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James H. Putnam
"There was nothing uplifting or satisfying about Korea. It was like almost 12 months of living under a dark cloud, wondering when your time would come, and feeling saddened by those who were not with you any longer."
- James H. Putnam
I am James H. Putnam of Fenton, Michigan. I was born in Durand, Michigan, on January 17, 1931, but my birthday is celebrated on January 19th as I was adopted and this is apparently the date my adoptive parents brought me home. The names of my adoptive parents were Clifford H. and E. Grace McCully Putnam. I have one brother, my adoptive parents’ birth son, who is seven years older than me. My father was employed as a factory worker at Midwest Abrasive Company in Owosso, Michigan, and my mother was a homemaker.
We moved frequently, so I attended several grade schools in Owosso, Michigan. I graduated from Owosso High School in 1949. During that time, I was employed in some capacity or another during the summers, starting when I was 12 years old. Beginning in the 7th grade and all through high school, I worked in a small restaurant. During the week I worked from 6 a.m. until 9 a.m., then from 12 p.m. until 1:30 p.m. This was primarily a breakfast to lunch type operation that had hours of 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., six days a week. On Saturdays I worked from 6 to 2 and did everything. I started as a dishwasher, did some cooking, and was a waiter during high school. It was a perfect high school job because it did not interfere with my evenings, and it allowed me to participate in sports. I never had the inclination or the time to be involved in scouting.
My older brother turned 17 in September of 1941, and enlisted in the Navy in December immediately after Pearl Harbor. He was inducted around the first of January 1942. I, along with my classmates, was involved in all the activities that kids were asked to assist in during the war. We collected tin cans, scrap metal, newspapers, etc., and participated in the war bond drives, selling and saving stamps, etc.
Further, because of the dire need for workers in all fields, kids were allowed to work at least part-time once they were 12 years of age. Two older men whom I knew, and whose full-time occupation was with the railroad, had a government contract to supply onions to the military from a muck farm, which they had leased. I was hired at 50 cents an hour to weed onions every day. I started at 8 a.m. and was allowed to work until noon. On my hands and knees, I weeded the long rows of started onions by hand. The rows were approximately ¼ mile long and I could seldom get more than two rows done per day. I don’t know how familiar you are with muck farms (black dirt), however, they draw heat severely and to say it was hot, tiring work would be an understatement. By mid summer, I was so heavily tanned you couldn’t tell me from the Hispanic kids I worked with, except that I was blond. I earned every penny I was paid. It bought me a goodly portion of my school clothes for the coming year, and also gave me some pride that I was, indeed, helping the war effort.
I was not a member of the Reserves, nor was I drafted. I really had no desire to enter the service in any capacity. However, I could feel the hot breath of the draft on my neck. Shortly after graduating from high school, I secured employment at the Chevrolet Motor Company in Flint, about 25 miles from my home. I was living at home, making excellent money. I loved to party and was having an absolutely marvelous time. I was also dating a very attractive young lady who I was quite serious about, and a horizon that included possible marriage was not out of the question, at least in my mind.
By Christmas of 1950, it was obvious that my civilian career was not going to last much longer. My closest friend, a gentleman by the name of Ray Holbrook who is now deceased, and I discussed enlisting in the Marines. Neither of us wanted to go to the Army, and being aboard a ship always nauseated me. The Air Force with their silly looking uniforms was also out.
One night between Christmas and New Year’s, Ray and I went drinking, and ended up parked in front of the Recruiting Station at 6:00 a.m. When it opened at 8:00 a.m., we went in and enlisted. We both simply decided that if we had to go into the military, we might as well join a real military institution. What deep thinking, eh? We thought we would go right away, however the Marine Corps had other ideas. One of John Wayne’s movies, Sands of Iwo Jima, or Halls of Montezuma (???) was playing at the time, and the Corps was forming a Sands or Halls Platoon which would be sworn in at the end of January. We were to go with it.
I had been living a pretty wild life, coming home at all hours, usually pretty well sauced, and was driving my poor mother crazy. The clincher came on Christmas Eve when I got into a dispute with a guy at work when we were both drinking more than we should have been. The police were called. I punched a cop in the nose, and ended up in jail for four or five days. My dad, who was just a great man and as tolerant as they come, also thought it would be a good idea if I got out of the house. When I told them that I had joined the Marine Corps, they were reluctantly supportive. My brother, who had recently married and whose wife hated me, was livid. He was an ex Naval Officer, a dive bomber pilot, and had been on Guadalcanal. He knew how Marines lived and just gave me all kinds of grief. (He always knew what was best for me anyway, at least according to him.)
We reported to the Recruiting Station in Detroit the last week of January, were sworn in, and approximately 20 of us were bussed to the railway station to await the arrival of the rest of the Halls Platoon, which, I believe, originated in Indiana. By the time the train arrived, we were having a hell of a party and everyone was stinking drunk. There were probably another 20 or so guys from Indiana already on the train and the poor guy who had been put in charge, also merely a recruit, gave up. There were at least two cars, if not three, of us, and we had a non-stop party. I don’t even remember eating, and I have no idea as to our route. The train conductor was unable to control us and after two days, they simply unhooked our cars and left us at a siding in Atlanta, Georgia. We were there at least 24 hours and the Marine Corps had no idea where we were. But, we continued partying until everyone ran out of money. Then we had to sober up and nurse an absolutely humungous hangover. Remember, I had just turned 20, so I was not a high school freshie. I had met my share of thugs and ladies of the night, and could battle with the best of them. In fact, I thought I was a pretty tough kid. Har – har – har. After at least a day, the Corps found out where we were and why, and got us hooked to another train for a one-way trip to Yamasee (Parris Island), South Carolina.
It was a very warm day as our train approached the railhead in Yamasee, and we had the windows down. Most of us were sleeping, still severely hung over. As the train ground to a halt, the doors flew open and aboard came two or three Marine NCOs screaming at the top of their lungs. "Close those G.D. windows. Snap to attention." I was in the first seat of the rail car across from the door and made no attempt to close the window. I was just rousing from my reverie when this guy grabbed me and threw me through the door, where I landed in the cinders next to the tracks. I was deciding whether I should go back in and deck him or not when another guy kicked me in the posterior and told me to start running toward the gate. After a second kick, I did so.
We were placed in formation inside the gate with much screaming and yelling, and then we were forced to run to a tented area (6h Recruit Battalion). I can’t tell you how many times I was grabbed by the shoulders and shaken with the DI yelling nose to nose, and/or kicking me with the side of his foot that first day. I remember thinking that the rest of the country can’t know what goes on here. They simply cannot do these kinds of things in the good old USA.
We were split up six men to a tent. These were the old pyramidal tents, and my friend Ray and I were in the same tent with three guys from Sturgis, Michigan. I can’t remember who the other guys were. We were marched (herded is a better word) to Mainside, where we were stripped of our civvies. They were boxed and mailed home. We then drew two sets of dungarees, boondockers, and the rest of the 782 gear. We were then herded to the barbershop, still naked, and as I sat in the chair, the barber (??) asked me how I would like it cut. Ducktails were the rage at the time and I watched it all disappear. My friend Ray followed me in and when he came out, I didn’t even know him. When I realized who it was, I burst out laughing, which immediately cost me 20 push ups.
We were then herded back to our tent camp area, where we were introduced to our senior drill instructor. His name was Corporal Johnson. He was a World War II vet, then a New York police officer, and a reservist who had been recalled. He wasn’t any bigger than me—5’10"—but he was mean as a rattlesnake and tough as nails. If anyone wanted to try him, he was all for it. I chose not to. He was all Marine and the two junior DIs, Sergeants Tucker and Achord, didn’t mess with him either.
We were Platoon 124, 6th Recruit Battalion, and officially began boot camp on February 1, 1951. The first week or two were primarily close order drill, and, of course, we were taught to goose step. If I recall correctly, reveille went at 4:30 a.m., roll call at 4:40, and we were immediately marched to the battalion head where we shaved, showered, etc., and were to be in formation outside by about 5:10. If everything went well and there were no stragglers, the smoking lamp was lit for ten minutes. (That meant we had permission to smoke a cigarette.) If not, we were double-timed back to the tent area to stow our toilet gear and again fall into formation at 5:30 to march to chow.
I was not the picture of masculinity when I got to P.I. A lot of beer drinking and partying had got my weight up to about 185, with my optimum weight being probably 165 to 170 pounds. You were allowed one trip through the chow line. We learned not to bother to ask for extras, or it would cost you 25 pushups. No doubt the food was adequate, but not Mom’s home cooking, and we were constantly hungry. After finishing our tray, we often put sugar on a slice of bread, poured coffee over it, and ate it as an extra just to fill up—that is, until we were caught. Then we were subjected to, "Boy, doesn’t the Marine Corps feed you enough?" You dared not say no. "Boy, you’ve got so much baby fat now you look like s—t. Give me 25 push ups."
I don’t remember all the things we were fed in boot camp, as it was a long time ago. We were, of course, introduced to SOS, which I love to this day, powdered eggs, flapjacks, sausage and bacon for breakfast. Lunch usually consisted of cold cuts (not the Marine Corps terminology for them) or something else that was fast. Evening chow was usually the best meal. It ranged from chicken, corned beef, roast beef, etc. It was adequate, but again, never enough. But we were not there to be fattened up. There were no extras from home. If someone got a care package, he was forced to share it with the entire platoon. If it was extra good, the DIs often confiscated the entire package.
Things of course, were doing hot and heavy in Korea and boot camp had been cut to ten weeks. After approximately two weeks of nothing but close order drill, we started having a few classes. All of them were straight out of the Manual, as I recall. Hygiene, the M-1 rifle, learning the General Orders, military etiquette, etc. I would guess perhaps two to three hours per day in classes and the rest drilling. I don’t recall any proficiency tests. The only films we saw were on VD (not pretty), on the M-1 rifle, patrolling etc. We secured about 5:00 p.m., went to chow, and then policed the area and our tent unless we had screwed up drilling. Then we often drilled until dark. We were given from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. to write letters, and then lights out were at 2100 hours. Believe me, one had no trouble falling asleep. And, of course, we usually had Fire Watch fro an hour every other night. Everything was done by bugle calls—reveille, chow, colors, taps, etc., and everything one did was in response to the bugle.
You were supposed to have Sunday off. However, if a platoon had been messing up regularly, it was not unusual to see them drilling on Sunday. The DIs also cooked up football games, boxing matches, etc. between platoons, usually ours (124) versus Platoon 125. There were tackle games with many cuts and bruises, some teeth knocked out, and often broken noses. Just about everything we did was structured, and one had practically no time to himself.
Our DI was very strict, but normally within the rules of the military. I don’t ever recall him falling us out at night or being overly sadistic with anyone. His favorite game was to get in a recruit’s face in formation and to ask him, "Boy, what’s a Wampus Cat?" The answer was, "Sir, a wampus cat is a white cat with a black a--, Sir." He would then cuff him and retort, "Wrong, Boy. A wampus cat is a black cat with a white a--. He then went to the next man. Of course, there were no winners. I never gave him the occasion to physically maltreat me; however, it was not out of the question. If a recruit was a repeat offender at something or got cocky, it was not unusual to see him grab him by the shoulders or lapels and shake the daylights out of him.
The worst thing that I saw was when we fell out for roll call one morning. One guy apparently had a lot of phlegm and spit in ranks. The DI went nuts and made him get down on his knees and lick it up. I don’t know whether I would have done it or not, but this was the worst I saw in my platoon. I have heard some pretty sordid stories about other platoons, but have no first hand knowledge.
We were there during the winter, and each tent had an oil stove in it. When we were called to the DI’s tent, for whatever reason, we were forced to stand at attention with our noses on the stovepipe. Consequently, most of the platoon wore scabs or minor burns on their respective noses. This was our Badge of Honor among the other platoons. Fortunately, this practice was halted a couple of weeks before we graduated, so none of us went home with scabs on our noses.
A repeat offender was often singled out for punishment in front of the entire platoon. This often ran the gamut of mere push ups to going to the obstacle course to bring him two buckets of sand. After he inspected them, of course, you had to take the sand back. Most offenses were platoon-oriented. If one guy screwed up, the whole platoon paid. This ranged from push ups to drilling at trail arms and was meant to get the entire platoon on the guy so he wouldn’t screw up again.
My own worst offense was getting caught not shaving one morning. I had to go to the DI’s tent with my bucket, blanket, and razor. He then gave me a cigarette, put it in my mouth, placed the blanket and bucket over my head, and made me stationary double-time, singing the Marine Hymn and dry shaving at the same time. Don’t think I have missed a day shaving since that time.
I think the worst act of discipline that I saw occurred at the grenade range. We were being taught how to throw a live grenade and were in cement block cubicles just large enough for one of us and our instructor. A kid ahead of me pulled the pin and then dropped the live grenade. The DI calmly reached down, picked it up, and threw it. After the explosion, he physically beat the hell out of the kid. I can’t say as I wouldn’t have done the same thing.
We had no troublemakers in our platoon. We were all too scared of Corporal Johnson and had no trouble in this respect. I knew of guys in other platoons who slashed their wrists with razors, who just began crying and couldn’t stop, who told the DI they were gay, etc. They were all immediately gone and we never saw them again.
Church was offered, but I did not attend. I can’t recall how the attendees got there, but I am sure they were marched. In boot camp, no one was allowed to straggle anywhere. To the best of my knowledge, the DIs were not breathing down one’s neck while they were attending services.
Everything on Parris Island is built on sand, and, of course, sand fleas are in the majority. They are miniscule little critters that you can barely see, however, their bite is like that of a bee. When we were drilling and sweaty, the little creators would get on our neck and bite the heck out of us. We were constantly told that they were here before us and to leave them alone. However, when bitten we instinctively slapped. If caught slapping a sand flea, we had to drill the rest of the day with our arm in the air. We had a black kid, Clarence Monroe from Louisiana, who the sand fleas dearly loved. I think Clarence spent his entire boot camp with not one but both arms in the air. We occasionally all slapped, and this, of course, caused us to have a funeral. We had to dig a grave, 6x6x6, put the flea in a match box, and hold services. One religious boot gave the proper sermon, and then we buried the little critter. Occasionally, if we were really screwing up, we had to dig him up the next day just to make sure he was still there.
We never really had any fun in boot camp because that was not what we were there for. We were supervised in everything we did. The closest to fun were our boxing matches and football games, and then it was only fun if we were winning. If some big guy was beating the hell out of us, it was no fun. I would say that for the first month, I was really sorry I joined the Corps. I was so scared and so homesick that I didn’t know whether or not I would make it. Of course, one does not understand the psychology of boot camp until much later. After a month we stop being scared and simply hate our DI so badly that we would rather die than fail. Then later we found that this was just what they wanted us to do. Then we start respecting our DI, and taking extreme pride in our platoon.
We had about three black kids in our platoon and they were treated as badly as the rest. I saw no occasion when one was singled out due to race or given second class treatment. As a matter of fact, Clarence Monroe was the platoon clown and the DI loved him. He had a great sense of humor, was a terrific guy, and was treated probably better than the white Marines. I later saw prejudices against black Marines, but not in boot camp.
Upon graduation day in April 1951, we had a graduation parade in which several platoons were honored. I can’t remember the specifics, but was really proud and impressed by the entire ceremony. When I sewed my PFC stripes, I was the proudest young man in the world. I was totally confident that I could lick the world and was pretty cocky. Yes, I was a Marine, and I had earned it the hard way. I had survived and we had all done it as a team. I had dropped almost 20 pounds, was down near 165 again, was in the best shape of my life, and was ready for any challenge.
The training I received in Boot Camp was the backbone of my discipline in Korea and, without a doubt, I would not have survived without it. It taught me not to panic under fire, to carry out orders, and most of all to be able to think coherently under, perhaps, fatal pressure.
We were given either a 10 or 15-day leave and we chartered a bus to Detroit. I hitchhiked to my home from there. I wore my uniform the entire time I was home and my friends, including my girlfriend, all commented on how terrific we looked. After my leave expired, I believe I went by bus back to North Carolina and reported to the 2nd Combat Service Group (we called it the 2nd Comical Circus Group), 8th Ordnance Battalion at Camp Lejeune. My buddy, Ray, was transferred to Camp Pendleton, California, for infantry training prior to shipment to Korea, while my assignment took me back to North Carolina. At least 90%, if not more, of my boot camp platoon 124 was billeted to infantry training command after boot leave. After six weeks of infantry training, they were then on their way to Korea in June and July of 1951 as either 10th or 11th drafters.
For reasons I will never know, I was one of the 5 to 10 % that did not go to ITR. Instead, I was being trained as an artillery repairman. It was the absolute worst duty I had. I had never been a mechanical type guy and daily we were in grease past our elbows, tearing these stupid 105s, 155s, 90mm, etc., apart and repairing them. It was 95 degrees working out on a cement grinder for a Gunnery Sergeant who didn’t like me and who made life miserable for me. I HATED every second of it. I asked for transfers to Korea, the infantry, the Women Marines, anything to get me out of there, on a monthly basis. It got so the 1st Sergeant would see me come into the office on the first of the month and just shake his head. They would not transfer me.
I got in some trouble, DUI, on Port Liberty when I was supposed to be starboard, and was restricted for 30 days. Then I got in a fight and got restricted for 60 days and it was just one thing after another. Also, this outfit was totally un-military. No one got up at reveille, no inspections, everyone rejected the NCOs authority, etc. It was not what I joined the Marine Corps for, and I could not get out. There were reasons for my constant screw ups other than that I was just a punk kid. I always was up at Reveille, made all the formations, and kept myself squared away.
In July or August of 1951, we got a mustang 2nd Lieutenant who was a career Marine and whose name I can’t recall. He had been captured on Corregidor and spent four years as a Jap POW. He was one tough dude and I respected the heck out of him. He sat about instilling some discipline back into our unit, saw that I was one of the few who was squared away, and really liked me. He knew that I was not a happy camper, that I was spending too much time at the Slop Chute (when I wasn’t restricted), and that I was heading for serious trouble. He had me transferred to Quantico in about September to attend Armorer’s School.
Quantico was undoubtedly the most beautiful base in the Marine Corps and I loved it. I got caught drinking and driving as well as bringing whiskey on the base and was restricted there also, but I did well in school and graduated near the top of my class.
If I recall correctly, the exact name of the school was Infantry Weapons Repair School. It was called Small Arms School and consisted of the following weapons: .45 caliber pistol, M-1 and M-2 carbine, M-1 rifle, BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), air and water-cooled .30 caliber machine guns, 3.5" rocket launcher, flame throwers, 60mm and 81mm mortars, Thompson sub machine gun, grease gun, and/or any other weapon used by the rifle companies, which included the 75mm recoilless rifle.
This was either a three or four month school and began by learning the nomenclature of each weapon, how to disassemble and reassemble the weapon. We also learned the idiosyncrasies of each weapon and what parts were most susceptible to malfunction and how to repair them. Since I came from a hunting family, I got my first shotgun for Christmas when I was ten years of age. The school was very interesting to me and I enjoyed it. The only place that I didn’t do well was the usage of metal-working tools, lathes, boring machines, etc. Fortunately, most of my duties post graduate took me to the Battalion Armory or the rifle range, thus I did not have to use these tools.
The class was taught by Senior Staff NCOs and they were in turn supervised by Field Grade Officers (lieutenant colonels and colonels). The instructors were very thorough and patient and had a sincere desire to see us succeed. The hours were normal working hours, i.e., 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. We had normal port or starboard liberty during the week, and long weekends every other weekend. We had to fire each weapon that we worked on, which was a lot of fun, especially the flame thrower. We had to learn to mix napalm to fuel it as well as learn what parts were most likely to malfunction and how to repair them. We also learned how to disassemble and reassemble each weapon blindfolded, and split into teams to compete against one another. I was always best on machine guns and this came to serve me well in Korea.
I loved the school, got along well with my instructors, loved the base at Quantico and DC, as well as the fact that about 10 women to every guy was only about 15 miles away. We had dances at the base Hostess House every Friday and Saturday night, and they always brought in busloads of girls from DC for these events. I also had my own car at the time, thus it was not difficult to talk some young lady into letting me take her home. All in all, it was a very enjoyable experience and I would have loved to have remained at Quantico.
On to Pendleton
I was at Quantico until about Christmas. Upon graduation, I received an Armorer’s Certificate and my MOS was changed to 2111 (Small Arms Armorer). I was then sent back to Camp Lejeune, returned to 2nd Comical Circus Group, and was promoted to Corporal. At Lejeune, we had a fully-equipped Armorers Truck, and we spent most of our time on the rifle range repairing and adjusting rifles for qualifiers and also during the Marine Corps Rifle Matches.
I still requested transfers every month and applied for every duty that I could think of to no avail. This Lieutenant who was my mentor came over to see me one day with an application for embassy duty and suggested I apply. I did so and passed all the written tests as well as my physical, although the minimum height was 5'10" and I had to stretch to make it. It looked good and I could just see myself in Paris in dress blues.
In about April or May of 1952, I was promoted to Sergeant and placed in charge of the Battalion Armory. Thus I got to know most of the officers and enlisted men, as every weapon was checked in or out through me. Also at this time I was involved in Chasing Prisoners, that meant being fully armed and escorting prisoners who had been court martialed and sentenced to the Brig. I didn’t care for this duty at all, as I knew most of the men and always felt that there but for the Grace of God go I. I never really enjoyed my time at Lejeune as it was far too isolated. The nearest good liberty was DC, which was 100 to 150 miles away. I never heard any more regarding embassy duty, and would probably have shipped over if I would have been granted same. The Corps had been good to me up to that point, however, and I really had no complaints.
A couple of months went by. The 1st Sergeant called me and told me my transfer was in. I went up the steps to his office in a single bounce with visions of Paris, London, etc. in my eyes. "Where am I going, Top?" I asked. He handed me my transfer. Report to Training and Replacement Command, Camp Joseph H. Pendleton for Replacement Draft to Korea. I was given a 30-day leave prior to reporting to T&R Command at Camp Pendleton. In July of 1952, I bade Camp Lejeune goodbye, took my allotted leave, and reported to Pendleton about the 1st of August. My parents were very concerned when they found out that I was going to Korea; however, I told them that with my MOS (Armorer), I would never get closer to the Front than Division. Boy, did I have a lot to learn.
My biggest problem with the training was getting back into shape again. During my time at Lejeune, we had hikes, field problems, etc. I did play softball there, too; however, I spent most of my free hours drinking beer and partying. The training at Pendleton consisted of daily conditioning hikes, forced marches, night problems, infantry tactics, etc. I huffed and puffed up and down the hills. That August was an extremely hot and dry month in Southern California. The training was very rigorous, and after a month I was in good shape. We were not sent to Cold Weather Training at Pickle Meadows because of the time of the year it was and because of all the casualties the division had taken at Bunker Hill. The training was shortened from six weeks to four. We had liberty every night that we didn’t have duty, and usually every weekend. I had the good fortunate to meet a lovely young lady who was in the early stages of her career as a screen writer. We had an extremely enjoyable time while I was stationed there.
All of our training took place at Pendleton with the exception of the last week when we hiked down to Camp Matthews about 15 miles to sight our weapons in. Most of the training was conducted by staff NCOs who were in as bad a shape as we were and died right along with us on the marches. I don’t recall any officers even overseeing our training. One incident I do recall is that one day we had a tactical problem where we assaulted a large hill. This particular problem began at daylight and it was probably 1:00 p.m. by the time we got to the top of the hill. It was very hot and we were drenched in sweat and totally covered with dust. The Gunny secured the problem and told us to take a break. Down a dirt road at the bottom of the hill came a Jeep spewing dust behind it. It slammed to a stop at the base of the hill and we could see this guy in full dress uniform coming up the hill at a fast walk. We all watched very quizzically and when this person was a few yards from the top, the Gunny said, "Oh shoot" or something to that effect and then yelled, "Tenshut!!" We all immediately came to attention and our visitor was none other than the great Chesty Puller with not a bead of sweat on him or a wrinkle in his uniform. He addressed us very casually for about 30 minutes, spun on his heel, and back down the hill he went. What an impressive man.
About the first of August 1952, we were trucked to San Diego as the 25th Replacement Draft. We boarded the troop ship Marine Phoenix, and sailed for Korea. As is my understanding, the Marine Phoenix was built specifically as a troop transport. When it was constructed, I have no idea. It was operated by the Merchant Marine employees. It was a huge ship. It looked like an apartment house at the docks. The only comparison I could make as to its size was that a Canadian cruiser accompanied us across the Pacific, and our ship was much larger than the cruiser. I really don’t know what its capacity was, but I believe that about 2500 Marines boarded in San Diego. We then proceeded up the coast and picked up an equal amount of doggies (Army soldiers) from Ft. Lewis, Washington. We must have had between 4000 and 5000 troops aboard when we finally started across, taking the Northern Route via the Aleutian Island chain.
I had never been aboard a large ship before, and the extremely cramped quarters tended to make one very claustrophobic. The bunks were either five or six high and about 18" between each Marine and the bunk above him. They consisted of a piece of metal tubing as the frame for the canvas bunk--not exactly accommodations at the Ritz. The distance between the rows of bunks was not more than two feet wide, and one could not traverse the passageways between bunks without turning semi sideways to get down the aisle.
The Head accommodations were even worse. It was a trough probably 20 to 25 feet long with water sloshing through it at all times and seats on the trough. The showers were strictly salt water showers with no hot water. It was impossible for soap to lather in salt water, consequently it felt like we were washing ourselves with sand. Obviously not many showers were taken on our voyage across the Pacific.
The first couple of days the weather was nice and we were allowed on deck when we had no other duty. After picking up the soldiers and nearing the Aleutians, the weather turned 180 degrees and became so rough they placed guards on all the hatches and bulkhead doors and no one was allowed on deck. This was when the trip became an ordeal. Guys started getting sick all over the place. It was possible to clean up the vomit, but not the smell, and the stench in our compartment was overwhelming. I had a little Italian kid that slept across the aisle (about two feet) from me. He was so deathly sick the entire trip, he could hardly get out of his rack. He had his helmet buckled over the tubing of the bunk and would simply roll over and throw up in it many, many times daily. He was unable to go to chow, and couldn’t hold anything down anyway. The only way he survived was that I and others brought him back some soda crackers from the mess, and he would eat a few of these each day. I honestly thought he was going to die and the poor kid lost at least 15 to 20 pounds on the trip. I never quite came to the point of throwing up, however, it was in my throat all the time and I was nauseous the entire trip. The waves were unbelievable and the ship pitched so badly we had to hold onto something to walk at all times.
Those of us who weren’t throwing up spent our time playing poker, euchre, pinochle, etc., to pass the time. The only entertainment we had aboard ship was strictly from within. We had two Samoan kids--one’s name was Tuttleapaga, but I can’t remember the other--who put on their brightly colored Sarongs, played the Uke, and sang and danced for us. They were both great kids who were very well-liked by everyone. They were very friendly. Neither had ever had a pair of shoes on prior to joining the Marine Corps, so they had some problems coping with the hurry up and wait way of life in the military.
It took us 22 days to reach Kobe and from a day out of Ft. Lewis to the day before we arrived in Kobe, probably 18 or 19 days, we were stuck in the hold the entire time. The weather calmed about 24 hours out of Japan and we were allowed on deck again. It was like getting out of jail, and the fresh air was wonderful. Plus, Mt. Fuji was visible at least a half day out and it was absolutely gorgeous. We also had a couple of whales following us, which I had never seen before. Those creatures were astonishing.
The only duty I had the entire trip was Sergeant of the Guard for just one 24-hour period. I would have welcomed other duties simply to pass the time. In the kind of weather we had endured, which caused the ship to pitch so severely, I don’t think its really possible for one to get his sea legs under him. When we finally tied up in Kobe and I got on terra firma, I was one happy guy.
All in all, it was 22 days of absolute boredom, semi sickness (at least for me), and the stench was almost unbearable. I knew a goodly portion of the Marines on board, as we had trained together at Pendleton and a couple had been in my company at Lejeune. One, Dave LaBree from Vermont, was a very close friend who was very badly wounded later in Korea. After being herded together so closely for 22 days, I knew just about everyone in my compartment.
Taste of Japan
Our ship docked in Kobe, Japan, prior to going on to Korea. I presume our only reason for stopping was to unload cargo. They gave us liberty from about 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. until midnight, at which time the good old Marine Phoenix was to sail for Korea. My best friend and I, a super young kid by the name of Harley Reasoner from upstate New York and who was KIA in May of 1953, went on liberty together.
Among other things, we got thoroughly sauced and about 2:00 a.m. were trying to find our way back to the ship. We were both hungry and passed a little bakery which had the most delicious looking wedding cake you ever saw in its window. We decided we wanted the cake and began banging on the bakery door. A window on the second floor opened and a Jap guy stuck his head out and began jabbering at us. We, of course, could not understand him, nor he us, but through hand signs and pigeon Japanese, we made it plain that we wanted the cake. He kept shaking his head, No No. At that time, Japanese Yen was 360 to one dollar and we had cashed in about $20, so we literally had Yen stuffed inside our shirts, up our sleeves, etc. We just started dropping all this Yen under his window and he sold us his wedding cake. I have no idea how much we paid for it.
We were sitting on the curb eating wedding cake with our hands when the MPs came along in a Jeep. They just pulled up, stopped in front of us, and began shaking their heads. We must have been a sorry sight—two drunken Marines with wedding cake all over them. We told them we had just got married, but they wouldn’t buy it. They put us in the Jeep, and took us back to the ship. They wouldn’t allow us to bring the remainder of the cake. It was about 4:00 a.m. when we got to the ship and they were just casting off the lines. The Officer of the Day later become my Company Commander in Korea. He gave us a terrific chewing out, put us on restriction (where would we go?), and sent us to bed. We both woke about noon the next day with a ferocious hang over, but we had had a good time. Additionally, I was totally delighted to have the USA to Japan portion of our voyage behind us.
I must tell you what an awesome spectacle the trip from Kobe to the Sea of Japan was. As you know, Kobe is on the southeast side of Japan. To get to the Sea of Japan, one must cross the Inland Waterway. I don’t have the words to properly describe the beauty of this trip, but the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. Huge mountains towering above the ship, quaint villages etched into their sides, rice paddies, fishing villages, etc. If you are ever afforded the opportunity to travel this route, please don’t miss it.
Arriving in Korea
The trip from Kobe to Inchon took about 24 hours. Once we passed the southern tip of Korea and sailed into the Yellow Sea, the scene was vastly different. First of all, we could smell Korea long before we saw it. The colors changed from pristine beauty to dirty muddy yellow, and the land looked like God took a handful of mud and threw it in the ocean. We arrived off the coast of Inchon around 8:00 or 9:00 a.m., but had to anchor to await the incoming tide as Inchon Harbor has one of the most shallow tidal basins in the world. When the tide came in about noon, a barge came alongside the ship, and the ladder was dropped. We climbed down it onto the deck of this huge flat-bottomed barge.
Trucks met us at the shore and we were trucked some eight or ten miles to Ascom City. There, we stowed our sea bags, kept only one extra set of dungarees, three sets of underwear and socks, were issued ammunition, and formed up at the railhead to await a train. I can't remember the date, but it was sometime between mid to late September. It was obvious that we were in a war zone as a lot of buildings were still blown down. All had shell and bullet holes in them, and all had patch work type roofs. My first and lasting impression was that it was a country of abject poverty, filth, and ruin.
At Ascom City, we were given punch cards which showed to which units we were to be assigned. I had kidded the grunts all the way across the ocean that with my MOS (armorer), I would never get closer to the front line than Division Headquarters. My punch card said 7th Marine Regiment. I remarked to the officer handing out the cards that I didn't know the 7th Marines had an armory. He looked at me sarcastically and replied, "They don't!" This, of course, brought much laughter to all those that I had been jabbing for the past several weeks.
When the train arrived, I learned that it was not a train as you and I know one. The passenger cars were all made of wood with wooden benches. One felt every bump in the track. We were issued a can of C-rations and off we went heading north. I don't think we ever attained a speed of 20 mph. We stopped for up to an hour at a time for no apparent reason. It was late afternoon by the time we went through Seoul, a distance from Inchon of not more than 20 miles. I was astonished to see how badly demolished the city still was. On we went with the same irregularity, heading toward the railhead at Munsan-ni some 30 miles away. There were many people in the streets and fields, all hurrying quickly about their tasks and seldom even looking up at us. The farmers were working their fields with water buffalo, hauling huge stacks of wood on their A-frames. Women balanced huge ceramic urns on their heads. There was not much talk. We all simply watched and wondered what we were getting ourselves into.
About midnight we huffed into the railhead at Munsan-ni and were ordered to disembark. It was very dark and very cold, and as the replacements to the different regiments were called into formation, we said hurried goodbyes as trucks picked them up and hurried them off into the night. We learned that the 7th Marines were on line and we were going to have to wait awhile for transport. It was here that another officer called us into formation and started calling out names of men that were going to 1st Battalion, 2nd and 3rd, and where they should fall in. My name, along with probably 50 or 60 other guys, was called to go to the 2nd Battalion, and we were the last to receive transport. We huddled together in the cold for warmth, as we had only field jackets at this time. As we looked to the north, we could hear the artillery booming and see the muzzle flashes and illumination against the sky. It was something like a scene out of "All Quiet on the Western Front." We were all apprehensive, wondering how we were going to handle ourselves, and, of course, wondering if we would still be a living person a year from now. To say it was a very profound experience would be a gross understatement!!
The transport finally came and we were trucked through the dark for another one to two hours before we were finally dropped off in front of a bunch of squad tents. It was pitch dark, no lights anywhere. An officer appeared, welcomed us to the 2nd Battalion, and told us not to show lights or smoke outside the tents. He ordered us into the tents for some sleep. I found a canvas cot and staked claim to it, unrolled my sleeping bag, and got in it. I just laid there listening to the artillery until morning.
When morning came, we were taken to the chow tent and fed SOS and all the coffee we could handle. Then we had a two-day indoctrination of do's and don'ts, Chinese/North Korean tendencies, etc. At this time the 7th Marines were charged with holding a group of hills called the Hook. The second night we were hit especially hard and an officer came to our tents around 10 p.m. wanting to know if we had any guys who had had previous tours here. Several had done so and the officer took them up to form a relief platoon. One of the guys I had become friendly with, Sgt. Bill Okert from California, was on his second tour and went up with the relief platoon. He was killed that night. We were all absolutely stunned and now fully realized that from here on out it was a matter of life and death.
The next day a gunnery sergeant by the name of Twifert came to the tents and called out 15 to 20 names, mine included. We told us to follow him as we were now members of Weapons Company. He explained that he was the platoon sergeant for the Heavy Machine Gun Platoon, and we were now members of his platoon. Sgt. Arlis Ramsay, who I had also become acquainted with at Pendleton and on the ship, was to take over the second section. I was assigned as a squad leader in the first section. I explained to the Gunny that I was an Armorer with no tactical knowledge of Machine Guns. He just smiled and said, "You're going to get on the job training." I was scared. We learned that Dog and Easy Companies were on the line and Fox was in Battalion Reserve. We were to go up right after chow the next morning. I am not a religious guy, but I prayed that I wouldn't get anyone hurt and/or embarrass myself. None of us slept that night.
The next morning, several of us were leaning against a couple of 6x6 trucks which were parked there waiting for the others to form up, when a guy next to me said, "God damn, man. Look in the back of this truck." I turned and looked and a shiver immediately ran down my spine. The truck I was leaning against had six or seven dead Marines lying grotesquely on the floor. Everyone's face was white and we all looked away and shook our heads. I had watched all the World War II movies, newsreels, etc., and had read in depth about war. However, until one comes face to face with the reality and/or finality of it all, one really has no conception of what the "stark reality" actually is. It was utterly obvious that the games were over. I made a pledge to myself to keep my mouth shut, my ears open, and make this experience the fastest learning curve in history.
We had moved out in single file and had walked for about 1/4 mile when we approached a two-track road which wound through rice paddies to the north. Perhaps 1/2 mile in the distance, I could see a line of low mountains and/or high hills. The Gunnery Sergeant in charge explained to us that this two-track was called 76 Alley. The reason for this was that from this point on, we were under direct observation from the enemy. We were to take a 10-yard interval between men, move at double time, and keep our mouths shut. After the experience of the trucks, he didn't have to tell me twice.
We arrived at the base of the hills in no more than a half hour, and without incident. There were several NCOs waiting for us, and names were called out. They merely said, "Follow me," turned, and started up the hill. My honcho was a black kid by the name of Walker, who I later learned was the 1st Gunner in the 2nd Squad. Up the hill we went, he like a billy goat and me like an elephant. We entered the trenches about two or three feet deep at first, but as we got near the crest, they deepened to about five feet. About halfway up, I was gasping for breath and my legs were shaking like rubber from the steepness of the climb. I didn't want to tell this PFC that I had to take a break, so I gritted my teeth and kept going. As we neared the top, my legs just gave out and I went to my knees. I sat there gasping for breath while Walker continued out of sight. A few minutes later, he reappeared around the bend in the trench and when he saw me, he got a big grin on his face. I just shook my head and said, "Sorry man, me legs just gave out." His response was, "Don't feel bad. I was that same way a year ago. In a week you'll be climbing these like they were ant hills." I wouldn't have bet him on that one.
When we got to the top, he stopped and said, "Let's have a smoke." He pointed out a low bunker about 50 yards out into the rice paddy and said, "There's home." When we got to the bunker, he introduced me to a corporal by the name of Harvey, told him that I was the new squad leader, and then left for his own position in Gun Number 2, which was about 100 to 200 yards across the paddy. Needless to say, I was rather coolly greeted. No one, including me, liked to be placed under the command of someone who hah never been in combat before. I was introduced to the other men and told them that Harvey would continue in charge until I knew what was going on and what duties my position entailed. This seemed to relieve them a little, and slowly they warmed up.
As I indicated, our position was a very precarious one as we were so far from the flank protection of the riflemen. The fact that we were actually in the paddy prevented us from having the benefit of trenches for protection. The flank protection for the gun would be provided, when needed, by the ammo carriers who were positioned behind a line of 12x12 timbers on either side of the gun bunker. I learned that they were standing only an hour watch per night when they were supposed to be 50 percent, but rather than change it, I thought I would go along with it and make the change when I had more experience. I learned that 3rd Battalion, which was tied in with Gun Number 2 across the paddy, actually was responsible for, and held, the Hook. The Dog Company outpost was named Vegas.
There was little to no vegetation, including grass, along and in front of the MLR, and I learned that the trenches, as well as our bunker, were under full observation of the enemy. They were shelled regularly. My first night on watch, I was scared to death. I learned that my only duties were to keep alert, watch for movement in the barbed wire, and if I saw something, get everyone out of the sack immediately. It was pitch black. I held out my arm full length and was unable to see my hand. "How in the world was I going to see anything in the barbed wire?", I wondered. I had a sound power telephone hooked through the shoulder strap of my field jacket, and the CP called every 15 minutes. We were not to talk or even whisper into the phone. The CP called the various watch positions--our call sign was Two Heavy, the other gun was Two Molly--and if everything was okay, we just blew into the phone once. If not, we were to blow twice, and the patrol would be immediately sent to our position to investigate. All Americans were afraid of the dark, and it took me several nights to get comfortable, if I ever did.
The weather during this period was very similar to Autumn in the Midwest. Days were sunny--60 to 70 degrees--and nights were cold in the 30s to the 40s. The first five or six days were very quiet, which was extremely fortunate for me. I got to know the men. For instance, I found out that the corporal was a short timer who was extremely "shook" and thus could not be depended upon. I slowly began to feel more comfortable and confident. I also picked the gunner's brains on tactical usage of the gun, how to lay them in using the Clinometer, etc. Our position, no matter how precarious, was down in the rice paddy for only one reason, and that was to get grazing fire on the enemy in the event of an attack. There were three or four of us who slept in the gun bunker, including me, and the other four men slept in a sleeping bunker which was dug into the base of the hill about 35 to 40 yards away.
We received a hot breakfast every morning at a tent over the reverse slope of our hill and near the Company CP. We straggled back on a 50 percent basis and each group was allowed one hour. Breakfast usually consisted of powdered eggs or flap jacks, SOS, and stringy bacon, and tons of coffee. It wasn't much, but it was hot. The rest of the time we ate C-rations. All the casualties, KIAs and WIAs, from the previous night were also brought to the chow tent. My gunner was Wayne Bayless. He and I became very good friends. Once we were on our way to the second chow one morning and met some riflemen were returning from chow. One of the guys knew Bayless and told him that so and so had gotten starched last night and his body was outside the chow tent. Wayne couldn't believe it and walked up to a body on a stretcher that was covered with a blanket. He pulled the blanket back and his friend had been hit in the forehead with probably a 50 caliber machine gun. Obviously there wasn't much left to identify him. I didn't eat chow that morning, and even these 46 years later, I still have occasional dreams about bodies on stretchers covered by blankets.
I had not seen a Chinese/North Korean, either dead or alive yet, and was told I wouldn't because their trenches were much deeper than our own--up to ten feet. They policed their battlefields very thoroughly, bringing in all their dead and wounded, so we would not know what kind of casualties they were taking. I also learned that very little action occurred during the day. If the enemy saw four or five Marines together, they were liable to get shelled. The enemy also sent out snipers, although this was very precarious for them as there was no foliage and no place to hide. Mortars and tanks also dealt with them, usually fatally, when they were located. We learned not to stand in the open or in an exposed position very quickly. To do that was to invite a trip home in a body bag. We watched air strikes from Marine Corsairs or Navy Panthers on a daily basis, and these were quite spectacular. Napalm is a horrible weapon, and I thanked God many times that I didn't have to contend with that.
All the action, I would say 99%, occurred at night. I had been there about a week when the Hook started getting shelled about 9 p.m. one evening. The shelling spread to our area and we took refuge in the bunkers. My position was next to the bunker entrance, which had no door. I had the phone in my ear so I could listen to what was going on and await orders. The shelling increased by 10 p.m. to a steady crescendo. By the time one shell was hitting outside the bunker, we could hear three or four more coming. The air was full of cordite from the explosions and large pieces of shrapnel were sizzling into and burying themselves in the sides of the bunker. The concussion from each shell blast lifted us off our seat like it had just dropped out from under us. If we had stepped outside the bunker, we would have been cut to shreds immediately.
I don't think that anyone can properly describe it, only to say that it was like having the entire earth blowing up in our face. Illumination was going off constantly and the Gunner and Assistant were straining to see anyone in the wire. We didn't want to open up haphazardly because, as soon as we start firing, every enemy gun was concentrated on our position to try to knock us out. We had to scream at each other to make ourselves heard at all, and we had to strain to hear anything at all on the phone. Then the phone lines were hit and knocked out and we were on our own. This went on until about 1 a.m., when it suddenly stopped. I got all the men out of the bunker and into their defensive positions and we stayed this way until morning. We never got hit by enemy infantry. However, the Hook on our right and OP Vegas to our front were both under attack, and beat off the assaults. After this, we were constantly under shelling almost every night, but no enemy infantry.
In late October to early November, the weather worsened. About the first to mid-November, we straggled back to the reverse slope and were issued Mickey Mouse boots, parkas, gloves, mittens, long johns, and waterproof (we called them "water-soaked" as they were worthless) pants. It began raining a lot, which also put a damper on enemy activity. I recall a time when it had rained steadily for a day or so and the water running off the hill and into the paddy put about three or four inches of water on the floor of our bunker. The temperature was just above freezing and we had stood watch in a pouring rain. We were all soaked. After my watch I crawled into the bunker and the water. There were no dry spots, so I simply crawled into my sleeping bag and was sitting in the corner of the bunker trying to keep warm. I had my bag zipped up to my chin when a rat jumped onto the mid section of my bag. I simply flipped my hand against the bag and heard him splash into the water. A few minutes later he jumped right into my face and began clawing at me. I again knocked him in the water, got out of my sleeping bag, and went out and stood in the rain/sleet the rest of the night.
The next day the weather warmed and the sun came out. We took our soaked sleeping bags and wet clothes and hung them on the bunker and barbed wire. The Chinese immediately put a heavy shelling on us and blew our bags and clothes to a bunch of rags. We had to go and beg for more. It was now growing near late November. The weather was below freezing, and the nights very cold. I had been in Korea for over two months, was now experienced, and was confident in my abilities and authority. I was armed with both a .45 caliber automatic pistol, as well as an M-2 Carbine. I was constantly on the alert for mortars and artillery, as well as snipers. I was very careful about exposing myself unnecessarily. I was fortunate to have a competent and terrific bunch of guys in my squad and was holding up okay.
About the first week in December, word came down that we were to be relieved by the 5th Marines and were to go into Reserve. As soon as it got dark, I went to the reverse slope, met my 5th Marine counterpart and his section, and guided them to our position. We were already packed up and as they took over, we returned to 76 Alley, where we were picked up by trucks, temperature around zero, and about midnight arrived in the Reserve area that the 5th Marines had just vacated.
It was heaven to walk into a warm tent with a warm stove, canvas cots, and be able to sleep all night. I had been on line for about 2 1/2 months, had not had a bath, only one change of clothes, and had not been out of my clothes this entire time. We were to stay in Reserve the rest of the month and did not go back up again until about the first of the year. During our weeks in Reserve, we spent most of our time constructing a secondary line of defense called the Kansas Line. We also had many night field exercises, conducted training for new replacements, and did have some time to relax. Christmas came and went with a lump in each of our throats as we thought of families and loved ones. At least we were warm, clean, and not on line. New Years passed with me remembering all the great parties I used to attend, all the lovely ladies I knew, how good they smelled, how soft they felt, and how beautiful they actually were. Not really a lot of fun, but it certainly could have been worse.
The 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines returned to the line shortly after the first of the year in 1953. This time we were trucked to the extreme westernmost sector, which terminated at the Panmunjom road. My machine gun section was once again attached to Dog Company, and we held positions a few hundred yards from the road. I remember little about this position with the exception that it was extremely cold. The Chinese lines were a long distance from us, and this was a very quiet period.
The village of Panmunjom was surrounded by a vast lowland which was almost entirely rice paddies ranging approximately one to two miles in an easterly direction and a like distance to the west. I can't recall how long we were in this position; however, I would image it was two to three weeks. We were then ordered to pack up our gear and prepare to move to Outpost Number 2, where we were to relieve Item Company 7th Marines. OP2 was a large Company-sized outpost located between land a half to two miles in front of the lines. It was known to be a "hot" area. This outpost was supplied from the Panmunjom road (a "no fire" zone) and if the Company got hit, there was no relief except from that road. This was also under direct observation and fire (once off the road) from the Chinese. OP2 was a horseshoe-shaped hill perhaps 100 meters in height with very little foliage and grass left on it due to obviously heavy shelling. The Hill faced north and the Chinese lines in this direction were easily a mile away. To the west was Panmunjom and the road which was easily visible, and to the east about 1/4 mile was a Chinese outpost, which we called Three Fingers. From this point east, the terrain became mountainous once again, with many Chinese hills--Ungok, Yoke, and Hill 229, to name a few.
It was off OP2 that I came as close to my demise as at any time during my Korean tour. Daytime temperatures ranged from 10 to 30 degrees, while at night it was often zero or below with a 20 to 30 mile per hour wind blowing from the north or northwest continually. Again, we had no stoves in our bunkers and, of course, no doors. Days were spent digging new bunkers and improving trench lines. As soon as it got dark, we were charged with laying barbed wire until 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. At this time we also had 14 to 15 hours of darkness, thus a minimum of two hours watch each night by each man had to be stood. If one spent 24 hours per day in the cold, physically exerting himself, and then stood watch on top of this, it did not take long for exhaustion to set in. Our food consisted solely of C-rations, which were frozen, and next to impossible to heat. We also had no way to bathe or change clothes; thus, it was a rather miserable existence. The only positive thing was that it had been quiet.
About the second or third week on the OP, our CO ordered a combat patrol be sent to Three Fingers. A combat patrol also included a machine gun crew, and no one from the Dog Company Machine Gun Platoon would volunteer. I said I would go with them and serve as their machine gunner. The purpose of a combat patrol was to engage the enemy, take a prisoner, disengage, and return to the OP with said prisoner--stuff right out of the text book that never quite goes like its supposed to go. A young man by the name of Campbell was to serve as my assistant gunner and ammo carrier, and we were to accompany Sergeant McCarthy's squad. I knew McCarthy only slightly and only one other man in his squad--a BARman by the name of Sherwood. There was another hill about 100 to 200 yards east of the OP which we called No Name Ridge. Others referred to it as Gray Rock Ridge. A second rifle squad, also accompanied by a machine gun, was to set up on this ridge and provide us with covering fire as we returned from Three Fingers. To this day I have no idea of what actually occurred, but the following is my version.
In Harm's Way
Our squad assembled near my gun bunker about 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. It was very cold, probably near zero with about one to two inches of snow on the ground. We were all wearing only field jackets, as parkas were far too cumbersome for this type of action. We left the gate single file with myself and my assistant gunner near the tail end of the squad. We, of course, were wearing Mickey Mouse boots and the snow crunching under them made it impossible to travel quietly. We followed a trail past No Name Ridge uneventfully and proceeded east toward Three Fingers. We reached our first check point at a little stream, called in our position, and reported that all was going according to plan.
As we resumed our eastward movement, Chinese pyrotechnics began going up to our north and to the east. This usually signaled some type of Chinese action, so we radioed the Command Post and requested permission to set in for awhile to see what was happening. We were denied permission and told to continue on our task. We resumed our eastward movement following the stream and had not gone very far when someone near the head of the column reported movement on the left (north). We stopped, slid into the stream bed, and waited. It was very, very dark, and the ability to discern any movement was limited to 40 to 50 feet. We then heard sounds of men walking, close, and then discerned flitting images of Chinese passing us heading west. We again radioed the CP to tell them what we had seen. They, too, had seen the pyrotechnics. We were once again ordered to resume our mission. We had barely begun moving again when someone spotted Chinese on our right (south), also heading toward the outpost. We once again called in and were told we were simply afraid of the dark, were acting like cowards, and to resume our mission.
We decided we had a better handle of what was going on than the CP did, so McCarthy, with our full agreement, ordered us to set in in the stream bed. At about the same time, heavy artillery and mortar fire began falling on the OP, and it was obvious that they were going to be under assault shortly. Within a few minutes, we got a call on the radio to return to the OP and abort our mission. We were now between a rock and a hard place with who knows how many Chinese between us and the safety of the OP. We started back westward following the stream bed, keeping as low a profile as possible. As we approached to within 40 to 50 yards of No Name Ridge, all hell broke loose on the hill. Burp gun fire, grenades, mortars, and artillery exploded on top of the hill and all around us. The burp gun bullets whizzed by like several hives of very, very angry bee, and muzzle blasts were very visible all over the place.
We continued to the base of No Name, where I set up the gun in a shell hole in the middle of a two-track, got it charged, and prepared to return fire. I could barely make out some people coming towards me from the hill, and was actually squeezing the trigger when I heard someone yell, "Marine, Marine." There were two or three guys from the squad which was supposed to cover us. We pulled them to the ground and they explained that as they got to the top of the Hill, the Chinese were lying on either side of the trail and opened up on them. Because of the close proximity and the fact that our guys were wearing mittens, which were too thick to allow them to get their fingers through the trigger guards on their weapons, they were unable to return fire. They said there were other guys trying to get off and they were now caught in a cross fire between the Chinese and us. We decided to form a rescue party. I left Campbell with the machine gun. I was still armed with an M-2 carbine, and about eight or ten of us started up the hill to try and get the rest of the guys off.
I can't properly describe in words the rest of the action, as it is just impossible to describe such an event. We fanned out and started up the hill. The Chinese tried to box us off with their artillery and mortars, but we simply walked right through the box, without even attempting to take cover. It was a surreal experience I've never had before and hope I never have again. We could not, in fact, see the Chinese--only flickering shadows. We fired at the muzzle blasts of their weapons and hoped we would be the lucky one. I saw a kid coming down the Hill on his hands and knees, screaming something I couldn't discern. When I got to him, I could see that most of his face was shot away and he was blind. I turned him over to a rifleman who took him by the arm and led him to the bottom of the Hill. I could hear someone else yelling, "Help me. I'm hit!" I started toward the sound and when I got to where I thought he should be, I yelled, "Where are you?" At about that time a burp gun opened up on me so close that I could feel the heat from the muzzle blast. I immediately hit the dirt, not knowing whether or not I was hit, but it was very likely I was going to be a dead man in a millisecond. At the same moment, a BAR on my left opened up. I didn't even know Sherwood was there, but thank God for him. The Chink was history. The rest of the night is a blur in my memory. We finally found as many as we could and withdrew to the OP. It was close to daylight by the time it all ended. I never found out for sure how many we lost out there. I know we had about 10 to 12 WIAs, and I have been told as many as 8 MIAs, however this is not first-hand information.
About a week or two later, we were once again assaulted from the northeast. However, the Chinese failed to reach the trenches and were badly mauled. I had a machine gun that had been set in to fire in a south to southeast direction and which could not be brought to bear on the Chinks coming from the northeast. I pulled the gun out of the bunker and set it up on top to fire on the assault. I jumped back into the bunker to get a couple of cans of ammo, and as I started to climb on top of the bunker, the Chinese shot the gun completely off the bunker. Am I a lucky guy or what!! We were relieved from OP2 by the 1st Marines about the second week in March and went into Reserve at Camp Rose. It was most welcome to be able to shower, get clean clothes, eat a warm meal, and most of all, sleep all night.
Machine Gun School
We had been at Camp Rose for no more than a few days when I was notified that I was to report to a two week Division Machine Gun School the following day. I once again packed my gear and was trucked to a rear area somewhere near the Division Command Post. The school was excellent as it related to the proper usage and methods of firing as well as its tactical use. I enjoyed it immensely. The first week passed quietly and quickly, but as we entered the second week, it became evident that much bigger things were going on in front of, and on the MLR. We could hear heavy shelling coming from the Front, and rumors were flying about the latest Chinese activity. The 5th Marines were holding a segment of the line, part of which had been our location during my initial trip up, which included Outposts Carson, Reno, and Vegas. The rumors were that the Chinks were mauling them badly. The class was to graduate on a Saturday, but about Wednesday or Thursday morning we received word that the rest of the class would be cut. We were to pack immediately preparatory to returning to our units, and trucks would pick us up within the hour. This time period would have been about the 25th or 26th of March.
I got back to my unit at Camp Rose in the evening and learned that they had been called out several times to go up and assist the 5th Marines, who were getting decimated nightly. However, they had merely spent the night in blocking position and nothing but some moderate shelling had occurred. We were under orders to make sure that all the gear we would need was already laced to our packboards, including ammo, so we would be free to leave at a moment's notice.
The following day, about the 27th of March, was spent in uneasy calm in the camp, again with many rumors flying, but nothing really concrete. The members of the 18th Replacement Draft were relieved of duties and were to truck back to Inchon prior to returning home the following morning. I said goodbyes to the guys in my section and returned to the sergeant's tent. A very good friend of mine, John Seaman from Buffalo, New York, who was a gunner in the second section, came into the tent to say goodbye to me. We sat on my cot talking until about 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. He was a terrific young kid who was very devout, and was chomping at the bit to see his family again, seven brothers and one sister. Just before he left, he reached into his wallet, pulled out a card, and handed it to me. He told me that he had had the card, which had the likeness of a saint (Mary Carmalita Leone) and her story emboldened on it. He told me how he had had this blessed by his Bishop. It had kept him safe during his tour, and he now wanted me to have it. I was not religious, not a Catholic at the time, and told him to keep it. He insisted and as I didn't want to hurt his feelings, I took the card and put it in my wallet. We said our goodbyes, John went to his tent, and I climbed into my sleeping bag and drifted off immediately.
About 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., I was awakened by much yelling and shouting and the sound of trucks coming up the road. I got my section up and dressed, found my platoon sergeant, and was told the 5th Marines had lost all three Outposts and we were going up to reinforce them. I got my section to Dog Company just as they were loading on trucks. It was sleeting/raining with the wind blowing like crazy. The temperature was just at freezing and it was truly a miserable night. We arrived at the MLR just before daybreak and were assigned to a blocking position just behind the MLR.
Many, many wounded as well as dead were being brought in. We spent most of the day bringing litters down the hill to waiting ambulances. The dead were piled in a hole in the ground which had been dug for a bunker. That night, Dog Company 5th Marines were to retake Vegas, and we were to take their positions on the MLR. They jumped off at about dark to a thunderous barrage of our own artillery and mortars. This was immediately answered by the Chinese and we hunkered down in the bunkers they had just left and prayed for those poor guys who were totally out in the open. This went on most of the night. We learned that the remnants of Dog 5th had made it only to the base of Vegas, had taken horrendous casualties, and had been forced back to a blocking position between the MLR and Vegas. It was then decided that Fox company, 7th Marines, who were now in Reserve at the base of the MLR and below us, would reinforce Dog 5th and together they would retake Vegas.
As they filed out to link up with Dog 5 at the block, they and we came under immediate Chinese Artillery and Machine Gun fire and were taking fairly heavy casualties. They got to the block and sometime around noon they, along with Dog 5, jumped off for Vegas. By evening they had gained only the base of the hill. Dog had very few men left, and they were pulled back to the block. We then got the word that we would replace the remnants of Dog 5 at the block and Fox would make a frontal assault on Vegas while Easy Company 7th would assault from the flank.
This attack commenced in the late afternoon of the 27th or 28th of March 1953 and we immediate began pouring covering fire on the Chinks on Vegas. The artillery and mortar, both ours and theirs falling in almost the same area, was horrendous and indescribable. We at the block were getting pounded by Chinese artillery and machine guns until the assaulting forces got about halfway p the hill. The machine guns were then brought to bear on them. The assault raged on all night and somewhere near morning word came down that they were on the crest and were mopping up. The artillery abated and we were able to get to the base of Vegas where wounded, walking wounded, and KIAs were being brought. In relays, we spent the day carrying casualties back to the rear and grenades and ammo on our return trips. I have never seen, nor do I hope to ever again, so much carnage in one spot in my life. We attempted to pick up a guy whose flak jacket had been penetrated by a piece of shrapnel about two feet long. It had entered the front of his jacket and was protruding from his back, along with slivers of fiber glass, by about 6 to 8 inches. Many, many sights like this that are vivid to this day.
I believe the next day or so, about the 30th or 31st, we were relieved by 3rd Battalion 7th Marines, and those of us left were taken back to Camp Rose. My section sustained no casualties, however, I learned that my counterpart in the 2nd Section (with Easy Company) Arlis Ramsay, whom I had been at Pendleton and on the ship with, had been killed (later awarded the Navy Cross). Another young man who came over with us, Frank Rachou, was also killed, and the section had several wounded. Both fox and Easy Company were badly decimated. However, we, Dog Company, had been lucky.
I also learned that a wonderful young friend of mine, John Seaman, had been killed on Vegas. I only learned of his death when we got back to Camp Rose, so I didn't have the opportunity to pay my respects when he died. I felt remorse and guilt for 46 years because of it. His death devastated me. He did not have to go, but felt that he could not leave his buddies. He had so much to offer this world. I wish everyone could have known him. Not a year out of high school, never had a girl, and never had a chance. He was so shy and boyish, and yet so confident and tough. Just a hell of a Marine whom I will never forget.
We remained at Camp Rose for another week or so, received replacements, rested, and tried to recover emotionally from our terrible losses. Somewhere in April, about the 10th or 15th, we went back up again, this time just west of the Reno-Vegas Hills. The Chinese had apparently spent themselves pretty badly because this was a very quiet period and they didn't bother us, other than patrols and sniping. The weather was warming nicely, there were buds on what trees there were, and what grass there was turning green.
Another Close Call
It was late in April 1953 when I had another close call, this time not Chinese oriented. I had stood the last watch one night about 3:00 to 6:00 a.m. It was a warm morning and the sun had just come up. I had made myself a cup of coffee, heated a helmet full of water up, removed my flak jacket, and was preparing to shave. I heard a battery of our own artillery, either 8" or 155s, fire and heard the shells coming. I thought to myself, "Gee, these sound close." I suddenly realized from their shrill whistle that it was obvious they were going to explode right in front of me. The gunners were using Verified Time Fuses, which could be set to explode from ten to twenty feet in the air. All six of them exploded right over me. I immediately dove to the bottom of the trench with shrapnel, rocks, and dirt flying everywhere. The rest of the section came flying out of the bunker and asked me where I had been hit. I slowly moved my arms, then my legs, and checked my torso for blood. God, I was all right! I couldn't believe I hadn't been hit. I immediately got on the phone to artillery and gave them hell. They apologized and said that they had moved their guns 1000 yards to the rear because they were taking too much income, and forgot to change the scope on their guns. I wonder how many dead Marines they apologized to.
About the first of May 1953, we were told to pack up our gear as we were to be relieved by the 25th Army Infantry Division that night. We were going into Corps Reserve. When darkness fell that night, we were relieved by the Turkish Brigade. No conversations took place because they could not speak English and, of course, none of us could speak Turkish. We grunted back to the MSR where trucks were waiting for us and we were taken to a Reserve area somewhere near Chorwon/Kumwha.
The Division was trucked to a very large tent camp area which was called Camp Indianhead, the Corps Reserve area, somewhere on the Central Front. This was the first time I had seen the entire 7th Marine Regiment in the same place since I had been in Korea. I can't remember if the 1st and 5th Marines were there also, but if not in our area, they were certainly close by. Our arrival there was greeted with mixed emotions. On the one hand, it was delightful to be able to sleep all night (subsequently due to needed reinforcement of the Army, our full night's sleep became sporadic), be able to keep clean, have three hot meals a day, etc. The downside was that we returned to stateside regulations and discipline, had many troop and stomp sessions, and a plethora of night problems.
The Regiment, Battalion, and Company received much needed replacements. Weapons Company alone received approximately 100 replacements during this period, and approximately 50 percent turnover, and integrated them into our various units. For once we also had the time to train them properly, evaluate their talents and dependability, and get them acclimated to living in the field. All was not work, however, and we were allowed evening and Sundays to ourselves if we had no duty. Since Weapons Company was so completely split up when we were on line, it gave us time to reacquaint ourselves with our counterparts and put a personality and sense of humor to a face.
All the sergeants were segregated from corporals and non-NCOs, and slept in their own tents. Consequently, I got to know all the section and squad leaders from the AT and 81mm mortar platoons. On one Sunday occasion, two of my buddies, Sgts. George Saxton and Paul Smith, and I hitchhiked over to the 1st Commonwealth Division Headquarters some 10 or 15 miles distant, and located their NCO Club. We were welcomed with open arms, were treated to Bully Beef sandwiches, and drank many, many rounds with our British, Scotch, Australian, Welsh, and, to my surprise, many German counterparts. Most of the Germans, I learned, were professional soldiers, some former SS men, whose entire families had been killed during World War II. With no place else to go, they enlisted in the British Army. Many of them had fought under Rommel's command during the war. We had a great time, had much to drink, closed the NCO Club down around 3:00 a.m., and slept in a ditch because we couldn't catch a ride home that night.
Our Reserve area was located about ten miles from the Army lines and Pork Chop Hill which, I believe, was the responsibility of the 2nd Infantry Division at that time. The Chinese were really pushing hard for this piece of real estate and the Division was catching it nightly. About the second week we were in Reserve, we were called out in the middle of the night and trucked up to a blocking position near the base of Pork Chop to thwart any Chinese breakthrough. At daybreak we were relieved and trucked back to our area. This then became a common occurrence and happened so frequently that we had cans of ammo, two day's C-rations, an extra canteen of water, etc., strapped to our packboards at all times and placed with our helmets, flak jackets, and weapons under our cot so that when we heard the trucks, we were ready before they got there. I don't recall the 2nd Battalion being involved in any actual combat during this time, but we were always merely a hair's breath away from it. It was also very good training for new replacements as it taught them readiness. Because we were always close enough to see and hear the artillery and illumination coming and going, it got them acclimated to the sounds of combat.
At this time, I also received an in-company transfer. I was called to the Company Communications Office one day and questioned about my Armorer's MOS. I explained to the Skipper--my platoon sergeant was also present--what had occurred back in September of 1952. He asked me if I wanted a transfer back to the Division Armory. I thought about it for a few minutes, but told him that I thought I had an excellent section. We had all worked hard to get where we were, I had only four months to go, and I really wanted to finish my tour with my guys. He smiled and then said, "I hoped you would say that." He then told me that the 3rd Section Leader, S/Sgt Rueben McNair and the only black staff NCO I knew in the whole Division, was rotating home and the Skipper wanted me to take over the 3rd section. I reluctantly agreed, as if I had a choice, as I would now be going up with Fox company. They had a reputation for always getting the worst of it. I went to my new Section and learned there were only a couple of men I knew. The rest were replacements. Fortunately, I had two good squad leaders--Sgt. Bill Purdy and Sgt Mac McGuire. We set about training the replacements.
During this time I also got the word that I was due for R&R in Japan. I was granted R&R in either May or June of 1953. Approximately 50 to 60 of us were trucked to Kimpo Airfield, where we boarded a C-47 and were flown to Itami Airfield near Kyoto, Japan. When we arrived at the terminal at Itami, dining tables awaited us, complete with table clothes and silverware. There were two or three pitchers of real milk on each table, platters of steaks, French fries, fresh bread, and real butter. It was a feast to end all feasts, and I was amazed to remember how the rest of the world lived.
After gorging ourselves, we were paid and exchanged our Military Script for Japanese Yen. I believe that I exchanged something like $100 and spent nowhere this amount. We were then lectured about the usual VD stuff, told where the Communist District was, as well as the fact that it was off limits to us, and then bussed to the R&R Hotel. I, along with most of the others, headed immediately to the bar, where we got totally smashed in short order. I don't remember much else or how it happened, but the next morning I woke up in a Japanese hotel with a lovely Japanese girl in my bed. She explained that I had "bought" her for five days, so she was to be my Mama-san. I really don't remember a whole lot about it--just constant drinking and sex, sex and more drinking. I know that to the uninitiated, this sounds totally degrading. However, you must remember that I was 22 years old, had not been with a woman in close to a year, and who knew what the future held in a mere five days. I did not even think of Korea, the war, or my buddies for the full five days. It was like being born into an entirely new world, and I was five days closer to living. I had a monster hangover as we boarded our plane to return, but it was a good hangover, and I had spent myself in debauchery. God, was it great!!
Back On Line
When I returned, we were informed that we were going back up on line on the first of July and would be relieving the people who had relieved us--the 25th Infantry Division. They had been catching it pretty good, and while we were in Corps Reserve, they had lost every outpost that we held.
About the 28th of June, it rained all day. During the summer it rained just about every day in Korea, but seldom for the entire day. On the 29th and 30th, it was the same. The trucks picked us up about 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. on July 1st, and it was raining cats and dogs. The trucks were not covered and by the time we had gone a mile, we were completely soaked. The going was real bad as the mud was axle deep and the trucks were in four or six wheel drive most of the time. We had been briefed as to our positions, but I was not concerned as I had been there at least once, if not twice before. My entire section, about 16 men and equipment, were in one truck with I don't know how many trucks in front and behind us. We were grinding up one of the steep hills about 1/2 mile behind the line, just crawling through the mud when the truck ahead of us started sliding off the road threatening to roll down the side of the mountain. Our truck also began to slide to the edge, and then became stuck. The drivers were gunning their engines and rocking the trucks back and forth and making tons of noise. The Battalion commander was worried that with all the noise, the Chinese would open up on us and blow the entire battalion away before we had a chance to get out of the trucks.
The entire battalion de-trucked and headed for the front. It was pitch black and absolutely pouring rain. We could not see ten feet in front of us, and the mud was ankle deep. We started out in single file with me in the lead. Guys were slipping and falling and needing help to get up. We all had from 80 to 100 pounds of gear and ammo on our packboards, plus the machine guns and our personal weapons. Guys were yelling, "Hey, I fell. Wait for me," and we had gone no more than 50 yards. It was obvious that this was not going to work without losing half the section.
It was now about 10:00 p.m. We hadn't even gone 1/4 mile, and if we continued at this rate it would be noon the next day at the earliest, before we ever got to our positions. I pulled my poncho from my pack--we were totally soaked anyway--and stuck it through the back of my cartridge belt. I told every man to do the same. In this manner, the guy behind me held onto my poncho and so on, so that at least we were all going in the same direction. We came to the base of a hill and, I thought, had to cross a rice paddy to get to the MLR. It had been raining steadily for four days now and the rice paddy was now a river. We started across it with the water first at my knees, then my waist, and about halfway across up to my arm pits. Then illumination went off right above us and I stopped everyone in their tracks.
When the flare went out, we started forward once again. Suddenly, I heard the sound of bubbles and looked behind me. My gunner, Bob Pitcher, had stumbled, gone completely under water, and couldn't get up. I grabbed his pack and pulled him up to get his head above water. He was coughing up water and gasping for breath and we waited in the middle of this now-a-river for him to get it together again. By now the poncho routine was out the window. Then another illumination flare went off and at least I could see all my men. When it went out, I went back to the middle of the stream and got them all together again. We finally crossed the paddy and all dropped at the base of a little knoll to catch our breaths. Illumination was coming continually now and it was obvious that the Chinese knew we were there.
Bill Purdy came up to me and said, "Jim, I think we're out in front of the wire (No Man's Land)." I began studying my surroundings through the illumination and determined that he was right. How we ever got out there, I'll never know, but now we had a real problem. We had obviously gone through a mine field. Our troops were now on the line, and we had to go back. I wondered, "Are we going to step on mines? Get shot by our own people?" And, "If the Chinks can get a bearing on us, they are going to take care of it." As soon as the illumination died, back across the rice paddy (river) we went. We made it without anyone getting killed or injured, and as day was breaking we finally found our positions. We had been slogging for some ten to twelve hours to go probably 1/2 mile.
It stopped raining, the sun came out, and the temperature went immediately to at least 100 degrees with 98% humidity. The mud in the trenches was clear to my crotch and to get from one gun position to the other, approximately 100 yards, it took half a day. We were caked with mud over our entire bodies, with no way to get clean. This was easily the most depressing day I had in Korea. I was sitting in the bunker trying to eat a cold can of greasy sausage patties and one of my men, a black kid from Chicago, was sitting next to me. We were both totally silent with morale at the absolute bottom. He pulled his .45 out and sat holding it in his lap. I knew what he was thinking. I said, "You don't want to do that! You know that the way the mud is, we would never get you out of here before you bled to death!" He never said a word. Just sat there for a few minutes, then slowly put his .45 back in his holster. I didn't blame him. I felt the same way.
I was always far more frightened (terrified I think would be a better word) of being taken prisoner than I was of getting killed. Why, I really don't know. Atrocities were not rare. I saw first hand what the Chinese/North Koreans did to their prisoners. We took few prisoners during the time I was there, but when we did, we were every bit as barbaric, sometimes even more so, than our enemy. In all the time I was in Korea, I saw only three prisoners taken, and none reached our Company command post alive. One was beaten to death when he didn't do what his captor told him to do, and the other two were shot as they came down the trench. I saw no mass atrocities. However, after all, this was a war and it was indeed survival of the fittest. All of us had lost men who had become far closer than brothers, and we felt absolutely no remorse in dispatching the enemy. I expected like treatment should I be placed in this position. I don't know whether this was just a personal fear of mine or was general with our troops, but thank heavens it did not happen.
July a Blur
This portion of my recollection of Korea is very difficult for me because the entire month of July was a pretty big blur. I can remember specific incidents and actions, however, I cannot remember the month chronologically. The reason for this is because we suffered so many casualties, and we were pulled off and sent back up so many times, it is impossible to discern which day or week it was. I learned that the final two or three times up we were so under strength that we were combined with Dog Company to form something close to an up-to-strength company.
I think July 1953 was the most discouraging point of my tour. Truce rumors were rampant on a daily basis. We could even read about it in the Stars and Stripes, and yet men were dying daily and the Chinese were pushing us hard. After a while, we quit listening to the rumors and reading the paper, and merely tried to survive for another day. Things did not look real bright for us because, if I remember correctly, after our last day and night up, July 26/26th, we had only 90 some men left in the Company out of the 220 or 230 we began with on the 1st. Not good odds.
During the daytime hours of July 1st (or whatever day it was that we went back up), I learned that our platoon's position was in back of and 100 yards or so to the west of Outpost Berlin. The platoon was located on a little knoll, probably about 75 miles wide, which had streams and gullies on each side of it. This somewhat gave the position the appearance of being on an island. The day progressed uneventfully, with the heat continuing to increase. With no rain, the intolerable mud dried up a little. I remember that out in front of this position perhaps 50 yards was another little knoll about 75 to 100 yards in width. On this knoll, the grass was about waist high. As it shivered in the breeze, it looked so soft and comfortable I thought that if I could just go lie down in that soft grass and sleep as long as I wanted to, I would be completely happy. Alas, it was not to be.
As it grew dark on our first full night back up, our watch roster was set and the rest of us prepared to get some sleep. Shortly after dark, 9:30 to 10:00 p.m., OP Berlin started to get heavy incoming, which then spread to the MLR. I received word via Sound Power that the Chinese were seen massing in a large draw about 200 to 300 yards to our front. We were to maintain a 100% alert. About 10:30 or 11:00, OP Berlin reported that they were under a full-scale assault, and then their phone line went dead. By midnight the Chinese artillery was pounding us. Illumination was going off steadily, and it was obvious we were to be next.
Unbeknownst to me, Headquarters had brought two half tracks with Quad 50s and one half track with Dual 40mm into our position. The AT section had also done away with their flamethrowers and bazookas and had, instead, armed themselves with light machine guns. All in all, I counted some 21 machine guns firing in this 75 yard area. The Chinese assault hit about 40 to 50 yards to my right and all guns opened up. It was an absolutely awesome sight. Tracers from 21 machine guns were so bright, illumination was not required. They cut the Chinese to ribbons. Our own artillery fell within yards of our positions and, of course, the Chinese artillery right on us. I was in the bottom of my fighting hole, about four to five feet deep, and the concussions were so severe that I had to brace my feet against the other side of the hole and hold onto tree roots to keep from being blown out of it. This went on two to three hours with the assaults being beaten off, then reforming, and re-assaulting. At one time, with a fire fight raging some 20 to 30 yards to my right, I peeked over the top of my hole, saw a muzzle blast out in front of me, and a rifle slug slammed into a sandbag a foot or so from my head. I returned fire and then ducked. This went on for probably at least 30 minutes with myself and one lone Chinese soldier engaged in our own one on one battle. I don't know who won, but I do know that I fired the last shot.
At about this time, our 4.5 rocket battery dropped a battery fire onto the grassy knoll to my front. Rockets made a totally eerie sound when fired, and 144 of them at one time made a noise that is indescribable except to say that, even though they were ours, they scared the absolute hell out of us. They also made the battlefield daylight for a brief few instances. This battery fire turned my grassy knoll into a plowed, lunar landscape in a matter of seconds. Shortly after this, it must have been 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., the Chinese began withdrawing and the artillery and mortars abated. By daylight it was all over. I had received no casualties in my section but all, including myself, complained about their vision and hearing. The concussions had been so bad and so extensive that I, and others, had big yellow spots in the center of our vision, and had a difficult time cleaning the guns, replacing sandbags, etc. because we couldn't see. We also had to yell at each other to be heard even though we were standing next to each other. To this day, my hearing is very poor and I often wonder if it was due to this and/or many other barrages I was involved in during my tour in Korea.
We assisted the riflemen in carrying litters and getting the wounded back to where ambulances could pick them up. With the now ankle to calf deep mud, this alone was a formidable task. About 3:00 p.m. word came down that we were to be relieved, and an hour or so later another Company (I can't remember who) took over our positions. We were trucked back to a Reserve area where we spent two or three days resting, rearming, and regrouping. It was here that I learned that we had lost OP Berlin and also East Berlin, and that our casualties had been heavy. I believe it was at this Reserve area, I can't remember the name of the Camp, that we were informed that Fox Company had been designated to re-take Berlin. We were trucked up behind the Company that was now holding this section of the MLR, and told to load up on ammo, grenades, rations, and water. The scheduled jump off time was dark.
We spent the entire day preparing, and the morale was that of a man awaiting the electric chair. We were all going to have to go out the same gate because of mines, and would have a minimum of 100 yards of rice paddy to cross before we ever got to the base of Berlin. It was going to be a slaughter of the first order, and I knew it. I had now been in Korea for almost ten months and had survived several very hairy situations without so much as a scratch. I knew the odds were no longer in my favor. I also had a feeling that I cannot put into words, like the overwhelming understanding that this was the last day of my life. I was not comfortable with it, but not scared either. It was just that this was the hand of cards I had been dealt, and now I must play them out. My guys kept coming up to me all day long asking me what I felt about the situation and informing me of their fears. I, of course, had to keep reassuring them that everything would be okay, we would make it, and I didn't think we would take a lot of casualties. I hated lying to them or leading them down the primrose path, but had no other choice.
About this time Sgt. Paul Smith, Section Leader of the AT Section, came over to me and asked me what I thought. I just smiled and said, "Smitty, we are going to absolutely get our asses kicked." He nodded his assent, we shook hands, and he went back to his section. As it was growing dark, we assembled preparatory to going out the gate. As the CO was designating the lead platoon, his Exec came up to him, they conferred for a few minutes, and then he ordered us all back to the trucks. The assault had been called off--a reprieve from fairly certain death. We later learned that they were going to bend the MLR backward, make an OP named Boulder City out of the highest hill, and leave Berlin and East Berlin to the Chinese.
After this, I can't remember specific days. We and other units had taken so many casualties that we now were to go up in 24-hour shifts. We were to relieve whatever Company had Boulder City at dark and the next night someone was to relieve us. After that, we were to get 24 hours off, and then repeat the procedure. Our last night up was the 25/26th of July. We were taken from the MSR to the base of the OP in APCs (Armored Personnel Carriers). These had helped cart so many wounded to the rear that there were small arms weapons all over the deck. Of particular danger were the grenades which had fallen off the wounded and which were rolling all over the deck at every bump and turn. All one had to do was step on a release pin and the whole thing, including us, would be blown to pieces. My section was placed on the reverse slope of the hill about 40 or 50 yards down from the Command Post. There were either six or nine of us left--I can't remember for sure. We started out the month with 17 men, and two machine guns to cover the whole reverse slope, which was at least 100 yards wide. About midnight (??) the Chinese attacked the forward slope and a bitter and long fire fight, some hand to hand but not involving my section, began.
Shortly after this, the Chinese smoked in the entire reverse slope of the hill to within 20 to 30 yards of our position. All the while we were being pounded by Chinese artillery and mortars and it was raining in sheets. Suddenly, figures began emerging through the smoke and we opened up. If they had attacked either 50 yards to the left or the right, the hill would have been theirs, but they came right at us. At first it was just one or two Chinks here, and three or four to our right and we beat them off. Then they came hard and we fired everything we had. We beat them back into the smoke, and then they came again. I don't know how long this went on, but sometime before daylight a lull in our area occurred. Suddenly S/Sgt Ambrose Guillen, the platoon sergeant, appeared and jumped all over me because we weren't helping the third platoon out. I told him that we had had our own problems and we had quite an argument. As we talked, I could see figures running from the third platoon area toward the CP against the skyline. I told Guillen that they had helmets and flak jackets on so they must be Marines. He absolutely screamed at me that they were Chinks, so we turned our guns around and opened up on the top of the hill.
As the skies began to brighten from natural causes, the assault and artillery abated. Shortly after daylight, word came down that Charlie Company, 1st Marines was coming up to relieve us. We were helping get the wounded off the hill, which was very laborious with the mud up to our ankles, incoming still coming in, and trying to be careful as possible with the litter. One particular guy I remember had been hit in the top of his head. He had two L-shaped wounds about two or three inches each way, and his brains were hanging out of the wound at least an inch. I had the top of the stretcher and could clearly see the wounds. I said, "What the hell are we being so careful for, this guy's dead." He rolled his eyes up at me and said, "Not yet pardner." Needless to say, we handled him most carefully the rest of the way. I have often wondered what happened to this Marine. Did he make it? Was he normal? He was one tough cookie.
Thinking of Mom
After the 1st Marines relieved us, we were once again taken back to the MSR to await transport. We were sitting in subdued silence by the side of the road, totally covered with mud. The only clean places on our entire bodies were our eyes, nostrils, and mouth. Everything else was just totally mud. A Red Cross truck pulled up--the only time I saw the Red Cross in my tour of Korea. A lady asked us if we wanted coffee. We walked to the truck and she said, "My!! Why don't you wash your hands first!!" We told the lady where she could put her coffee!!
The question, "Could you keep clean in Korea?" brings an immediate bout of laughter from myself, as I am sure it would with all other grunts. I am the kind of guy who just goes NUTS if I have dirt under my fingernails. I mean, it just agitates the heck out of me. Being dirty all the time was one of the major detractors to good morale in Korea. It gave us the feeling of being "worthless" and no better than the millions of rats that we lived with. I went from early January 1953 until about mid-March (about nine or ten weeks) without not only bathing in any manner, but also without ever taking my clothing off. I had three pairs of socks which I changed every day, however, I had no way of washing them. I kept the two pair that I was not wearing inside my long johns, next to my torso. When I pulled a dry pair out to change the ones I had on, they were as stiff as a board. To say they stunk would be the grossest of understatements.
I remember our first hot shower after coming off line. We just threw the clothes were wearing in a pile and picked through another pile of clean underwear, socks, and dungarees. It was pure heaven--utterly ecstatic--almost as good as coming home. I can't describe it other than that. In the 13 months that I spent in Korea, I can count the number of showers I had on one hand, perhaps with a finger or two missing. In the summer, it rained at least every day, often all day for two or three days running. The mud was indescribable, often clear to one's crotch in the trenches. This almost cost me my life when I had to visit my 2nd gun position one day. I was tired of the mud and got out of the trench to get away from it.
A more humorous incident occurred on my last night on line, July 25th/26th. We were on an outpost called Boulder City and had been hit very hard that night. We had barely hung on, had taken many casualties, and it had rained hard all night. We were relieved that morning by the 1st Marines and were taken piecemeal by Armored Personnel Carriers back to the Main Supply Route to await trucks that were to take us to a Reserve area. My section, six of us left out of a T.O. of 17 men, was sitting by the road waiting for the trucks. Everyone was whipped, demoralized, and very quiet, which was not a good sign for a grunt. I was sitting on my helmet, smoking a cigarette. The sun was coming up and I really looked at my men and myself for the first time. Our dungarees, boots, flak jackets, etc. were totally caked with mud. Our faces, hands, and arms were totally covered with mud. The only things that were not completely covered were two holes for our eyes, two for our nostrils, and our mouths. I thought, "God, if my mom could see me now, she would bitch me out for a week." I suddenly just burst out in laughter. The other guys looked at me like I had gone berserk, and as if they were going to have to restrain me. When I finally got hold of myself and told them what I was laughing about, they all looked at each other and themselves, and went ballistic with laughter. When the trucks came up, they all thought we were cases for Section Eights. So much for keeping clean!!
Except for a month or two in September and October of 1952, when we were given a hot breakfast every morning, our food on line consisted entirely of C-rations. These, for the most part, were leftovers from World War II and it did not take but a few weeks of this constant diet for one to be totally sick of them. Also perturbing to us was the fact that the fruit, canned pears, peaches, plums, etc., always seemed to disappear long before the rations ever got to us. I can only assume that some rear echelon type raided them before or while they were being trucked to the drop off area.
In Reserve we had one or two squad tents which were designated Chow Halls and we had the normal three meals per day. I don't recall ever having steak or roast or anything like that. We usually had cold cuts for lunch, but at least they were hot. Breakfast usually consisted of pancakes, powdered eggs, occasionally bacon or sausage, and SOS probably three or four days per week. I don't recall anyone ever even considering eating the native food. If you ever smelled or saw a honey bucket, you would never eat Oriental food, especially rice, again. If I recall correctly, we were specifically warned against this because our Western digestive systems were not resistant to the micro organisms that the Orientals were, and we would be subjecting ourselves to serious and/or life-threatening illnesses. We were already in a life-threatening business, and didn't care to shorten our odds in this respect.
I can't remember having one good meal in Korea as far as government issue went. I did have a kid we called the Greek (he was really a Latino, however, his heavy black handlebar moustache gave him a Greek appearance) whose job during the day was that of the section scrounger. Greek had about ten or twelve years in the Marine Corps at that time (though he was still a private), and he knew everyone. His daytime job was to go wherever he wanted and bring back food. He did this very well. One day he came back carrying five gallons of strawberry ice cream. We never asked him where he got it. Instead, we grabbed our mess spoons and dove in. This was my best meal in Korea.
Occasionally in Reserve a mini PX set up which might have canned spaghetti, enchiladas, tuna fish, etc. This was sold out in one day and was a welcome repast from the usual fare. Occasionally guys received packages--we called them "Care Packages"--from their moms, sisters, aunts, girlfriends, etc. These usually consisted of pastries, cookies, cakes, etc., and arrived in varying degrees of completeness. They were like a reprieve for all of us. All was immediately shared with everyone and was devoured in a matter of minutes. My mother sent me peanut butter cookies for Christmas--perhaps four dozen--which arrived in crumbs but were disposed of within minutes. The girl from California that I had been dating while at Pendleton was of Italian heritage and was a terrific Italian cook. She was not only very beautiful, but very bright and ingenious. She once sent me a whole oven type pan of homemade lasagna and two bottles of wine. She wrapped the lasagna in aluminum type foil (I had never seen it before) and then poured hot wax all over it and the bottles of wine. It arrived unbroken and unscathed in the middle of winter while we were on OP-2. We got it half-heated on our little kerosene hiking stove and had a feast. She immediately received 16 proposals of marriage (I was the only abstainer) from the guys in my section. We were all feeling very tipsy before we even got to the second bottle of wine.
We always encouraged each other, and usually followed up, to write a letter of thanks to whomever sent a package. This not only proved that we all at least retained some measure of civility, but also was very helpful to ensure the likelihood of future Care Packages. The overall result of my Korean Tour Diet was that my weight went from 175 pounds at the time I left Pendleton to 150 pounds upon my return to the United States. While effective, I do not recommend this diet for everyone. For some, it had fatal consequences. The food I missed most was real milk, for sure, and second was real butter and hot fresh bread. On down the list was steak, a hamburger and fries, homemade fried chicken, turkey and dressing--anything we grew up with. In fact, we used to have arguments about what the first meal was going to consist of when we got back to the States.
From the time I was a small child, I had an interest in how food was prepared and, of course, my mother encouraged me and taught me the rudiments of cooking. Then during my junior and senior high school days, I also did some short order cooking while working in a restaurant. I also took Home Economics (got me closer to the girls) while I was a senior in high school, thus I certainly would not starve if on my own. Wild pheasants abounded in Korea and about the first week I was there, one of the guys in the squad shot one and decided he was going to cook it. The first mistake he made was trying to pick the feathers rather than skinning it. (I was a hunter also, and had killed and skinned many pheasants.) This bird had pin feathers sticking out all over it. He then just threw it in a mess kit and turned the kerosene stove up to high with no cooking oil. The result, of course, was that the exterior was burned black while the meat was still bloody. Guys were biting into it and spitting it out and I was laughing my head off. I had declined a piece of it. The cook became very indignant and asked me if I could do better. "Hell, yes," was my reply. The next morning, I had the last watch and as daylight broke, seven or eight pheasants wandered up on top of the bunker and began picking through empty C-ration cans. I shot five of them. I sent one of the guys to the cooks for some lard while I skinned and dressed the birds. When he got back, I began to cook them. The aroma soon had half the company begging for a piece of pheasant, but the guys in my section ran them off. We soon had an excellent and hot pheasant dinner for the entire section, and from that time on I was the accepted leader of the section. Also, if any meat was found, I was the designated cook.
Friend and Leader
In actuality, I became friends with just about every guy in my section, at least I thought so. I seldom, if ever, had to remind them that I was in charge, but also did not hesitate to ask them for their opinions on certain things. A bond develops between individuals in a combat situation that is unlike anything I had ever experienced before and certainly never have since. I don't know if I have the ability to put it into words, but we were closer than brothers. I loved--yes, loved--and respected each and every one of them, and I believe the feeling was mutual. When you are that close 24 hours a day, you share the innermost thoughts and feelings and know things about your men that even their fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters don't know. The other side of the coin is that you have to be very careful and distance yourself to some extent because when one is killed or wounded, it can break you.
For the most part, when a guy got killed, we just put him out of our mind like he never existed. That's about the only way we could handle it. My best friends, outside my own section, were John Seaman and Arlis Ramsay from the 2nd Heavy Machine Gun section, and Sgt. Paul Smith from ATs and Sgt. George Saxton from 81mm Mortars. When John and Arlis were both killed on Vegas in March of 1953, it almost broke me. I have discussed John before, but Arlis was equally as wonderful a guy. He was a lanky, tall Texan with a great sense of humor, but really kind of quiet. He was awarded the Navy Cross, I found out 46 years later. I also learned that he was deeply loved by his men. Smitty and Sax helped get me through this difficult loss, and we were very close until we all rotated. I would love to see them again. They obviously both made it out and, I am sure, contributed as parents and leaders in today's world. Other than these two buddies, after John and Arlis' deaths, I kind of held people at arm's length. I was friendly, but I really did not want to get to know them too well. It was easier that way.
The guys in my section stand out in my mind because they were such a terrific bunch of young men and we shared so much together. We very seldom saw officers while we were on line because the platoons were primarily ran by staff NCOs. We listened carefully to them and followed their leadership. In contrast, I was often at odds with the officers, so none stand out positively in my mind. I would say that 70 to 80 percent of the NCOs were World War II vets and were held in high esteem by the rest of us. Very few of our officers below the rank of Major were World War II vets, but most were academy grads and were most professional.
There were many humorous moments and events in Korea, however most of them were rather vulgar in nature and I don't know if I should relate them and/or whether anyone other than those who were there at the time would even find them humorous. One of them I can tell on myself. About the first or second night I was in Korea, I was awakened for the midnight to 2 a.m. watch. The night was rather chilly and I had a field jacket worn over my flak jacket. It was also pitch black! I tried to see my hand at arm's length, but was unable to do so. I stood outside the bunker with the sound power hooked through the shoulder strap of my field jacket, staring into the blackness. I could see nothing. There was a 50 caliber Machine Gun several hundred yards to my left which was firing harassing and interdicting fire sporadically. When one of its tracer rounds ricocheted off a Chinese hill, it looked like it was coming right at me--a phenomenon which I later found affected all in the same fashion--and I was constantly ducking.
Suddenly, it became eerily quiet and I could sense a rush of air above and around me. I was scared out of my wits. My hair stood on end as I tried to discern what it was. All of a sudden I heard something within three or four feet of me like the fluttering of wings. Something hit me in the chest and fell to my feet. I was immobilized with fear and couldn't utter a word into the sound power. I heard a cheep, cheep, cheep at my feet and looked down. Leaning against my leg was a rooster pheasant that someone somewhere had rooted out of his next and had picked me out of all the guys in Korea to crash into. After what seemed like hours to regain any semblance of composure, I gave him a kick and sent him on his way. When I sheepishly told the guys about it the next day, they all laughed their heads off and kidded me about it for months.
Living Like Animals
I don't know whether you have seen the movie "Platoon" or not, however, the way combat troops act and talk in all wars is apparently pretty much like this. You must remember that we were living like animals, acting like animals, and pretty much were animals. I don't think that one who has never been there can really understand what it's like, but when one is reduced to that level, one acts like an animal. When cornered (and to this day it is so), one responds like an animal.
There was a young corporal (whose name I will not mention) who was supposed to be a squad leader in my section. He was an unequivocal coward and had bugged out on us before. I hated him for his actions and had reduced his status to ammo carrier and given the squad to a Private over his whining objections. I tried to get him transferred, but we were constantly under strength and the 1st Sergeant wouldn't comply. We were on either OP Berlin or Boulder City near the end of the war. We were and had been taking a pounding from Chinese artillery and mortars. The trenches were badly blown in, the bunkers and fighting holes in bad shape, and the hill totally pock marked by hundreds of incoming rounds.
I was coming up the trench on my hands and knees. To stand erect meant instant death or maiming. As I rounded a bend in the trench, here was this corporal with his trousers to his knees preparing to defecate in the trench. I screamed curses at him, then hauled off and kicked his fat bottom. I explained to him, very profanely, that people had to use this trench continually. The incoming was bad enough without having to crawl through his excrement. "But Sarge," he whined, "What am I going to do?" About twenty feet from the trench was the Company head--at one time a nice four-holer with sandbags rising to the height of about four feet all around it. With the constant shelling, most of the sandbags had been blown away. "Get your fat posterior to the Head," I screamed, and gave him another swift kick. He whined some more, waited for a lull in the shelling, and took off for the Head with his trousers still at his knees. I watched him and was evilly laughing as he plopped down. At the same instant, a shell came in and hit about thirty feet from him. A huge chunk of shrapnel came whistling between his legs, striking the wood front of the Head. Here came the corporal, trousers still at his knees, screaming, "Geez, Sarge. You're going to get me killed." I was laughing so hard the tears were running down my cheeks, and I looked over my shoulder and two or three other guys were standing there roaring also. I finally agreed to let him complete his duties in an empty C-ration box and throw it out of the trench. Cruel? Yes. Had he been killed or wounded, I would have never lived it down. But, don't you ever bug out on me mister!! When the other guys heard about it, they all guffawed also. When we got back in Reserve, that corporal disappeared, and to this day I cannot recall or remember where he went or what happened to him.
I also had a young man by the name of Solomon Thompson. He was a black kid from New Jersey. He was older than the rest of us--probably 25 or 26--married, and had two or three kids. He had no love for the Corps, but was one tough Marine! We called him Big Thom as he was about 5'10" to 5'11" and weighed about 235 pounds. He was a draftee and couldn't wait for his return to civilian life. He was impossible to get up in the morning, and when on a hike and given a 15-minute break, Big Thom was asleep immediately and would catch at least 14 minutes sleep. I was always accused by the rest of the guys of babying Big Thom, as I had given up on getting him up. If we were digging a bunker and started at 7:00 a.m., Big Thom wouldn't get up until about 9:00. He then stood outside the bunker sipping his morning coffee and watching the rest of us man the picks and shovels. The guys would just go insane and give me all kinds of grief to the delight of Big Thom.
About 9:30 or 10:00 a.m., Big Thom would saunter over to the hole and tell everyone to get the hell out. He then took the pick and was like a machine. We sat on the edge of the hole and watched him as the dirt flew. He could work like a giant. We were forced to haul 12x12 timbers to reinforce the roof of the bunkers. It took two of us to carry one timber and we had to stop every 50 feet or so to take a break. Big Thom had us to load one timber on each of his shoulders and off he went, never stopping. What a man he was.
The Achilles of Big Thom's armor was needles. He could not stand to receive the many shots we were forced to take about every 30 to 60 days. As soon as the Corpsman took hold of Thom's arm prior to injecting him, he hit the floor. After a couple of times around, every Corpsman in the Battalion knew Big Thom. We would be in a line 50 yards long at the Chow Hall to receive our injections, and the Corpsman would come out holding their needles in the air and calling, "Big Thom, where are you?" He begged me on his hands and knees, "Please Sarge, I'll do anything. I'll do your laundry for a month. I'll dig all day--anything. Just please, please, don't make me take those shots." Of course, there was absolutely nothing I could do. I'd say, "Thom, you go right in front of me. I'll hold your arms and steer you and you just keep your eyes closed." Nothing worked. As soon as they grabbed his arms, he was out and it was all I could do to lay him down carefully. I told the Corpsmen, "You had better get all your needles in him before he comes around, or there are going to be some broken jaws here." They all quickly complied, and I just stood there and waited for him to come around. When he did, I walked him back to the tent and had him sack out for awhile. Later the Corpsmen all came by and apologized, telling him that they were just doing their job. Big Thom had none of it, and thought Navy Corpsmen were the most evil people on earth. Big Thom always kept us laughing and I loved him to death. And, yes, I did baby him.
Bunkers & Such
All our time on line was spent in bunkers, fighting holes, or trenches. The bunkers were usually dug into the side of the hill and varied in size and purpose. A machine gun bunker was probably 10 to 12 feet long and perhaps 6 to 8 feet wide. They were from 4 to 6 feet from floor to roof, and covered by 12x12 timbers. Two or three rows of sandbags were then laid on top of the timbers and often another layer of 12x12''s on top of the sandbags, and then another row of sandbags. They, of course, had an aperture in the front where the machine gun sat, and provided a field of fire to the front and sides. Sleeping bunkers were of the same depth with similar roofs, but were somewhat larger, with no aperture. The machine gun bunkers were susceptible to artillery bursts in the aperture area, but could take a direct hit from all but the big stuff--a 120 or a 155--without caving in. There were no furnishing in most of them. We sat on our helmet or an ammo can and slept on the dirt floor. Some of them had bunks rigged from communication wire, with the mattress consisting of barbed wire stakes. Believe it or not, I had no difficulty sleeping on these stakes, nor did anyone else. The bunkers were more susceptible to rain and shifting earth than artillery fire, and during the Spring and rainy season, they constantly required shoring up to prevent cave-ins. During bombardments, all hands sought the safety of bunkers. We left them only when an infantry attack was imminent. Without them, casualties would have been absolutely horrendous.
The primary non-humans living amongst us were rats. There were zillions of rats in Korea and the bunkers were loaded with them. (I have previously related the story of myself versus Mr. Rat when I was in my sleeping bag in six inches of water in my bunker.) We got used to them and learned to live with them as they were crawling all over the bunker, especially at night. We had quite a few people get bitten by them. I recall a couple of cases when men became quite sick and required hospitalization from their bites.
When we relieved the Turks in July of 1953, the bunkers were infested with lice which we, of course, got. We all received a quick dusting of DDT, as did the bunkers, and that eliminated our problem. Subsequently, of course, we have learned that DDT is one of the most toxic chemicals of all time, so I have no idea as to the ultimate effect of our dusting.
Life in the trench and/or fighting holes was much more dangerous than in the bunkers. You had no roof cover and only three sides of your hole gave you protection, thus you were very susceptible to shrapnel and small arms fire. You had to stick your head up to fire your personal weapon, which left you visible to the enemy and susceptible to his counter fire. I was in fighting holes, as well as in the open, several times during an artillery barrage, and it was purely by the Grace of God that anyone survived without at least being hit. Years later, when I attended my first Dog Company 7th Marine reunion in September, there were about 120 to 140 guys in attendance. I think there were only three or four of us who had not been wounded at least once. Some had been wounded in Korea as many as four times. To say I was a very lucky guy would be a gross understatement.
Mail & Religion
We did receive mail regularly in Korea. As I recall, letters mailed from the States arrived within one to two weeks, depending upon where we were. When we were on OP-2 (a fairly hot position), the mail people didn't like to come out there any more often than they had to, thus it was not unusual to receive five or six letters at one time when the mail was finally delivered. I have already discussed Care Packages, so won't go into this again except to say that each one was like Christmas. I received mail from my parents, occasionally from my brother, from a friend I was dating at the time (who later became my wife), from buddies both at home in other branches of the service, and occasionally from an aunt or uncle. I would say that my incoming mail was about normal.
If one of the guys got bad news, we always tried to console him. Most news of this nature consisted of Dear John letters, a sick parent, a buddy killed or injured in Korea, a car accident, etc. Guys faced with dying every day could be very erratic, so we all took bad news to a member of the section very seriously and tried to help. The guys that got Dear Johns (either from wives or girl friends) were special cases. I always tried to watch them carefully. The thoughts that go through a man's head when he is standing two to four hours of watch alone at night can drive him nuts, so we all tried to spend as much time as possible with these individuals. As I have said before, the bond between men in a combat situation is unlike any I had experienced before and certainly not since that time. In spite of constant ribbing, we cared for each other very deeply.
I was rather turned off of religion during that period of my life for reasons I won't go into. Thus, I paid little attention to it. I felt it rather hypocritical of myself, who had ALL the vices at that time, to seek God when I was not living HIS life. That is not to say that I never prayed. I certainly did, but never for myself--only to ask HIM to let my men make it through. Our battalion had a Catholic priest, a Father Newman, who was, indeed, a brave and wonderful man. Other battalions had a Methodist, Presbyterian, or pastor of another denomination, or perhaps a Rabbi. When in Reserve, men of that faith sought them out. Father Newman served as minister to all denominations in our battalion. He constantly visited the men on line, pitched in and helped with whatever we were doing, and especially counseled the guys who were down or had received bad news from home. In Reserve, he held services regularly, although I never attended, and was a real spiritual leader among the men. On Vegas he was very heroic in helping with the wounded men, and even gave his flak jacket to a guy who had none. He really should have been decorated for his actions. I really respected him and was very intrigued by the Catholic religion, although I never told him.
Women in Korea
The only American women I saw the entire time I was in Korea were the Red Cross ladies I told you about the morning after our last night up on July 26th. I have no idea where they came from and had never seen or heard from them before. We did have a USO show once. Usually they were staged for the rear echelon guys and the grunts never got to see them. I think it was some actor by the name of Rory Calhoun and his wife. I can't remember her name, but she was very beautiful.
The prostitutes were all Korean, of course, and we seldom had access to them. The military had decreed a Line of Demarcation, something like one or two miles behind the MLR, and no civilians were allowed north of this line. Occasionally the prostitutes and their pimps set up camp in the hills behind our Reserve areas, but they were allegedly so heavily diseased that one was asking for potentially serious problems, both physically and disciplinary, if one got involved with them. When we were in Reserve, we regularly were charged with what we called "Pussy Patrols" to seek out and apprehend these prostitutes. I never encountered any, but do recall a time when our cooks were caught exchanging our rations (fresh meat) for sexual favors. All were court martialed, broken, and sent to rifle squads. We absolutely loved it! We, of course, never got to the Seoul area, so were unable to make contact with ladies there.
I spent all the holidays in Korea, but the only one I remember was Christmas. I was attending an NCO School at Division Headquarters at the time, and it was a very lonely time. Carols were played continually over a loud speaker system and, frankly, it would have been much easier if they had not done so. When I had time to think about everyone back home and what they are doing Christmas Eve, when carols were playing, and when I was 10,000 miles away from home, it was a very melancholy experience. The remainder of the holidays I was on line and they were just another day. I celebrated my 22nd birthday in Korea and don't remember it. It, too, was just another day. We were on line for the Corps birthday, November 10, 1952, but I don't remember anything about that either.
Vices in Korea
In Korea, I smoked, drank heavily, and gambled little. I did, and still do, love to play poker, although I would be the first to admit that I am neither lucky nor a good player. We played poker in Reserve every chance we got, but a heavy loser seldom dropped more than $100. I think I probably broke even or slightly to the good during my tour, and actually came home with $4,000-$5,000 in the bank.
We were supposed to have a beer ration of some three or four cans per month, although we received it only infrequently. The key was to find the tee-totalers and purchase their ration before someone else beat us to it. In this manner, we were guaranteed one good drunk periodically. The South Koreans occasionally came around selling whiskey, but it was usually cut with kerosene, water, whatever, so I normally shied away from this. Cigarettes, of course, were in every C-ration and there were always more than enough to go around. The vast majority were left over from World War II and were so strong it was like smoking a joint.
All of we Grunts were loaded with worms (so the Corpsmen told us) and we were given huge pink pills periodically--perhaps every 30 days--to flush them out of our systems. These were brought on by the unsanitary conditions, living in the ground, and being unable to wash our hands regularly. As I previously stated, we did get lice from the Turks on one occasion. The only other thing one had to be careful of were rat bites or infestations in our food.
We had very little contact with the Korean populace, however, when these occasions did arise, they seemed very friendly, polite, and cordial. The Korean children, especially the little girls, were absolutely beautiful and wonderful to be around. Whenever I had the opportunity to go to the rear, I always made sure that I had a pocket full of candy to hand out and then I sat around and tried to converse with them and tease them if I could.
The adult population was very tolerant of our behavior, realizing we meant absolutely no harm. We purely enjoyed their children. Most of the adults and children I met were dirt poor farmers who lived in small huts in almost abject poverty. They appreciated anything we could give them or assist them with. As in every segment of society, there were certain individuals who felt superior and treated them badly. Whenever I saw anything of this nature, I always called the perpetrator on the carpet and admonished him. After all, I had a gun and he knew I was not very discerning as to who I used it on. These instances were unique and seldom occurred.
People are so amazing in that you see a person every day for years sometimes, and don't really know their history. Then somehow you learn the great things they did, and/or, the wonderful accomplishments in their lives. I have always felt that no matter what wealth or personal achievements one attains, it is always the people that you meet along the way that make this life so very interesting.
I think that war heroes are for the most part the ones you would least expect valor from. I define a "hero" as an individual who, when things look the darkest, i.e., you are being overrun, refuses to budge, stops an assault in its tracks, and thus, saves the day. You never know who it is going to be. That's why you never sell even the most seemingly insignificant pipsqueak short, as it may be he who saves your life. I always admired any man who had the intestinal fortitude to maintain his composure in the face of certain death in an utterly chaotic situation. I'm not so sure I always did.
I was in danger the entire time I was in country. However, I suppose the Hook, Vegas, and Berlin/Boulder City actions were the times I was in the most danger. It is very difficult to explain how I survived them. I simply hunkered down in a hole to provide the utmost protection, did my best to keep my wits about me, maintained my composure, and directed my unit as effectively as possible.
After coming off line in July, we were then trucked back to, I believe Camp Mathews, where we were able to shower, get some clean clothes, and rest. The morning of the 27th we were told that we would be going back up that night so, as usual, we loaded up with ammo, rations, and water. Sometime in the afternoon we were informed that it was all over, that a truce had been reached, and firing would stop at 10:00 p.m. I don't remember any particular emotion. Perhaps I thought, "Well, I'll just wait and see." Later on it was, "God, I made it." But there was no real celebration. We learned that we were getting replacements from the 36th or 37th draft, and that our duties would now be to dig a new Line of Defense, the Kansas Line, some 1000 meters behind the old one. We wondered, knowing our enemy, how long the truce would last. But at least for now, we had survived. I was now a short timer, due to rotate in September.
I remained in Weapons Company until sometime in August. An individual soldier/Marine needed 36 points to rotate out of Korea. This consisted of two points per month for non-combatants (rear echelon) and three points per month for Grunts. I had accumulated 36 points by September, thus thought I would be rotating in this month. However, for whatever reason, this did not come to pass. This, of course, did not make any of we 25th Drafters any too happy, but there was nothing we could do about it. I really had no previous knowledge of when I would be rotating, but was notified sometime between the 1st and 15th of October that we would be leaving in two days.
Prior to that, a Battalion Guard Company had been formed and all 25th Drafters from the Battalion were transferred to the Guard Company. I remained there serving as Sergeant of the Guard, 24 on and 48 off, until I rotated home sometime in October. By this time, a Battalion Service Club had been constructed, and surprisingly, beer was quite plentiful. The guys had a heck of a party for me the night before I left, and I had too much to drink. I had a whale of a hangover when the trucks arrived, but it was a good hangover.
I had mixed emotions about leaving men I was closer than brothers to and with whom I had shared so much, and would probably never see again. The other side of the coin was that I had survived and was going home. We were trucked back to Ascom City, a huge military supply base about 5 or 10 miles from Inchon, where we drew the sea bags that we had left the year before, and were fed. We spent our last night in Korea in pyramidal tents talking far into the night about our first stateside liberty. Early the next morning, we were trucked to Inchon, unloaded wharf side, and boarded a huge flat-bottomed barge which transported us to the troop ship which was anchored far out in the harbor. I can't remember its name other than the General something. I can't remember the exact date we left Korea, but it must have been around the 15th of October.
I was promoted to Sergeant in May of 1952 and still held the same rank at the time we left Korea. There were probably 1000 to 1500 Marines onboard the ship, and probably a like number of soldiers. Of course, to say everyone was elated would be an understatement. We pulled anchor and sailed about 2 or 3 p.m. The sea was as flat as a pane of glass, and watching our wake made it appear that we were doing about 80 miles per hour. To see Korea disappear on the horizon from the fantail of a ship was one of the happiest moments of my life. Thus, the Korean chapter of my life came to a close.
Sea Voyage Home
The weather was chilly but good, and we were allowed on deck most of the day for every day that the return voyage to the States took. We made a straight shot back with no dockages and must have taken the southern route, although I don't know for sure. The seas were moderate, there was very little sea sickness, and it took us just eleven days for the return trip. We had no specific duties during our voyage. There was no entertainment aboard the ship, but we didn't really need it as we were going home and the mood and morale was excellent. As we got within a day or two of the States, we were able to pick up San Francisco area radio stations. The disc jockeys were playing all the latest songs, most of which we had never heard before. The anticipation was overwhelming.
As we entered San Francisco Bay, all hands were on deck. When we passed under the Golden Gate, I felt like crying. The ship docked at Treasure Island Naval Base and we debarked and were immediately marched to wooden barracks. There were few people to meet us, no bands, etc. Instead, it was kind of like, "Hey, where have you been?" The families of some of the guys who lived in the area were there, a few wives or girlfriends, but actually very few people. If my memory serves me correctly, this was a Friday afternoon and we were quickly paid and given liberty until Monday morning.
Several of us rented a suite in a huge hotel in downtown San Francisco and partied the entire weekend. I can't remember much about it and returned to the base at Treasure Island about 9 a.m. Monday morning. We then underwent extensive physicals and reorientation, which lasted the rest of the week. Discipline was very low key and as soon as the particular tests that I was involved in were completed, we were allowed liberty until the next morning. We took full advantage of it and the drinking and carousing was quite heavy. It was discovered that a couple of friends of mine had contracted tuberculosis during their tour, another two or three had contracted tape worms, and all were hospitalized for treatment immediately. What the ultimate result of these maladies were, I never knew.
We were at Treasure Island for one week and the following Friday leave papers were issued. I was granted 35 days leave. Because we had partied so much, all tickets from commercial airlines to the East had been sold, so about 35 of us chartered an old C-47 with the ultimate destination, Chicago. As usual, we partied non-stop prior to taking off and our route took us from Oakland International Airport, to LA, to San Diego, to Albuquerque, to Amarillo, to Kansas City, then to Chicago--all in all, some twenty hours of flight time. Badly hung over, by the time I got to Chicago I was badly in need of a night's sleep, a shower, some clean clothes, and a shave. Flights from Chicago to Detroit were on an hourly basis, thus I had no trouble catching a plane. It was Saturday PM and as we flew over South Bend on a beautiful Indian summer afternoon, Notre Dame was playing Purdue below us. We landed at Willow Run Airport, about 50 miles from my home, and I walked out to the highway to hitchhike the rest of the way. The first car that came along picked me up and took me within a block of my house. A wild ride of about 18 months was now behind me and I had 35 days to do exactly what I wanted to do.
When I first came home, I couldn't get enough hot water. I showered at least twice a day, three if I could find the time, and often changed my clothes twice a day. My other pure joy was clean sheets. I can't describe how good they felt, and managed to wheedle clean ones every day. To this day I sincerely appreciate and enjoy a hot shower, as well as those wonderful clean sheets. Korea taught me to appreciate the most simple of things this life has given us, and I do to this day.
I did not attempt to look up the families of my KIA when I returned. I don't know what I would have said to them, and didn't want to open up wounds that were in the healing process.
End of Enlistment
Upon the expiration of my leave, about December 1, 1953, I reported into Marine Barracks, U.S. Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Illinois. I had two separate duties while at this post. About 50 percent of my time was spent at the Post Brig serving as Sergeant of the Guard. The other 50 percent was spent walking Shore Patrol, enforcing Military Discipline. The Brig Duty was not bad as it was inside duty and we were able to be inside all the time. It was a 24-hour on duty with 48 hours off, and consisted of checking sentries and guard, logging in visitors, issuing passes, and the usual mundane duties of a Brig Warden.
After my 48 hours off, I reported to the Shore Patrol Station in North Chicago. I walked from that community to Waukegan, Illinois. A Navy Chief Petty Officer and I stopped in all the bars, strip joints, restaurants, etc., making sure that everyone was orderly and that drinking servicemen were of legal age. The Chief checked out all the sailors and I handled the Marines. In this way, no "us versus them" problems got started. We also answered trouble calls from area bar owners and restauranteurs, but these were actually few and far between. It was very cold, I was not really into harassing servicemen, and did not make a very good Military Policeman.
I had every weekend off, every other a 72-hour pass, and I usually drove to my home about 300 miles away every weekend. I had purchased a car while home on leave from Korea and usually took someone home with me for the weekend. I was pretty wild at this time and spent most of my 48 hours off duty, as well as my weekends, in area bars and bars around my home. It was not unusual for me to begin my trip home with a fifth of Vodka and a six pack of 7-Up and have the bottle gone before I got home. This continued even after my discharge, and I really didn't begin to settle down until I had children in 1956.
I was due to be discharged on January 31, 1954. About a week prior to this, I was called to the Colonel's office to discuss re-enlisting. I gave it very serious consideration as I had no real goals set for my post-military life, other than returning to my job at the Chevrolet Motor Company. I told the Colonel that if the Marine Corps guaranteed me six years of duty in Japan, I would re-enlist. He countered with a guarantee of three years in Japan. I weighed it carefully, but chose to accept my discharge. On January 31, 1954, I became a civilian, but shall always remain a Marine.
Following my discharge, I had 30 days to report to the Chevrolet Motor Company or my military leave would be cancelled. I resumed work with that firm about March 1, 1954 after 30 days of relaxing and partying. I really did not want to go into a factory setting again, but neither did I have any desire to go to college. I became engaged to the girl whom I had been seeing prior to Korea, and was subsequently married on August 14, 1954. We were blessed with three sons and now have five grandchildren--two of whom are Korean adoptees. My grandchildren are a huge part of my life.
I stayed with the Chevrolet Company until April of 1955, when I had an opportunity to enter the insurance field as a claims adjuster. I remained in that business my entire career. The last position I held was that of the Field Claims Director for Farm Bureau Insurance Company of Michigan. I was responsible for the operation of all our field claim offices in the state.
I retired on January 19, 1996, my 65th birthday, and have simply spent the last four years doing what I want to do. I play a lot of slow pitch softball in the summer, am on three or four different teams, and play probably 70 to 80 games a year. In the Fall I enjoy bird and deer hunting, and will be in the field three or four days a week with my dog. Winter months are spent reading and corresponding with computer friends, mostly Korean vets.
My strongest memories of Korea are of living in the ground no differently than a rabbit, badger, or any other den-making animal. Day after day there was snow, mud, rain, heat. Never being warm in the Winter. Being wet for days in the Summer. Just totally out of context with our culture. It seemed like no end was in sight. Guys died in the filth, totally undignified, and were carted off hills and tossed in a hole awaiting Graves Registration. Nobody gave a damn, and it seemed like this was the only way out. I remember the maddening and terrifying artillery barrages, and the pervasive atmosphere of death and dying. There was nothing uplifting or satisfying about Korea. It was like almost 12 months of living under a dark cloud, wondering when your time would come, and feeling saddened by those who were not with you any longer.
Korea conjures up many memories in those of us who were there--some good, a lot not so good. To those of us who survived, it helped us to grow up after all the demons were exorcised. It was a place where I have never been so cold, never so hot, never so wet, never so dirty, and certainly never so terrified. In the Winter of 1953, I went from the first of January until almost mid-March with not only not bathing, but not even a change of clothes. Not fun. I had the once in a lifetime honor of being acquainted with three Medal of Honor and one Navy Cross recipient. Three of them received their awards posthumously. I will never forget them. My experiences in Korea, I am sure, pale in comparison to what some of the other men have gone through, especially the men who were in the Brigade and those at the Reservoir. These are my kind of people whom I have the utmost respect for and whom have gone on to accomplish very productive lives.
To those who are too young to remember or who were not yet born, Korea was becoming an extremely unpopular war by 1952. Our nation had a booming economy, no doubt fueled by this war. Jobs were plentiful, and goods and services not available during the previous decade were now coming into the homes of the middle class. The only drawback was the body bags coming home from Korea at an alarming rate. Our government and the UN were totally embroiled in this mess and seemed totally unable to extricate ourselves from it. The bulk of Americans wanted to enjoy the economy and all the goodies it brought, but chose to ignore Korea. Thus, the Forgotten War began in this manner and merely became even more forgotten as the decades passed.
I am proud of our guys and what they did in Korea, and not only that, what they have accomplished. I am saddened that our country doesn't know this. I fully understand the Vietnam vets, however, we Korea veterans were different. We just came home and went on with our lives. The guys coming back did not scream and protest. For the most part, they felt it was their duty to serve their country as their brothers had done during World War II. They merely returned to school or found jobs, began raising a family, and were simply too busy in this endeavor to talk much about the war. I have, on occasion, discussed Korea with my sons--not really in a philosophical sense, but more from the living conditions that I endured, and some of the humorous events that I witnessed. I don't think they really understand what it was all about or certainly none of the events, but I suppose they shouldn't have to.
Should some student find this memoir someday and use it as a presentation, I would want him or her to understand me and my generation of that period. None of us really had any desire to go to war. I had no desire to enter the military. However, our brothers had given their all a mere five to ten years previously, and we had an obligation to them as well as to the greatest country in the world. I have never really given much thought as to how we Korean War veterans are treated other than rather cynically. Those World War II veterans who also served in Korea will be the first to tell you that Korea was even more vicious and deadly than the first war they were in. I was there. I don't have to bow or be beholden to anyone. If they think so, to Hell with them.
Obviously, my Korean experience was very profound and changed me significantly. Probably the most important lesson was to appreciate the small things that most people take for granted. A warm home. A soft bed. A clean body and clothes. A hot and tasty dinner. The basics. I swore I would never take them for granted again and I thank the Good Lord every day for allowing me these niceties. Let's hope that none of our future generations ever have to experience anything like this.
I learned so much in Korea that it is impossible to put it all into words. I note that our Historians contend that it was the poor and downtrodden who fought this war, as well as the Vietnam War. I cannot speak for the latter, but the kids whom I knew and fought with in Korea were far from being uneducated, illiterate, and the lower class of society. Most all were high school graduates or had attained their GED, and those that I have met in my post war years (i.e., those at the Dog Company reunion) have been very successful in their chosen careers and have been nothing but a benefit to our society and country. I will always have a degree of contempt for those who hid behind college (if you were a college student, you were pretty much exempt from the draft), those that married simply to avoid the draft, and those who bought their way out--especially as it relates to the KIA who obviously gave everything. I find that these types are the ultra liberals of today. They gave nothing and expect to be taken care of by society. Perhaps this is a narrow view, but I think, a realistic one.
I also learned how little importance our lives meant to the politicians. I carry a certain contempt for them to this day. We were living in the mud in holes in the ground, dying every day, while they, not five miles away, were in their starched uniforms, with a warm and dry bed every night and three hot meals each day -- "negotiating." I know I sound bitter, but I really am not. This is just the way life is. One does the absolute best that he or she can do, be a good citizen, and even more so, a good parent, and enjoy what you have to the utmost.
My Marine Corps service affected my entire life. Primarily it taught me Duty and Honor, attributes which seem to be in very short supply in this day and age. It taught me loyalty, discipline, and made me do things I would have never thought I could do. It also introduced me to the geographical and sociological differences of our country, and allowed me to visit other countries that, but for the war, I would never have seen. I met many people from all walks of life and learned to live with, work with, and share good times with them while learning that they were really no different from myself. I will remain a Marine for the rest of my life, and will always be a die hard supporter of our Corps.
Since I returned from Korea, I have never had a "bad day." It can all end so very quickly and this world owes me absolutely nothing. Everything must be "earned" by each of us paying our dues. Upon returning from Korea, my friends and relatives all noticed and/or commented on my attitude in this respect. It was, and still is, unshakeable. This is why I become so exasperated with the attitude of our society today. Our people feel that everything is "owed" to them and if they choose not to become a part of our working economy, the government should take care of them. This attitude, in turn, is fostered by our liberal leadership and is going to be our downfall at some time in our future.
I have to think that the nearly 34,000 young men we left in Korea were not left in vain. Yes, I suppose the United States had no choice but to send troops to Korea. After all, the Japanese had no Army, thus had Korea fallen, Japan would have undoubtedly been the next target. There was a large Communist bloc operating in Japan when I was there, and there is little doubt that Japan was on their agenda. I agree with General MacArthur's crossing the 38th parallel as his mission was to defeat the North Koreans. How else could this have been accomplished? Obviously his intelligence staff, as well as that of Truman's, were sleeping at the switch relative the Chinese entering the war, as well as the strength and capability of their forces. I would have concurred with us bombing their military bases and supply depots inside China; however, would never have agreed with an invasion of that country. Even had we won a war against them, what nation has the capability to occupy them?
I will be forever angered by the fact that we--the Marines of the First Marine Division--were never allowed to do what we do best -- attack -- during my tour there. We were forced to live like rats, losing men every night while the politicos played footsie at Panmunjom. Had we made another Inchon type of incursion, we might have been able to force their hand and either clear North Korea of communism or end the war a year or two earlier.
I have never revisited Korea. I have seriously considered it, but my wife has no interest, and I would only be interested if accompanied by someone I had served with. I am sure I would have extremely mixed emotions. It would be very heartwarming for me to see how far these people and their country have come in the ensuing years; however, it would be quite sad and emotional to visit some of the places, Vegas, Berlin, Boulder City, where so many of my friends died. If the right set of circumstances came along, I would like to see the country again.
The only good I see coming out of the war was that it showed the Communist Bloc, and the rest of the world, that we are willing to walk the walk after we talk the talk. We did manage to contain communism in that area of the world and allow South Korea and Japan to enjoy the economy that they each have today. I still believe we should maintain military presence in Korea. The North Korean government is, without a doubt, the most militant in the world today, and I believe this presence is the only thing that keeps them from re-invading the South once again. Whomever controls Korea controls the Far East, and I think this will always be true.
I have followed with great disdain the Associated Press story about Nogun-ri and other stories which have recently been appearing in the US press. It has been 25 years since our present generation has been involved in anything which could be labeled a "war." We, as well as the entire media, have lost touch with the realities of war. I saw no--I mean NO--American troops who would wantonly gun down innocent civilians. It was a North Korean tactic at that stage of the war to infiltrate refugees in civilian clothing to gain access to and disrupt and/or wipe out American positions. What were the defensive troops supposed to do? I am a firm believer in the age old adage that, "Those who fail to learn from history are bound to repeat it." I feel the American public of this day and age is so out of touch with the realities of this world that they are headed for big trouble. The Press has said nothing about the South Korean troops blowing the Han River Bridge with some 1500 to 2000 civilians on it, or the massacre of hundreds of American POWs at the Chunchon Tunnels. Things of this nature happen during wars. They are unfortunate, but sometimes they cannot be avoided.
In September of 1999, I attended my first Dog Company, 7th Marine reunion in Buffalo, New York, which was the hometown of my friend, John Seaman. As my wife and myself approached Buffalo en route to the Dog 7th reunion, I was really concerned as to whether or not I was doing the right thing. When we arrived, there was not one person I knew in attendance. However, I was welcomed with open arms as if each of these guys had been in my own machine gun section. You talk about a brotherhood. It is indeed that! I found it to be a most enjoyable and rewarding experience, and will not miss one in the future. These gentlemen are my contemporaries and my brothers.
During a phone conversation with the gentleman who was hosting the reunion, Charley Curley from Olean, New York, I mentioned John's story and that I would like to locate his grave while I was there. Charley got in touch with one of John's brothers who I in turn corresponded with and made arrangements to meet while in Buffalo. At the appointed time, two of John's brothers, his sister and her husband, and three of their children accompanied me to John's grave. It was an emotional, however very fulfilling and uplifting experience for me, and I am so happy that I had the opportunity to do it. Even after 45 years, the tears were hard to hide. His brothers and sister were exactly like he--just wonderful people, so typical of Americans of that day. We later had a wonderful lunch and a two-hour chat as I told them what a terrific brother and human being he was. A very emotional time after all these years, but somehow cleansing.
I have recently written letters to three of my former Section members with no success. One was returned as undeliverable. I have heard nothing from the second, and the third sent me an e-mail indicating that he was not the person I was looking for. I would really like to find Bill Purdy or Poughkeepsie, New York; Wayne Bayless, who was from Kansas; Ken Vargo from Pennsylvania; Paul A. Smith from Columbia, South Carolina; George Saxton of South Carolina; and Bob Pitcher from Pennsylvania.
It has been quite meaningful for me to put my thoughts and experiences in words in this interview. My grandchildren read them and think that I was a hero. How wrong they are. I will always remember, fondly and frequently, my friends and all the others who did not come home. I do have a certain amount of guilt that I am here and they are not. I will never know why I survived what they did not. While I was in Korea, I guess I thought that it was a country was worth fighting for, but more than anything else I was a Marine--a professional--and this was my job, no matter where it occurred.
There is one last thing I want to mention in this memoir. Do you know what John Seaman's headstone had inscribed on it? World War II!! The headstone was left over from that Great War. Our government wouldn't go to the expense of providing a proper one for a fallen Korean War veteran. I think this speaks volumes about the Korean War. God, there are 33,600+ stories about losing sons, brothers, and best friends like John Seaman in Korea. Thank heavens I only had to experience a few of them.
Obituary - James Harold Putnam
PUTNAM, James Harold, age 75, of Fenton, died Monday, March 13, 2006 at home. Funeral Services will be held 1PM Friday, March 17, 2006 at Sharp Funeral Homes, Fenton Chapel, 1000 Silver Lake Rd., Fenton. Interment will follow at Great Lakes National Cemetery, Holly, with military honors performed under the auspices of Marine Corps League, Flint Detachment #155. Visitation will be held 5-8PM Wednesday and 2-4 and 5-8PM Thursday at the funeral home. Memorial contributions may be made to Genesys Hospice. James was born January 19, 1931 in Durand, the son of Clifford and Grace (McCully) Putnam. He was a 1949 graduate of Owosso High School, and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, serving as SGT in Korea. James married Jacqueline Wilson at St. Joseph Church in Owosso on August 14, 1954. He was employed by Farm Bureau Insurance Company until retirement in January of 1996. James was active in the lives of his 3 sons, coaching hockey in youth leagues and at Lake Fenton High School. He was an avid hunter, of all types of game, and trained English Setters in the sport. In addition, he was a member of the Senior Slowpitch Softball League. More than anything, James loved his family; spending time with his wife, children and grandchildren brought him the most joy. Surviving are his wife of 51 years, Jacqueline; 3 sons, Jeffrey W. Putnam and wife Christine of Birch Run, Christopher J. Putnam and wife Ann of Davison, Patrick J. Putnam and wife Kelly of Swartz Creek; 6 grandchildren, Alicia, Michael, Andrew, Jenny, Ashley, James; mother-in-law, Oda Wilson of Parker, Colorado. He was preceded in death by his parents. The family extends special thanks to the staff of Genesys Hospice for their tender care, and to all the wonderful neighbors, and friends who have shown unconditional love and support. Those desiring may share online condolences or post a tribute at www.sharpfuneralhomes.com.
Visitation Hours: 5-8PM Wednesday and 2-4 and 5-8PM Thursday at the funeral home. Funeral Services will be at: Sharp Funeral Homes, Fenton Chapel, Fri. March 17, 2006 1:00 PM. Special Services: Military honors performed under the auspices of Marine Corps League, Flint Detachment #155. Interment will follow at Great Lakes National Cemetery, Holly. Family suggests memorial gifts to: Genesys Hospice