondered if there was any connection between that and my exposure to radiation while serving in the Army. I had a test done of my sperm at a veteran's hospital in Chicago and was told that the sperm was good. Then after the birth and 40 days later, the death of our first born child, I wondered some more. My mother voiced the question, "Did my exposure have any connection to the death of the child?" This concern was put into the back of my mind as the second born child was born and we were involved with parenthood. The question surfaced again with the birth and death three months later of our third born child. Again, the thought was put on the back burner and only brought to the surface again occasionally. I feel that the deaths of the two children and the health problems of the two living children were a result of my exposure to radiation during my service at the Nevada nuclear test site. I have no definite hard facts to back up my beliefs. The formation of these beliefs came about as a result of my correspondence and interaction with other veterans who were exposed as I was to dangerous levels of radiation, and the fact that we all are having almost the same exact results in our lives. I have not done any formal studies or such, but I have read about some of the Nevada tests and I have seen videos of some of them. Mostly I have discussed with other atomic veterans about our experiences.
The one and only job I had after discharge until my retirement was at Inland Steel Company in East Chicago, Indiana. I started working on August 7, 1953, and worked until June 20, 1988, when I had to quit working as I was disabled due to a skin condition on both hands. My official date of retirement was January 1, 1990 due to being carried by my company's insurance as disabled until the date of actual retirement.
I only worked at the one company, but I worked at four separate jobs in the steel mill. My first job was that as a laborer, and lasted only one day to satisfy union hiring conditions. The second job I did was then as a millwright helper. We worked on the large cranes that unloaded the iron ore from the ships that brought the iron ore to the company docks. I worked at this for about two years. The next job was an oiler job as a preliminary to my next job, as we worked in sequence type of jobs and the oiler was the step before the crane man. I worked as an oiler, learning how to operate the crane for about a year. The next job was as a "B" Operator on the ore Bridge Crane. We worked on the cranes during the summer months to unload the iron ore, and during the winter when less cranes were needed due to the ore ships not running during the winter, we worked either as oilers again or millwright helpers again.
This lasted for ten years and then we were promoted to "A" Operator class. There was always too many "A" Operators for the number of open jobs during the winter, and again we worked as an oiler or helper, but drawing the job class pay for an "A" operator. A few times during these years there were cut backs in the steel industry and we worked in two other parts of our department. We were the Blast Furnace Department, and a few times we worked labor or helper jobs on the Blast Furnaces and another section of the department called the Sinter Plant. The Blast Furnaces made iron that was sent in the old days to Open Hearth Furnaces to be made into steel, and later to Basic Oxygen Furnaces (BOF) to change iron into steel.
One time at work it was a damp night with slight wind. The blast furnaces across the canal from the steel company I worked in were venting large amounts of carbon monoxide gas, and it was drifting in clouds across to our plant. Symptoms of over exposure to gas fumes are a lot like a cold. I had the beginnings of a cold and wasn't paying attention to the symptoms. I just knew I did not feel good. An oiler who arrived on another crane found the operator slumped over his controls near dead and alerted the foreman. We were all taken to the company infirmary for treatment with oxygen to restore the oxygen levels in our blood as we were all under 50 percent oxygen content in our blood. This brought back a memory of my stint in Japan just prior to going to Korea. At that time, I saw an interesting sight I had never seen before. Five years after World War II, Japan was still trying to recover from the war. Gasoline was in short supply. Some cars had a small burner bolted on the rear of the car. Something like charcoal was burned in it that created fumes that were collected in a large bag of some kind on the top of the car. these fumes were then injected into the engine on the car to supply fuel. I later thought about that car when I worked in the blast furnaces at a steel company. In the steel-making process, carbon monoxide is created. As a safety precaution, there were burners on top of the blast furnaces into which the carbon monoxide was diverted and burned. So I guess that carbon monoxide from the small burner of the Japanese car was being used to power the cars.
Now that I am retired, I keep busy with regular mail and e-mail correspondence with numerous veterans. We try to help each other. I was exposed to super cold conditions in Korea in 1950 and 1951, and then ionizing radiation in Nevada in 1953. I am also involved with my Society of the Third Infantry Division. When we get the chance, my wife and I like to travel and see the USA, as well as visit with our daughter and family in Arizona and other daughter and grandson locally.
In 1995, while on a trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico for a convention of National Association of Radiation Survivors, combined with the 50th anniversary of the first atomic bomb "Trinity", exploded at White Sands Testing Grounds, we stopped in Lawton, Oklahoma. Has it grown! But the old downtown was missing and I was told the city leaders were bothered by the association with the old downtown and it was torn down and built new over it. Also, a lot of Fort Sill that I knew was gone, and new was in its place. I did see some old barracks like I lived in, visited the old post and Geronimo's cell, and saw "Atomic Annie", the cannon that had fired the only shell with an atomic warhead in 1953 while I was in Nevada.
I received the Korean Service Medal with three bronze campaign stars, the National Defense medal, the Japanese Occupation medal, the United Nations medal, and the Good Conduct medal. These medals are important to me, except for the Good Conduct medal. I do not know why that was thrown in, as I was in trouble several times during my near five years of service. The others represent to me that I did participate in and help in the first war that was fought to defeat the Communist Manifesto of World Domination. Had it not been for the sacrifices made by the American and other national military services who fought in Korea under the United Nations, the world today would be under the control and domination of the Communist nations of Russia and China. It is interesting to note that the National Defense medal and the Japanese Occupation medal were still being used during the Korean War, as they were from World War II.
To me, a "war hero" is not someone who receives a lot of medals. Instead, he is the person who served in the front line kind of fighting--a person who was continually in danger and discomfort, yet that person never shrank back from his duty nor let down his buddies. Never serving in a front line type of unit, I never served with such a person. After I was back in the States, I did serve with and know several guys who fit this type, bit I did not know them at the time they were in front line units in Korea.
Recently, Associated Press stories have appeared about a massacre that was supposed to have taken place in a little village in Korea called Nogun-ri. I have followed to some degree the stories about the killings at Nogun-ri, the reason being that the person who claimed to be there and having participated in the incident, and who later was found to be lying as he had not been assigned to the 7th Cavalry until long after the incident, was a former member of my Disabled American Veterans Chapter. When I knew him, and this was around nine to ten years before the recent stories started, he was quite an unstable person. We members of the Chapter took what he had to say with a grain of salt.
I have some thoughts about atrocities like this happening in war. I never did personally see any atrocities, except for the time I was involved in capturing some Koreans in November 1950 in Wonsan. Of the persons we captured, at the time we were told that one was a North Korean soldier. But I am not sure of the others. I lost track of what happened to all of the others as I was involved with taking the one person to a South Korean Army counter intelligence corps (CIC) facility. At the CIC facility, the person was beaten by the South Koreans of the CIC, as well as by one of our American soldiers. While at the CIC facility, I looked through a small window in a door leading into the basement of the remains of a building. The basement was lit only by a few candles and a few dim light bulbs. Inside were what looked to be hundreds of Koreans. I do not know if they were civilian or military, but I believe in my heart today that the most of them were civilians and that they were all put to death. But that is only a belief, as I have no concrete information.
One other thing I saw and already mentioned in this interview was a guy in my Company who went over the edge and put hand grenades in the graves of Koreans who were being buried with the belief that someday these bodies would be dug up and the pin in the hand grenade would have rusted out. When disturbed, it would explode, killing or wounding those who were digging up the body. I believe, but never saw any incident, that there were probably a lot of unwarranted killings, due to the heightened emotions and quirks of war time.
There were the usual strange tragedies of war, too. I remember that one time we were set up in an area in 1951 for some time and across the road from the camp was a water-filled shell hole with the remains of a two and a half ton truck in it. One day a truck driven by Koreans pulled the wrecked truck out of the hole and two Koreans went into the water and started feeling around. I noticed they had hold of something and were fastening wires to the object. They climbed out of the water and two climbed into the bed of the truck. Another was on the ground. The two pulled on the wires and dragged out of the water the bodies of two men, both bloated quite badly. The first was pulled up and into the truck bed. The second caught on something. The guy on the ground was using a board like a 2x4. He was pushing to help when he accidentally disemboweled the body. Then the smell drifted over the road and into our camp, gagging nearly every person. It was at noontime, when chow was being served. Very few had any appetite for eating.
I do not think our government is doing as well as it could be doing in locating, returning, and accounting for our Missing in Action personnel. But I know these kind of dealings are controlled by the North Korean government and their attempts to extort money from our government and continue their efforts to preserve what they think is the Communistic idea and way of life. We Americans have had a habit of being kind to our enemies after defeating them, but this war ended in a truce and therefore, we have not technically defeated the North Koreans and Chinese. But I would like to see American food and help for the North Koreans be tied into accounting for and recovering remains of the dead and missing of the Korean War.
I have many memories of Korea, but none as strong as the memories of the cold in North and South Korea in late 1950 and early 1951; the memories of the refugees fleeing from the battle zones; and the children trying to survive. Beyond trying to survive the cold and the exhausting daily routine, the hardest thing for me personally about being in Korea was seeing the conditions of the refugees, especially the children and how they suffered.
I was changed by both my experiences in the Korean War and in the nuclear testing program. I had seen what children suffered during war. The cold war was going on and there was the constant threat of nuclear war starting any minute, so I was a lot stricter to my children during their childhood because I wanted instant obedience to my command. I was afraid that if something happened and I tried to tell them what to do, they might want to question me on what I wanted. My thoughts were, "Do now what I say and after the situation has passed, we can then discuss the what and why for my orders." My wife noticed that something was wrong in the way that I acted in dealing with our children. She realized that I was not trying to harm them and was concerned only because of my experiences in Korea and Nevada. Not realizing it, I have suffered from PTSD ever since Korea and the nuclear testing due to seeing things that the ordinary person never would see in his or her lifetime. That PTSD gets worse as the years go past, and I have a hard time controlling my emotions.
I also have permanent disabilities in both legs and feet from what is called Peripheral Neuropathy. This is that the peripheral nerves are dying and cause constant pain. Both feet are cold as a block of ice at all times. This is a result of the super cold winter in North and South Korea in the winter of 1950-1951. I am also having trouble with arthritis in the left knee. It was frozen sometime in February 1951 while I was driving a Jeep. I mentioned in this memoir about the fact that my legs are long and my left knee hung outside the body of the Jeep and was frozen from the cold temperature.
I have had difficulties in dealing with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the main reason being that I am an atomic veteran of the testing of atomic bombs. Not all of my military records are available for me to use in my efforts to get compensation. The DVA finally did accept the fact that, if any person was stationed in North Korea in 1950, this person was exposed to extremely cold weather and is presumed to be affected by that extreme cold weather. The DVA granted me (after a long battle) 60% service-connected compensation for my legs and feet, but continues to deny me a 100% service connection as being unemployable.
I think it was right for the United States to send troops to Korea. We were ill-prepared, as the US has always been when forced into war, and the first troops sent in were essentially only cannon fodder to slow the North Korean troops until we could get in enough men and equipment to fight the war right. I feel sorry for those troops, as they were sacrificed due to our country being, as usual, unprepared and the military cut back. Going further, I think it was right that we intervened as we stood our ground and faced up to the Communist Russians and Chinese and showed that the USA would not back down and would defend the liberty of the people of South Korea.
It was right to go north of the 38th parallel, because in 1950 the North Korean government would not have stopped fighting to drive south and capture all of South Korea. Later after the Chinese got into the fight and the war had dragged along for so long and the Communists saw that they could not achieve their aims in South Korea, they finally agreed to the cease fire in July 1953 that continues to this very day.
The one major mistake that I think altered the war and influenced the outcome of it was General MacArthur's statements that he made regarding China that differed from the official statements that were made by the Truman administration. In the Oriental world and mind, General MacArthur was more near a GOD than a mere man, and the Chinese believed what he was saying rather than what the Truman administration was saying. Later on in the war, as the peace talks were dragging along, the military/political leadership misjudged the Chinese and North Koreans' willingness to sacrifice the lives of uncounted thousands of their troops and ours also in their efforts to stalemate the talks and contest over yards and feet of territory.
I have never revisited Korea. I have thought in the past that it might be nice to go back. I was told years ago by some who had made the trip back that it was a help in quieting some of the ghosts that haunt all of us. However, the area that has so much meaning to me is in North Korea (Wonsan, Hamhung, and Hungnam). They are not accessible and I know that the areas would not look today like they looked then and that I would probably be disappointed if I did visit.
I see a couple of things that came out of the Korean War that were positives. One was that we (the USA and the other countries that also fought against the Communists) took a stand that made the Communists back down from their quest of world domination, starting with South Korea. I also think that the development of weapons and machines in Korea, the increase in manpower, as well as the experience gained by the military, was of great help a few years later when we were again fighting the Communists in Vietnam.
I think that we should continue to station troops in South Korea now, because we show to the world as a whole and the Communists in particular that the USA stands ready to defend the South Korean people in particular and the free world as a whole. It sort of goes way back to the Gun Boat diplomacy that we exercised years ago in China were we "showed the flag." Also along with that idea, we need to maintain a contingent of US troops that are on the ready just in case the North Koreans and the Chinese ever should decide to try and invade South Korea again.
The term "Forgotten War" came as a result of several factors, I think. The Korean War was so soon after the end of World War II, a little less than five years, but enough time that the patriotic aspects of World War II were forgotten. The American people were living in a period of unequaled prosperity and growth, and so a war was just not popular at that time. This was also a war that was different in that we had not been attacked ourselves, and we were defending an Asian Nation, for the first time except for a small role of helping Chinese against Japan in World War II, and fighting other Asian nations on behalf of the South Korean peoples. Then several years later, the Vietnam War started and the unrest and troubled times of that era came more to the forefront of the American public's thought and this further pushed the Korean War out of its place of being recognized as the bold experiment of the United States and the United Nations to halt the expansion of the Communist Nations of the world.
I would hope that some future reader of this memoir will discover in it an understanding about the Korean War's place in history. The war played a very big part in the eventual downfall of the Communist nations and the end of their plans for the conquest and domination of the entire world. Had we, the USA, and other countries that fought alongside of us, not intervened in the war and instead let the Communists have their way, the world would be a completely different place than it is now. To the veterans of the Korean War and the people of South Korea, the Korean War is not a "Forgotten War", but lives in our memory every day of our lives.
I have told my children about the Korean War and about most of my participation in the war. I have also told almost every person I have ever met about the war. I told about the realities of war as much as I could, so that the person I told would know that war is not a nice thing, and living life during a war is a very hard thing. There will be things you will see or do that will stay with you for the rest of your life. You will be scarred by these things. Though war is an unpleasant thing at times, war is necessary to set the world back in order.
I do believe that World War II veterans are accorded somewhat more respect than Korean War and Vietnam War veterans, the reason being that World War II was a "popular" war with much patriotism. The Korean War came along too soon after that for the American public, and was an unpopular war in the public's eye. The Vietnam War was an even more unpopular war than the Korean War. The American public has always been fickle in their dealings with veterans of all wars. There is an old saying:
God and a soldier all men adore, in war but not before.
When the battle is over and all things righted,
God is forgotten and the old soldier neglected.
The Korean War was a great experience and a great education. It has remained in my mind ever since I left Korea in October 1951. The Korean War was a challenge I survived. My life was changed and shaped by my military service time. I loved and tried to protect and provide for my wife and children to a greater degree because of seeing how women and children suffered in war. Because I participated in the atomic bomb testing in Nevada, I saw the damage that an atomic bomb could do. I know what an atomic war could do to the popular. In the event of a nuclear war starting, the lucky ones would be the ones who die in the first minutes and are not left to suffer an agonizing death.
I never resented being sent to Korea. In the comfort of looking back in time, I see that it was the right thing to have been done, especially at the time it was done. We drew a line in the sand so to speak, and told the Communist nations that the free world, especially the USA, would stand up to them and not allow the Communists to continue their dream of world domination.
Likewise, though I was used as a guinea pig in the atomic bomb tests, I realize that our country needed to be able to test and develop atomic weapons. But I believe that I should have been given the opportunity to have said that I did not want to be used as a guinea pig. I also think that I should have been counseled at the time of my discharge regarding marriage and becoming a father, and been accorded medical checkup and follow through for the rest of my life.
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