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Joseph Frank Klekotta
Malvern, OH -
"My strongest memory of Korea is the bitter cold in January, February, and March. I think it was below freezing every day or just about every day, and I was never warm for the first three months I was there. Since then my feet give me a lot of cold weather problems. They never warm up in the winter."
- Joseph Klekotta
My name is Joseph Frank Klekotta of Malvern, Ohio. I was born January 13, 1930 in Berea, Ohio, son of Frank and Vicki Yanke Klekotta. I never moved from Berea until I entered the service in 1952. I was named after both of my grandfathers, whose names were both Joseph. I was the oldest sibling in our family. I had a brother born in 1934 and a sister born in 1937. Both were also born in Berea.
My parents were both born in Berea, and our family was middle class. My mother was a housewife. She also worked as a cleaning lady and did laundry for a few families in Berea. Father was a housepainter working for himself. Both never changed jobs except Father. After he became too old to climb ladders he became a night watchman for a large construction company.
I was very close to my mother. My father was 15 years older than Mom, so I was never very close to him. I was close to my brother, but not close to my sister. She was a lot younger--seven years, and spoiled by an aunt who lived with us at the time. I was a well-behaved child who never got into any trouble of any kind. (At least I never got caught!) I joined the Boy Scouts on my twelfth birthday in 1942. My Scoutmaster was Mr. Goegle. I rose to the rank of Star Scout and was Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. If anything, Boy Scouting taught me how to get along with others, just like the National Guard and Army did later.
During the Great Depression, I guess we were poor but didn't know it at the time. We always had good food. Nothing fancy--just good food. Being the oldest I got some new clothes and my brother got hand-me downs. We got new shoes once a year and then went barefoot in the summer.
I attended grade school at St. Mary's parochial school in Berea from 1937 to 1944, grades 1 to 8. I attended Berea High School from 1944 to 1948, grades 9 to 12. I graduated in May of 1948. I loved school, especially history. To this day I read a lot of history. I liked most of the teachers, but not all. I did not care for the real old ones.
I played a lot of baseball, both sand lot and on the Berea High School team. I worked after school from the eighth grade until 12th grade, and I did not have time for extracurricular activities. I worked three or four different part-time jobs all through high school, plus I had a morning paper route. The route was a seven-day-a-week job delivering newspapers back when all papers had to be delivered by 6 a.m. every day. I never missed a day on the route for four years. I worked two summers cleaning and doing yard work for our church, St. Mary's in Berea. I worked three years after school and Saturdays in a home bakery. I did everything from mopping floors to pan washing and helping the baker bake and mix dough. During summers only, I also worked in a small fruit and vegetable store. All the time I was holding these jobs I managed a B-C average all through high school.
Sunday afternoon December 7, 1941 was a beautiful afternoon. The temperature was in the high 60's and there was not a cloud in the sky. While I was playing a touch football neighborhood game, one of our friends came running to the field and said, "Pearl Harbor was bombed." At the time, none of us knew where Pearl Harbor was, but we learned pretty quick where it was and we now knew that we were at war.
I remember that we were on the poor side, so rationing and shortage of things didn't bother us much because we were used to not having a lot of things. I came from two large families. Dad had eleven brothers and sisters and Mother had nine brothers and sisters, so I had lots of relatives in service. We lost two cousins--brothers who were both killed on the same day in the South Pacific. I don't know just how many in my extended family were in service besides the two brothers. I think we lost about six other friends and relatives. In school, we had waste paper and scrap metal drives. We collected foils, made them into balls, and gave them to the government. We collected lard and grease, too. I personally helped in all drives. Recruiters didn't come to the school. There was no need for them because when a guy graduated or turned 18, most all joined the service or got a job in the war effort. There were no draft dodgers back then. I wanted to join but I was too young, so both Mother and Dad would not sign for me. I was a Boy Scout at the time, and was a runner for air raid wardens during blackout drills and air-raid drills during the war.
The day World War II ended was a beautiful day. I think the whole city of Berea--all 5,000, turned out downtown. They marched and sang through the whole city. I viewed it all from the fourth floor roof of the bank building. What a sight! We watched marchers from about 3:00 p.m. until dark. I will never forget it.
Entering the Military
My father was in the National Guard before World War I and was wounded twice in France while serving with the 69th Rainbow Division. I thought it was my duty to also join the Guard, so I joined the Ohio National Guard in my junior year of high school in 1947. I had always wanted to be in the military. Mother said as long as there was no war she would sign for me to join the Ohio Guard. I knew quite a few of the men who were in the Berea Guard. I joined the 37th Division--the same division my father joined in 1915. I joined the 145th Infantry Regiment of the Ohio 37th Division. It was a tank company that had M-4 World War II tanks. I wanted to join the Marines, but Mom and Dad said, "NO. Finish high school first." I did the next best thing and joined the Ohio Guard with their blessings. My parents signed for me on my 17th birthday. Father was glad I had joined the unit that he belonged to before World War I and Mother signed because there was no war going on at the time. Others in my high school class joined too, but I can't remember just who and their reason. I'm sure some joined so they would not get drafted and could go to college when they finished high school.
The National Guard meetings were held once a week on Tuesday evening from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. We also went to camp for two weeks every summer. We got all kinds of training. We were taught and trained by World War Ii veterans who joined the National Guard at the end of World War II. Some of the trainers I knew. A few I did not at the time of joining. All were combat veterans. Some had fought in Europe and some in the Pacific.
All training was first in classrooms, then hands on. I was trained on the following: M-1 rifle, .30 caliber carbine, .45 caliber hand gun, .45 caliber machine gun ("grease gun"), .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, and 76mm and 105mm tank guns. We were trained on actual pieces of equipment we were using at the time. In the summer there was field training. I went to summer camp every year from 1948 to 1951 and 1953 and 1954. I had small arms training at Camp Perry in Ohio. I also went to Camp Atterbury, Indiana and Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. At the time, we didn't make much money in the National Guard. I joined because I liked the military, not to get rich. If I had to do it again, I would do it. Even though there was no war going on at the time, I took my training very seriously.
After I graduated from high school I worked on the railroad doing track maintenance from 1948 to 1949. I then went to the Studebaker Agency from 1949 to 1952 as an auto mechanic. I got a lot of my training for that by working on my cars and in the National Guard. At the Studebaker Agency I worked on all cars, although most of the work was on Studebakers. I worked for that company until I left for Federal Service in 1952.
War Breaks Out
War broke out in Korea on June 25, 1950. At first I didn't even know where "Korea" was. I knew it was around Japan, but just where I did not know. Most of the news we received at that time was from newspapers and radios. We got some news on television, but the coverage wasn't like it is today. I read all about it in the newspapers and was told about it at our National Guard meeting. No one wants to go to war--if you do, something must be wrong with you. But I knew that, being in the National Guard, I had a good chance of going into Federal service if fighting broke out. You joined the National Guard and you knew that if they needed your unit, you just went. No questions asked. We thought the war in Korea would end quickly--after all, it was such a small country. By all rights it should have been over very quickly.
Our unit stayed in Berea, Ohio, until January 23, 1952. Once our unit got its overseas orders, we worked on all our equipment getting it ready for the move to Camp Polk, Louisiana. When we left for basic training there, my hometown of Berea, Ohio, gave us a great send-off. We had a whole week of parades, dinners and partying, and then we went by troop train to Camp Polk, Louisiana. It took us three days to get there. My dad's parting advice to me was, "Keep your head down and obey all orders, even if you think they are "dumb". He had been in World War I with the famous Rainbow Division. He fought in France and Germany and was wounded twice in France in 1917 or 1918.
I had a girlfriend at the time and she handled the situation very well. I lived at home at the time with my parents, so goodbyes were a daily thing. My car was left for my dad to use while I was in basic training because we were not allowed to take our cars to Camp Polk in January of 1952. I had my mom and dad bring it down to me in May of 1952, and then they went back to Berea by train. l had it for my use from May of 1952 until the time I went over to Korea.
At Camp Polk the whole company went through a short three-week basic training. After that the tank crews and maintenance personnel trained on their tanks. The maintenance personnel in motor pool did our job of keeping all vehicles running and in good repair. We also at that time trained all the draftees that we got to fill our tank crews and the rest of the company. The 37th Division, I believe, never left Camp Polk. It remained there as a training division.
I was in Camp Polk from January of 1952 to December of 1952 except for seven months that I was away at two schools. Most of our basic training for us in the Tank Company was of a physical nature. We had P.T. two and sometimes three times a day--long and short runs, long and short hikes. Most was to get our civilian bodies in “shape". We also had lots of classroom training, gas mask, live range firing, .45 caliber pistols, both M1 and carbine. Some of the crews had 30 caliber machinegun firing. Most of our basic training was doing things we could not do at home armories.
The first school I attended, Track Vehicle Mechanics School, was at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, from April 1952 to July 1952. We learned how to repair and maintain M4 tanks. We were taught by military instructors in the classroom, and hands-on we worked on M4 tanks. It was a very good school and I learned a lot. The second school I attended was in the city of Ft. Wayne, Michigan. Classes were held right in the factory where they built M47 and M48 tanks. The school was named, “The New Ordinance.” I was there from October 1952 to December 1952. Civilian instructors taught us all about the hydraulic and electrical systems of the M47 and M48 turrets, and how to find troubles and then how to fix them. This, too, was a very good school. I enjoyed going to both schools. So I was in Camp Polk from January 1952 to December1952 except for the 7 months I was away at the 2 schools. After my training was completed at Camp Polk, I drove my car to Berea, Ohio in early December 1952.
My girlfriend Carole L. Schultz, and I got married on December 27, 1952, three weeks before I went overseas. Before I was called into federal service, we had made plans that when she turned 18 we would get married. She turned 18 on December 17,1952 (same birth month and day as my mother's), so our original plans were to get married between Christmas and New Year's 1952. At the time we made the plans, I did not know I was going to Korea or even that I would be in the service. It would have been very hard to cancel the wedding because we had a very large Polish wedding. We had just about two weeks together before I had to leave for Korea. In January of 1953 I left the car with my wife and flew to San Francisco, California, for transport to Korea. While I was overseas, my wife then lived with her parents in Berea and worked as a cashier for a large supermarket.
Why did we decide to get married before I left for Korea? Because we were young and foolish and no one could tell us what we should or should not do. I guess we should have waited. Our marriage was okay for 20 years and we had three great children, but we divorced in 1975.
Trip to Korea
I stayed at Camp Stillman for about a week while we got medical check-ups and lots of medical shots. We also sat in on lots of classes with subjects such as, "What to do and not do if captured" and "Keep away from Korean women. They are not very clean." The last thing I did before boarding a ship for Korea was make a couple phone calls home.
I left for Korea in January of 1953 on the Simon B. Buckner. The Buckner was the first of the P2 troop transports built in Alameda, California in 1944-45. She was 609 feet long, 76 feet wide and could cruise at 20 knots. She was equipped with modern safety and lifesaving gear, and could carry between 10,000 and 12,000 troops.. She was part of the fleet of transports and cargo vessels operated by the Military Sea Transportation Service, Dept of the Navy.
I had never been on a big ship before and I was sea sick for at least twelve days of the fourteen days that it took to get to Japan, including on my birthday, January 13, when I turned 23 years old. I was not the only one sick. I'll bet more than three-fourths of the GIs were sick at some time. I didn't sick until the morning of the second day when I made the mistake of trying to eat. I found out what goes down at sea also "comes up." I met an old salt from World War II who fed me salty crackers. That's all I ate for days. He told me to take a top bunk. (They were six high.) He said that if I was on top and someone got sick, at least they wouldn't throw up on me like they did those on a lower bunk. Being a sergeant I was lucky in that I had no duty on the way over. Being sick, I sure was not lucky. We had no training--I guess because the weather was just too bad for any type of training.
We got the tail end of a typhoon and were not allowed on deck for at least seven days. The compartment we slept in sure did smell bad after just two days. The ship rolled so bad at times I thought it would roll over. For entertainment all we did was read and sleep a lot and throw up. Nothing eventful happened on the trip. Getting into the typhoon was enough excitement. About the twelfth day I was on my way from mess when I ran into a high school classmate as he was going to mess. His name was Bob Goloek. We talked awhile and agreed to meet later, but we never met again. Bob was from Berea, Ohio. I think he was a draftee. He was a rifleman in the infantry.
The ship did not go straight to Korea. We stopped in Tokyo harbor and got on a train for a half-day ride to Camp Drake. We stayed in Camp Drake for three days, where we were issued new clothes, winter stuff, boots, etc. We got more medical shots, sat in classes on just everything--what to do if wounded, captured, etc., and were issued a card to present to the enemy if we were captured. On the third day or so we got back on the train and ship and sailed for Korea. If I remember right, it took three or four days to get to Pusan. At least I didn't get sick that time.
First Weeks in Korea
We arrived at the port of Inchon on a January night in 1953 and got off the ship the next day. We got from ship to shore by landing craft. We could immediately tell that we were in a war zone because the buildings on the dock still had shell holes in them and there were G.I. guards all over the place.
Back at Camp Drake I had been assigned to Company B of the 245th Heavy Tank Battalion, 45th Infantry Division. After we offloaded from the ship, we got right on a troop train on the dock and rode it north to the end of the railhead. Since it all took place over 50 years ago, I cannot remember name of towns, but I remember that from the end of the railhead we then went by truck to the 45th Division Headquarters, where we stayed overnight. From there I went again by truck to Company B, 245th Tank Battalion. I was on a train and in the back of trucks for about one and a half days. While on the train going north, we saw many natives, most of whom were women and children. Riding in back of the truck, I didn’t get to see much of anything.
When I joined the company, it was just south of the Main Line of Resistance (MLR). There were no towns anywhere near Company B. The company had been in the rear for about a month and was getting ready to go back on line to relieve Company A of 245th Tank Battalion. Company B was in a valley that had been levied flat by engineers. The company headquarters was on one side of the road and our motor pool was on the other side. We had one metal building, a mess hall and company headquarters. All the rest were squad tents (one tent for two tank crews). The motor pool had a squad tent right in the middle of the motor pool. Altogether I believe there were between ten and twelve tents, more or less. Our tent slept about twelve to fourteen men. Very cozy.
I didn't know a soul in Company B when I got there. I was a single replacement. You must remember that the Ohio 37th Division was a training division and never left Camp Polk, Louisiana. Only replacements were sent overseas. Most going overseas had a year or more to serve. I only had nine months to serve--December 1952 to August 1953 because of my enlistment in the Ohio National Guard. I had re-enlisted in September 1951 for two years, My time of enlistment was up in September 1953. January 1953 to August 1953 was nine months. I tried to explain that to all in Camp Polk, Louisiana, Camp Stillman, California, and Camp Drake, Japan. All told me the same thing: "Sorry, you are on orders and we need MOS # 1660, Tank Mechanic, in Korea." So I went for nine months. I was in Korea from January to August 1953.
When I first got to Korea, Company B had a motor sergeant so at the time there was no need for me to be a motor sergeant, which was my MOS. Consequently, the first job I had in the company was working with a veteran motor pool sergeant for the first month that I was in Korea. For the life of me, I can't remember his name. I just remember that he was a regular army veteran, a very nice guy, and a great teacher. I got to meet all the tank crews and personnel in the maintenance section. They were a good bunch to work with. I knew that if I wanted to go home walking, I had better pay attention to what the veterans told me. At the time I was motor sergeant, all the veterans were in the tank crews and in Company Headquarters. Most all were very good teachers. I had to be told things only once.
From the time I got there at the end of January 1953 until we went back on line, most all we did was clean and repair anything and all--tanks, trucks, jeeps, anything that needed worked on, but most of our work was "preventative maintenance." Each tank had a mechanic assigned to it and we tried to keep ahead of all repairs. Everything we were to take up front had to be gone over, cleaned and repaired. The tank crews had tanks so clean one could eat off the floors. We had all learned to drive all the equipment at home armory, summer camps and vehicle schools we attended.
Once on the MLR, it was a daily thing keeping everything in good working order and ready to go in to action on a minute's notice. Geographical and weather caused a lot of breakdowns. We were in the mountains and weather from January through April was very cold. These conditions alone caused breakdowns. Most of the time we were in mountainous land that was all rocks and sand. There was no vegetation because it had all been shot away. Our tanks were dug in on the sides of hills and mountains. The tanks' big guns were used as artillery and the machines themselves were used to cover and defend the infantry assigned to our area. All tanks and command posts were connected by trenches. We had foxholes in and around the motor pool for protection from incoming enemy artillery.
When the company went on line, I was made acting 1st Sergeant in the rear. My job was taking care of all replacements going up to the MLR to make sure they all got sent up front to the company and getting home-bound vets ready to be shipped home. All members of the company going home were processed through me. I did all the paper work, etc. The returning U.S. Army vets knew what to expect, so every so often they would help me with raw recruits. Nothing unusual happened to homebound vets. They did what was expected of them--after all, they were going home.
I don't know if it was part of my job or not, but after doing the paper work and equipping them to make sure they had all the needed items such as weapons, ammo, etc., I would sit down and talk to them for hours if I had time. Most of the new replacements were scared silly, but they did okay once they got up to the front. I remember that I had one replacement, a big young Negro draftee, who was scared to death about going up to the MLR. He begged me for two days not to send him up to the front. I had no choice but to send him up. I talked to him and tried to calm him down. He got killed the second day he was on the MLR by an incoming mortar shell. I felt real bad.
I had a company clerk who helped me with all the things that I had to do. He did most of all the typing, answered the phone when I was not there, etc. I also had help from all the vets going home. They all pulled guard duty and fire watch every evening until they were sent home. Some were with me for a week or so before shipping out. They were a big help. I was responsible for the whole rear company when the rest of the company was on the MLR. In addition to dealing with the incoming and outgoing men of the company, I made sure that all mail was sent up to the front and taken back to the post office for delivery to the United States. Also, all supplies went through me. I made sure all supplies needed on the MLR got there. That included food, ammo, mail, personal stuff, PX items, and things the guys ordered that came in after they went to the front such as cameras and tobaccos of all kinds.
I also attended battalion briefings every morning and sent all the information to the Company Commander up front. We met every morning at 0900. The briefing was held by battalion officers and most were given by the battalion commander, who was a Major. We were given a list of all personnel in the battalion that were killed or wounded in the last 24 hours and how many of the enemy were killed or captured. We were given a daily password to be sent to our company commander. We sent everything up front to the company commander in a sealed envelope given to our supply truck driver to be hand delivered. Sometimes we had to call up front if an order was very important--that is, if the phones were working.
I didn't see the enemy in person until late February 1953, and then only at a distance. Remember, we only fought at night. Daytime was spent sleeping, cleaning, and supplying all. It was also in February 1953 that I saw the first dead Americans. They were in body bags all covered and tagged. The enemy was laying in front of the MLR. After a night of fighting, most all were removed by the enemy before daylight.
I never got to the front line until the middle of March 1953. We worked and repaired all vehicles about a quarter to half mile from the MLR, so I did not get to see much. Like I said, most all of the fighting was done at night. When I did get to the front, I didn't have time for fear. My biggest fear was being shot by South Korean soldiers. Better than half of them could not speak English and didn't know the correct passwords at night. I was armed with a .45 caliber hand gun and a .30 caliber carbine. I never had to use them, thank goodness, but I always kept them good and clean. One never knew if we would have to use them.
My "baptism of fire" was on my first day on the MLR. I was on the way to the MLR with two mechanics. We were going to replace an auxiliary generator in one of our tanks. As we approached the tank, one of our crew members shouted, "Incoming round!" We three dove under the tank. I hit my head on the back of the tank and it knocked me silly. At the time I did not know what happened. We were lucky that only one round came in at that time. We changed the generator and got out of there quickly.
We were very lucky all the time I was motor sergeant. We never had to make any kind of repairs on the road. Every time we went to the MLR and returned, all of our tanks, trucks and jeeps made the trips without breaking down. I guess all the preventative maintenance we did paid off. I had one hell of a great crew of mechanics who all worked very hard.
I learned that running a motor pool in combat was different than it was stateside. The roads were so narrow in Korea that many a time our tanks' tracks were hanging over the edge of the roads in the mountains and we had to walk then over the passes. In the States, if we needed a part we ordered it from Ordnance Supply and fixed the vehicle. In Korea we did the same, but most of the time we never got the part so we learned to fix things any way we could with what we had (parts and so forth). We could get a part from another company or we could salvage one from a disabled vehicle. The most difficult part to replace was the tracks on the M4s. They were big and heavy and very hard to get off, especially in cold weather. It was all manual work. We had no power tools like they have today. The most ingenious repair job I ever saw them do was the changing of an M4 tank engine just off the MLR under enemy fire and in zero weather. We had help from Service Company, but most of the work was done by my mechanics.
I can't remember the names of the officers in the company. The company commander was a 1st Lieutenant who drank a lot. He spent a lot of time in our motor pool tent drinking. He was a West Point man with over ten years service, but he was only a 1st Lieutenant. Drinking had a lot to do with his low grade. All the rest of the officers were real good--all regular army 2nd Lieutenants.
We only had one Korean working for us. He was our tent boy. He cleaned the tent and did our laundry for us. For this we all chipped in and paid him about $2.00 a week.
I didn't make friends with any particular buddy while I was in Korea. First of all, I was in charge of the motor pool so it was very hard to make close friends and still be able to boss them around. There were sixteen men in our motor pool and we were good friends. We all worked together all the time. I can't think of ever having a snafu in my motor pool. I had some of the best personnel in my motor pool that anyone could ever ask for. No matter what came up, someone could take care of it, fix it, replace it, or get a new one, even if one had to barter or steal the parts. Just one hell of a great bunch of guys. I was only with them for three months so there was not much of a chance making close friends. I think they all made it home okay, although I am not sure.
World War II M4 Tanks
The 245th was the only tank battalion in Korea with World II M4 tanks. If the crews took good care of them, they were a lot better in Korea than M47 and M48s because they could travel in mountains better. The M4s had manual transmissions and five forward gears. If the M4 was put in low gear, it could climb or go through just about anything. The newer M47 and M48s had automatic transmissions and could not climb very well. In fact, many times our M4s had to go out and pull them up over the mountain passes.
It took five persons to operate a tank. The driver was also in charge of some maintenance and inspections. The assistant driver also was the .30 caliber machine gunner on the tank. The loader supplied ammo to .30 and .50 caliber gunners and loaded the 76mm cannon. The gunner sighted and fired the 76mm cannon. The tank commander ran the whole show and fired the .50 caliber machine gun. Many times we were not allowed to shoot the .76mm gun because we had overshot our quota the day before. How can you win a war and be held to shooting six or seven shots a day??
The interior of a tank was clean and neat. There were radios, an auxiliary generator, just enough tools to get by on minor repairs, four periscopes to see out when all closed up, a telescope and a vision cupola. There was a place for everything and a storage space for all ammunition. There were three escape hatches top side and one in the floor so one could get out under the tank.
There were perks being inside a tank. One was out of the weather, protected from shrapnel, and the crew did not have to live in foxholes!! But being inside a tank was very close quarters so one had to get along with the rest of the crew. Furthermore, it was hot as hell inside the tank in the summer and cold in the winter. Well, actually the cold was not too bad in the winter because the engine and transmission kept the tank warm.
When on the MLR, tank personnel were on duty 24 hours. Our tanks were used as artillery pieces and were dug in on the MLR giving cover the infantry. (I think infantrymen were glad to see tanks in their area because we gave them a lot of cover.) In Korea most of the fighting was done at night so crews could get out during the day for sleep and to clean the tank and themselves.
I never saw anything in Korea that I considered an atrocity--none whatsoever. I think most stories were a bunch of BS. But tank crews sometimes had casualties. They didn't happen while I was in Company B, but a replacement was lost on the second day he was on the MLR when he got hit by an incoming mortar shell. Also, a tank crew lost five men when a breech block malfunctioned and blew up on a defective .76mm gun. (A breech block is a movable piece of metal which closes the end of the barrel of the 76-mm cannon. It holds the shell until it is fired.) The tank caught on fire and the .76 ammo blew up in the fire. The Company Commander cried when we lost that crew. He burned both of his hands trying to get to the men in the tank.
All the war stories I had heard about before I got to Korea were about advancing forward, taking land, and killing the enemy. But not in Korea. There, all we did was stay in one position, hold it at all cost, and kill as many of the enemy as we could. (And there sure were a lot of them). We never tried to advance. We basically stayed in two places. We rested in the rear company area, and then were on the MLR for the rest of the time. We just moved back and forth. When I was in Company B, we moved three times from the rear to the MLR.
I never did think Korea was a country worth fighting for. The whole time I was there we had to back up the Korean Army. If we didn't, they would run to the rear. I could not stand for the Korean soldiers not to defend their country.
Cold Weather Woes
My strongest memory of Korea is the bitter cold in January, February, and March. I think it was below freezing every day or just about every day, and I was never warm for the first three months I was there. Since then my feet give me a lot of cold weather problems. They never warm up in the winter.
In the mountains we could be in weather 20 degrees below zero and have one to two feet of snow on the ground all the time. We just layered clothes the best we could and never took our boots off except to change socks. We slept in all of our clothes, plus blankets. We didn't get sleeping bags until April of 1953, and then it was warmer. I sometimes think that it was colder in the tent than it was outside.
While in the rear we shaved daily, took baths once or twice a week, and had clean clothes when needed. Service Company of the 245th Tank Battalion was camped near our rear camp and they always had a shower tent set up. We could use it a couple of times a week. We shaved daily in pans of warm water right in our sleeping tents. Our clothes were cleaned by a Korean tent boy named Kim. (Most of all the tent boys were named Kim.) I would say that he was in his thirties. He was our tent boy when I got there. He washed our clothes in the river in the summer and in a large drum of hot water in the winter. Once we went to the MLR, the service company provided us with a complete change of clean clothes. We changed everything except our shoes once a week. I never had parasites on or in my body in Korea, thank goodness. Staying clean and staying away from prostitutes sure helped.
We had two wonderful cooks and kitchen helpers. I don't remember their names, but I remember our head cook. He was a Regular Army cook with many years of service. He was a black man and, boy, could he cook! He could make anything as long as it had beef in it. He made the best chili, spaghetti and pot roasts. He sliced beef thin and we had some of the best steaks in Korea. My favorite was chipped beef or hamburger in gravy on toast. The toast was usually burnt, but it was very good. We had fresh oranges and apples sometimes, but most of the rest of the fruit such as peaches and plums were canned, as were all the vegetables. There was no fresh milk or eggs. Both were powdered. All eggs were scrambled and used for cooking. The best thing we had was homemade bread that our head cook baked every day. It was only white bread, but it was outstanding. He sure could bake.
On the MLR they set up a field kitchen and we usually had a hot meal in the morning and evening. At noon we ate C-rations. We ate C-rations right out of the cans, hot or cold. In winter we heated cans on our little tent oil burners. My favorite hot or cold was pork and beans. My least favorite was lima beans and ham. The lima beans were always mushy.
We never ate the native food. We were not allowed to eat any food grown in Korea. All Korean farmers used human waste for fertilizer. Their fruit and vegetables were full of diseases and bugs of all kind. As far as the army was concerned, it was not fit for human consumption. The best thing I ever ate in Korea was heated canned tuna fish. We could get it at the local PX at times. We never had chicken and I missed that most of all in Korea. I guess it was too hard to ship and keep from spoiling. My first meal on the way home in Japan was chicken.
When we were up on the MLR, war was a very serious matter and there was no time for joking around. But in the rear we had time to sit around in the evenings, have a few beers, play cards, and tell tales of back home. I drank beer and smoked before and after I got to Korea, but I never gambled. I worked too hard for what little money I made. We were allotted three fifths of whiskey a month. It cost non-commissioned officers $3.00 a fifth. I traded mine for beer.
One humorous event stands out in my mind. Our outhouse was an eight-seater and all seats had lids on them. There was a large sign posted that said, "Keep lids closed at all times." One day our 1st Sergeant had to use the outhouse bad. He ran in, took off his gun belt, and put it on the seat next to him. Wouldn't you know it--the seat was uncovered! Down the hole went his gun belt and .45 caliber handgun right into the sh_ _. What a mess. We all laughed about it for a week!
Mail from Home
My mother and relatives send mail to me regularly. I never got one letter from my wife when I was in Korea. I guess that she was having too much fun running around. I guessed that's what she was doing when I didn't get any mail from her and this was later confirmed from some of my friends when I got home. My wife and I talked it over and I forgave her.
My mother was the only one to send me a package while I was in Korea. Mom sent me a package at least once a month and they always arrived in good condition. I never asked for anything special. Mom's packages all contained food, homemade cookies, and candy. I could not use anything else because the army furnished everything I needed--smokes, beer, booze and food. I wrote my Mom once or twice a week to let her know that I was okay and to thank her for the packages. I never told her about war. I think she kept all my letters, but they got lost when she died.
Almost all my guys shared their goodies from home. Most were cookies, candy, snacks, cigars, etc. One of my mechanics got a package from his dad once or twice a week. It contained four cans of homemade wine. When beer first came out in cans they all had caps on them. His dad cleaned out the cans, filled them with wine, and then re-capped them. Of all the cans he received, never did a can leak. It sure was good wine.
A couple of guys got "Dear John" letters, but I guess that was better than getting no letter at all. All got over them in a few days. I guess we were too busy to dwell on them.
Religion was important to me and I practiced it every chance I got while I was in Korea. I didn't go to a church in Korea because there were none. But when a chaplain came into our area he usually said Mass in our Mess Hall. On the MLR Mass was said in open if fighting was bad. On the MLR the Chaplain just gave Holy Communion to us. I went to church every chance. One does a lot of praying in a war zone.
Women in Korea
Most of the American women that I saw in Korea were nurses. One time we were guarding a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) in the rear and I got to see and talk to a lot of nurses. They sure worked their butts of. All were officers and they were all nice ladies. The most seriously wounded were flown to the MASH units from the MLR fighting 20 to 25 miles to the north. They were taken care of there and then sent on to hospitals further south, to Japan, or to a hospital ship for further treatment. Some were even flown to the USA. When members of the tank crews of Company B of the 245th Tank Battalion were on rest in the rear, they had to guard the hospital from intruders. They stood fire watch, only guarding the hospital at night and only when our company was in the rear resting.
There were also some women in the USO shows. I got to see one USO show featuring the actress Debbie Reynolds. It was pretty good. It snowed and it was COLD, but she did a fine job. Debbie was in the show with a group of show people but she was the head liner. If I remember correctly, there were six to ten other performers in the group. They all danced, sang and told jokes. Debbie wore a long, blue gown when singing and a short blue dancing dress when dancing. The stage was built by army engineers. It was on a flat bed truck and the sides and roof were canvas with the front open. The stage was set up in a small valley with hundreds of GIs sitting on the ground.
Prostitutes were all over the area so I'm sure that some of the men from Company B indulged sexually with them. If a farmer was near he had his daughters prostitute themselves. He just collected the money. I think a few men caught a sexual disease and some got demoted. Our officers did all they could to control this. As soon as a prostitute was discovered the MPs were called and the girls were sent back south. It was a law that no civilians were to be closer than 20 miles from the MLR. If caught they were sent way south but most would be back in a week or so. They were both young and old, not very appealing, and most were not very clean and smelled very bad. All the ones I saw sure did not appeal to me.
Our own "Radar"
Every outfit I was ever in had this type of man, but there was a guy named Walls in Company B who could get whatever we needed no matter what it was. For example, when our generator broke down he hooked it to the back of a Jeep, drove off, and two hours later he came back with a new generator. When we needed ice for our beer, out he went and back he came with a trailer-load of ice. When the company needed sports equipment, he got us a Jeep-load of baseball gloves and balls, footballs, and a basketball. He could get and find anything--with no paperwork.
No Break from Work
I never went on R&R while I was in Korea. I was only in the country for eight months and one had to be there one year to go on R&R so I had no break. I stayed with Company B the whole eight months, which I did not mind because it made time go faster. I did not have much leisure time either. I did a lot of reading and dreaming about going home and just doing nothing. Being away from family and friends was the hardest thing about being in Korea, but keeping busy made the eight months go by very fast, thank God.
I was never in a large city to see how the natives lived. Most of them around us were farmers who lived in huts with grass roofs. Everything at their farms was a dirty mess. Dirty. Filthy. The smell was very bad. The kids were the same--very dirty, filthy. I don't think they ever changed their clothes. The old saying in Korea was, "Just add more clothes when it gets cold." They added them right over their summer clothes.
When a GI travels, sometimes payroll gets mixed up. That's what happened to me. I did not get paid for four months from January to April 1953. All the pay I got was a flying $10 each month--on payday I got $10 for personal use. But one didn't need much money in a combat zone. The Army supplied just about all our needs. When I finally got paid I bought a 35mm Japanese-made Nikon camera at the battalion PX for about $35.00. I also bought film for it at the PX that came with a mailing envelope to get it processed. When I sent it in, they processed the film into slides and sent them home for me. From then on the camera was with me at all times.
I don't have all the pictures I took in Korea because a lot got lost over the years. But many of them are now in my memoir photo album. I think one of my best pictures was a young Korean girl holding the hand of her naked baby brother. I thought that was so cute. Korean young girls always took care of their younger brothers and sisters, I learned later.
I knew my enlistment was up in the latter part of August 1953 so I called into the C.P. and was told I would be going home in a couple days or so. I guess I was glad in a way. The war was over, but I sure would miss the guys in the motor pool. We had a big party in the motor pool before we left.
There was not much standard procedure to leave Company B. On the day I left I was taken by truck to the rail head, where I took a train to the port of Inchon. We had a lot to go through at the port of embarkment. We had a physical top to bottom and shots--lots of them. We had to all get in a line, strip down to our shorts and leave everything in a pile before the physical. We had to turn in our weapons, ammo, flak jackets, etc. I remember that we had to take a shower.
There was nothing to bring home from Korea. All we could take was our wallets, camera, and some personal items such as razors, etc. After a shower and examination we were issued new uniforms (two sets of shirts, pants, shoes, socks and underwear). Later in Japan we were issued more clothing for the rest of the trip home. There was also a lot more paperwork. If I remember right, we spent about a week waiting to ship to Japan. We finally left Korea the later part of the first week of August 1953. I left with the rank of Sergeant First Class.
The ship that took us to the States was a dependents' ship. There were only about 300 GIs aboard the ship and the rest were wives and kids and their animals (cats and dogs). I think there were over 1,500 dependents aboard the ship. We GIs had small cabins six to a cabin.
The general mood on the ship was great for all--after all, we were going home. We spent two and a half days in Japan processing to go home. There was a huge PX at Camp Drake, so I got a chance to buy souvenirs for my mom and dad and wife. I bought my wife a set of pearls. I got Mom a set of crystal glasses and Dad a handmade split bamboo fly fish rod. I had them all shipped home and they got there about a week after I did. I didn't see much of the Japanese culture during the train ride from the dock to Camp Drake and back. What I did see looked like they lived on top of one another.
Our duties on the ship included being in charge of cleaning the deck and the cages of animals, walking the dogs, etc. That's about all. The rest of the time we just loafed around. We made our own entertainment. We played cards, read a lot, just talked, and watched the whales and dolphins. They followed us most of the way home. What beautiful sights.
There was no seasickness going home. Our ship went straight to Seattle, Washington from Japan. It took the northern route to the United States up and by the Aleutian Islands. The sea was like a mill pond--smooth as glass and very warm. We slept on deck some nights. It only took us seven days coming home the northern route as opposed to the 14 days that it took going to Korea in January 1953. Counting time from Company B to Seattle, I think it took just a little over two weeks.
Back in the States
In Seattle there were a lot of people to greet the ship. Remember, there were all those dependents on the ship and most on the dock were there to greet them. They even had an Army band. It was a very nice homecoming. We did not get off the ship until all the dependents and animals got off. This took about three hours. When we finally got off it was great to be home and on firm soil again.
After leaving the ship we got on a bus for the trip to an airfield for a flight to Chicago, Illinois and Ft. Sheridan, Illinois. We had no liberty. (Liberty? What is that?) From the time I got off the ship in Seattle until I got discharged in Ft. Sheridan, another four days had passed. I had no duty at Camp Sheridan. I again filled out more paperwork, was issued more clothes, and took more physicals. It was hurry up and wait. And more shots!
After processing I was then reverted back to Ohio National Guard. The 37th Ohio National Guard had been deactivated and my old tank company was back in Berea, Ohio. When I got back to Berea, I think I was given seven days to either reenlist in the National Guard or they would give me a discharge. I reenlisted for three years and got out in 1956 to keep peace in the family. Nothing exciting or out of the ordinary happened during those three years. I did a lot of teaching because we had a lot of new members in the Guard. I taught vehicle maintenance, etc. until I was discharged from Tank Company, 145th Infantry Division, Ohio National Guard, in September 1956.
I might add that I was offered a job as a recruiter in the Army at the time I was in Chicago. I had a choice of being stationed in Cleveland for at least two years. I should have taken the offer (I wanted to) but, as usual, my wife said that no way did she want to be an Army wife. If I had it to do over, I would have reenlisted in the Air Force. My brother spent 30 years in the Air Force and loved every minute. He was never stationed in Korea, but flew in and out of Korea many times, he said. I would have made a career in the National Guard, but at the time there were no benefits for staying in the Guard such as retirements, etc. One can retire from the National Guard with full G.I. benefits now.
When I first got out of the Army I just went back to work. I got a small bonus from the State of Ohio for being a Korean War veteran--I think it was a little over $100, if I remember correctly. Going to Korea did not change me whatsoever. I was once again an auto technician for the Studebaker Agency. I worked for the Ford Motor Company at an assembly plant in Brookpark, Ohio. I tried to buy a home in 1954 but was not making enough money to buy the house so I took the test for postal service in 1958, got hired in 1959, and stayed with the U.S. Postal Service in Avon Lake, Ohio until my retirement. I was a letter carrier for four years, got promoted to assistant postmaster, and then became postmaster eight years later. I retired as postmaster in 1990.
While I was working for the postal service I attended college at Hocking Technical College. If we postmasters attended two weeks every year for four years, we got a total of two year's credit. I went there from 1973 to 1977. I also took a four-week course on business management in 1973 in Washington, DC. We got one semester credit for it. I also took a six-week management course in Chicago, Illinois taught by postal personnel. I again got another semester credit for it. I also took many correspondence courses by the postal service. I don't know how many credits I got for them. I got a lot of training in management. I took advantage of them all. I wanted to advance myself so I could earn more money and hope for better jobs. I had three temporary assignments. I worked at the Cleveland, Ohio post office for seven months in the delivery unit. I worked for United Way for six months, where I was in charge of getting all Federal employees to give to the United Way. Then as "Officer in Charge" in the Mansfield, Ohio post office, I had over 350 employees working under me. Mansfield was a very large post office.
I became the father of three children and they are (oldest to youngest) Paul, Vicki and Cathi. I am also have three grandsons and two granddaughters. My wife and I found our dream house in Avon Lake, Ohio and I used the GI to buy it. My wife and I finally split up after I caught her running around too many times. I left her in 1974 and divorced her in 1975. She died in 2010. I got married again in 1995 to Jean Ehret, whom I met in Florida after I retired. She died in 2006. It was the best ten years of my life.
I have belonged to the American Legion and VFW for over 50 years. I first got involved the week I got home. My dad joined the American Legion in Paris, France at the end of World War I and had papers for me to join both when I got home. I had no choice but to join, and I'm glad I did. I had some great times in both organizations. Now in my retirement I don't do a thing other than answer Korean War Educator questions, which I am having a ball doing, even if I can't remember some things.
Thoughts on Korea
I think that the United States should have sent troops to Korea when the war broke out, but I also think that they did not send enough troops at first. It took too long to get organized, in my opinion. I think that MacArthur was right to go north of the 38th parallel, but there was too much politics involved and by not going further a lot of G.I.s got killed. By not taking out the bridges on the Yalu, China was not kept out of the war. If they would have used the atomic bomb, maybe not so many Americans and UN troops would have been killed or wounded.
There are still missing in action from the Korean War. I think our government is doing a good job in trying to locate and return our MIAs, but I think that North Korea is not doing its share. It's been so long I don't think all the missing in action will ever be found and returned home.
I have no idea why the Korean War carries the nickname "The Forgotten War". I remember it pretty good. At the time, I could see no good coming out of the war, but now after 50 years I see that South Korea is a very good country. If North Korea had won, South Korea would be like North Korea is today. North Korea is still a Communist state and its people are starving to death, but South Korea is a well-run democracy where all of its people are working and living very well.
If some student someday finds this memoir, I would want him or her to understand that the "Korean police action" was not an "action" but a WAR. It should rank with World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. They were all wars and lots and lots of Americans gave their lives so that student could go to school and write about it. My kids know quite a bit about me in Korea--how I was sea sick on the trip over and the cold weather. They have been told about my job in the motor pool and some stories about my great motor pool crew. I was never in real combat, so I never told them much about that.
Our company had one of the best records for keeping our equipment running and in good shape. When our company left for a new location, all of our tanks and vehicles got there on their own. None ever had to be tows. All this was due to the good training given to all the motor pool men and tank crews. All training was excellent--not just mine, but all in Company B.
Since returning home I have not looked for buddies from my company. How can I look for someone when I can't remember their names or home states? What I do remember is that Korea was a great part of my growing up. I have no regrets for having to go there and fight a war. If I had to do it again I would not hesitate to go again, even though I'm 82 years old. Some Korean War veterans think that they are not treated with as much respect and appreciation as World War II veterans, but not me. As far as I'm concerned all veterans are treated alike. So what if there were no large crowds at the dock or no parades? I get the same benefits as any other veteran.
I started having trouble with my hearing at Camp Polk while training recruits on the .45 caliber machine gun range. I went to sick call and was told it would go away, but being around the big guns on tanks, my hearing got worse. I went on sick call again and they said the same thing: "It will get better." When I got out of federal service I went to a doctor at Camp Sheridan. He told me the same thing: "It will get better. Don't worry about it." About seven years ago it got real bad so I went to a VA counselor. She got me an appointment with the VA and they took all kinds of tests. They found out that my hearing was real bad. I got a 35 percent disability and my hearing is not getting any better.
A Lucky Man
I have never been asked to speak publicly about Korea and my children Paul and Cathi never did ask much about my being in Korea but my daughter Vicki--that's a different story. She has been doing family research for years and is forever asking me about National Guard, Korea, etc. My son Paul was in the Air Force for three years but he didn't like it and got out.
I think about Korea sometimes. I think of how lucky I was not to get hurt in service and how lucky I was to see some of the world that I would have never seen if I was not in the military. Most of all, however, I think how great it is that at age 82 years old I can still remember some of the things I saw and experienced during my military service. I had a good time in Korea, made the best I could of time I spent there, didn’t complain, and made the tour as pleasant as possible. But, like everyone else there, I couldn’t wait to get home.