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Herbert Richard "Lefty" Luster
Big Spring, TX/Casa Grande, AZ -
"In this short life I missed a chance to die in good company among real men. Serving in Korea was the one good, big thing I did in my life. My heart jumps for joy seeing a bunch of Korean students chasing their high hopes for a bright, free future. With no USA answer to the call from Korea, I could hardly prove I lived on earth."
- Lefty Luster
My name is Herbert Richard Luster, #670784, USMC. I was born June 21, 1931 at Live Oak Street in Hearne, Texas. My parents were Herbert Cooper and Margaret Ermine Lawson Luster. Both were born in Texas to pioneers of east Texas. Mother was born October 12, 1908 at McGregor, daughter of John Thomas and Martha Cordelia Rector Lawson. My father was the son of Mr. and Mrs. L.C. Luster. He was born December 5, 1909 in Hearne and lived in Robertson County, Texas all of his life. My dad's grandparent, William Luster, served in the 116th Illinois Infantry during the Civil War and settled in St. Louis, Missouri, never going back to Texas. The war was more bitter than expected. Governor Sam Houston resigned, refusing to secede.
My dad worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad and made local delivery of freight in a one-ton truck out of Hearne. He also worked for the Lawrence Grocery Company. Mom was a school teacher when she worked. I had younger siblings Hal Kent and Barbara Jean Luster, and half siblings Earl Lynn, Louise, and Rita Diane Zickefoose. Both of my brothers followed me into the US Marine Corps, but saw no combat.
I attended school at the Robert E. Lee grade school in Little Rock, Arkansas, West Side Junior High school in Little Rock, and Little Rock High School. I did not complete high school. Instead, I received a GED while in the Marine Corps. After leaving the USMC some years later, I graduated from the University of Arkansas in Little Rock.
I joined the Methodist Church Boy Scout Troop at 13th and Pine Street where I earned the Tender Foot Badge. I went to one scout campout at Hurricane Lake near Little Rock. I got my first lesson in marching and knots to tie while a Boy Scout. Money was so tight I could not pay the five-cent charge at each meeting, so I dropped out. At that time, five cents was the price of a haircut.
While in school I was a caddy at the Fair Park Golf Course that is now a war memorial. I later did cleaning for $27.00 a month during school. In the summer I worked on a Texas farm until the last summer before I joined the Marine Corps.
World War II
When World War II broke out, my uncles Don and Tommy Luster both joined the Army. I also had a cousin/father sub named Dick Lawson Stewart who was a PFC in the Marine Corps during the war. He survived Okinawa, but died in North China of burns on December 29, 1945. My school urged us to write letters to those serving in the military during the war. The English teacher put no red marks on the letters I sent to my cousin Dick. I got his last reply a day after I heard he was dead in North China.
Even though my cousin did not get away from heavy equipment like he wished, he never complained about unfair treatment by the Marine Corps. They made that lefty shoot right-handed, and the fine shot could only make marksman. He was hospitalized by a cyst caused by too much time on heavy equipment. Because of that he was not given points to go home because his hospitalization was not caused by gunshot. His last letter said it looked like he would not get to come home because of the Communist bandits in the Tinstin area. He did not ever blame the Marine Corps.
During the war years I gathered scrap and tried to refuse payment, but the scrap man got angry and made me and a pal take some of his loose change. We never got anything on the black market or sold rationing stamps that we did not use. We had an "A" sticker for gas, but I saw a man make his Model "A" Ford into a pickup so he could get a "T" sticker for more gas.
At the age of 13 years old, I was accused of being a World War II draft dodger. I was tall for 13. I had to show my ID to an army officer who was looking for deserters. I was pleased that he thought I was old enough to be in military service, but was not allowed to try to join until age 16. I finally got Mom to sign for me to join the Arkansas Air National Guard in Little Rock while I was still in high school. Other Guardsmen were quick to advise me not to fire on the rifle range or my record would show it and I might be put in combat. I never heard anything like that from any Marine vet or active duty Marine. While in the Guard my commanding officer recommended me for Medic School. I went to one Air Guard Summer Camp as a medic and gave a few physicals to World War II veteran pilots. After camp I worked as groundskeeper and helped on the construction of new greens for the Sylvan Hills Golf Course in North Little Rock.
My same-age cousin Roy E. Luster and I attended the early grades together in Texas. About that time a year of high school was added by FDR, and we boys shook hands agreeing we were not going that extra year required to please the labor unions. Both Roy and I didn't. We joined the Marine Corps before we completed high school. Roy joined soon after I did.
Even though I was paying a small fee as rent while living at home, my step-dad made it clear that I was in the way. I needed to leave home and Mother said that the service was the only honest way. The Marine Corps was my first choice for branch of service, but if I failed to pass the test to join it I would have gone active in the Air Force that was newly formed. I had started talking to veterans after World War II and while I was in the service with the Air Guard. Joining the Marines seemed to be the best answer to my need to replace my favorite dad-sub cousin, Dick Stewart.
I joined on August 19, 1948. No one that I knew joined the Marine Corps with me, but later both my brothers joined the USMC. The Marine Corps asked if I would like to list my Arkansas National Guard time as USMC Reserve and I said I would. At that time I was able to leave the Guard for full-time duty in the Marine Corps. My record says USMCR, but I was Air Guard #AF25430256 of the 237th Service Group, 154th P-51 Fighter Squadron, Medical Company. The 237th served the 154th 8th Air Force. My discharge from the Guard came to me while I was in boot camp Platoon 83, 1948.
My step-dad was very friendly and pleased when I joined the Marine Corps and he drove me to the Little Rock train station, giving me advice all the way. I rode a Missouri Pacific sleeper all the way to San Diego, California and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD). I met James H. Kissel and Haley at the Little Rock P.O. recruiter's office. We were all on the train together for the trip to California. Kissel later went to Guam where he had a Jeep accident and was said to have been discharged. Haley became a postal clerk at Camp J. H. Pendleton. I looked him up when I visited my cousin Roy Luster when he was stationed at Area #16 at Pendleton. There were several Navy recruits in the same railroad sleeper car with the Marines. We got our first taste of being outnumbered by the harassing Navy wise-guys. It seemed to be the main job of the Navy to make Marines mad enough to fight. Ha, ha.
When we arrived at the station in California, someone was missing from the list of recruits who were to arrive at the same time we did. Convinced we were honest, the Sergeant took us to a barracks called the Receiving Barracks. We were issued some clothes and given a paper and pencil to sign for them. My pencil had no point. What to do? I kept my mouth shut as I had been ordered, and the best I could do was try to make the pencil mark. The Sergeant came to look at what I was doing. He said, "Wise guy, huh?" He saw I was scared and that I didn't have a smart look. Looking at my pencil he paused and said, "Try this one." Then he added, "You're getting the idea, lad." Whew! My first narrow escape!
All civvy (civilian) clothes were stacked neatly on the wooden floor and I said I wanted mine to go to the Salvation Army. We went to a barracks next to receiving and waited for a new shift. A freshly angry Corporal stormed in and called all to attention. A Mexican boy had an earring and he told the Corporal that his mother had put it in at his birth. The Corporal gave the mortified boot a day to get it off. We heard no more of that. We were ordered out on the street and lined up according to height. We marched the best we could to the far side of the parade ground, looking out of the eye corners as much as possible to see our new world.
We lined up and went in to pick up a bucket full of Marine Corps items and toilet articles, including Burma Shave, sponsor of the great sign-makers. "Heaven's neophyte signaled left, then turned right...." The tooth brush was expensive. Buckets in hand, we lined up with no talking allowed. I signed for the bucket too and the pencil was a good one this time. We were not issued a steel pot (helmet) at any time in boot camp.
We showed improved marching to chow, but I have no idea what we ate that first meal. It went down quick and easy. Back we went to the barracks and were ordered to clean up the floor and no resting on bunks. The first inspection in the USMC produced a matchstick stuck to the bottom of the G-can. All were ordered to take out our new tooth brush and start scrubbing the floor using more soap than water. The club house was never like this. About 2 a.m. a new Corporal came on duty and put us to bed. At 4 a.m. we were awakened and told to make our beds. We were in downtown San Diego, surrounded with a high fence that seemed to get a little lower as we began to get homesick watching the civilian world outside. We assumed that our first day in the USMC was over and some were asking how high the fence was. The thought was planted, but no one I knew of tried it.
I do not remember much about our drill instructors (DIs). There was Gunnery Sergeant Lawson, Corporal Sharr, and another Corporal whose name I do not remember. Gunny Lawson was a World War II veteran, but I am not sure about the others. We never got personal with DIs. My DIs were never unfair to me, but always strict until graduation day, when we were able to talk a little to them. They never had to tell me twice after the broken pencil! My boot camp platoon was #83, with 75 originally claiming it. Platoon 83 was the "baby" platoon in series 81, 82, and 83. As far as I know, we only had one recruit from another older platoon join us. Those in our boot series were in good condition in 1948. Platoon 83 was the last one formed in the series and we never seemed to catch up, winning only at the Camp Matthews Rifle Range.
I do not recall anything that would be called "fun" today happening while I was in boot camp. There was movie time a few nights. Part of our entertainment in boot camp would be called "prejudice and harassment" today. It was a habit for everyone to try to find someone else's sore spot by making comments on just about everything, with the exception of talking about a mother or a sister. That was dangerous. But we did things such as telling the other recruits we were from one state when we were really from another. Although I was a native-born Texan as both my parents were, when my turn came to be harassed I claimed to be from Hickory Nut Mountain in Arkansas. We "Arky" boys all made it. We had no black recruits. They were at Great Lakes. We had a lot of arguments about the "War Between the States" without them around to remind us. That war was a hot topic in Platoon 83, and I am glad none of the black recruits were there. Later I attended a black college for credit.
Generally any time called "free time" was always needed to work on something to be sure to pass inspection. We never got to go anywhere on our own until graduation day. We were always given a chance to attend the small chapel on the base on Sundays, and it was not very strict, but we even had to go to chapel in a group. No wisecracks were ever made about church attendance. I never missed going to chapel except on my Sunday at the range. Mormons and Jews got to go off base in a civvy car. It was not unnoticed. Some got to buy a paper and passed it around for all of us to read. We were not allowed phone calls. Someone was always in charge of every activity and the most responsible boot was the Right Guide in formation. He carried the platoon colors in inspection.
During one of our strict inspections, the boot next to me said I was asked 21 questions and gave a quick answer to all. Most were about things we were learning--rifle use, range of a weapon, care of gear, and names of leadership (one corporal and D.C.). I was also asked one of the eleven General Orders, "Take charge of this post and all government property in view."
Each morning we were awakened when the light was turned on. That was all I ever needed. I was never awakened except for guard duty for the barracks. Once, I fell asleep on my feet and touched my tongue to ashes. I was wide awake after that. Ash trays were on hand, but I never did that trick again. Only duty got me up when others were not. We helped each other wake up and the boot on guard duty in the barracks never had any lip from our platoon. Those men who snored caused the most trouble, but by the end of our ten weeks we had solved the problem of our nearby motorboat snorer. I heard of some platoons having trouble getting all to shower, but not 83. Remembering to shave was the main thing we had to learn to do well that was hard for some. Our beds were in a roll, but when the DIs were meeting once, I fell asleep on the springs. When attention was called I was straight, but my feet were on the bunk. The DI in charge was in a good mood and simply grinned and said, "Turn him loose."
I also got special treatment one Sunday afternoon when we had inter-platoon boxing. When the call went out for boxers for a "Smoker," I was one of the volunteers. The guy I was matched with backed away so fast that I slipped on the grass and he hit me while I was on my knees. He said, "I'm sorry. I thought I was in a gang fight." The DI in charge stopped our match and I forgot where I was. My mind went back to the kitchen table where I got permission to join the service that August. The DI had a boot stay with me at my top bunk and when I woke up next morning my head was clear. That was the only time I worked out as a boxer. I had better use of my time than that.
Ants are Good Eating
No one could keep me from my meal. The food was no problem for me and reminded me of cook shack feeding during the summer threshing season in Texas. I was a big eater and got teased more about it during threshing than in Platoon 83. An old man once gave me a pitchfork at the cook shack, but nothing like that ever took place in boot camp. Men often do things like that. It is called "harassment" today. We had well-balanced meals in boot camp, always having something green as well as fruit and meat. There were no flies at all in the mess area. I was surprised at that, especially since it was Fall when I was in boot camp. We had some mosquitoes and ants, but they only seemed to bother a few people who had never been in the country. Some boys at my table complained about the ants, so I hit one with my spoon and ate him along with my meal. That shut him up, but it was put on my record. The DI should have known that ants are good eating and are served in chocolate in some parts of the world, such as Hawaii.
I never had trouble with meals, but during my period of mess duty I was assigned to peel potatoes and onions. The Corporal in charge of the mess kitchen liked to hit people in the stomach. I told him if he would move me to a scullery job he could hit me as hard as he wished. Later he pulled me aside and the deal was made. He delivered his blow and I went to the washing area for the rest of my week.
During the ten weeks of boot camp training, we mainly learned to "obey first/ask questions later." As a group we learned how to march well and we had to be ready for dignified parades. We took a battery of tests in the early days of boot camp. We learned to clean rifles, do exercises, clean like never before, and take care of 782 gear and clothes. We only got cold weather instruction in a classroom situation and saw a film of World War II conditions in Europe. We had history, map reading, hygiene, ammo care, and grenade, bayonet, and gas mask instruction by a World War I vet. We saw educational films and there were demonstrations of weapons. We learned how to fire the Browning automatic rifle (BAR), although it was only introduction to it on a 1,000-inch range in the same area where we fired .22's. We had one night problem to show how different things looked at night. The staff gave a demo on firing at an unseen target, box in brush. Impressive. We only used a dummy grenade and learned to throw it safely. Field jackets were not issued, but we could check them out for special duty. The instructor for us seemed to know little on it.
We were required to watch films about personal hygiene. I was already convinced to wait until I was married before being with a girl, and the VD films shown in boot camp reinforced my idea. The first aid movies that we had to watch were also very impressive. I can still recall some of the scenes about treating wounds. I am sure that they helped me when I was later wounded in combat, although no wound in the film looked as bad as the one I got in Korea. I remember asking for water after I wounded, but then I recalled the first aid movies I saw while I was in boot camp and thought to myself that I didn't know if I had been hit in my stomach too, so I probably shouldn't drink any.
Our main training with seriousness was with the M-1 (30-06) rifle. For this training we were taken to Camp Matthews Range near the World War II Camp Elliot at LaJolla. The old range still had World War II posters. One showed the Expert badge saying, "The Jap Rat can shoot. Can you?" Our training was in peacetime. At that time we had no idea that we would be in the final, unfinished phase of World War II in Korea. Peacetime kept us low on men. Our digging of foxholes was on the edge of the MCRD base and we refilled them soon. An old landing barge was located on a farm near LaJolla, but we never used it.
Camp Matthews had room for field problems. It was really rural with Australian-type trees scattered around the sandy soil. We lived in tents there for the first time and we kept our bunks made down, not rolled up like in town. Our guard duty was more serious there since guns and ammo were in storage. We had some field problems of a three-hour duration at Matthews and a night class one night using squad tactics and a fire team without BAR's. We never stayed out all night in boot camp.
My only off-base training that first year was at Camp Matthews range for two weeks and a pair of bus trips to the Oceanside area of Camp J. H. Pendleton. At Pendleton we were put in the field as if in combat, but used only blanks while in boot camp. We heard of some of the boots getting lost, but not from Platoon 83 in 1948.
We were told we would get $5.00 extra day per month for firing Expert and $3.00 for Sharpshooter. Some did not try as hard as others, but all at least went through the motions under strict supervision. The week of firing live ammo was the big deal of boot camp for Platoon 83. As the "baby" platoon, 83 was better at the range than any other, 81 or 82. We had more Experts and the high pointer. I made Expert and still have an expert badge and fond memories of getting it.
No one was allowed to smoke unless the "smoking light" was lit. It was a big deal to smokers. Most did not smoke regularly, but those who had the habit were always announcing when it was on. None in 83 were ever caught smoking out of turn. When lights were out, the smoking light was never lit. Smoking was a big temptation to some, but no one risked it around my part of the 75-man platoon.
There was no corporal punishment used on my Platoon 83, but two years later a Corporal Sharr did beat up a boot in 1950 as I stood duty at the Camp Matthews rifle range gate. Two DIs took the boot off base and he did die. The boot on night duty simply told the DI, "Be quiet, Sir." Sharr went into a rage. The boot did not even use his night stick. Sharr got 20 years in the Navy penitentiary.
A favorite thing of a troublemaker was stepping on the heels of the man in front. I also saw a few boys try to make a weak-stomached boy get sick by talking to him only. But most of the men went out of their way to avoid trouble. Since I was up front, I once stumbled because of a guy behind me. When I found out who did it, he quit it. Tempers did flare at times, but it was often something said and not done.
Failing to learn General Orders or not passing inspection was the main thing that got the DI's attention. Punishment was running laps around the field, having to go to another platoon to get the correct answer, and extra duty of some kind. I remember that one time my bayonet did not pass inspection and it was thrown into the sand. I did an excellent job cleaning it and presented it for inspection. Another time a guy who claimed to be a pro boxer made a smart remark about my sister's picture. I hit him and the DI decided to let me box him with gloves. No more of that ever came my way. Seldom was punishment limited to an individual. Instead, it was an excuse to give Platoon 83 extra work when all was done. We kept an eye on each other to prevent problems. My fight was the most serious.
Sometimes a boot got something forbidden in the mail and he was made to eat it, paper and all. No one ever got sick from it, but no one wanted to open a package after that. One boot went absent without leave (AWOL) and they say he was caught and put in the brig (jail). I did not see him myself. As I recall, the big fear was getting sent back to another platoon. I never saw any correction that was not well deserved, including my own. Discipline seemed to be group as much as possible. Most problems were prevented by self supervision and the Right Guide kept all alert. Our DIs taught us that we were a team and that we should not allow anyone to goof up. In combat it was necessary to think like that and it made sense. We never complained of a group discipline action. We made each other shape up for 83.
We heard there were some who falsified their enlistment papers, but they were not in our Platoon 83. We had two training battalions and when a big problem like that came up, it left the platoon area of jurisdiction. Some of the boots were AWOL, but they were quickly forgotten as we stayed down to business.
During boot camp there were times when I was sorry that I had joined the Marine Corps. I even felt sorry that I was born and was sure I must have something wrong with me that might keep me from becoming a US Marine. But then I decided that if my cousin had survived it, I must survive it too. I just knew I was a failure until I looked around at the other boys. Probably my feelings of uncertainty and doubting my ability to measure up to USMC standards was the hardest thing about boot camp for me. Some boys were more confident than I was, but none tried harder. It was a big relief to finally make it through boot camp, knowing how very easy it would have been to fail. I do not think I had more doubt than others, but after the rifle range I was more easy. I would say it was the mental challenge that got to me most.
I came to realize that my DIs worked very hard to train us to become Marines. Later I became a range leader and tried to help my recruits with equal zeal. I was moved to the school range from the boot camp firing line because I tried so hard to get all qualified with the rifle. At the end of boot camp I chipped in some cash for Gunny Lawson. I'm glad he was in charge.
At graduation, recognition was given to Honor Platoon 81, the senior platoon. We passed and review marched and were then given some free time to walk around. That day I got ice cream and played basketball with a boy from Illinois. I got the address of a Kansas one-year man. (He got in on a one-year plan and then reserves.) I liked him, but no longer recall his name.
Upon graduation I felt I was a MARINE and was also treated like it. What a great relief. I was really okay. I knew I had done something worth doing and all doubts about myself had been removed. It was a new world that I knew more about, including the boys from the North. I had a certain girl in mind that I wanted to see and decide if she was as I remembered her in a lot of lonely moments. Girls were more attractive now than ever before.
Most of Platoon 83 went home by bus and a few by plane except the California boys. My uniform was all I had to wear on leave. Old USMC men came out of the woodwork. I had no idea how many Marines were in Arky until I wore that uniform.
Casual Company MCRD
After I saw a few key people back home, I was ready to go back. My friends seemed to be younger than before. I rode the bus leisurely and made note of the different western lands and desert. I went straight back to Diego hoping I would have orders. Not so. I had to wait for my new orders at Casual Company MCRD. Where was I to serve?
At MCRD I had gate duty as my first post-boot camp training. I did well at the busy gate. I began to attend the White Temple Church in San Diego. I signed a book that had many World War II names in it, but when I returned in later years it had vanished and no one seemed to know it. As different men got orders, I had to move two times because my name was confused with PFC Lester and Laster of Platoon 83. The locker box was no problem then. We were split up in alphabetical order according to the first letter of our last name more than boot camp record. A group of us was shipped to Treasure Island to wait for overseas transport. Treasure Island was a better place to wait and kill time, but I missed that good church that catered to servicemen.
One day while we were in the casual company barracks there was an earthquake and the bunks scooted across the floor. One platoon grad seemed to be sick, because he didn't even know there was an earthquake. I checked on him and told someone he was in need of a corpsman. Sure enough, he had a ruptured appendix.
During the Christmas season I shopped the PX and mailed a box home with a BB gun for my little brother. Then I shopped for something for that special girl. The dealer had a necklace that I liked. He lowered the price and promised to mail it. One of the boys let him know I was headed overseas and the package never got delivered. More bad luck with girls. It never occurred to me that the guy was a crook.
On Christmas Day I was at sea for my first time and the Marines had all the guard duty on the U.S. General A.W. Greely Army transport. Gambling was not allowed and I broke up crap games. One sailor was smoking during fire drill. He asked me, "How long have you been a Marine?" My reply was, "Long enough to obey!!"
Arriving at the port of Honolulu, Hawaii, most of my group went to Camp Katlan, Pearl Harbor. Orders had been changed at sea and rumors were numerous. Having been onboard ship for five days, the uniforms were not in good shape. I decided to stay on base and hike. A dead-end road showed good hiking signs. I jumped a deer and came to a clear area and small lake. While walking the shore, an MP jeep stopped and I was told to get in. He asked me what I was doing in a restricted area. I told him that I had crossed no fence or Keep Out sign. "What are you?", he said. "A mountain goat?" I told him that it was not a hard walk and if he would go there it would be easy to see. He said, "Okay--just don't go back."
Orders came for Loya, Lundy and H.R. Luster for the guard company on Midway Island. On January 6, 1949, we had an eight-hour flight to Midway. As we approached the airfield, Loya got air sick and unloaded. We grabbed our seats at the bumping sound. It was only a gooney bird and would not cause an accident. Two more bumps before the bump of the landing gear. The small spots of the Sand and Eastern Islands were not so small on the ground. Loya would live again.
A short Corporal Hidy met us and asked me if I played basketball. Soon I was playing center on the USMC team. At only 5'10", I was the tall one on a team of shorties. The guard company was rated 50 enlisted men and two officers, but hadn't had full strength since World War II. The Air Warning Squadron was in the process of a move to the States. The old submarine base was our home with red nightlights in the barracks.
Midway proved to be our training camp, complete with maneuvers and a 500-yard rifle range that was required for USMC annual qualification with the M-1 Garand. Midway's 1942 scars were still evident. All old buildings had holes. Before lights out I was always looking for entry and exit places of rounds fired in anger.
We had the usual infantry classes with good teaching charts on all our weapons. Those big charts made learning easy and my BAR chart was helpful later. The BAR fired the same 30-06 round the M-1 and machine gun did. The BAR weighed 21 pounds loaded with the bi-pod attached. The 20-round magazine was one pound loaded and the leather sling was also one pound.
In boot camp everyone had used an M-1, but at Midway we used additional weapons just as would be done later in combat. I once checked out a .30 caliber machine gun to learn more about it. It left a scratch on the library table that I could not remove. By the time I got to infantry training at Pendleton, I was determined to do all the exercises with my BAR without ever getting my Assistant BARman to relieve me. I came back from a head call (toilet) once, only to see my assistant with my BAR. I quickly got it. These other things were no challenge to me.
We only had one night training problem while at Midway. All of our other problems were a half day or less. So little importance was placed on night fights we got the impression that it was not important. There was an obstacle course at Midway, too. The most surprising obstacle was a ten-foot wooden wall. The short men just ran up the wall and then a grab at the top made it look easy to go over it. Collins of North Carolina and this Arky took turns holding the record when Lieutenant Carland timed us occasionally. It was fun for us.
We learned unit movement and method of attacking an enemy position as a team. Some city boys had trouble walking in the dark. It was an art taking short steps and falling easy with a roll. We were not to resist going down once started in darkness. Judging distance was learned well on the 500-yard rifle range. We were always briefed and debriefed with questions asked and answered. Sergeants were usually the ones who taught their specialty. Map reading was weak in my class. The DIs instructed until we got into special fields, and they were usually okay.
We were tested in conjunction with promotion lists. My grades got me high on the list for promotion. When President Truman began to talk of disbanding the USMC, it did seem to slow things down in 1949. It was also the first time I ever saw white "surrender" underwear issued to a Marine. Anyone can have a weak moment, and if you have white underwear it can be a temptation to give up too quickly. If you will note, the men often wear cami and have a civilian-type white "T" shirt shining out from under the cami. Silly. This brought to mind the time when the army was asked to wear UN blue uniforms. It made us sick and no one was willing to wear them. After all my trouble to join the Marine Corps, I was unwilling to go back to the army.
Midway was all base and no liberty was available. The tour of duty was still a year, just as during World War II. When Col. L.B. "Chesty" Puller took command at Pearl, he cut a Midway tour to six months for enlisted with no family.
War Breaks Out
At Pendleton, liberty was in Oceanside, but when the Korean War was announced the evening of June 24, 1950, I was on base shooting baskets and listening to the upstairs radio. I had a year left of my enlistment and did not plan to remain a peacetime Marine. I never claimed it on an exam for promotion, as most did even if it was not true. All leaves were cancelled when the war broke out in Korea. Capt. John Stevens had just gone on leave after our Company "A" took part in a house-to-house demonstration for the USMC reserves who were on base for summer camp.
Things got serious and I was ordered to teach a class of new BARmen with my newly-issued Browning machine rifle that was converted by the Marine Corps from a cavalry light BAR. Mechanizing the cavalry in 1939 made those machine rifles available to the ole' shoestring Marine Corps. It was like new and I was eager to fire it with live ammo.
I was assigned to the APA-45 Henrico for the trip to Korea. The ship carried troops and equipment. About the time we were scheduled to leave the USA, a strike was going on at the docks. Communists had ordered dock workers to delay the Marines as much as possible by setting up a picket line. Because the loading equipment was tied up by strikers, an advance party of Marines was ordered to help load the APA 45 Henrico by hand. I was in the second truckload of Marines when the Sergeant in charge said, "We are going through, but do not try to fight the war here." I had picked out the young striker that I was going to fight. He was in jeans and a white T shirt, carrying a flimsy sign. Instead of fighting us, the picketers just grinned and stepped aside. They wanted as little publicity as possible. If the strikers had gotten violent, it would have made the news. Now few even remember those picketers.
Trip on the Henrico
The Henrico pulled out on July 13, 1950 in a convoy of other ships bound for Korea, but the ship had to leave the convoy for repairs in Frisco-Oakland. Security was tightened on the troop ship, but only after it was obvious that a sabotage job had been done. We went under the Golden Gate Bridge four times getting repairs. We had a Navy crew and about half of the 5th Regiment of Marine infantry was aboard the APA 45. It was hard to get the truth about the repair problem, but later a crewman said there were equipment and personnel problems. The strikers had not only succeeded in delaying us, they had also damaged a turbine.
At a dock looking up at Nob Hill, Frisco, we had a class as repairs on the turbine took place. After a demolition class by an older man, he asked for questions. I asked about hearing protection. He said, "Marine, I hope I can return to the USA and complain of poor hearing for a long time." Everyone laughed at that old veteran of World War II.
This was not the first time I had ever been on a ship at sea. I had been on the Army's Gen. A.W. Greely troop ship in 1948 and the Breckenridge in the spring of 1950 as a member of the Hawaiian Area Rifle Team going to matches. The only rough water trip I experienced was on the Greely, where vomit was all over and the smell made me go out on deck to avoid joining the puke party. We landed in Honolulu and thought the island was moving like the ship.
About five days out to sea from Frisco, we stopped in the middle of the dark morning and turned about before going on. We were ordered to dress and be ready to abandon ship. I never saw the Navy on the move as when General Quarters was sounded. A guy I knew from Midway was on duty as a radar man on the 12 to 4 watch. He had spotted a sub and the skipper was called. By the time he got there the sub had electronically jammed the radar of the Henrico, but they kept it on so the sub would not know. The skipper ordered a ram attempt, not knowing how involved the Russians were going to be in the war. It was no use and the official news release was that a whale had been spotted. Sure!! They do well to put radar out of action.
It was the beginning of the lies told during the Korean War, and I was disappointed with my Marine Corps for stooping to be like our enemy. If I had not known the Midway swabby, I would not have known the truth about what happened that day. Why do we imitate our enemy and not tell the truth? We need not ever lie at all. We were told that the trip to Korea was 17 days, but it was also falsely reported that we were in a bad weather situation.
There was no entertainment on the ship, but we had classes, reports on the war, cleaning all of our gear and weapons, and eating two times a day after exercising on deck all but one day. One light sprinkle was all the weather we ever got at sea. Unlike the other ship trips, I was given no ship duty on the Henrico at all. Marines usually had guard duty. I also wrote letters, replacing my diary duty.
On August 2, 1950, the APA 45 pulled into the Pusan harbor. Pusan was located at the mouth of the Naktong River. A makeshift Army band was there to greet us. During a break I yelled at a horn blower and asked him how to spell retreat. He just turned away as if to be looking at the unpainted warehouse. It was warm weather at the dock, but we had to stay aboard for some shots we would need in Korea to prevent sleeping sickness.
Early in the dark of morning we debarked and got combat ready with ammo, grenades, C-rations, and water. We lined up to board 6x6 trucks that took us through the city. An infiltrator had knifed a civilian guard in the night, so we knew the Reds had infiltrated the area. We rode through the red brick streets (which looked like the brick streets in Little Rock, Arkansas), and left Pusan, crossing the bridge over the Naktong River near the K-9 airfield. Soon after, we got down and began to walk. At the Naktong River Bulge we only saw the high ground around it at first. The old river bed was on the far side of Obong-ni Ridge. An earthquake 2,000 years ago changed the course of the river and it was part of a flood area now.
It was always hot and shade was scarce. We had to always stay together as a combat unit, not knowing when we might get ambushed. Gunny Sergeant Frank Lawson noticed a "cute little plant" and asked me what it was. I had never seen anything like it. I found out it was cotton. I had seen cotton plants before, but I had never seen a cotton plant that puny. The Oky Sergeant laughed and we saddled up and walked on.
The first military combat support we met was by 3rd Battalion on the road toward Changwon. It was an artillery battery headed for Pusan. "Who are you?", they asked. "Marines" was the answer. A soldier said, "We better get back" and they turned around and headed toward Masan to set up again. They had a 105mm Howitzer in tow and they were very happy to see us. They were with the 25th Infantry Division.
"A" Company set up to the far right against a hill as part of a secondary line of defense. A commie flare shooter began to shoot flares up of green and red color. When the flares began to light up out front, we wanted to go get him. He kept getting closer until he got behind a "honey house" (waste hold) about 100 yards away from our rice paddy line with no holes for cover. An enemy plane passed over us as dusk faded, tossing out a mortar round and then going about his business. The Army's 25th Division shot at him with a .50 caliber and a World War II search light, but he went on untouched. The next time I saw Army was on August 7 when we led the Sachon Offensive.
On the skyline I saw gooks out front, but a new Sergeant left in charge during an NCO meeting said they were our troops. I noticed that when they saw us they hit the ground. The Sergeant never passed the information on. Soon a shot rang out and I thought the flare shooter was hit. Instead, a machine gun man thought he saw the shooter and fired a round that hit one of my new BARmen students, Robert Cozzalio of Nevada City, California. The round went past me and up the hill to my right. I thought the moan was an enemy, but it turned out to be Cozzalio. They did not immediately remove him since the enemy was so close. He died before sunrise on August 4, 1950. We had lost our first Marine of the Korean War.
On August 7 (the anniversary of Guadalcanal 1942), we moved into position for the first counter offensive of the Korean War. We had been formed from the peacetime skeleton of the same 1st Marine Division that landed on Guadalcanal, but we were only a Provisional Brigade at this time with an under-strength 5th Regiment minus a company in each Battalion. We had no C, F or I Company until the whole Division later joined us for Inchon and brought us up to full strength.
We dropped our packs in a dry creek bed and boarded trucks. We rode through the city of Masan with its dusty, gravel streets. A 25th Division soldier was standing beside the road wearing a white steel helmet like a civilian. I had heard about the Army being unprepared, but a white helmet??
At the edge of Chindong-ni, we unloaded and began to walk. The 3rd Battalion was already in action up ahead. We met some pitiful-looking 25th Division Army boys clad in khaki and going toward Masan. One wore a Chaplain's cross on his collar--the only thing about him that indicated to me that he was a Christian. I had made a New Year 1950 resolve to pray at all meals, so the guys were quick to point his uniform out to me, knowing I claimed to be a Christian. He was a pitiful sight. He was carrying nothing to help the men he was with and appeared complacent to the situation. He was just walking along with the weary retreaters. I looked at the Chappy in disgust. The weary soldiers quit talking when we met them and they were glad to be going in an opposite direction. They had just come from Chin-ju just five miles beyond our objective. I was relieved that I was not a part of that group and said nothing to the Chaplain. Like the artillery, these boys were glad to see us as if we had come from nowhere. I doubt they knew we were coming. It turned out that way the whole month of August.
As I walked I heard a baby cry. As an elder son, I took note and wondered if I could be of any help. The enemy had broken into a store and scattered the rubber work slippers in the street. I knew I was doing the best thing for them by carrying my BAR down the hot and dusty road. We came to a "T" that headed north where shooting was going on, but we went west. A Jeep was in a dry creek bed beside a sturdy, pocked bridge and the radioman was talking to a pilot. The enemy was dressed in brown, black and white. They were hiding as the men advanced past, and then they shot them in the back. I got the picture and never forgot it.
We went past most of the shacks and climbed a hill north. Foxholes and grenades were on line waiting for us to park for the night. Looking down at the Chindong fishing village, I saw the beautiful sight of an aircraft carrier with Corsairs on deck ready to go. It was the carriers that got all the security back home, but the troops were what Reds feared the most. They were forcing us to fight their way and we got there in time to save a last, vital port city of Pusan, South Korea and the K-9 airfield. We had already done something.
As mentioned, I was a BARman. I carried my 21-pound automatic BAR, a K-bar knife, two grenades and a shovel. I had 13 magazines of 20-round 30-06 ammo and I had picked up two extra magazines when 3rd Battalion's Merkle got his leg shot off and his assistant BARman left it behind near a pool of blood. I had seen the enemy the first evening, but could not get permission to engage them. Each night we were ready and I saw the enemy, but I was not permitted to shoot my BAR, even though I already had enough ammunition. Not until August 12 did I get to fire my BAR--and I was glad that it worked well.
A short mortar round hit a Marine from New York whom I had met at White Temple Church in San Diego. His brains were hanging loose and he was out of it already. The next morning I spotted a gook standing beside a fire watch shack farther up our same hill. I asked permission to shoot at the distant target because I needed to see if my BAR would work. Artillery was in the process of trying to hit the shack from Chindong, but no luck. Corporal Ellis asked the Sergeant if I could shoot and he said no. I explained my problem and showed the extra ammo that I had picked up by a pool of 3rd Battalion blood. It was no use. He refused to let me fire it. Just like the first night, we had to let them shoot us first. Those city boys could not see a gook unless he was on top of them.
Two nights passed and there was no action in our area, so down the road we went toward our objective of Sachon City. At a fork, we turned south with the bay where the flattop was to my left. We marched right down the road as if we were daring anyone to shoot at us to show where he was. Winding up a hill in the heat was rough, but I did not ask my assistant BARman, Joe F. Gonzales, to carry my heavy BAR. I did toss my entrenching tool in a nearby rice paddy, just leaving it as we walked on.
That night I had charge of the Korean Marine water detail. When we got the water delivered, I began to look for a shovel to improve the steel helmet-leveled spot I had made. A tanker asked me what I needed and when I said I was looking for a replacement entrenching tool, he mounted his iron monster M-26 and came out with his nice, clean issue shovel, assuring me he would not need it. I thanked the kind tanker, who could have been Bill Venlos. I heard that Sergeant Sweet of Wisconsin was in one tank, but it was not him. I kept the entrenching tool handy after that.
Lt. Tom Johnston was pleased with our speed in advancing. The next night we were called to rescue an army unit that was 'surrounded.' We spent the night on their hill and the next morning a single weak shot rang out, indicating it was from a carbine. Alert for enemy with BAR at the ready, I watched one of those self-inflicted wounded walk past under arrest and heading to the rear. Most of the troops there were black, but this soldier was white.
A careful search revealed a gook, pheasants, and a large white-tail type deer, larger than the one we had seen in Hawaii. The buck timidly trotted in front of A-5 of the Brigade and went to the next hill. Our mouths a-watering, we witnessed a venison feast disappear. The Koreans said that no deer like it had even been in Korea, but many witnessed that hunt. We were not allowed to shoot the un-armed gook. No doubt he hid his harassing burp gun that had "surrounded" the army the night before. I recalled the report from the plane of men in white like this gook red in a fast retreat.
We kept moving down the road until we came to a powder-dry creek where an M-26 tank had fallen through a weak Korean bridge. The lead tank had gone over the bridge early in the morning, but the second tank of Lieutenant Sweet's Company A tanks fell through. The tank was in a creek wedged between the bridge abutments with the 90mm gun barrel resting on the far side. We had to laugh at the luxury tank, and wondered how it would be removed from its perfect fit in the creek bed. General Craig flew in by helicopter to decide what to do about the situation. We waited while he resolved the problem.
The 2nd platoon was next to a cemetery with nicely cut grass like a USA lawn. It was a good place to eat some C-rations. I usually gave my pack of smokes to Corporal Ellis as Phil "Lefty" Koehler of Ohio never asked for any. He was trying to quit, but his Toledo fire team leader was glad to get them. Koehler was from Warren, Ohio, and their service number was close together. Koehler had come from the Barstow Fire Department to join the fight with A-1-5 of the hastily-formed Brigade. As was my new custom, I bowed to pray before I ate and a Private Cho came and asked in English if I was a Christian. How did he know? He was one of the few Christian Koreans in his unit. "No one but a Christian prays like that," he said. I asked him if any Christians were buried in the cemetery and he said no. "How did the people in this cemetery pray?", he asked me. "Not Christian!" It was a confident answer from the Seoul native. "No cross on the graves." Maybe the USA is departing from a good custom that new Christians insist on. The first funeral I ever attended was my dad's. His grave had no cross.
The roads we traveled in Korea were often choked with refugees. They carried the boys and old men, but girls walked or were left behind. Boys were the old age insurance policy in most of the Orient. The Korean named Private Cho was the only South Korean marine on the road to Sachon. He was worried about his family and girl in occupied Seoul. His English was much like that college boy who talked to me at our first line of defense. He was not hard to understand. Private Cho enjoyed my powdered coffee without any water. I began to show him how my BAR, a strange weapon to him, worked. His Sergeant called him away and I still wonder what happened to him. Private Cho told me that he wanted to go to the United States after the war to study radio electronics.
We had mail call as we waited by the cemetery. My old retired army Bible study teacher had a lot of clippings in his letter to me, and even the officers enjoyed his letter. He was retired in Honolulu and taught the US servicemen's Bible class at Nuuanu Church on 20 Bates Street. He had spent 30 years in the army and ordered Col. Billy Mitchell's first planes for the Signal Corps while in a New Mexico duty station. Mr. Mobley was the ninth man to sign up in the Air Corps, but he never did fly in a plane. Mobley knew what to put in a letter for the troops. He had served in the Spanish-American War, Philippine Rebellion, and World War I, but he was turned down for World War II due to old age.
The lead tank had gone on ahead of our 1st Battalion headed for Kosong, so we also headed for Kosong. The gooks kept trying to slow us down, but we kept moving. One Jeep driver with a wire cutter attached to his Jeep made a wrong turn and was killed by ambush with a light cannon. The unlucky driver was beside the wrecked Jeep under a poncho. I then realized the reason why our ponchos had been collected earlier.
Entering Kosong, we were told by a spotter plane that three people were in the first group of shacks. A quick pass flushed out no one. We began to take the place apart, locks and all. Someone felt a soft spot in a small haystack. I stood at the fence with BAR cocked with bolt to the rear, still not knowing if it would fire. Peeling back the straw revealed a grandma with a three-year old girl silently waiting their fate. Anger at the Reds rose up in us as we watched those helpless ones go to the house. One house had a mirror. It was passed around and I did not recognize the dirty, wide-eyed Marine I saw under that cami pot (helmet).
As we got to the end of the house row, a grown young man suddenly appeared trying to walk away as if taking a stroll. The Korean Marines with us took charge of him and it was looking like big trouble for the college age young man. One like him had visited with me our first day and said all colleges were closed. Here we were on the move as we discovered the three people. In town we came to a bank whose vault had been broken into. The thief got away, leaving a lot of paper money strewn across the street as he escaped with his loot. I wondered, "Could it be worth anything?" But it was all stolen property, even if it was good. I decided not to stoop down to pick any of it up since my heavy (21-pound) BAR would have to be lifted again when I got up with my load. I took a good look at the old, bearded Korean man with a black hat on the face of the money and stepped on over it. I wondered if Private Cho of Seoul would have taken some of it.
The Corsairs were busy ahead. We were going that way and soon we saw a decimated motorcycle battalion complete with supplies. The battalion had been caught by our Corsairs as the cyclists tried to get to Sachon City. It was a "turkey shoot." The carnage was impressive. Some of the dead looked very young. Someone cranked up a cycle with a side car and it worked fine. The bikes favored the German Zundap of World War II vintage. Besides testing the motorcycles, it was a good chance to look over enemy weapons that we knew nothing about. Ours were better for certain. We were against the Soviet North Korean 6th Division here and we had just disabled the 83rd Cycle Battalion.
A woman flagged down our truck and I offered to go with her to try to flush a gook for her. As we reached her hut, the kids said he was gone. By her look she knew he would be back at night. I saw five kids and felt for the diligent lady with guts. It might be like that in the USA one day--but not very soon, God willing. We stayed the night and as rain fell I wished that I still had my poncho. But I learned how to sleep in the rain. I slept face down with my nose turned down to let the water drip off freely. I loosened my shoestrings and enjoyed a real rest.
On the road again on the banks of the Sachon River, the water looked cool and inviting to dirty bods. We were on our way to Com-Gok-Ri. "Com" means persimmon in Hangul, and the Sachon River Valley was called Com-Gok Valley. (When I returned to Korea in 1983, I found that chestnut trees had been added to the persimmons.) I got to see irrigation, but as we came to Persimmon Valley in Sachon Goon (county), we saw that the enemy had diverted the water into the fields, flooding them to keep our tanks on the road or cause them to get stuck in the mud. First Battalion was in the point and B-5 to our left. Ordered to move, four gunshots splashed in front of me. I swallowed hard and stepped on out. What a relief that I did not run away or try to hide. I was under orders and if hit, it wouldn't be my fault. The Sachon Offensive of August 7 to 13 was the first time I had been shot at. I was very relieved that I was able to force my scared self to stay with my assignment.
A .30 caliber air-cooled machine gun was set up and firing to our right in the paddy. A Sergeant said to tell the gunner to cease. He could not hear, so I tossed a rock to splash water to make him look up. It worked, but I still had not fired my BAR. Across the paddy to the right I turned left at the hill base of Hill #301. I saw an enemy foot sticking out from behind the door of a hut. Quickly I fired five rounds through the wall and it was still as death. My BAR purred like a kitten and I was so relieved. A spider hole had four empty burp gun rounds by it and a trail of blood led to a hut in a rice field.
If fighting was not in progress, the Korean men came to the fields singing. It was the best music I heard in Korea. Unfortunately, one of the farmers, Mr. Her Suu, woke a 6th Division Red. The song was his last one--he was cut down by the Red soldier. The only other contact I ever had with native South Koreans was watching the women who were working in the rice fields or washing clothes. The clothes were hung on anything clean, much like in Mexico. Occasionally a Korean merchant tried vainly to sell his produce, but--no way!
South Korean military forces served with us as water boys and constabulary, but they were not much help. Korean Marines were mostly water boys at first. The Korean Marine Corps was only a year old when the Korean War broke out, and they knew little about the weapons. Instead, they took care of our prisoners. Now the Koreans have a monument to KMC involved in the Sachon Offensive, but it, like most Orient history, was made up to suit themselves. The early days saw little help from them. As I have already mentioned, I tried to teach Private Cho about the BAR, but his Sergeant made him leave me as if I were an enemy. Non-military Korean personnel served as litter bearers as well as water boys when the fights allowed. In the rear the Koreans seemed to be involved a lot in loading and unloading work.
The M-26 Pershing tank parked at the edge of the bridge fired at likely spots on the hill up front. Cease fire was given and I spotted an officer in a brown shirt standing in the sun across the valley. Asking permission to fire at him, the Corporal referred to a Sergeant, but the city boy could not see the man himself. The 6th Division officer turned and walked back out of sight. I borrowed an M-1-C sniper rifle with scope to scan the area for targets, but found nothing. That night A-5 stayed on Hill 301. From our position we heard the attack on B-5 on Hill 202. They were hard hit, but the Army's General W. Walker ordered us back to help the 24th Division. Our next stop was to be Miryang City on the Nam Chun River.
All of the veterans of World War II that I had talked to while in the Air Guard and since joining the USMC warned me to expect the enemy to be any place in battle where the Army was supposed to be. It proved to be correct. The only thing that kept us out of Sachon City was the inability of the 25th Division to hold their own. After delays helping the Army, we still would have reached our assigned objective if Gen. Walton Walker had not ordered us to go help the 24th Division at the Naktong River near Pugok, which became a Hot Springs-type resort developed by the Japanese after the Korean War.
When the morning of August 13 broke, we could not account for eight B-5 Marines. As the Army often did, Walker ordered us to leave them behind--something Marines never did. A USMC body was a good thing to fight over. We went back down the same road we had come up, and the gooks of the 6th Division were glad to see us go. A bridge was blown and mines were laid. The tank never crossed that Korean bridge and led the way back. There was no opposition going back through Kosong. B-5 could just see Sachon City, but orders were orders. In the dark hours of night on August 13 we came to light over a barn door-looking thing. We walked under and were inside an LST. Little pull-down hammocks were waiting and I slept like a log.
Night at Hyundae Beach
Talking woke me and I went on top to see the Pusan harbor again. This time we went past to Hyundae Beach and a makeshift loading dock of fresh, green lumber. Hotels now stand there today. My rifle ("Patty") and I went to shore on dry land and were in a line for our first hot chow since APA 45. I preferred C-rations, as I recall, but the empty space was filled in my stomach.
We leisurely walked up to Hyundae railroad, stopped, and began to load up the passenger seats with our gear and arms all over. The seats were too small, but we were not crowded. I soon felt the "Purple Heart Special" lurch forward and we relaxed to see Korea like a civvy passenger. We watched Korea go by, with kids on both sides of the train. People lined the tracks along the way when we came to a village. It looked as peaceful as could be expected. The natives seemed just as interested in seeing us as we were to see them. Women were nowhere to be seen, but kids were numerous. We had no treats to toss to the kids as those on the troop train had done as it passed through Robertson County, Texas, in 1942.
We pulled into an area where water was plentiful. There was a river with men in it washing clothes and playing in the water. Shiny pine trees gave a nice, welcome shade. The city next to it was Miryang, but the river was the Nam-Chun. When the Japs occupied Korea, they tried to change the river's name to Miryang because of the town it touched, but the Korean people never accepted the change. The area is well known for its "joggy" pottery, Miryang Joggy. General E.A. Craig was offered the city to occupy, but to the Koreans' surprise, he declined. The area was easy to find 30 years later when I revisited Korea, but it had playground equipment on it in the post-war years. This was our stopping place in 1950. We were told to go toward the trees and look for a unit member. We did not have to dig in for the night, so a relaxed atmosphere prevailed. The urgency of General Walker seemed unwarranted to us. We had left dead men behind from B-1-5 just because of Walker's orders.
As usual we had to stick together, but soon we were free to leave our weapons and clean up after two weeks in the same dingy dungarees. Those herringbone Marine Corps dungarees sure held up and there was not a hole in mine at all, but we were issued clean dungarees. We quickly got our skin clean to go with them. I wondered if I could find a toothbrush among those soldiers and all their equipment, so I went looking for one. An Army Sergeant directed me to a tent where I found a little red toothbrush that said, "Gift of American Red Cross" on the package.
1st Lt. R.C. Sebilian was A-5's first platoon leader and a World War II decorated veteran. 2nd Lt. Tom Johnston was my platoon leader. We had two corpsmen, but one fell off a truck and the other got a sniper wound. (Mistaken for an officer, no doubt. Ha ha!) With no surviving Navy corpsmen, it was decided to get a Marine to carry the first aid bag until we got a replacement. We were asked, "Who was a Boy Scout?" My hand went up in the group. "Any Eagle Scouts?" There were none, but one Marine was a Life Scout. He was presented with the bag temporarily. Cpl. Ray Stevens had an Assistant BARman in his fire team who wanted to make a trade. PFC James E. Buxton traded with my assistant Joe F. Gonzales and the California Marine traded with the Oky from Enid, Oklahoma. Also, a 17-year old was taken from us to transfer him to Guam until he became 18. We had already lost one man because he had three brothers who died in World War II, making him a sole family survivor not eligible for combat. World War II produced some strange rules by people who must think we can achieve perfection on this Project Earth.
A funeral procession came by our area with noise, mourners, and colorful decorations. It had a large number of young men and they spent a lot of time looking around. I'm sure the funeral procession was a fake, but none of those young men were checked like the one in Kosong. I wonder?? My BAR was close by and now I knew it worked.
The North Koreans had both young and old troops, with many World War II veterans among them--more than we had. An elderly sniper got a Corporal of ours and when B-5 located and got him in an irrigation ditch, we determined that he was well into his thirties. He was likely one of the Korean Jap men who joined the Soviet North Korean army after the 38th parallel was drawn and given to Russia. As far as their weapons, the Jap rifle the North Koreans used was made a lot like the Russian one, but the Jap round was better with a rimless cartridge. The Russian ones were rimmed. I have to say they were pretty good at what they did, but we had more rules of war to obey than they did because, like the Japanese, the North Koreans never signed the Geneva agreement. They were not good shots as a rule since they came from anti-gun country with no military experience to learn from. They had Russian, Japanese, and U.S. arms. Their heavy 122mm guns were pulled by horses. Light artillery was often used, and one type of anti-tank rifle had a two-man crew. Mortars of about 60mm size were common. Their T-34 tank was the most effective artillery they used in my area.
We got hot chow when we were stopped at Miryang. It was not as good as the C-rations, but two of those ham and eggs servings seemed to satisfy. An NCO meeting was called in the open. Since the NCOs never told us what was going on, some of us decided to gather around and listen. In a dim light we were warned that the 24th Division had cut down 25 North Korean Division soldiers trying to respond to those surrender leaflets, so we need not expect any to be giving up tomorrow when the Brigade's 5th Regiment launched the attack. The 2nd Battalion was to try first and then 1st Battalion was to be next in line. The 3rd Battalion was to be in reserve. Who in the world trained those 24th Division boys? Everyone knew it was best to treat prisoners well. I would be glad to share my rations with a gook who is ordered to shoot me. Ha, ha.
When we turned our Naktong positions over to the 2nd Division, a Marine Corps NCO said, "If these guys think they can hold this, they are wrong." It was only a week later that the 5th Regiment got ready to go back to the very same place. We were sorry for the army guys, but it was disgusting to see such a waste of men and material. The army supplied the enemy and it made me feel bad when the gooks began to throw U.S. grenades at us. We knew they got them from the Army.
Naktong River Bulge
It was a short night and we were on 6x6 trucks headed for the Naktong River Bulge to meet the 4th Soviet North Korean enemy division. The trucks were open and we were on alert to return fire if received. The best place to attack would have been Pugok Pass just past a village of about ten huts at the base among the farm land. Easing through Youngsan, I saw the biggest bowl of rice I had ever seen in a doorway in mid-town soon after we crossed the one-lane bridge. We unloaded and began the usual walk, always on the alert. My stomach's complaint about the ham was increasing, but would not come up. Spots came before my eyes and then faded away. Sergeant Funk told me to rest and rejoin the column later. Someone said, "Luster's had it." It seemed to inspire me with a fresh burst of strength. "Take 10" was called and I unbuckled my ammo belt and laid back on the road to rest. By saddle-up time I was okay again. The noise of battle was easy to hear with the 105mm Howitzers behind us now quiet. The fight was personal and someone was getting shot. We stopped at a burned-out Russian T-34 tank where an army officer had poured gas on it. A five-gallon can beside it was my seat. "Scatter out, men. We will be here for a while."
The 12-house village ahead was Hi-gok. The shooting was going on beyond it at Hill 125 and Obong-ni Ridge, meaning Five Hills, with "O" the word for five in Hangul. The hills were 107, 109, 117, 144 and 145. Close to the cart path at the bottom was Obong-Ri or Five Hills Village. At the base of H-109 stood a big ash tree with a cool looking shade waiting to invite a weary Marine to his death. PFC Buxton and I went up the small hill to await more orders. I decided to use the meager thin shade of a pole bean patch. Looking up into a blue morning sky, I noticed some kind of grasshopper action at the bean vine tips. Looking beyond the tank road, I saw spent rounds hit the soft ground. Not grasshoppers, but bullets were clipping the pole beans. Without even learning how, I was able to slither out on my back and join Buxton against the hill. As we talked, Buxton seemed more worried than before. He said he expected to die soon. I reminded him that Oklahoma was full of churches and was he sure he was ready for that day. "No," he said. "Well," I replied, "I'm a Christian and we can take care of that right now." I began to lead in prayer and then asked if he would accept Christ as his Savior. "Yes," he replied. He shook my hand and I knew he meant it with all his heart. He was a good assistant. One time he carried my BAR until I caught up. He never lagged behind.
The order came, "Saddle up, men." We got on our way toward the action and stopped even with those Hi-gok houses. I looked up to see what was going on, but Hill 125 was all I could see. A soldier moved away from his group into a clump of scrub pines set out after the Japs left in 1945. I heard a burp gun and wondered what was going on up there. Soon the soldier emerged from the clump holding his left arm just like the soldier during our detour of Sachon drive from Chindong-ni. He must have shot himself, but was headed toward the USMC instead of his own aid station. The poor guy must live with that all through eternity if it was his self-inflicted wound.
It was our turn to go up to the top of the road to a big turn in the road where an M-26 tank was parked and firing an occasional round. One dead Korean in an army uniform was to the left. Just on past was a straw hut with three dead soldiers. One had blue eyes looking up as if to say, "It's not my duty time." It was an old commie trick to keep from wasting ammo on the dead. The smell was strong. The USA bodies were worse than the Koreans during decay time.
A Flash of Red Dirt
Down to a creek to the left we went. The date was August 17, 1950. Sgt. F. Lawson met us and gave us our orders. We were chosen to attack the flank of the saddle between H-117 and H-144 where a stubborn machine gun nest was located. He asked, "Any questions?" Yes, we had one. "What about the hill behind us?" He said, "Not to worry. That is B-5 area. That saddle was the trouble spot." Why had Gunny Lawson picked our fire team? Lt. R. Sebilian had the 1st platoon and he was our senior platoon leader. It was a compliment and not an accident. A newly-promoted Sergeant had refused to lead his squad up and it must have forced some juggling of leadership. That new Sergeant was relieved of duty, which put him in the category of that soldier on H-125. (The Army called it Clover Leaf Hill.) Poor boy.
Gunny introduced us to a machine gunner near us and said he would give support when we called for it. It must have been news to the gunner as well as to us. It was a steep climb and I put my BAR in the assault sling over my head to free both hands to climb. A 75mm recoilless rifle fired on the saddle. My cousin Roy was an ammo bearer for a 75 unit and it could have been another Luster trying to help his cousin. Ha! Gunny yelled for us to hurry up. Even if I was the BARman, I went on without stopping until I got to the crest of the ridge. I had not been discovered.
Looking down the hill, I saw A-5 in a well-spaced attack line going up. Each man was five yards apart and it was perfectly beautiful to see. Those training book writers should have seen that. Where were all those brave photo boys now? Two men scooted to the saddle and began uncovering weapons, throwing limbs in the air. I called for fire up the draw. The machine gunner said, "Huh?" I replied, "You still see 'um? If you fire I can pick 'um off." No, those gooks had not left like the others had, and the fight was on.
I asked Ellis if we had men in that direction. NO! I settled back on my right foot in a small depression at the top of a Red slash and opened up with a tracer every fifth round. I saw a rifle or a stick go up and slowly down. Silence! I was the first to fire and still no one else could see the enemy just beyond the crest. Sling over, new magazine inserted, and lifting the BAR to my shoulder, a flash of red dirt was coming at me like red water in a pool water fight. A hard jerk at my right shoulder and I was hit. My blood squirted like a water hose in summer. I saw the blood squirting onto my broken BAR stock and onto the cleaning gear I had put in that hollow space. I knew shock was a danger, so I leaned back to allow my body to relax and try to adjust.
I let Ellis and Koehler know I was hit and Ellis asked where. "My arm," I replied. He came over, then left and told Phil Koehler to go. Buxton had answered me with a problem on the way up. He must have heard the Gunny. Maybe he went straight up. I heard Ellis empty his M-1 carbine and the "pling" of the clip. It was the voice of Sgt. Carl R. Funk who called to tell the new corpsman that his guts were out and he was holding them. I could hear Marines letting the corpsmen know they were hit. I heard someone close by and thought I recognized the voice. It was me! I was ashamed. I tried to open my hand grenade pouch, but it took two hands. I reached for my K-bar, the Marine Corps fighting knife, but remembered the snap was broken and I had wired it down. I could not get any feeling from my hand as I searched for it. I knew that I should at least get down the hill a little farther. I had seen the soldier roll down and decided to try it. My arm flopped loose and I began to scoot down the steep part. My loose arm caught on a scrub pine and I was stuck. My father appeared to me and I recalled the last time he had played with me in the yard by the swing. He was teaching me to catch my 99-cent football.
Someone was calling "Luster" and I knew I was supposed to do something. What was it? I began to ask God to give me another chance at life and I promised to do better this time. "Luster," I heard. "Are you up there in the pines?" I answered, "Yes! Here I am." The voice said, "Keep talking so we can find you." Ellis came and tore my sleeve open. Then Koehler came and put a tourniquet on it with an empty bandoleer and a carbine bayonet holster (sheath). He apologized for not being able to stop the bleeding. He could not get me loose from the tree. Suddenly he called down hill for a corpsman and then disappeared. Ellis called for a corpsman once and then there was silence. He must have passed out. I found out later that Corporal Koehler had been hit as he sat beside me. The scar on his right cheek showed for the rest of his life. Ever after he always showed his left cheek in any photo, including in the pictures taken at my wedding in 1951 and his own wedding in 1952.
Just before August 17, A-5 had lost both of its Navy corpsmen, and new replacements Alford L. Green and John L. Babbick Jr. arrived. August 17 was their first and last day of combat as our first replacements for "A" Company. I was their first customer. They quickly gave me a half grain of morphine in each arm. I must have passed out because when I came to, Green had his face in mine calling my name. I knew if I died I was no longer their responsibility. They told me I had to help on the long trip down beside the red slash until we reached bottom.
I saw the figure of Gunny Lawson. Gunnery Sgt. Frank Lawson was from Oklahoma and he was a good source of World War II savvy. I recall the men talking about his family coming to the docks when we left the States, but I was working so I did not get to see them. He was the one who had given me my last orders at Obong. He assured us that we may have to give a little ground to improve a night defense. I tried to talk to him as I was being evacuated, but he only looked my way as I tried and then looked back up the hill with a foot on the slope. I wish he had said something to me. I had information for him. Gunny was killed by a Chinese mortar on December 7, 1950, along with another Sergeant in the same foxhole.
I later found out that my assistant BARman, PFC James Emmett Buxton of Enid, Oklahoma, was killed in the action to take Hill 117. Also killed that night, which was the same night that I was wounded, was 2nd Lt. Thomas Henry Johnston of Los Angeles, California. Lieutenant Johnston received the Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously. I met his father when he came to USNH Oky to visit with his son's surviving friends. Corporal Ellis and Corporal Koehler were both hit, too. Phil Koehler Jr. recovered enough to make Chosin. He went from A-5 to C-1-5 as a fire team leader on December 6, 1950. Through the years I kept in touch with Corporal Koehler, who died of natural causes in 1986. My wife still writes to his widow, even though she has remarried.
1st Lt. Robert C. Sebilian suffered a compound fracture of the thigh and a month later he was one of six Marines from the 5th Marine Regiment who were reunited while patients at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in California. Lieutenant Sebilian, PFC Raymond Allen, Capt. John L. Tobin, 2nd Lt. Edward C. Hall, 2nd Lt. David R. Cowling, and I had all trained and fought together. We were all injured within days of each other and were evacuated from Korea.
Long Trip Down
We came to the red slash ditch and one held me against the side while the other pulled from the top. At the next ditch we tried the same method, but it seemed steeper. "Come on," said the man up on top. When I fell over the top, Green said, "Nice going, Luster. We can take you from here." I saw the big, shady, ash tree and one went for a litter. They headed to the road where the M-26 was parked. Babbick of Frisco asked Green of Colorado to stop to rest for a minute. "No," was the reply. Finally Green agreed to stop for a rest. One stood between the sun and me. It seemed a very short stop and then it was on to the tank.
It took a long time for the two corpsmen to get me off the ridge, and by that time I felt as if I knew them personally. Their vocabulary was so clean they could have been ministers. Those corpsmen never used profanity at all and I was impressed. Before their first day on the line was out, Corpsmen Green and Babbick were both hit hard. Babbick received a severe head wound (he lost half of his face), and died shortly thereafter near Obong-ni. Al Green was from Colorado and Babbick was from San Francisco, California.
The tanker offered to take me to the aid station, but they just said thanks. Over the brink of the hill I was loaded into a Jeep "Cracker Box" ambulance by a tall, black army medic. "You gonna be all right, Marine," he said. I was unloaded at the aid tent and told them about Ellis still up on top. They said that Ellis was okay, but I told them that he wasn't. "Ellis," they said, "Tell Luster you are all right." Sure enough, it was Ellis. He had arrived at the same aid station.
A Navy corpsman started cutting my clothes off and said, "Charge this to the Navy." I knew he was cutting it all off. They had trouble getting a needle in for plasma. A doc asked me what type blood I had and I said, "O." He asked if I was O positive or negative, but I did not know. He looked at my dog tag (I still wear it), saying that plasma would not matter. Finally I heard a word of victory and I began to feel a cool fluid start from my arm and go to my feet, giving me a cooling feeling all over.
A Catholic priest came over to me and gave me last rites. I told him I was a Christian, so he got the Protestant chaplain for me. He helped me write to my mom and tell her that I was going with my Bible in my left hand and I still had that. My card to her also said, "Had four quarts of plasma. Will be okay." Written on the postcards were the words, "In case of my death or hospitalization, please mail." The chaplain must have mailed them home to the States for me.
An old field ambulance like I once drove in the Guard pulled up and I was among the patients who were loaded into it. The driver constantly talked to his "shotgun" rider who had a dinky carbine. At every bump we hit moans went up and I joined in the chorus. Once, the carbine spoke in what seemed to be return fire after it got dark. The ambulance had no trouble climbing through the pass, and after a long ride we stopped at the Miryang station on the banks of the Nam-chun River.
Loaded on the Purple Heart Special, I asked the army RN for water. It did not quench my thirst. When anyone called for water, I joined in. A deep South RN finally scolded me, informing me that some of the men were badly hurt. I apologized, as she told me I only had a broken arm. When we pulled in at the Pusan docks, the Special had its sliding door open and someone said, "Get this guy. He's in bad shape." It was me and I was soon dangling between Heaven and Earth over the water and onto the deck of the USS AH #15 Consolation hospital ship.
I was taken to a green room where an old doc said, "Move your fingers." Then he said, "The other hand." I concentrated and he said, "Are you trying?" I replied, "Yes Sir!" He said, "Alright, Son." A mask was put over my face. I woke up moving my head from side to side. As I opened my eyes, I saw that I was out of the green room and on white sheets. My right side seemed to be anchored. When I looked, I saw a pulley where my right arm had once hung down. I was alive, but my best arm was gone. My arm was amputated aboard the hospital ship and that is where my first post-amp dressing was changed. They had to put me out with ether, and as I woke up they asked me what was the matter. I said, "I don't know. All I know is it's God." That room got very quiet until I realized what happened and spoke again.
My first move in my hospital bed as a lefty I asked for pencil and paper to get started learning to write. That is the first thing I recall. It was quite a challenge, too. It was very busy on AH 15 Consolation, but it was great to see US girls hurrying around. It gave me hope knowing they still existed. Corpsman Dent of Memphis visited me often and later recognized me on a street in Clinton, Mississippi in 1955. We got acquainted and went hunting that season. He was a non-writer, so we eventually lost touch. He told me the name of my favorite RN on AH15, but I have forgotten it now.
None of my close pals were onboard AH15. I was next to an ex-Marine who was now in the 1st Cavalry Division. After his Marine Corps duty he joined the Army to get more pay. He said a lot of Marines were in his unit. One of the patients was from the machine gun squad and he had an eye tooth chipped while looking over his gun to see where the next banzai boys were coming from. An empty came straight back on him. Most of the survivors that I met were just glad to be alive. It was wonderful, and most said that we were still winning in the Perimeter.
I was on the Consolation until September 1, when I was transferred to Yokosuka Naval Hospital in Japan. That is where I wrote my two letters home that never made it. My four one-cent postcards the chaplain at the aid tent mailed for me did make it home. From Yokosuka I was transferred to Tripler General Army Hospital, Fairfield Suuisan (now Travis) Air Force Hospital, and finally the US Naval Hospital in Oakland.
When Army amputees joined Marines at the USN Amputee center at the request of the doctors, they always said something good about our efforts in Korea. One soldier from Chosin told us about the Marines taking him out after his men had left him behind. An older Sergeant came and quickly shut him up. Navy personnel, particularly the ones who had never left the States and felt it was their job, were eager to make smart remarks to the Marines. Those making the remarks knew no facts and had not been there in the action.
I got serious rehab in NH Oakland by a 90-pound RN from Boston. When I lifted her off the floor with my stump, she declared me a rehab and ready for an artificial arm. I became the first Korean War graduate at the amputee center for the Navy and they took my photo boarding the bus for Treasure Island to be processed out into civilian life. Now the veterans hospital deals with me.
These many years later I am still adjusting to having one arm missing. I still use my right arm in my dreams. But I have found ample things to do with only one arm. I became a middle and long-distance runner in sports. The right hand pain has never left. The more active I am, the more pain. It is a burning feeling and hard to ignore when I am tired. It is like living with a toothache in the hand. That is called "phantom limb pain." Those with both limbs off have less of this type of pain than those with a single loss.
Corpsman Al Green and I were together at USNH Oakland because he lost a finger, which put him in the amputee ward near me. He was able to bring me up to date and said he planned to stay with medicine in some way when he was discharged. My later efforts to find him failed. I found a World War I Al Green in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Wrong Green. It would be nice to meet Corpsman Green again before I "graduate."
I got in touch with the father and sister of my assistant BARman J.E. Buxton. I also paid a visit to his grave in North Enid, Oklahoma. I told his father and sister about James accepting Christ the day he was killed in action. He had an idea that he was not going to survive, and he didn't. His family said that he was a churchy boy as a kid, so they assumed he was a believer. I am his witness now for sure. My other fire team members have since died and I have pictures of their graves. I also have a photo of our first KIA, Robert Cozzalio. He is interred at Nevada City, California not far from his mother, who died in 1998. His brother lives in Philadelphia and is in poor health.
I was retired medically from the United States Marine Corps on May 8, 1951. I went directly to Hawaii when released, catching a flight on a Catalina Mars flying boat. To earn money I began to caddy at a Honolulu course, but it seemed to be a bother to the golfers to have a vet as a caddy with the war still going on. I enrolled in the University of Hawaii, but the G.I. Bill for Korean War veterans was not yet approved so I dropped out, returned all supplies to the book store, and made ready to get to the USA. My old Nuuanu Church Bible Class teacher bid me farewell and we kept in touch until he died in 1962 at Tripler Army Hospital. He was retired army after 30 years. His name was Grier P. Mobley. I named my first son, R. Grier Luster, after him.
Returning to the United States, I was much less worried about my future. I felt that all the rest of my life was pure profit. The boy in me was gone and a new life had begun. I had a broader view of this world--a world that seemed much smaller now. With one hand I was no longer a "jack of all trades." The only book I trusted now was a Bible.
I returned to Little Rock and told the VA I wanted to attend the nearest college that had all sports and was a Christian college. Ouachita was 75 miles south in Arkadelphia between Hope and Little Rock. My first real job was as a G.I. Bill student and I was the first for Ouachita, too. The students seemed much younger in college than I was. It was as if I was among children. I found the teachers often spoke to me in class. I noticed that Mom began to treat me more like a brother than a son. It was hard for some old friends to accept me as a lefty. One wrote me a last letter to the effect that I had been a good athlete. B. Lynch never wrote anymore. It had never happened before, but now when I bowed to pray, my body shook and trembled. Even the Lord seemed to treat me differently, as if I had grown closer to Him.
I met freshman Billie Romaine Hall of Jonesboro, Arkansas, and we married on December 24, 1951. Our first child was born November 1, 1952. We had five sons and two girls. All of them are now married. With no draft, only two served in the military. We need the draft. All men need to serve--just serving in the Guard or Reserves would be enough. Being a peacekeeper of this world is a good assignment to have, giving our men a real, important, early goal in life keeping our military strong and not weak as it has now become with our best, most responsible men not required any military service. I wish all my sons had served in some kind of military that was easy and cheap to do.
I had no trouble getting VA benefits. The US helped me even before I asked, but I have signed a lot of paper requests. I was already in my second college before the Marine Corps caught up with my pay. I was living off my "Bond-a-Month Plan" in the USMC. I thought of that when the Grand Canyon park closed temporarily because of slow pay. Civilians!! Silly. Sad. The USA has been too generous to me. I want to see the US stay strong and be less interested in making more beggars out of would-be good Americans. I got out of the Disabled American Veterans organization because it bothered me seeing able-bodied men begging on behalf of the vets they were supposed to be representing. I did not want them to rep for me. It's beggars who raise more professional beggars. Maybe the old vets have done too much. No, I have no complaints about getting benefits. I have been treated all too well, as well as my seven kids.
I did get weary of civilian life after a time and tried to re-up. After the Marine Corps, civilian life seemed insincere. I was told it was too late to sign up again for the Corps. When President Kennedy asked for U.S. citizens to give maximum cooperation in the national defense program, I tried to enlist in the National Guard and Army Reserve programs. Because of my disability, I was turned down. In January of 1963 I received permission from the Department of the Army to participate in the 49th Armored Division's 4th Battalion of the Texas National Guard in Brownsville, Texas. I couldn't hold rank or draw pay, but I was an active participant in the rebuilding of this Guard unit. I was able to qualify with an Army .45 automatic pistol and could fire an M-1 rifle.
Thanks to a good manager wife, Billie and I were able to exist on my military pension. Eventually I became a teacher-coach as the Korean War made a shortage of teachers. I left my senior year of college to take my first job on an emergency basis after football season had begun. Summer and a few night classes saw me get my degree from the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. A heart attack forced me to retire in 1996 while I was pastoring a small church. I am really on a retired situation and find that no phone is a big help. I answer all mail, but don't try to earn any extra money--nor does my Wifie Girl Romaine, who is a retired registered nurse.
Back and Forth to Korea
I spent most of the 1980s going back and forth to South Korea. I learned that Korean families have to support their sons during required military training. That may be a reason no orphans or others in similar circumstances are allowed in. I went to the battle areas of the Pusan Perimeter to learn from the residents more about what happened there during the Korean War. An old lady wanted to know what we ate since we did not take their food as North Koreans did. My visits stimulated talk about the war and the young got new lessons they needed to have. With Korea still requiring military service, I was asked many questions. I proved to them in a simple way that it was not really a civil war in 1950. Russia did not bother to learn much about Korea. When they formed the army led by World War II vets, they used the number 4. That is a death number to them. I lost my arm to the 4th Division.
I also took my wife over to Korea, and we would still be there except for the fact that Korea is still at war having men killed every year. No good visa is available to me without marrying a Korean. I told the immigration men that my wife would not like it if I did that. In 1988 we did get a teaching visa, but by six months the South Korean Reds had figured a way to get it cancelled. The school director was stunned. I expelled one Red from class because I refused to tolerate him. I turned in about 20 Reds to Military Intelligence via a P.O. Box on the navy base near Masan. I found so many they told me to put names in the post office box because their office was watched closely by Red employees. The Reds did a job of forcing the president, Chun Du Won, to resign to prevent disrupting the Olympics. I went to the polls early to watch the people vote the first time commie D.J. Kim ran. He was so badly beaten he took a trip to Moscow for a pep talk. He finally got elected in the last election and now Korean Air flies direct to Moscow from Seoul on regular flights. In 1999 I took the 50th anniversary revisit trip to Seoul and I saw Russians on the streets for the first time. When a Russian has a few drinks he cannot be hidden. A busload of them left my hotel for Kimpo while I watched.
MacArthur should have paid more attention to Korea after World War II instead of becoming emperor of Japan only. During his trials in the Pacific Islands for Jap war crimes, he refused to punish any of the Koreans since none were officers. Ignoring South Korea after letting Russia have everything north of the 38th parallel gave them a chance to be able to fake a civil war to get it all. We did all the Reds asked, including the disabling of South Korean military into a police force with not one tank or sub.
After finally getting more involved in Korea, we should have unified Korea and not listened to the Red-favoring United Nations. Russia had an agreement with FDR that they could help disarm any foe they helped us fight. However, they never declared war on Japan until after the first "A" bomb was dropped. They lied on paper to make excuses for being so late, but never having beaten the Japs any time, they didn't actually help with anything but the take-over.
We were wrong to ever make, as the Bible says, our feet of part clay and part steel by joining the United Nations. We should have stayed out as in the case of the League of Nations, not allowing our enemies to gain so much by talk only and bribes at the United Nations. We spent a lot on weapons we did not use in the Korean War, forcing us to build back up our depleted infantry units and fight their kind of war, not fight it as we had planned. The UN is still an enemy of freedom since it is full of people never free. None of the other nations care for foreign lands as does our country. The USA is made up of citizens who wanted something better at any risk in the unknown. The UN has been bad for the USA and even urged D.C. to take away some of the freedom of landowners' old early rights. U.S. landowners can no longer really own their land because D.C. even punishes owners who do not obey their foolish ideas. As time goes on, we do become more like those we rescued in World War II. Get us out of the UN before it's too late.
Australia allowed us to draft men to save their country from Japan, but never even started a conscription to help us out. Some Aussy men were criticized for leaving home to serve as a volunteer. That country needs the old draft too. The U.S. should help any who let us help on our terms, not theirs. Even in Desert Storm the U.S. was told to leave our Bibles behind. Even the Red Cross had to add a symbol of theirs to vehicles used over there. I saw them myself. We did take Bibles against their desire as we "praised the Lord and passed the ammunition." After that first year in South Korea, D.C. was convinced by the UN not to try to win the war, but just hold a line and let the enemy call the shots when good and ready. We lost more men that way. That foolishness also set the stage for Vietnam, as our enemy learned what we would put up with. We never lost a major battle in Nam, but it is recorded as a loss by order of the UN and D.C.
The Korean War slowed the march of the Red epidemic and eventually led to name change and reorganizing of the Commie effort. They are rewarded by getting U.S. aid and a fresh start like a criminal changing his name for a new record. The South Korean Reds now call themselves the Opposition Party and D.J. Kim was elected narrowly as such. He was exiled for his early crimes, but President Reagan forced them to let him back in. He was not harmed like the P.I. exile who was killed at the Manila airport, but South Korea called out police and military to keep that from happening. It was another Red win. China never left Korea after truce signing. Russia will help them get all of Korea in time to make points, since China is the one that prevented unification of Korea.
The USA needs to keep troops in Korea to delay the eventual takeover by China. A lot of Chinese are already there, but they are not as noticeable as the Russians. The main loyalty of Koreans is to their family, making them subject to bribes. Japan bribes a lot of Koreans to help their business ventures, getting around the rule of no Jap owning businesses in South Korea. They still control all businesses one way or the other. This attitude will keep Korea from staying free for very long after the USA leaves.
Like the sign on President Harry Truman's desk that said, "The Buck Stops Here," Communism stopped in Korea. It was a young man's war and without taking that stand some young men would have had very little to show for their lives, including me. At the end of my life it is the one real, good thing that I did in spite of many efforts to the contrary. When people honestly call for help on your conditions, it is a good assignment to help. If the United States is always ready to help others, she will remain free much longer than if not. Just like the early days, U.S. men should all be part-time soldiers, doctors, and students. Being the world policemen was a great assignment, giving youth an early goal. Even Hitler passed up Switzerland because every man had a gun at his house. Too costly.
Another good that came from the Korean War is the freedom the Koreans enjoy so much. They spend a lot on education of the young: extra schooling in "Hawan", extra special classes after regular schooling, language, art, typing, and music to a fault. I told my kids that Korea is better for kids now than the United States, except for orphans and an unwed mother and child. It is like old, rural Texas was when I was a boy. Everyone works. At least my kids were taught to respect Korea and have had Korean guests at home.
The nickname "The Forgotten War" covers those who were not personally involved in the Korean War. Most of those who were involved did not try to learn what made Korea tick. I learned more about the people and the war than most because I was impressed with the people as I put in my short time in the Pusan Perimeter desperately fighting among all those people trying to get behind our lines when we were still losing the war. To pick a loser to agree with is a very convincing and impressive situation. I went back and got my investigation going as soon as my young daughter married on January 4, 1980. I was in the city of Taegu the night of January 22, 1980. My efforts put that area on the map for the Korean yout, and now a monument has been built overlooking the actual Naktong River Bulge battle area. I have not forgotten Korea. I love Korea.
Part of my Pusan Diary was used in a Korean War book by Don Knox in 1985. Most of the names I used then were pseudonyms because I had seen so many people sue for no good reason. The sequel, called Uncertain Victory, has all correct names, but that book is not well known. Knox died while writing Uncertain Victory, so A. Coppel finished it, going lightly to the end of the Korean War.
One of the most interesting things that happened to me after the Korean War was the meeting of Corporal Dale Ellis at a drawbridge across the Potomac River on my way back to the naval hospital in Oakland. While still convalescing in California from my injury, I took a holiday season trip to the eastern States. That particular day I had visited the old home of Robert E. Lee and Arlington Cemetery. While waiting on the drawbridge to go down again, Corporal Ellis recognized me from the car next to us. I did not recognize that crazy civilian in civvies. "Luster, it's me. Ellis from Korea," he said. I had a hard time believing it, but it was really him. Ellis shot the gook who shot me in Korea.
Was the war I experienced in the Pusan Perimeter "just like in the movies"? Not to me. Movies have music. We could have used a little music, but we only had Korean funeral chants and gun fire. In the movies no one is really tired, which is not the case in an actual combat zone. Even our voices betrayed our fatigue, and Hollywood has never learned to fake that. I also saw death as I had never seen it before. I had seen my dead father when I was nine years old, but he was all dressed up and not like the dead in a field of battle. I had seen a lot of dead animals, as the country people butchered their stock themselves. As the elder in my family of kids, I had the job of burying dead pets and most other unwanted tasks around the place. War dead were more like the animals deal.
When we went to war I never expected more than burial if I was killed. The government's effort to bring the bodies of America's deceased Korean War veterans back these many years later is just another scheme to waste more money. The other Marines and I who served in Korea promised each other that we would do no surrendering and that we would not leave anyone at the hands of the enemy. One Marine was knocked out and woke up in enemy hands. He got reasonable treatment, but seemed to have a harder time adjusting than most back in the U.S. Naval Hospital in Oky. He gave me his uniforms when he went home. Our country needs to be strong and ready for the next fight--ready to supply the living troops, not the dead ones. Gingus Kahn liked Christian troops because of their attitude toward burial.
In my studies of the Bible I learned from David of Goliath fame that it is okay to die as long as it is okay with God and his Death Angel. Life on this earth is not intended to be very long at all. After I was hit I did ask God to give me another chance at life. Even though I was one of those given last rites, I did survive. When I had a heart attack many years later, that time I only asked for mercy because I was not feeling an urgent need to do anything else important in this life. Our lives are a project of Christ, not man, so we must take what comes for a while.
Things Not Yet Told
During the course of this interview, I have mentioned many things about my Korean War experiences. The last question asked of me by Lynnita was, "What have you not yet told me about your time in Korea?" Following are some of the things not yet told.
I believe that World War II was more important than the Korean War, but the lives of Korean War veterans and our own answer to fighting the spread of communism was also important. Even now new troops have to fight to keep what all the old soldiers earned for us all the way back to the Revolutionary War. The young must always be willing to carry on where the elders left off.
In this short life I missed a chance to die in good company among real men. Serving in Korea was the one good, big thing I did in my life. My heart jumps for joy seeing a bunch of Korean students chasing their high hopes for a bright, free future. With no USA answer to the call from Korea, I could hardly prove I lived on earth. We did something great in the Pusan Perimeter, and we all knew it at the time. Some tried to tell us no when we returned, but they were not there. I am glad I was in on it.
Even though I was first army, the USMC became my father sub and I am USMC as long as the young ones will claim me. My wife tells friends that I am one of those "always and forever" Marines, but I think she has a better attitude than I do. She raised seven in my boot camp and I only backed her up. None of them are on welfare yet. With strong recruiting by those welfare workers, it is hard to keep them away from it. I pointed out that I never took free meals, even when we had all seven in school in the same year, 1969-70.
Tough love outlasts any other. Christ did a lot to prove that, "No greater love has a man than he lay down his life for his friends." Then HE went on to do it. My Pusan C.O., Gen. E.A. Craig, once wrote that I was a good Marine. Two Marines risked their lives to extend mine. I must do my very best as a survivor to try to prove they made no mistake in it.
Obituary - Herbert "Lefty" Luster