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Richard A. Matheney
"When we had a wounded man near us or me, he was the first thing on our mind. Getting to him to make sure he was safe from incoming fire, placing our body so we would take the hit and not him. If the man was dead, he was pulled into a foxhole to keep him from becoming a target. Dead is dead and nothing could hurt the man anymore, but he was still a Marine."
- Richard Matheney
My name is Richard Matheney. I was born December 21, 1931, in Detroit, Michigan, a son of Orville and Lilly McCann Matheney. My father was the president of Local 51 A.F. of L, and my mother was a housewife. I have two brothers: Harry, who is older and Robert, who is younger.
I attended Owens Grade School from Kindergarten through sixth grade, Barbour school from 6th grade to 9th grade, Eastern High School tenth grade to eleven and a half. All of these schools were in Detroit. I graduated in 1950 from M.C.I. While I was in school I worked as an usher at the Maxine Movie Theater in the Spring and Fall. I was a dishwasher (Pearl Diver) at Father's Restaurant during the summer.
I was a Boy Scout and after my 12th birthday I became a Tenderfoot in the Flaming Arrow Patrol, Boy Scout Troop 363. I learned to live and camp out of doors and I learned about girls. Four other Scouts and I set a record in becoming Second Class Scouts--about two years, but we had fun.
During World War II my brother Harry was in the Army. He was a Sergeant and was awarded the Silver Star. Our school sold savings stamps for war bonds, both 10 and 25 cent stamps. I bought both kinds.
In 1949 I had a go-nowhere job and was not getting along at home. Mother and Father played the divorce game. My older brother went with the Old Man. My younger brother went with Mother. Not wanting to go one way or the other, I went on my own for a short time. The police brought me home to Mother--they called me a run-away. To enlist at 17 years of age I needed a parent to sign for me and Mother said she would do it.
As I went from office to another--Army, Navy, Air Force--to decide which branch of service to join, they all looked the same. Then BINGO, the Marine that I talked with looked great. His green uniform was neat and pressed, his hair was short, and his shoes were shined. I wanted to look just like that. I talked with my older brother, who said I was too small to get into the Marine Corps. He was wrong. After being tested I was on a train headed for Parris Island, South Carolina at 6:01 that night. That was 9 February 1949. Both my mother and father wished me well. Father said not to worry about war because the Big One was over. He also said for me not to try to outdo Harry's Silver Star and to just do what I should to get along.
No one that I knew traveled with me on the train to Parris Island. The train stopped at Yemassee, South Carolina, made a turn around and backed into Parris Island. This was a bad sign. When the train stopped we were welcomed by a mountain of a man who was not only big, but ugly, too. He talked nice when he pointed to a flag with a bulldog on it and told us we were "lower than that fucken dog", and to get on all fours and crawl to a 6x6. What's a 6x6? A truck. Then things got better.
We were given a haircut, a bucket, scrub brush, soap, two pairs of boon-docker shoes, and all of our new clothes and uniforms. Then we met God. God wasn't in Heaven, but here on Parris Island. God and his helper were S/Sgt. H.A. Ziener and Cpl. J.P. McCartney. Platoon 20 was such a great bunch that in March we got Sgt. J.L. Gilbreath. S/Sgt. Ziener, a World War II vet, was our senior drill instructor (DI). Sgt. Gilbreath, also a World War II vet, was our junior DI, and Cpl. McCartney was also a junior DI. There were no black recruits.
Boot camp lasted twelve weeks. During that time we learned how to march, to dig our heels into the deck, first aid, hygiene, compass, history of the Corps, arm and hand signals, weapons of all types, gas mask, Rank's Who and What. The films we saw in the classroom were very educational. The VS.. films I saw still stick in my mind. They showed a baby with V.D. I can still see that poor thing. We also saw combat films. I don't remember much about them--in Korea I got to see the real thing. We learned how to handle a rifle and bayonet and how to take our weapon apart and put it together again in the dark. Most everything was hands-on training. Then we moved outdoors to put our classroom work to use. We learned how to wash our gear--our clothes, socks, underwear, tee shirts, and dungarees. The only proficiency test was platoon related--Platoon 20 against the other bunch of people. We also had a proficiency test at the rifle range for a record score in shooting at a target, which went on our record.
Our day started at 5 a.m. with Corporal McCartney banging hell out of our 30-gallon G.I. can. "Hit the deck." Half the platoon made the bed first and the other half went first to the head, washed and shaved. Then the first half went to the head, washed and shaved, etc. We were marched to mess hall and chow call was at 6:15 a.m. We ate very well. I can't remember what food we had, but I did put on weight. We then cleaned the squad bay, dusting, sweeping and swabbing the deck. At 8 a.m. our training started and lasted until 11:30 a.m. We then had lunch at 1:00 p.m. and went back to training of some sort. At 4:30 p.m. we washed up for dinner, which was at 5:00 p.m. At 6:00 p.m., if we had done good during the day, we got a reward. We got to have a field day. We piled sand at one end of the deck with water and scrubbed the deck. We washed windows, lockers, and just about everything. We then had to stand ready for God and his white glove. If he found dirt, we did it again. At 9:00 p.m. half the platoon showered while the other half cleaned our weapon. At 9:25 p.m. we changed sides. At 9:55 p.m. we were told to read and write letters until lights out and then Corporal McCartney said "Lights Out." This was a daily routine. We could go to church if we wanted, but I don't remember anyone going. We were told in a very nice way that God could have our soul, but our ass belonged to the Corps.
Parris Island itself is a dismal swamp and in the middle of this swamp is where the boot training is done. There were insects. (The sand fleas were the size of humming birds.) These fleas waited until after the run back from chow, and while we were standing at attention they crawled in our ears and nose and around our head. A boot didn't dare move, because the DI was watching. He told us that we had eaten--and now it was the fleas' turn. If no one moved for about ten minutes, we could go into the squad bay before the mosquitoes (which were the size of sparrows) ate on us.
Did we ever have any "fun" in boot camp? I was a boot and was told every day was a "fun day." Fun to march on a hot day in hotter sand. Fun to wash clothes. Fun to clean the barracks. Just fun, fun, fun. I remember that we got tetanus shots one day early and were told to police around the building. When we got to the front, the Lady Marines were getting shots, too. They took off their jackets and were there in their bra's. We got caught looking, so we got to go to the front of their line and the back of their line. We got a total of three tetanus shots in a day. I could hardly move my arm.
We had no troublemakers in our platoon. We were just a bunch of bald-headed boots. Our DIs were very strict. If they said jump we jumped or wished to hell we had. They were masters at being strict, thank heavens. They used corporal punishment. Why? The sun came up in the east and went down in the west. DIs didn't need a reason for anything. I was very lucky in that I was never singled out for discipline for doing something wrong. But I saw others disciplined for not knowing the part of a rifle in the DIs hand or not knowing one of the Ten General Orders. The method of discipline was the platoon would get to have a field day. As the DI said, one bad move could cost everyone in the platoon his well being. We were a party of one. In having the platoon disciplined we all learned from a mistake. We were to look after one another any time, any place. If something went wrong, it was everyone's fault. Seventy-three boots out of seventy-three boots made it out of boot camp.
I was never sorry that I joined the Marine Corps during boot camp. I knew what was expected and felt I had a direction. I just wondered what it would be like after boot camp. No one would tell us anything. There was no ceremony when boot camp was completed. There was just one inspection of troops and rifle. A Major looked us over and asked one boot a question. He didn't know the answer so the boot said, "Sir, the flag pole is in front of the Main Administration Building." The Major had a funny look on his face and never asked another question. We were told to always have an answer, no matter what.
When I left boot camp, I didn't leave feeling like a Marine. I was a Marine. When I went into boot camp I was a 17-year old kid. After boot camp I was a 17-year old man. Corporal McCartney handed me my emblems on a playing card--the ten of diamonds--as I got on the bus headed back to Yemmassee, South Carolina. He called me Marine.
I had a ten-day leave and went home on a bus. It took two days to get home and two days to get back to camp, so I had six days at home. I went back to Eastern High School to visit a biology teacher that I had had. When I went to enlist he told me I would never make it in the Marines and if I did, he would eat every pencil on his desk. He lied. I put every pencil he had on his desk and he didn't eat one. The rest of the time I visited with friends. I wore my uniform while on leave because I had nothing else. Mother had given my clothes away. My little brother said I looked different. He was right. I looked different and I was different.
The bus trip from Detroit to Camp Lejeune was a very long trip, and nothing eventful happened on it. I took a bus from Detroit to Washington, D.C. and from there to Jacksonville, North Carolina to Camp Lejeune.
Once at Camp Lejeune I checked in at the office of the 2nd Division and from there to the 11th Marine Regiment to "A" Battery, 1st Battalion. I checked in with the 1st Sergeant of "A" Battery and met the C.O. and troops on gun two. I was to train as a cannon cocker in order to know just what these guns were for and what they could do. I started with ammo and powder charge. Next came types of fuse and how to set same. A new fuse was brought to gun two. It was a variable time and set with a different fuse setter to go off underground or above ground. This training took about six to eight months, then I went to train as a Forward Observer (FO). An F.O. team works with an infantry company. We advance along with the company as riflemen or radiomen, whatever. Once we get to where we are going, we set defensive fire.
Post boot camp infantry training was advanced to company size platoon, squad, and fire team size. I had to learn to move with each unit. We went out with the Battery and fired live rounds at different targets. The guns were one to seven miles from the outpost. At first I ran wire for a telephone until I could do it in my sleep. Next came the radio. This was harder because it was 40 pounds. I learned radio talk: roger, wilco and such. Then came looking over what was in front of the company and in my mind plan a field of fire to keep the bad guys under heavy, killing artillery fire so our company would have covering artillery fire. I had to learn how attacking troops would advance on our company front and side and set covering fire where needed. As a Forward Observer team each person could do everything.
This training was at Camp Lejeune. As F.O. teams we were given different infantry companies. Once given a company we stayed with them. If the infantry company officers were down, an F.O. team member could handle the riflemen. We learned how to do the killing and not get killed. This was hands-on training, with the trainers being World War II veterans. The difference in training since boot camp was far advanced. For instance, we learned that one inch of a bayonet in the neck killed. We learned never to run our bayonet in the chest because it is bone and hard-sticking. We learned how to take the soft spot. Regarding a knife, we learned to always push the head forward to cut the throat and to put the knife in the neck below the ear. Fingers in the eyes. Kick everywhere. Never fight fair. Fight to win. The testing of our proficiency in these subjects was coming up when Korea got in the way. My biggest challenge--no, my biggest worry, was would I be able to do the things I had been trained to do if I was actually in combat? I believe I passed the test.
We had liberty every night and weekends. We went to Virginia to work with landing boats and hit the beach in Virginia many times. We had no cold weather training. We trained every day until the Inchon Landing. My training was the best. I went into Parris Island a young kid and came out a tiger. After boot camp I became a killing machine at Camp Lejeune. We were in training of some sort every day. Even the first aid training I received later came in handy in civilian life.
War Breaks Out
On or about the first of June 1950 after our lunch and while in the barracks, a Lieutenant asked what we knew about Korea. Telling him what we knew took about ten minutes. The Lieutenant said it was a small country between Japan and China and that it had been governed by both. It was divided by the 38th parallel and was called North and South Korea. We were told to say nothing about our talk and if we had leave time coming to take it. I took ten days and just beat Western Union home. The telegram said the remainder of my present leave was cancelled and to return to base immediately. I went to the airport and was told no seats were available. I showed my telegram and got a seat right away.
Was I anxious to go to war? I don't know. I had heard about things that happened, some good and some bad. I had heard my big (older) brother talk at different times when with other veterans. Again, I guess worry #1 was would I or could I do what I was trained to do? Would I be man enough? Would I live or die? Would I come back in one piece? I guess the answer to whether I was anxious about going to war would be no. I never gave war a thought. I was 18 years old. To say goodbye to family and friends was no problem and took very little time. Thinking back, I said all goodbyes as though I was just going back to camp from leave and that I would see all again during my next leave. I did find things different in the way I was treated when traveling. It was as though those people knew I was off to a war. The serviceman got the seat first!
I traveled from Camp Lejeune to California by train the last of June. From San Diego I went to Japan in the last part of July or August. Then the first part of September 1950 I went to Korea. We were told at this point in time what was going on. Anyone with a little time in service knows that if you want to know anything about what was going on or when things would happen, just ask any whore in town. They had the inside word on everything, so most of us knew well before the Corps told us anything. A Marine can always find a whore--whores were always looking for a few good men.
I don't know the name of the ship that took us to Korea, but it could have been the Mayflower without sails. All I know about the ship was that it was an A.P.A. and was unfit to transport POW's during World War II. That's what we were told. Our bathroom or head was a trough about 25 feet long with boards across it to sit on. We were wise to wait for a center spot because whatever was in the trough would slop back and forth and splash around both end spots.
Only Marine troops were aboard. They also may have had cargo, as we were given ammo. I had been aboard a ship before. Anyone with time on board any ship could be picked out. They were the ones in the highest bed racks. The ones in the lower racks were always vomited on. Most old-timers spent as much time topside as possible because the air was better. Where the troops were at times was so foul the only place to be was topside. We were lucky that we were never in rough weather.
The trip took several days but I don't remember how many exactly. We went round and round until all ships arrived at the rendezvous point. Then it seems like it was only a couple of days to Korea. Entertainment was someone's radio or a card game--just don't let any money show. Letter writing made no sense as there was no post office. Duty aboard ship was mine watch, submarine watch, and shark watch. Any duty made no sense at all. Nothing eventful happened on the trip. It was just a nice boat ride. I knew several people on the ship, including many people from the First Marines who I had trained with at Lejeune. Lee Mead was with H Company. Clark Henry was with G Company. I also knew Bernie Insco and many others. I still see these people.
We got to the bay at Inchon during the night. What time I have no idea. We got up about 3:30 a.m. or so, then came our last meal aboard ship. We had a big meal--eggs any way we wanted, ham steak, corn bread, toast, milk, coffee--whatever we wanted we got and as much as we wanted. From the mess hall we went back to our gear and were ordered topside to our disembark site. About the only thing I can remember anyone saying to us while we were still on the ship was to get off the beach quick and make room for the people behind us. We were told to take cover, set up a field of fire, and move forward with our squad or fire team.
I remember seeing our A.P.A., plus one other and at least three LSTs. One LST had rockets topside. One ship was bigger than a destroyer. I saw about eight, maybe ten ships altogether. The noises were many. Big naval guns, rockets from the LST, aircraft overhead heading for Inchon (blue-colored, gull-winged Marine Air Wing Corsairs), the sound of aircraft coming down on a bomb run, machine gun fire from aircraft, the motor on our landing craft, people talking, and my heart pounding. I have no idea about any other troops or where they came from. I heard that they didn't have much time before the tide went out. At daylight the next day we could see a boat or two on their sides and a lot of mud where water once was. The boats didn't get out in time.
We went over the side on cargo nets in the first wave on Blue Beach. I couldn't tell what time it was but I know it was early. We had a mist and very light rain. We had heavy resistance at first, or maybe we thought it was heavy. We couldn't see the beach. We had a sea wall in front of us. We put up ladders and went up the ladders to the beach. Once topside there was heavy automatic fire at first, which kind of faded as more troops got topside. We lost people both dead and wounded during the invasion. I can't tell you how many. The word went out who got it and where and when. When we found a friend we just gave each other a smile.
I don't think I had a problem being new at the game. I found that the rules ran a bad course. You jump into a hole with some dude you don't really know, say a few words and hear a thud. The person beside you has just lost half his head. Being new at the game of war you wonder what you did right and what he did that was wrong. You are new at the game just a short time. You learn fast and one day can be a lifetime. One week and you might be the old salt to the new troops coming in.
I remember Inchon as one big chimney about one hundred feet high with a hole in its side. I also remember a slope-headed sniper shooting at us. A man with a bazooka took care of the gook and the top half of the chimney. I did everything I could to stay alive and set up a field of fire if needed for the night if we were going to dig in. The first night ashore was a very long night. People were shooting at nothing, including me. We had a little rain that night. We had no problems in the invasion to speak of. We had nothing but great people--NCOs and officers who kept things together. I landed with "I" Company and with the C.O. Bull Fisher yelling for the big "I" to form up. We did and things were great.
The next day we moved inland toward Seoul, walking and cleaning up little pockets of gook troops who were always falling back being their main force just to help slow us down a little. During the invasion and the immediate days afterward, the prisoners that were taken were few. An enemy machine gun would fire at us and we would move on it, remove a rifleman or two, and do the machine gunner in as we moved on. We were lucky during these engagements that very few people were hurt--just the bad guys. But every engagement, no matter how small, was always a major effort. There was always a chance of one of us getting hit. One rifle shot at us was a big deal because at least a fire team or more would move on it. Every time we moved on incoming fire it could cost a person or two. Sometimes it did and other times it didn't. We had both KIA and WIA. When you are where the shooting is, someone's luck will run out. Every day everyone had close calls. The bullets we heard weren't the ones that hurt us.
We moved every day to the Han River and toward Seoul and our only way of traveling was by foot. We took time to regroup and square things away. Any time we moved we dug in and set up a defense for the night. We got hit at night--never very hard, but just enough to keep us up. When nights set in they were always long nights with long watches. Shooting was going on both day and night, however. During the day we could see if we hit what we were shooting at. At night it was a guess but we always checked to see if we scored. Sniper fire was nothing at night. If we had a house or two in front of us we told the people to stay inside or be shot. If they moved and were seen, a machine gun burst would set their roof on fire so we had light to see. Many roofs were set afire.
As we moved we made sure that nothing got around us. We didn't have a destination because we were moving too fast and the brass had to catch up. This was a new game and finding out who won was even harder. I was glad that I was a nothing rank. I found it better to do what I was told to do than have to tell someone else to do things that might kill or hurt them bad. I found that being on the go was better than resting. When we were tired things didn't bother us as much as when rested.
As I said, being new to combat only lasted a very short time. Two days on line can be a lifetime. In two days you might become the old timer to the replacements coming up. The new blood will watch your every move. For some that was good. For others, it was not so good. The things that I had heard about combat from others were nothing like what I was living. The tales told were about other people getting hurt or worse. This was me having a chance to become the one the others would talk about sometime. For sure John Wayne wasn't there to help out.
To move during the day we could see everything going on and where to move for the most protection. When we dug in for the night we checked everything out in front of our hole, front and both sides. Then came the black of night. One little sound and we would unlock and watch because the little tree in front of our hole would look like a gook or two and the rock on the left side would look like three or four more. This was what made for a very long watch. The newness of combat was gone and the work we were doing wasn't fun. For me, checking our team out and finding that everyone made it again was a great day. Hearing that someone took one in the leg and was on his way to Japan and the hospital with a million dollar wound that would send him home was the best news we could get.
There was a Gunny Sergeant and World War II vet in our company. I asked him about getting enough to eat. His advice was to learn to eat what no one else could and I would never go hungry. Chicken and vegetables weren't fit to eat (a fly wouldn't land on it), but I did and I always had a can or two to bake, boil or fry. I never ate it cold. We had a few other old-timers from the Big War. They were great in teaching us what we had to know. Those that lived went home after Chosin.
My memories of the refugees were gook kids who begged for candy and food from a group of men and then dropped a hand grenade and ran. There was an old woman and baby sitting alongside the road as we passed through. As we passed her some gave her food. We got incoming mortar fire and discovered that she was calling mortar fire in on us. Someone sent her to hell. She was sitting on a radio. This was the only time this kind of thing happened. We learned fast not to trust any slope-head refugee or civilians.
"I" Company found out we were going to take Yongdung-po, a town with a beer manufacturing company. "I" Company took that building in record time and we had a few beers. This was the best victory anyone ever had.
Our objective was Seoul and we were there and it was ours. We achieved it just so the five-star fool could give it back to the South Korean President Mr. Rhee. Resistance was both weak and strong. As we moved on Seoul, the fighting wasn't as hard as expected at first. We moved from house to house and a fire team would take the first house. The next fire team would take the next with the third fire team watching for people running away or for snipers watching to fire on us. The first houses we took were kind of mud houses. One hand grenade did them good. Anything in them would be hit. This was the only way to fight house to house. Once we got well into Seoul it was late and time to set up for the night. Things were quiet at first. We set up for the night with our main line of defense and waited for what was to come.
Seoul looked bad. It was shot up pretty bad (or good). We saw a lot of smoke and burning buildings. The North Koreans were in the far side of the city. I think the two main streets were kind of "T"-shaped with the train station at the top of the "T". We had a few tanks and aircraft for support, but when night came on so did the gooks. They came down the street in full force. We kicked hell out of them (we took no prisoners) and they fell back and came again. For a while it looked like they were coming in from the train station. We lost a lot of people that night. I remember one casualty real well. His name was Tony Russo. He was with us at Camp Lejeune. He took one in the head. Friendly fire. This was a good and bad thing to happen. The bad part was the wrong Russo family got the telegram saying their son was dead. The good part is that that Russo was sent home because of the screw-up.
I saw both women and children. I also saw the South Koreans shooting whole families if one member of that family had helped the North Koreans. We had no trouble with civilians once we were in Seoul. We were very lucky not having anything to do with the Korean Marine Corps at that time. They, like the American Army, were not a fighting force. They were a track team. They could outrun anyone retreating. I will explain later in this memoir about these people.
Once Seoul was taken most of our troops were so tired a fast move was impossible. We were north of the city on the northern outskirts when Seoul was officially reclaimed and returned to South Korea. After that we returned to Inchon, riding in the back of 6x6 trucks, not seeing much of anything--including the enemy. The people we saw were milling around trying to put their lives back together. They were picking up things to make life better. We had no trouble with the civilians. They didn't dare give us any trouble as we were not about to take anything from them.
After getting back to Inchon we formed up in company areas and sat down to wait our next move. We watched the Army dogfaces on guard duty around the many boxes of food that were stacked up near us. We would take a box and the guard didn't know what to do. They were told that we took what we wanted and it was best if they walked the other way. They did and we had tomato juice, saltine crackers, and a few other things. I can't remember what all, but it was better than our rations.
Operation Yo Yo
When we boarded our LST at Inchon, we headed northeast. The ship I was on had no name. It had a big flat bottom and a Japanese crew. We had contact with the crew members and a few of them sold us beer. We were part of a convoy heading north. At times we could see eight to ten ships--some troop ships and some fighting ships. Being in a fighting outfit and not in the Navy, I couldn't tell what kind of ships they were.
The order came down for us to go directly to Wonsan for a landing and we were told that there would be another landing in a couple of days. The ship headed north for a while and we were well on our way there when, to our surprise, we made a 180-degree turn and headed south. Then we turned and headed north again. We made many 180-degree turns before we got word about a ship that hit a mine in or near the harbor. A mine sweeper was going to clear the harbor so we could make our landing. The mine sweeper hit a mine and sank. That was part of the delay. We also hit bad weather and on an LST, any small wave made one of those ships bounce like a cork. The flat bottom pounded real hard.
From what I remember the trip took about five or six days and during that time we always had food. If it was good we never had enough. If we had enough it wasn't any good. The Japanese crew ate better than we did, so we made a deal or two and got food from the crew--ham, pork chops, good stuff.
To pass the time of day on the trip we washed our gear, checked our weapons, used our radio, and learned to talk like radio people do. We learned what our call sign was and to call in a fire mission. We also tried to keep the queer Japanese crewmen away from PFC John Sanders. They were all wanting him. He was really hung. The only entertaining thing we did was sell his body. Watching him run and hide was more fun for us than anything else. The Japanese crewmen were pretty funny thinking they were really going to get him.
The only duty on the ship was refreshing my team on what we had to do to better ourselves. Check out our radio man and wire men so we could do everything that had to be done while in a fire fight. Any man in our team could do any job if need be. We had no training exercises--just what we did team wise. Knowing what we were doing might keep us alive.
I don't know the date for sure that my unit arrived at Wonsan. At a guess I would say it was somewhere between the 15th and 20th of October. The harbor town of Wonsan wasn't much where we landed. There were just a few mud houses. I don't know if anyone cleared the harbor before we got there. We had no briefing on our landing one way or another. We always expected the worst and were very happy when it was over.
During the day we moved inland and set up our defense for the night. Early on the weather was fair, although there had been some rain and the road had mud and pools of water. From Day One it was getting colder at night. We had our parkas, which were very warm. We had our gear on our backs and were transported by 6x6 trucks for a few miles. Riding was wonderful, although when we were put into the trucks we could see this was an Army move and we were not happy on the road with no flankers out. When we got out of the truck we found that the driver could hardly stand up, he was so drunk on 190-proof sick bay joy juice. We were glad to walk then. The first few days we had incoming small arms fire and then nothing, which gave all a bad feeling. When trucks passed us on the road they drew fire and we felt better shooting back.
There were no civilians heading south at this time. We moved up on the road with hills on both sides of us. There were some trees, mostly Jack Pine. We came in contact with a few Chinese who were almost frozen and wanted to surrender. This was the first talk of Chinese troops we could believe. Why? Because we saw them.
When we stopped walking and stood around for a few minutes our feet started getting cold due to the fact that the inner sole in our rubber boots was wet from sweat. So we kept marking time to keep from freezing up. As night came on we took to the high ground. We started getting small arms fire. It was not heavy, but it was annoying. The farthest point that "I" Company traveled was about a mile or two north of Hagaru. We could see the airfield behind us. Able Company, 5th Marines was at Yudam-ni, about five miles north of us. "I" Company, 7th Marines were out there too. We were to watch for them and help them if possible. I-3-7 moved through us to Hagaru.
We sat wondering which way to set up a field of fire. We were told that the gooks were everywhere, that they were all around us, and that we were surrounded. When I asked the skipper (Bull Fisher) about where to set different fields of fire he said to shoot all 360 degrees as we were in the middle of the bowl. We had many fire fights during that night. Our outpost hill was high and we could see a long way during the day. We could see enemy troops moving around just out of range. We wondered where all these North Koreans came from. We were in the middle of nowhere and there were no villages. Only man-made features were available for self preservation.
While at Hagaru we had warm-up tents set up with big heaters in them We were on watch for five or ten minutes at a time and got to the warm-up tent when our bunk buddy came back. Most of the time there was hot water for coffee there.
We were on the high ground and had dug in on the forward slope when the Chinese attacked. Night came fast and a 50 percent watch was set up. Within the first hour we were on 100 percent watch. We could hear people yelling at us and a shot every now and then. Then the enemy had horns blowing and people charging up our hill in the line of fire. We could tell when they were hit because the sound was like a thump when it hit a frozen uniform. This horn blowing and yelling at us helped us because we knew they were on their way up and we could cut them up. They were standing up nice and tall as any target should be. We were in holes and this time we were hard targets to hit. They ran toward us and our machine guns had a fantastic cross fire. They didn't learn fast as they came on three or four times and then gave it up for the night. Each man had one or two hand grenades which went down the hill to meet the gooks. After that night we had three or four hand grenades because they did the trick. I'm sorry but I can't put any date on this night. I do remember that we had no casualties for a change.
How many Chinese were there? How many trees in the woods? How many grains of sand on a beach? Lots. I didn't ask how many and they didn't tell me, although they said we killed 37 of them to our one wounded. This was a good feeling. Their uniforms were kind of quilted and an off-gray. They looked very well-padded and warm. They had shoes that looked like sneakers and not warm at all. The arms they had were different. Some had our Thompson submachine guns. Others had bolt action rifles that, with a bayonet fixed, were about six foot, six inches long. Others had automatic burp guns. They had what might be fire teams--one man with a gun and a man to carry ammo for him. One man to throw grenades, one man to carry for him. And a leader. Kill any one of these people and we put two out of action. They fought for a while and then wandered around until someone told them what to do. I don't think they wanted any part of the fight.
The 1st Division was all in Hagaru and was getting ready to move south. "I" Company was on line behind a double apron of barbed wire and an open field about two or three hundred yards with nothing but snow. It was night, but with the snow it was kind of light. We could see a little. I would say around midnight we heard a horn blow and people yelling and all of a sudden the Chinese were right in front of us. They had been crawling half the night to get to us. The first bunch jumped up out of the snow and ran toward our line. We did a good job on them. The second batch jumped into action and got the wire and couldn't move too well in it. The third bunch came running at the wire. They, too, were in trouble. Their uniforms were all but frozen and once into the wire the wire held them real good. This was a chance we dreamed about. We did a job on these people. I don't know how many we did in that night, but I do know a bulldozer dug a big, big hole and pushed an awful lot of good Chinamen into it the next morning. We had to clean the wire of people so we would be able to do the same thing again if they came back. I never got into hand-to-hand combat, but I did shoot people from about ten feet. That was as close in as I wanted to get.
On November 28, 29, and 30, the Chinese were going to run all over the Marines. Every night was a major battle. They hit in force and put on a good show. Every night they hit us with mortars and automatic weapons, which took its toll. Most units were hit hard. We lost a lot of KIA, but more WIA. During the mortar fire we stayed down in our hole and moved out when they charged. At times they moved under their mortar fire so when we made a move the gook could be right up near us. Then we had to shoot fast at any moving thing in front of us. When they fell back we checked our part of the line to see who made it okay. Shooting at people moving toward us was easy shooting. As they got close they were bigger targets and easy to hit.
George Company had a hero. He was PFC William B. Baugh from Ohio. Like every other dude, I only knew the people in my team or squad. I talked to everyone, but I knew no one. I only wish that I had known Baugh better. He was a Marine. He gave his life on November 29, 1950 for his friends by putting his body on a Chinese grenade. His mother got his Medal of Honor--his friends got their life.
The decision was made to withdraw when we had people (our people) coming back to our lines and the word went out to move back. The troops ahead of us got the word first and were doing just that. When we knew for sure that our troops had all passed through our lines, then we moved back also.
We re-grouped near the airfield at Hagaru and in looking around at what was going on, anything that could be used went into a big fire. We knew this wasn't the best of times. We started our move toward Koto-ri and we went out on the flank. We knew Marines were running the show and doing what should have been done on the way north. Once the fear of Army people getting to do things the Army way was over, things were better. I, like every other Marine who had headed north under Army ways, kind of expected trouble. I can't talk as one on the way down because we were a two-man team. Lee Mead and I were as one and that was great. I do remember walking to stay warm.
There was a mass burial of Marines at Koto-ri. I went into a warm-up tent with some English Marines for about one hour or so, then went back on watch for the night. With morning light I got a chance to get a little sleep. I didn't see the burial at Koto-ri.
When we had a wounded man near us or me, he was the first thing on our mind. Getting to him to make sure he was safe from incoming fire, placing our body so we would take the hit and not him. If the man was dead he was pulled into a foxhole to keep him from becoming a target. Dead is dead and nothing could hurt the man anymore, but he was still a Marine. The wounded were tagged in the morning and moved by jeep or truck or by hand to where it would be decided how they would get out. Those who were hard hit went by air on a C-47 airplane from Hagaru. The others went with us on whatever ride we could give them. Keeping them warm was the hard part.
It was cold--very cold. It got to 40 below zero at night. There was always a wind. Not a hard-blowing kind, but a wind at all times. There was snow, although not much in spots. Most of the time a dry, light snow was falling. In the open spots near the airfield, the snow blew and drifted at the base of the hills. There was drifting snow of 12 to 14 inches in many valley areas also. Being trained to fight, the terrain didn't make any difference. We had been in this terrain for some time and were getting used to it. The snow didn't help, though.
The cold made the oil in the recoil systems thick and when a 105 shot, the barrel had to be pushed back into battery. A couple of shots and they worked fine. Our hand guns and rifles were always loaded and cocked. We kind of kept our hand on the rifle bolt if possible. The heavy .30 caliber machine guns had a real problem with the cold. I think they used anti-freeze with the water jackets.
I can't remember having much food on the trip south. The little bit of food we had wasn't much good so the cold didn't hurt it. The candy got kind of hard unless it was kept in an inside pocket.
As to bodily functions, they were much faster at 30 to 40 degrees below zero. We didn't drop our pants for very long. I think the weather made my body work a little slower, but my body seemed to generate more heat when I got moving. Our senses were different. Our hearing was better. We could hear movement during the night. The crunch of snow underfoot. I don't know if our sense of smell was better, but we could smell the Chinamen when the wind was right. These senses were helped by the cold, clear air.
The weather affected the mental state in one good way. If we got wounded we didn't bleed as much as in warm weather and at times we didn't know we were hit unless we were hit hard. I can't say that I saw any unusual effects on people out in the weather. If someone had coffee they offered us a drink. If someone was down we smiled at him and he got better. If I ever had to do this again I would want to do it with the same guys because they were the cream of the crop. No bitching. Just a lot of smiling and talk of better times.
I don't know how the cold affected the vehicles, but I do know they were older than sin. We had air support when possible but snow and fog held them up at times. Tanks had a bad time with the cold. It was nice to have them as a scare card though. A tank was fire power. We also had air lifts. When things (all kinds of ammo, food, etc.) were airlifted to us or for us, they were done first rate. The gear we got was in fine condition.
As we moved south our main body of troops was on the road. We encountered road blocks of enemy shooters with automatic weapons. Most of the time there were three or four of them. Cpl. Lee Mead and I were ridge runners. Our job was to remove any people who could fire on our people. We didn't have any set pace to keep, just fast enough to keep it clear of shooters. Once a Chinaman who was about to shoot toward the road couldn't because his uniform was frozen to a point where he had to stand up to shoot. He became a very good Chinaman real quick. I don't know why but they didn't expect us to walk the ridges. Another time the Chinese did blow a bridge out, which held us up for some time.
I thank God for our Marine officers. This might be a bad thing to say, but any Marine officer I met or served under could take God's place in Heaven and make God number two. These men were what it takes to be a Marine and take care of Marines.
I had seen no Army personnel during the advance north but when we were outside of Hungnam we ran into a few gutless bastards who had thrown their weapons away because they were heavy. This trash was on a dead run. That's the only Dog Faces I saw, although I saw many Army dead on the field where they were left. They didn't think enough of their dead to take them with them. I, like most others, didn't like being under Army orders. We, the Marines who spent time training to fight anyone or anything at any time, didn't want to give up our gear to look like the Army. When both the North Koreans and the Chinese troops saw our leggings and helmet covers, they knew they were in trouble. They knew we would stand and fight, whereas the Dogface would run. The Army wanted us to all look alike to save face for the Army. Our knowing we had better troops to fight made us better. We didn't conform.
It took about two weeks, give a day or two, to journey out of the reservoir area. There was no fanfare from Marines already in Hungnam. They were waiting for us so they could leave. As we came into Hungnam there were tents set up so we could change socks and check our feet. The socks I had on were worn out and my feet didn't smell too good either. The MASH unit gave us Barbarsol Shaving Cream for our feet. Mine had a light gray color. They had a touch of frostbite, as did both of my hands and fingers. While in this tent I found a hole in my leg where I had been hit and didn't know it. When I was hit, I didn't feel it. I was tagged to go out but went back with my ridge runners. There were people in worse shape than me.
After being in Hungnam a day or two we went aboard ship. We didn't go as a unit, but as a group the unit part came later. We were kind of a mixed up bunch of men all from different units. While on ship we were put back into our units and then waited for replacements at the Bean Patch in South Korea.
Our stay in the Bean Patch was for Christmas 1950 and the New Year. The Patch was just outside of town in an open area with tents so we could sleep under cover for a change. I think the town was Masan. I remember it had a main gate with people on watch 24 hours. We could buy almost anything there. The Bean Patch became a staging area so we could be brought back to full strength again. With the new troops coming into our units we were almost a new outfit again. We had a chance to check on our wounded in action and to find out who made it and who didn't. Our gear was well worn when we came out of the north. Our Christmas presents were new 782 gear. Our beer ration (two cans a day) lasted sixty days or so. We didn't have any drinks left when we moved from the Bean Patch. We were in the Patch about three weeks.
We moved north and west after the Bean Patch. I don't remember any town name, but I do remember being sent to help the airborne unit that had jumped in the wrong area and was in bad shape. As these people came to our line of defense and were asked for a password, some said, "If you're going to shoot, please shoot low." This Army unit was different. They were bringing their hurt people with them. This was in March, I think. We were going into reserve in the first part of April.
Being an F.O., we didn't go in reserve. We were put with another line outfit. George Company had been hit hard so I went to Bloody George. While with G-3-1 we had English Marines with us. They were the 41 English Marines. They were great on line--the kind of people we could depend on. They were just like us. They stood and fought no matter what the odds were. I see them at G-3-1 reunions and they were just as proud. When G-3-1 went into reserve, our F.O. team moved on again.
We took part in Operation Killer, Ripper, and a few that didn't have names as we headed for the 38th Parallel. Most things we heard came from our wounded who came back to the company. In all the operations the Army had anything to do with, they got hell kicked out of them. We were in contact with the gooks all the time and firefights were an every day thing. In Operation Killer, our job was to hunt out the so-called guerillas who were the North Korean People's Army troops that chased the U.S. Army out of Seoul and south to the Masan area. These people were in different pockets in the hills. Our company left the Patch moving in a northwesterly direction. We were walking so we didn't get anywhere fast. We did get in some shooting and a chance to show our new troops what had to be done and how to do it. The hard part was the uphill climb.
1st Lt. Bull Fisher was our C.O. at the time. Our platoon leaders were 2nd Lieutenants Swanson and Hill and our third leader is a question mark for me at this time. You will note that Fisher was a 1st Lieutenant and a C.O. This was very rare. Being an F.O., we lost many officers. Some didn't last long enough for us to learn their name. All of our commanding officers were fantastic people who knew their job well. Our Company Commanders were the same. All were looked up to. When Item Company C.O. Lieutenant Fisher was sent home, Lieutenant Swanson took over for him. He wasn't a Bull Fisher but he was a great officer. He was killed soon after taking command. In late May our team had a C.W.O. as an F.O. This man wrote his wife that he was still in Japan and not on line. During World War II he was in the Bataan Death March. Our next F.O. team leader was 1st Lt. Charles S. Dunne from California. F.O. team dog two would have followed this man to the gates of hell any time. He took our team and gave us class. We were different and better than the others. There was nothing we couldn't do.
During this operation we dug foxholes on the forward slope of the hill. We had two-man foxholes. This way one could sleep while the other was on watch. When we dug in it was always the highest point of the hill. The hunt started with the first hill we came to. One platoon started up with the other two platoons close behind. If they drew fire then it became a company affair and a call to mortars, which would hit the top of the hill as the riflemen moved up. If it was a machine gun, then our light 30s and BARs tried to keep them from doing too much damage. Being in a firefight with people who were dug in was a tough spot to be in and people did get hurt. Just coming out of reserves getting back into the war wasn't easy.
Casualties happened in almost every firefight. One hill we were working on had a few hard hits on older people with the company. One man named Bottoms came running down the hill. I asked him where he was going. He pulled a finger out of a hole in his chest and said, "Home, I hope." He put the finger back in the bullet hole so he could breath and went on down the hill. He never came back so I guess he did go home. During a firefight, over time some people die. We didn't feel one way or the other then, but when we had time to think of those guys we felt lucky.
When the call for lame duck went out, the Corpsmen were there. They were the cream of the crop. The wounded went out fast--the faster the better. The dead went out after that or when we got time to take care of them. I don't know any names of our Corpsmen. We had a lot of them and every one did the work of a doctor. The ones who worked on me and mine were the very best. Those lame ducks were Marines. After all, the Navy is twenty percent of the Marine Corps. Let no man ever knock a corpsman in front of me. We used helicopters to fly our wounded out all the time. At first they took just one, then they found they could take two out at a time. This worked great. Riding on the outside of a helicopter, however, was not one of my better experiences. These birds saved many people, getting them to a MASH unit faster. The people who fly these things were a great bunch of men.
Leisure came every night while we were waiting to go on watch. Leisure time in combat was when people weren't shooting at us. Leisure time was when we wrote the people back home. We had to keep their morale up, you know. Leisure time was when we pulled our boots off and aired our dirty socks. Leisure time? Yes, we had some and it was great.
The people we were fighting were just like us--both young and old. The troops were young and their commanders or officers were older. When we started up a hill some ran and some would rather die than leave their trenches. They did fight differently. During the day they fought from trench or foxholes. While moving on us they came in force, sending a hundred people to do the job of ten. They thought that sending more than was needed was the way to go. At night they moved an inch at a time to get next or close to our line. We had Bouncing Betty's out that they tripped, then they drew our fire. Most of the time the attack then stopped.
Hand to hand combat came after being in the attack and setting up at night. I had a little hand to hand putting the bayonet to people, but to fight with bare hands, no. I was there to kill them, not give them a bloody nose. When time to dig in before dark left no time to put out trip flares or Bouncing Betty's, the gooks moved on the line we had. We had bayonets fixed most of the time and when they jumped up in front of a hole the Marine stuck or shot them and rolled grenades down the hill in front of them. When we took a hill just before dark we knew they would try and come back after dark. If we were going to jump off in the morning, we didn't put trip flares out. When we attacked we did it during daylight. We were able to see what was going on and where and how to move. When we could see them, we could hit them. They did most of their fighting at night. They made a lot of noise, blew horns, and told us they were going to kill us all. There were times we talked back and told them what their mothers were doing.
We were on our way north on this operation about 45 days. It could have been longer because the weather changed. It got warmer, so maybe it lasted into March. We were kept busy all the time. I don't think we saw any area where the Army had been, although we did see Army 6x6 trucks that had been hit with both small arms and fire.
The weather was always a pain. Hot, cold, wet, dry. It came in five seasons. Winter in the north was awful cold. In the south it was cold, but not as bad. In spring there was a little rain and it started to warm up. In the summer about June it was warm and then the monsoon came on wet, wet, and more wet. In the fall the weather started getting cooler at night and then it was winter again. No matter what the weather, there was another hill to climb. Food-wise, we were still eating the same old "C" rations. I say "old" because these rations had Wings and Twenty Grand Cigarettes in them. They came from the Big War.
As we moved up along the roads we saw natives. Their living quarters were mud huts. The Koreans stood and looked at us with the poor soul look, wondering what we were going to do to them. The look on their faces was nothing but fear. When we gave them food--the stuff we couldn't eat--they smiled and bowed from the waist. The kids were right at hand when we gave them candy. It didn't take long for the kids to find out what candy was. This was the last of March and things were getting better. It was starting to warm up. After 60 days it was time to go to the rear and rest up. As most units were needing more people again, we were put into reserve.
Spring, Summer, Fall
April 24, 1951
September 14, 1951
I never wanted to get close to anyone to start with, but the ones I did became friends for life. I still see and hear from Cpl's Lee Mead and Lee Dauster. To me, Lee Mead had a Dick Tracy nose and a "to hell with it" attitude. He came back from the hospital and I got him in my team. We hit it off real good. Mead was from New York. I knew him when he was a PFC. We had been in the same outfit in the States, but never got together until Korea. With Mead I had no worries. He would hang in no matter what. I knew he wouldn't run. We ate together, drank together, did everything together. We were there to take care of each other. He was lucky for me and I for him. We lost many people from the team and when the new people joined our team other people told them to stick close to us because we were the two luckiest bastards in Korea. Lee and I are still close. He sent his three daughters to Michigan for a vacation with us and my five sons, who I had a talk with.
Four people stand out in my mind from Korea. They are Lee Dauster, Lee Mead, Lt. Charles S. Dunne, and 1st Lt. Joe Bull Fisher. I lived with these people. I still see and hear from two of them. Both Dunne and Fisher are gone now, but to me they will never be gone. We spent time in hell together and came back. This made us very close.
When we dug in for the night we had two-man holes on the forward slope. That way one man could sleep while the other was on watch. Our sleep was a very light sleep. If we were going to stay a couple of nights we put out trip flares and wire hand grenades to a small tree or bush so if tripped it would go off about belt high. We wanted dead enemy, not wounded. If we were hit we re-set all of our trip wires and added a few more farther down the hill. If they set off a Bouncing Betty, they were dead.
I was in a bunker twice and my time in them was short both times. The first time our bunker was great. It was on the reverse side of the hill and we were going to spend some extra time there. It was dug into the hill and the front and side walls were two sandbags thick. The roof was logs, plus two sandbags of dirt thick. It could take a hit. It was safe. For "furnishings" we had sandbags on the floor, our sleeping bags all rolled up, and a picture on the front wall of Dagmar. We were both wet and dry. Whatever the weather was, so was our house. We also gained a few mice, but the bunker was beautiful because we knew it was safe. To live in a bunker was a roof over our head. We could sit and watch outside and our body was out of sight. A foxhole was for two people, which was great because one could sleep while the other was on watch. Most of the time we had a poncho or shelter half for a roof or cover. In a foxhole with a roof cover during rain we stayed dry. During cold weather we could build a fire and stay warm.
Our summer, spring, fall and winter outfits were the same--dungarees and boon dockers and leggings. For summer I think the enemy wore black shirts and gray pants. I had trouble getting shoes. A 6 1/2EE was hard to find. Once the cold and snow left, my snow pack boots were hard on the feet. I sent home to my mother a request for boots and shoes. She sent me a pair of moccasins that I had when I was home. This was about May 1951. I used them until July, when I got a pair of boon dockers.
Normally I didn't want anything from home. I got mail from Mother and Father and a few girls I didn't know, but a package with anything good was just something else to carry. I remember that one man got some cactus in a package and he added it to some eggs we had. Sure screwed up our eggs. Another guy whose family was in the canning business got a case of juice, but instead of juice in the cans it was whiskey. That was a real treat. Occasionally someone got a Dear John letter from home. Some took it okay and others cried. The really bad news came from the Company C.O. or the Red Cross. The Salvation Army came up on line in spring of 1951 and made record of us and mailed them home to our family. I got a letter from my mother when she got the record. The contact with the Red Cross was memorable. They charged us for a scrap of paper and a stub of a pencil to write home.
We didn't keep clean. The infantry was a place where we wondered what soap is for. Our feet hurt because of the dirt. Our feet were so dirty our socks rotted off. We took our boots off and wondered if our feet had been dead for about two weeks. That was the nice part. From the belt line down we knew we had rotted away about a week ago. From the belt line up was bad, bad. We couldn't put our arms down at our sides because the hair under our arms was matted. No rain and our dungarees took on the smell of dirt and old blood. But as long as we stunk, we knew it was going to rain soon or maybe we would come to a creek to wade across. Kind of bath, but our feet were going to dry again and then it was back to the stink. You should see the face of a new man when he got next to us.
When things were slow we had a shower unit come up. We went down a platoon at a time, got in line, took what we had on off, put it in a pile, and moved on into the shower. On the other side of the shower unit we got new clean clothes. If no one was looking we maybe got an extra pair of socks. If we were lucky, this happened every four to six weeks. To this day I shower every day.
I remember that once looking at a four-holer in the rear. I was thinking of sitting down to do what I had to do in comfort rather than squat. Suddenly my little body was invaded by about 10 million crab louse. After that I went back to squatting.
On line we ate C-rations. In reserves we ate C-rations except they came in bigger cans and it was hot. It was not very good, but it was filing. We did get fresh bread. One time word came down about what a great job we were doing. Our reward was a fresh ham and eggs breakfast with toast and fresh coffee. Item Company sent half down the hill and when they ate their fill the other half went to chow. To make a long story short, Item Company 100 percent came down with food poisoning. Everyone was flat on their back. We rolled over and vomited until nothing came up but bile. From that day on we accepted nothing but fresh bread. The ham must have been green.
While we were with the KMC and our rations didn't get to us, we ate rice, fish, and rice wine. I ate rice anyway you can fix rice. The fish had a stink all its own. One would eat an awful lot of rice at a sitting and be hungry an hour later. I haven't had rice since I left Korea 50 years ago. The best thing I ever ate in Korea was fresh fish at Majon-ni. This little stream was handy. We went upstream and threw a grenade in the deep holes in the stream, then ran and caught the fish downstream. We cleaned the fish, put a stick in them, and held the fish over a fire. It was better than rations. I missed everything American--fresh milk, butter and brussel sprouts.
I didn't smoke until I was wounded and the Red Cross gave me a pack of cigarettes. I didn't gamble in Korea or the States. Drink I did. While in the States I drank about a six pack in a year. Remember, I was 17 when I enlisted. While in Korea we had a beer ration of two cans of beer a day. After 30 days on line meant 60 cans of beer. When we got our ration we were in the rear for a day or two and only got six or eight cans of 3.2 near-beer. But to have a drink was different.
I spent Thanksgiving in Korea twice, Christmas and New Years once, and all American holidays during my 16-month tour--plus my birthday. I was in Korea for the Marine Corps Birthday twice. We had a few beers for sure and a shot or two of hard stuff. Our officers came up with the hard stuff. We were sitting on top of a hill with hope that we could give the gooks a little hell. Although we didn't have a cake, we still had a good day. My 19th birthday was cold, windy, and I was on my way to Hungnam. That was December 21, 1950, and I was glad to still be alive. I saw no USO shows in Korea, although I heard there were some. Bob Hope was in Korea. Al Jolsen was in Japan. We as F.O.s had no R&R. R&R was an Army thing. With the Army going back on line after R&R meant they were well rested so they could run away faster if something happened.
I don't remember but one time having Army near us. We had been on line for some time and we were told that some Army unit would take over for us. We moved from our holes on the forward slope to the rear and two Dog Faces moved forward and into our fighting holes. Lieutenant Tobin and I were the last Marines out. An Army Lieutenant with a .38 on his hip asked where the M.B.O.R. was. We asked what an M.B.O.R. was and he told us, "It's the Main Bug Out Route." We were off this hill about one hour before we were ordered back to take the hill again as this Army company had found an M.B.O.R. and used it. The only prejudice I saw in Korea was against the Army. We told people from the 1st Cavalry that their shoulder patch should be changed to solid black with a wide yellow stripe down the back of it. We thought they were all cowards.
The non-military South Koreans were used to carry ammo, water, and food for us. Most civilians stayed away from us unless we called them over, although the kids knew we had candy. Once they tasted it they were happy and friendly and asked for some. The older people stayed near their house. We gave them rations we didn't like. I can't say I saw much food of any kind in their houses. No civilians that I know of ever harmed anyone when I was with George or Item Company. We heard about kids asking for food and then they would drop a grenade on the ground and run. Some troops were hurt. That was what was going on with civilians.
The Air Force gave us air support once and fired on the wrong side of air panels. We got machine gun fire from these people. It was bad, but it could have been worse. Another time I remember meeting up with a man from boot camp. His name was Bowker and he was from Warren, Ohio. He was with a tank outfit. We were about to jump off with tanks to help us cross some open ground. We talked a while and his tank moved on. His tank hit a land mine and he was wounded. I saw them carry him out.
I was personally hit five times during my 16-month tour. Every time I was hit was because we were taking the fight to the enemy. I was hit in my leg, belly, chest, hand, and right arm (shoulder area). I don't remember getting hit the first time. It happened in December 1950 while I was walking out of the Chosin Reservoir. I got hit in the right leg, but was too damned cold to feel anything. My belly had blood, but no hole in it. In April of 1951 I was hit in both my hands and shoulder while firing a light machine gun. I knew I was hit that time. My right hand had no feeling in it and there was a burning feeling in my shoulder. My machine gun had a stoppage and I couldn't clear it with my hand. I looked at my hand and it had blood on it, but all parts were still there. I fired a BAR until I could feel my and again and went back to the machine gun. I was hit in the shoulder while I took my turn to carry the radio. I fell on my right side and felt a sharp pain in the shoulder. The radio had a broken case. I thought falling on the radio caused the pain and thought nothing more about it until I found blood on my tee shirt a month later while taking a shower. I was told I had a small hole in my side near my shoulder blade. In July of 1951 I was hit in the stomach with something that made a hole and lots of blood, but no hurt. With the hole in my pants and all that blood, I wasn't sure I was still a man. I was. The corpsman cut my pants open, smiled, and said it was still there. I went to the rear for X-rays, which found nothing.
In September of 1951 I was hit in the back right shoulder, but didn't know that I was hit until I went to the rear 35 days later. I went to the MASH unit and had X-rays taken. That's when I found out that a bullet had lodged in my collar bone. The doctor felt it would cause more damage to remove it than to leave it. For 50 years I have carried this bullet. You should see the look on an X-ray tech or doctor's face when they see the bullet. It only bothers me in the wintertime when it gets cold.
All of my wounds were easy hits and I was walking wounded. After seeing the wounds I saw on or in other people at the MASH unit, I just couldn't hang in there. I headed back to the outfit. When you get eight or ten stitches and the next guy gets 200, you just can't take up the time or space. Besides, I didn't want to leave my people. Together we were a team and I wanted to keep it that way. When you're in a combat zone you want nothing more than to get out of there in one piece. You know things are going great when you get hurt. The old saying is, "You have got to hurt to have fun." Let's say we had a lot of fun. No matter how we felt about going back into the shooting war, however, it was good to be with the Company.
My family talked about receiving word about my being wounded. They said they checked the papers to find out what was going on and where. They said the worst was the Missing in Action telegram. During the Chosin march people were often put into different outfits without word to their C.O. It's a wonder everyone wasn't missing. When I wrote home they checked the date of the letter and the date stated in the telegram and knew I had been found.
Being small in number, the Marines had to wait for replacements. We heard about people going home. Heard a Purple Heart had two points and each month was one point. This was all B.S. The men we had who were married and those from World War II were going home first. Mead and I were on the line and spent very little time in the rear.
Word came down from Battalion to the Battery in December 1951 that four people would be rotated. Corporal Mead, PFC Monahan, and the Captain got together without me and came up with a story that only three people--two enlisted and one officer--were to be sent home. Next came a call from the Captain for the three oldest enlisted men to report to him. This we did. He said that only two would go home and he would put the names in a hat and pull the winners. He sent us out of the bunker. While outside, Mead and I talked and I told him that if I had my name pulled and he didn't, I would stay with him. He told me the same thing and we shook hands on it. We went back inside the bunker and the Captain pulled out the first name, which was Monahan. The next name was Mead. Mead looked at me and said, "I'm going home!" The Captain asked if we thought this was a fair way of doing things. We all said it was. The Captain asked about best of two out of three draws, which they thought was a good idea. Again the names went into the hat and this time Mead was first and then Monahan. I lost twice in a row. We walked out of the bunker and then I was called back in. The Captain told me that it was a set up and that it was Mead's and Monahan's idea, not his. He said the four of us were going home in the next couple of days. Needless to say, my two friends had every shit detail I could come up with.
I was both glad and sad that I would soon be leaving. Glad to be going home and sad to leave the outfit. It would have been better if we could have all been going home. They didn't need this old man of 20 around any more. They would learn the same way I did. The next few days were the longest days I ever spent over there. I went out on patrol and we lost two men. It was just like the gooks knew I was homeward bound. We had a lot of incoming mail, heavy stuff. We knew there were at least two good gook F.O.s looking at us and we would have to do them. We took a squad on patrol to find these people. Two-thirds of the squad were boots who were on their first patrol. We got shot at and one man was hit hard. His belly was split open and his inners were outside his body, but still working. I put the guts in a tee shirt and Monahan poured water on the shirt. We laid this on the man and called for a chopper. The bird came in and the wounded was loaded up when suddenly Monahan started yelling and screaming. The corpsman gave him a shot and he was loaded up too. That was the bad part. Then came the hard part.
Everyone was happy we were going home and asked us to call their folks for them. I then gave my 782 gear to the dude taking over as Scout Sergeant from me. After 16 months my gear was broken in and felt comfortable. It consisted of two canteens, two first aid kits, and a K-bar knife. The last thing I gave up was my Brownie camera. I told him to pass my gear on when he was rotated. Mead and I were the only two going in the morning. Two years ago in 1999 a man called from Upper Michigan and asked if I was the Matheney from Korea. I said I was and he said he had my camera and would send it to me.
Mead and I left our unit and were transported to the point of embarkment in a pretty green Dodge truck. We were taken to a shore line where there were many people standing in line to be sprayed with DDT to kill whatever bugs we had on us and get shots for some damned thing. When Mead and I got into line we couldn't see the hospital tent and knew we would be there a very long time. A call came over the PA system for Sergeant Matheney and Corporal Mead to report to the front of the line and to some Navy doctor, which we did. We got DDT and shots and this doctor handed me a box of whiskey in the one-ounce size and walked us over to a rack where they had Monahan strapped down. He let out a scream and the doctor gave him an ounce to drink and told us to do the same thing to keep him quiet. Then he left us there with Monahan. At this time Monahan asked if we were going to have a drink with him or not. Our nut wasn't as crazy as they thought and we used their boxes up in no time at all. All three of us went to Japan on this LST. It was a party and Mead and I took our turns at yelling.
I don't know for sure, but I think it was the first part of December 1951 when I left Korea. I was a Buck Sergeant. I don't know if the ship even had a name. I'm sure it wasn't the Queen Mary. Like all troop ships it was foul and a nasty place to be for any time at all. There were many people and the ship was full. We picked up our sea bags and more people in Japan for the trip home. Everyone was happy to be headed home or just stateside. Me, I was very happy. I didn't think that I would be one of the lucky ones. As a Buck Sergeant, I didn't have any duty on the ship. Just the Corporals and PFCs did. Some people were sick. We offered food to those who were real sick and watched them get sicker. Bringing food up was better than bile. Our entertainment was watching all the boys hanging over the rails sick as dogs.
From Japan to the States took about a week to ten days with no stopovers. I think we landed at Treasure Island. I didn't have time for emotions. The order was get your gear and get off now. This landing was great. We had no landing net to climb down--just give unit number and name and rank. The first thing I did when I got off the ship was smile. I knew I had made it back--to California, at least. Trucks then took us to a mess hall to have stateside chow. During the next 24 hours I checked the hospital for wounded people from my outfit. I found only one, Lee Dauster. I spent all but one night with him and that one night I spent with Lee Mead and others for a drink or two, wishing everyone luck and telling everyone to try and stay in touch.
Later I looked up the families of one or two guys who had been killed in Korea and then gave up on doing it any more. The same question always came up about how he died. Then the same lie about how fast it was and how he never felt a thing. Then finding a few pictures of the man with others from the outfit and how well liked he was. This was harder than any fire fight.
There are still Korean War MIAs. I think our government is doing as well as it can in its efforts to locate and return Missing in Action personnel from the Korean War. If a dude is hit with a round from a 120mm, there's not much left to find, no matter how hard they look. A body covered with snow for a while would be easy to find come spring--if the body is found before the mice or birds or other critters find it.
For the rest of my enlistment I went to Camp Lejeune to help train F.O.s for the new outfit that was being put together. The kids were all gung ho. All were real killers and it was up to us--me too, to quiet these kids down. My first duty was to teach them how to dress. When I went into their dress gear they were told to get gear out to fit. Their uniforms were to look like mine. A sharp Marine was a smart Marine--a Marine who would stand out in a crowd. People would turn and look at them. They were told they were Marines. It was my job to make them good ones. I was lucky I had good teachers to start me off.
I just wanted to go on living in the background. This wasn't going to happen. One day the troops fell out and they gave me a Good Conduct medal, which was a shock to many people. Next we went to Fort Bragg, a Dog Face station, to teach them how to fight rather than run. One afternoon they had the Battalion fall out and they gave me both the Silver and Bronze Stars. The next day the Purple Heart. Questions, questions, and more questions about my career. I think every officer in the Corps tried to sign me over. Then I went back to Camp Lejeune where they had the Regiment fall out and they gave me the Navy Cross. I was happy and proud I was a Marine, a good one, and a lucky one. I had re-enlisting on my mind but along came Kathleen. Then a wife and family came first. I know I made the right choice.
I was discharged from the Marine Corps on October 8, 1952. A week later I received a letter from the editor-in-chief of a magazine. During World War II and the Korean War, Famous Funnies published a comic book called "Heroic Comics." A story about the Chinese attack of April 23, 1951 and my involvement in it was featured in Issue Number 83, published in May of 1953. Our sons sure got a kick out of it.
It can be viewed by clicking HERE (4MEG PDF File)
Kathleen Belfi and I were married on January 23, 1953 after a well-laid plan to capture this fantastic female fine of face and body. To love her was one thing, but I found that I liked her too. As of this writing in 2002, we have been together for 49 years. Being a Marine and doing things right, we had five very attractive sons: Richard, Tom, Scott, Vic and Patrick. Tom and Scott are now deceased.
Adjustment to civilian life wasn't hard. Only a few less telling me what to do. Work in a factory was different. Work for your pay and you were looked down on. Learn to do as little as possible and look busy--the creed of every union out there. Being a Marine we were to do our best at all times. I found I could do anything I wanted at any time if I worked at it. This came from Day One at boot camp.
I worked for Holly Carburetor, Packard Motor Car Company and Anheuser Busch. I worked in the factory as a cutter grinder and in sales with Busch. I didn't continue with any formal education. I took schooling in the building trades in earth moving equipment and then I started in the building trades as an apprentice carpenter for on-the-job training. I was a journeyman carpenter/roofer who ended up with my own roofing company. We were very busy with word of mouth advertisement, which kept us working year round. I retired many times, only to go back and work again for a while. My son Rick, who was running the company, fired me about once a month and I went trout fishing. I retired about late 1980s for sure.
Since I've retired I do nothing but the hard to do stuff. During the spring and summer I fly fish for trout until the fall, when hunting starts. I hunt everything, big and small game. Now that I live with the animals I hunted, I'm looking more and killing less. I got sick in June 2001 and after six weeks or so not knowing if I was going to make it, I'm stuck with an oxygen tank to help the lungs work. I'm working on being back on my river this spring. I think my rehab exercise class is helping. I am hard of hearing and wear a hearing aid because of the Korean War, but I have never tried for any compensation for it.
I have gone to reunions with the 1st Marine Division, G-3-1, I-3-1, and the D-2-11. The D-2-11 reunion wasn't much fun because I didn't know the people in the rear. But the times I spent in George Company and Item Company reunions we always re-lived the war and could find time to enjoy one another again. I will have to learn to live with this oxygen tank, I guess. If it takes oxygen to get me back to another reunion, so be it.
Going to Korea changed me. I was 18 years old when I made the Inchon Landing. I had never seen anyone hurt or killed other than in the movies. In time I became the old salt with a Sergeant's rank, which said I told people what to do and when to do it, knowing they might get hurt or die. I wanted to do things myself rather than tell people to do them. That was no way to lead, I was told. So I stopped asking and started telling people what to do. When I came home all my friends were 18 or 19 year old kids and I didn't want to be with them or near them. When I came home I was 20 going on 100.
I told my family not to sneak around me when I was sleeping. To make noise didn't bother me. My brother came sneaking in my room so as not to wake me. I felt like a fool when the family pulled me off my brother. I could have killed him, so I put my clothes on and went for a long walk.
I feel that the United States should have been in Korea. My country might not always be right, but it's never wrong. I believe that giving ground once taken was a mistake. People were killed or wounded taking a hill or ground and then to give it back was wrong. It meant the dead died for no reason at all. In training we were taught to win and accept nothing but. Then in a war they wouldn't let us win. Had they let us win, then there would be no trouble over there now.
MacArthur knew that he had the very best in the 1st Marine Division. He also knew that Marines don't run. They fight. But MacArthur was a Dog Face and had no idea how Marines fight. Any Marine knows better than to drive up a road without troops out on the flanks. Had General Smith been running the show, things would have been better. General Smith told all the Dog Faces that we would walk out. No one gave him any lip about that and we walked. Had MacArthur spent about five years in the USMC, he might have been a better General.
I didn't think much of Korea, but people having their rights taken away from them wasn't right. That's what we were there for--to right this wrong. I just wish they had let us complete what we started. Years later I had a chance to go back to Korea to revisit it. I didn't. I lost only friends there, nothing else. That country and people aren't worth my time. I see nothing good coming out of the Korean War. It won't be long until it's back just like it was in the 1940s and '50s. Our troops there are a scare card and nothing else. The money from the troops helps those people too.
Through the years I have thought about the Chosin Reservoir and what I personally attribute my survival of Chosin to when so many others did not survive the ordeal. My survival at the Chosin started for me when I set foot on Parris Island. That day I started to become a Marine--God's gift to the free world. I was to become one of the best fighting machines ever made. My DIs planted the emblem in me so deep that when I left boot camp I was sure no one could hurt me in any way. Survival at the Chosin started with survival at Parris Island. And I hadn't met the girl of my dreams yet. (My wife of 47 years told me to add that.) Thinking back on the Chosin Reservoir campaign, the whole damn affair was tragic. The foot wear we were given was as tragic as you can get.
We made friends fast at the Chosin and we lost friends fast at the Chosin. Any man or Marine would take a hit for you and you for him. This was never on one's mind at any time. The friends I lost there were body dead. They'll live in my mind until I turn to dust. Every year at the G-3-1 reunion we still shed tears for them. Fighting a war that our government wouldn't let us win was the hard part. The casualty I became was the fact that I couldn't cry. It took about 45 years or so when my wife gave me a book, "Red Blood, Purple Hearts." A couple of my decorations were mentioned in the book. That's why my wife got it. I read a part of this book and started to cry. I was told that a few friends had made it. In reading the book I learned that they had died. Now play the Marine Corps Hymn and watch me cry.
My strongest memories of Korea are the people that I was there with and only those people. The hardest part of being there was the friends that I lost. Every Marine who was at the Chosin was a hero. Everyone did things that wouldn't be done at any other time. These Marines did things that only heroes do. One Marine called Canterberry, a machine gunner with a light .30, had to move his gun a couple of times to shoot over the dead in front of him. In doing this he died. Not a hero--just a Marine doing his job.
I have my Purple Hearts, but most important I got a Good Conduct medal, which I am very proud of. All my friends wondered how in the hell I got it. All these medals were packed away for 40 years. Then I was told to wear them to a G-3-1 reunion because they all wanted to see them. My son and I walked down this long hall and people stared at me. I asked my son to walk in front of me because I thought my pants were unzipped. Every reunion I wear them with pride. This year my wife is going with me. I can show her off too.
Korea is called the Forgotten War. Who wants to remember a war we couldn't win? We couldn't win because Washington had no guts. It was wrong for them to send American troops to fight a war they weren't allowed to win. Truman found out that his Army wasn't worth a damn, all the way from Mister 5 Star down to Mister Private. Both World War II and the Korean War cost too many good Marines lives. (As you can see, I don't care about the Army or its losses.) From a veteran's perspective, my reaction to America's current war on terrorism is that we should not play games with these people. They want to die so I think we should hurry them along with their wish. Kill them all.
Have no doubt that once a Marine always a Marine. There are two kinds of people--Marines and those who wish to hell they could be. Put two Marines in a group of people and they will find each other. Just remember the magic words - Semper Fi!