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"I thought it was a political war. When I was there I thought they knew what they were going to do. I didn’t feel like we accomplished much as far as the Koreans. The South Koreans didn’t want to fight."
- Carl Nussmeyer
Copyrighted by The Museum Association of Douglas County's Korean War Project
[KWE Note: The following memoir is an edited version of an interview conducted by Lynnita Brown on the 20th Day of September, 1996 at the Douglas County Museum in Tuscola Illinois. The text was edited by Chuck Knox February, 2003 for use in a local history book about veterans in East Central Illinois. Carl Nussmeyer died at the age of 77 on August 15, 2009. His obituary appears on the Death Notices page of the KWE.]
I was drafted in 1952, January into the Army. I had basic infantry training with the 101st Airborne which was the training unit. We had 16 weeks of basic infantry training. Then was sent about first of July, 1952 to Fort Lawton, Washington for a couple of weeks and from there went on a ship to Japan. The ship was called the Marine Lynx.
We went to Yokohama, Japan; Camp Drake was the camp. We were processing through a line; about 24 of us I think were in a line. And the Sergeant or Lieutenant, I don’t remember, said so many of you are going to be medics. So I thought about that about two minutes, and he said you can either volunteer; or I’m just going to pick you out. And I thought about that for about two minutes. When my turn came, I said okay I’ll be a medic. I figured I was going to have a BAR when I went to Korea. That’s an automatic weapon. And I knew that wouldn’t be too popular with the enemy. So I just thought I’ll try this. I had four weeks of training at Eta Jima, Japan. We didn’t learn too much the instructors weren’t too good. I guess just basic medical training. All I remember was that shock can kill. We had instructors that instructed us. But we didn’t have any vein work or any needle work, only simple bandaging. I learned that.
In between the time that I went to Eta Jima I was a duty driver at the Camp Shimmelfinning, Sendai, Japan. And I saw one U.S.O. show I’ll never forget. And it was Francis Langford, and the song she sang was "I’m in the Mood for Love;" and you could have heard a pin drop. She had all the G.Is just eating out of her hand. She was an entertainer with Bob Hope for years. Later I saw Piper Laurie in Korea.
Then I was sent into Korea proper with the 7th Division, 17th Infantry Regiment. I had three basic jobs. I started out with the Rifle Company, a medic with the Rifle Company, as a Private. When I hit Korea, the unit I was with or was assigned to had just got back off of Triangle Hill and they were pretty well shot up. It was in the central part of Korea. They needed replacements which I was one. So they sent us to Koje-Do Island to guard prisoners of war. And we were there for until in January sometime.
Not too much happened regarding prisoners. One guy shot himself in the leg cleaning his pistol, and I wished I was a cartoonist. Koje-Do Island was real rocky. The latrines had 50-gallon drums cut out with boxes and holes; you know the old-time outdoor back house and as medics, every morning we would take some gasoline and dump in the top of the barrels and burn the paper out, and the prisoners of war would empty them as needed. As medic sanitation, that was kind of in our field.
So we would get gasoline from some of the cook’s thing, pour a little down each hole. I think there were eight on this one. It was a wooden box and had a tent flap above it, just a tent to keep snow and stuff supposedly off.
And one morning we dumped gasoline down each hole .About that time the cook came out. So we didn’t say anything. So one of us started talking to the cook, and the other lit some toilet paper and dumped it down the hole. Well, the fumes have collected. Voom! The box lifted about that high off the ground, and here was the company cook running like that. I wished I was a cartoonist. I would have liked to illustrate that. He wasn’t too happy with us.
We stayed in tents, about 12 guys to a tent. We had Army cots and seemed like it had an old oil-type drip stove, and dirt floors.
There were no women on Koje-Do Island. There were some U.S.O. women, and there were the nurses were back in the operating; but there was none on Koje-Do Island. The island was used only for prisoners of war. I think there were some more prisoners on Choije-Do Island which was close. I believe there were some there.
We generally skipped out about the first of the morning because, if you didn’t, you would get nabbed for detail. We went down to a U.S.O. down the ways. We spent most of the time there. It seemed like they had a pool table, and that was about all I can remember.
I thought the prisoners were treated well. They stayed in a tin building with a tin roof. They had compound raids. I went on one night just to see. You start at one end of the building and run through and anybody not found in his bunk I guess was dealt with. They had wooden kind of beds built up and they each had a blanket. They had stoves in it and they had food. They had a food ration every morning. If I remember right, they put it inside the gate and they cooked their own food, but they were treated well. I don’t remember any escapes. I don’t remember anybody ever making it. I’m sure they did try, but they had guards at each perimeter at all times. I think probably a lot of them were happy to be there instead of in the fighting. We did not have much contact with civilians. At the line, they were moved back from the line. I don’t know how far but quite a ways back, all civilians. There was nobody, nobody there.
After we were through with prisoners of war went we back to Korea. We went to the Chorwon Valley. There was Erie Arsenal, T-Bone Area, Uncle and Yoke battle areas.
When we were there the line was pretty well established. The Chinese, Koreans were here; and we were there. We were to the south of them. The area had been fought over four times. The time I was there it was mostly bunkers, trench warfare. The line was basically established on both sides. I was with the men when they were fighting. I was actually a fighting soldier while taking care of somebody who’s hurt. A medic has a helmet with a red cross on it, and that wasn’t true at the time I was there. You carried a weapon of some kind, and you had a gunnysack over your helmet to keep the noise down. You had your dog tags taped so they wouldn’t jingle. You would get a patrol order; and you went out in this valley between the two sides. You would run patrol out in the valley about every two or three nights. I carried a stretcher and a weapon, of course the aid bag with Aspirin and all types of bandages, Vaseline, gauze, three syrettes of morphine. You were supposed to have that, and a piece of rubber for a tourniquet.
When someone was wounded the only thing you can do was stop the bleeding and get him back to the aid station. That’s the first stop. It was at least half a mile to a mile depending from the battle. Every circumstance is different.
Well, let me tell you a story or two. I was on patrols a lot. And I was lucky. Nobody got hit on a patrol. One patrol, the night before got hit and received quite a few casualties.
We had to go to the same place the next night and pick up stuff which we did, picked up rifles and that; and it was real foggy. There had been a big rain, and the ice had frozen. It warmed up and the ice, the water went out under the ice; and the ice was collapsing.
Well, it was real foggy; and it sounded like the whole Chinese Army was there; but it wasn’t. And so I was lucky there, and we were on Yoke which is an outpost. There was Uncle, and then Yoke was probably the next one out. And when I was there I think there were about 15, 16 people on in bunkers, and we had a mortar right in the center that was for our protection. And every hour on the hour we would fire the mortar. I wouldn’t, but the guys assigned to it would fire and hit the Chinese with it. And I thought that’s going to cause trouble, and sure enough it did. One day they fired back.
And I beat it to the CP bunker lying in there on the floor, and somebody hollered in there, "Medic" you know. So I went out and got him, brought him in. He was wounded, but not too bad. I gave him a shot of morphine, as they say shock kills. They wouldn’t send the litter jeep out for him. And so me and three other guys grabbed him on a stretcher and started up back to the main line.
Of course the Chinese could see us. So we would go a ways, and they would start shelling us. When I got too close we dropped down kind of in a ditch, and then we’d keep going. We finally got him up to the main line. They had a litter jeep, and that was kind of hairy. They would, this same outpost, would kind of feel sorry for us and they’d send a hot meal out to Korea KSC, they called it. They would come out, and of course the Chinese could see that. They let them come out and wouldn’t bother him. And then half would eat, and half would stay at the bunkers. You’d just get about passing out food when one shell would hit over, one under; and then the next one you better watch out. So here you were getting ready to eat, you hit the ground and after this was over, start over again. Nobody was hit on any of those, but it sure gave you indigestion.
Food wasn’t great. We had assault rations, maybe C rations, maybe a K ration. All were little cans with various things. One, I remember most was pork with applesauce. I think nobody liked it except me, and I could always trade it with anybody; and I think there was one lima beans. Well, the food wasn’t too bad. But sometimes not too good. We did have coffee and a cigarette ration. When I got down to Kools, you couldn’t give them away. Even the Koreans wouldn’t take them. I didn’t smoke so I just gave them away.
After I left the rifle company I went back to the battalion aid station and drove a litter jeep. It picks up the wounded at the front and brings them to a forward aid station. One time I had two walking wounded on the fender, two on the litter stretchers in the back and one in the seat beside me. Anybody who could get on would want to ride. I usually drove alone but I liked to have a shotgun rider at night, but lots of times you didn’t.
The battalion aid station was a bunker. It had sandbag walls and huge timbers on top, and sandbags on top of that. They came in various sizes. Some were relatively small. Some were good size.
The enemy ate very simply I know. One prisoner came in with a ball of rice about the size of a baseball, and I think that was his ration for the day. It was tied up in an old dirty rag. I don’t think they rotated the mortar crew. They got pretty accurate.
The Chinese might have had an advantage since the North Koreans were with them; and that was their basic field the 38th Parallel, but we had, I’d say, a lots more quantity of everything. This one outpost, they fired – I read it in the book – 77,000 shells in defense and had lost more resources.
I thought it was a political war. When I was there I thought they knew what they were going to do. I didn’t feel like we accomplished much as far as the Koreans. The South Koreans didn’t want to fight.
Most of my practical medical training I acquired from a few guys that had training in civilian life. And I kind of picked that up. I first gave shots to the Koreans. They were the guinea pigs. And I just gradually picked up more.
One casualty I never will forget. His left leg was laid on the stretcher; but it was just attached with a piece of skin. And his right arm was blown off just below the elbow. He was hitting himself. So I straddled him while another guy worked on the leg. The procedure was Vaseline, gauze and packed it with cotton and wrapped an Ace bandage around it. He wasn’t bleeding that much. I guess the pain was too intense or something.
When I was driving the litter jeep I went to the forward aid station. They had a personnel carrier that would go to Pork Chop and back and take the wounded out.. It was a tank without a top on I guess. They would carry men, ammunition and supplies out. I was at the forward aid station one day by myself, and this personnel carrier came in. I heard him pull up, and the driver came in the aid station. He says, "I got a body for you." And I says, "Okay." They pulled up and swung in and turned up and backed – it was turnaround point. And I said, "Well, just put him off there; and I’ll call." He says, "No, you do it".
I kind of muttered to myself, but I went out. I climbed in the back of the personnel carrier, and there was a Chinese. I guess could have been Korean or Chinese laying on top of a body bag. And I thought why is he on top of the body bag?
So I rode with him to the turnaround point, and he pulled up where they back up and then go back. He stopped, and turned around; and looked at me. And I looked at him. Now here’s this guy laying on a body bag. He was dead. He’d been dead for quite a while, and I thought now how am I going to get him off. I could tell he wasn’t going to help me. So there’s no way I could get him off. So I stuck my toe under the body bag, and I gave him a flip like that. So he cleared the side of the personnel carrier, but he was laying face up. And when I flipped him off the side he landed face down. And just as he hit there was about a million maggots, and the body bounced and came up like that and I thought uh-oh, he’s going to get me. You know he couldn’t, but I climbed down. The thing that he knew that I didn’t know at the time was he’d seen the infantry loading. They had loaded him on the side. The Sergeant, he always says everybody’s going out and everybody comes back. He always brought everybody back. The wounded you take right away. I mean you get them back right away. They would pick up the bodies; and took them somewhere.
Some of the troops were unable to deal with the violence. There was some that got sent back. Oh, it was pretty nasty at times. I can’t sum up. I mean I was just there.
I got R & R once to Japan. It was either Keroksu or Kyoto, I’m not sure. I had more time than I should have because there was a big push on, and they couldn’t get me back. All the transportation was tied up I guess and that was good.
I think I got there in November ’52 and I rotated out in August of ’53. I got out on 21 points. You got so many points for the time you were there. We left Korea on the ship Marine Adder. We went to San Francisco to Camp Stoneman.
. When I knew I was coming home I told my folks to stop writing after a certain time. One time I remember distinctly one package I got when I was in Japan. Mom had baked cookies and put them in a coffee tin. Well, when they got there they was nothing but crumbs so I poured out the crumbs and started to get rid of the can. It was a coffee can and the Japanese guard thought he discovered the end of the world, I also got a package from my church. There was a lady from the church who mailed some turtles which I shared.
When I got home I was concerned about the attitude of the civilians. The disgusting part was it seemed like life was just going on normally, and yours was, wasn’t too normal.
I guess I matured when I returned. I think you had a tendency not to get too upset about things, because lots of things are minor really.
I did get a medal while in Korea. I might mention Pork Chop. I got an award for going toward Port Chop and taking out some wounded. It was in direct line with the Chinese and picked up a couple people, hurt people. I was at the aid station, the forward aid station. They said there’s wounded alongside the side of the road. They were walking up to Pork Chop, and they were firing. I went to get two and brought them back by Jeep. I received a Bronze star with a V for Valor.
When I got home there was a nice homecoming. I’d been corresponding with my girlfriend, future wife Carol Vaughn. She had sent me various things while I was in Korea and I sent her some of this propaganda stuff.
I did pick up some military propaganda in "no man’s land" between the two sides where patrols were run. When I was there the line was pretty well established between the American line and the Chinese-Korean line. The Chinese I could read; but I don’t know what the American said. One says, "Go home! If you go home, the war will quit!" I remember on patrol one time from the loud speaker from the Chinese side it was a quote I think from the New York Times. When I got home I thought just let them have it. I thought there was too much blood shed for that, but I don’t understand politics. I wasn’t sure we should have been there. I personally felt that way. I don’t know whether anybody else did. I thought this war was different from World War II. I think World War II maybe we were attacked personally I think, but this was in a small country a long ways away; and I don’t know. What really I saw of Korean soldiers, that I didn’t think they felt strongly whether they were occupied by the Americans or the Chinese. Maybe I’m wrong.