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Harold L. Reinhart

Alvada, OH -
Korean War Veteran of the United States Army

"You never knew what was out there.  If someone told you to halt and you didn't have the right password, you better halt."

- Harold Reinhart

 


[The following article about Harold Reinhart's experiences in the Korean War originally appeared in The Progressor-Times Newspaper, and was reprinted on the KWE with the permission of that newspaper's editor-publisher.  Following the article there is a set of notes about a revisit trip to Korea in 2004.

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Remembering Korea

Remembering Korea:
A Veterans Day Special Feature
by Dan Reinhart

Harold Reinhart grew up on a farm near Alvada during the 30s and 40s.  He lived through the lean years brought on by the Depression and as a teenager he cheered with the rest of the nation when the boys came home in 1945.  But even as the sound of the postwar cheers still echoed, the U.S. found itself locked in another conflict.  This time Harold was of draft age.  By April of 1951 he'd been drafted, trained and loaded on board a ship bound for Korea.

A quick look at the map reveals why Korea became such a disputed area after the war.  With china engulfing its entire western border, Korea was a neighbor to Soviet Russia on the north, and it was only a few hundred miles away from Japan on the east.  Since 1910 Korea had been a colony of Japan, and when Japan surrendered in 1945 the future of the Japanese Empire was left in the hands of the Allies.

Allied leaders decided that Korea would be divided into two sections: the north would be occupied by Soviet Russia, and the south--the area below the 38th parallel--would be occupied by U.S. forces under the direction of General Douglas MacArthur.  Backed by the Stalin regime, North Korea was under the leadership of Kim Il-sung (the father of the current North Korean leader Kim Jong-il).  In the south, the American-backed administration was led by Syngman Rhee.

North Korean forces were well equipped with Russian tanks and artillery, but it was a different story in the south.  Because Syngman had declared his intentions to reunite Korea under one government by force, the American trained South Korean Army was only equipped with light weaponry.  They had no tanks, combast aircraft of field artillery.

You're in the Army now
After several years of bloody skirmishes along the 38th parallel, the North Korean People's Army invaded the southern Republic of Korea on June 25, 1950.  The recently formed United Nations came to the aid of South Korea on September 15, 1950, when Allied troops (dominated by American troops) under the direction of MacArthur landed at Inchon and drove North Korean forces out of the south.  By November 1950 Chinese forces had joined the battle on the side of the North Koreans.  On November 12, 1950, Harold Reinhart celebrated his 22nd birthday.  Two days later he was drafted.

Reinhart noted that he was among "the second bunch that left from Seneca County."  He trained for 14 weeks with the 101st Airborne at Camp Breckenridge near Evansville, IN.  Then, after a two-week furlough home, he boarded a plane at the Cleveland airport and headed west.  It was 7 a.m. Good Friday morning.  The plane landed in Seattle. After spending a few days at Pier 91 Naval Base, Reinhart and his fellow soldiers boarded a ship and steamed across Puget Sound toward Asia.

Troubled Waters
When they sailed across Puget Sound the water was just like glass, but when they hit the open seas the boat began to sway, Reinhart remembers.  He said the men ate standing up and they had to hang on to their food or it would slide off the table.  By the second day at least half the men were vomiting from seasickness, a problem so common that barrels were placed all over the boat for the soldiers to use.  Anybody who made it up the stairs quickly enough just vomited over the side of the ship.  He recalled that in about four or five days most of the men were okay.

After two weeks at sea the ship arrived at Yokohama, Japan.  Following a short layover at Camp Drake the men boarded another ship headed for South Korea. The ship made the Korean coast at 4 a.m. and Reinhart said they could hear artillery pounding away in the distance as they climbed out of the ship and onto landing craft known as LSTD's.  "It was dark and we didn't know what was going on," he recalled.

Welcome to Korea
The men rode the tide into the beach and after a two-day train ride they reached the Han River near Seoul, South Korea, just a few miles south of the 38th parallel.

Reinhart was with Company H, 35th Regiment, 25th Division.  He was part of a heavy weapons company that used 81mm mortars, 75-caliber recoilless rifles and 50-caliber machine guns.  Reinhart was a forward observer, meaning he traveled with a rifle company about three quarters of a mile in front of the rest of the men.  As forward observer it was Reinhart's job to call the artillery unit on a hand-crank phone and tell them the enemy's exact position when the company commander ordered a strike.

Reinhart said that in most cases rookie forward observers were given a two-week, on-the-job training period during which they accompanied the forward observer they were replacing.  Reinhart's training period was cut short.  The man he replaced was John Boutwell.  On his fourth day with Boutwell, the two men were on a hill when they received word from the company commander that there was going to be a going-away part for about a dozen of the guys and he wanted them to come down and eat dinner.  Even though he had been in Korea for four days, the idea of the warm meal sounded pretty good.  They usually ate C-rations.

Reinhart and Boutwell headed down the hill at about 11:30 a.m. and found a group of GI's gathered together under a tent where there were a number of large kettles full of food.  Reinhart said the whole scene was a little odd because they had always been taught to stay at least 10 feet apart so they didn't make easy targets.  There were mortars exploding about a half mile away but the soldiers seemed determined to have a hot meal.

The GI's who were going home had just handed in their helmets when an enemy mortar dropped in the chow line.  Reinhart said there was one thing you could always count on: if you got hit by an enemy mortar, there were more on the way.  Reinhart and Boutwell crawled under a Jeep for cover but as the mortars began to fall somebody jumped in the Jeep and took off, almost running over them.  So the pair scurried toward another place for cover.  After the shelling stopped, Reinhart realized that Boutwell had been hit.  His mentor was alive, but he was in pretty bad shape and it was obvious that he was going home sooner than expected.

With his instructor gone, Reinhart's on-the-job training period was officially over.  From then on he learned by trial and error.  In all, there were 33 GI's who were wounded that day.  One died.  In retrospect, Reinhart said that the officers in charge probably should have never brought the group together so close to enemy fire.  "But that's just the way things happened sometimes," He said.

Reinhart said that as time went by he became more accustomed to his job.  He carried an M-1 rifle for the first several months of his tour but he eventually began carrying a carbine with a 15-shell, curved magazine clip.  "Those M-1's were awful heavy to lug around if you had anything else to carry," he said.  Reinhart was usually accompanied by a South Korean soldier who carried his radio.  Reinhart noted that the rifle company he traveled with was armed with M-1 rifles and 30-caliber carbines.  Officers also carried 45's.  "They had plenty of firepower if they lived long enough to use it," he said.

Sleeping Light
Reinhart said that sleeping was never particularly easy in Korea.  Besides the constant shelling that was going on, "You never knew what was out there," he said.  He noted that his company commander was a chain smoker who was always a bundle of nerves.  When they would camp at night soldiers would often string tripwires around their encampment to trigger explosive devices if someone tried to sneak up on them.

Reinhart recalled that each night the troops were given a two-word password so that in the dark they could tell if someone was an enemy.  "If someone told you to halt and you didn't have the right password, you better halt," he said.

Reinhart noted that sometimes, when they believed there was an enemy approaching at night, they would shoot up a flair that had "a million candlepower."  He said as the flare went up, everybody would scan the countryside looking for signs of the enemy.  He noted that sometimes when the flare went out he would be thinking to himself, "Did I see something over there?"

Reinhart noted that it wasn't unusual to be short on flares or ammunition.  He recalled often hearing his company commander saying something like, "We only have 35 mortars until the next ammunition truck gets here so take it easy."

Reinhart said one night he was scanning the countryside under a bright moon when he thought he saw something moving on a hill in the distance.  He looked through his field glasses and, sure enough, he could see some activity taking place on the mountain not far from his unit.  Reinhart said the enemy was probably setting up for a mortar attack.  Reinhart notified his commanding officer and they called in their own mortar attack.  Reinhart said he was watching through his field glasses as a couple of mortars struck the mountain just above the enemy and the falling rocks buried them.

Hill 717
By September 8, 1951, Reinhart was part of a battalion that had moved close enough to enemy lines that they could see Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, through their field glasses.  They were about six miles south of the DMZ (demilitarized zone).  Ahead of the rest of the battalion, on a hill called Hill 717, a rifle company kept constant watch over the Chinese and Korean forces.  There were several rifle companies in the battalion and they would rotate every three days.  While the Americans were spying on the Chinese and Korean forces, the enemy was doing its own spying.  The North Koreans had been keeping track of troop movements and one day, as the rifle companies rotated, the enemy set an ambush.  Reinhart said that from their position at the base of Hill 717 they heard the battle begin.  U.S. forces immediately called in an air strike and after the strike, Reinhart was among the soldiers that ascended Hill 717 to recover the dead and wounded.  Reinhart recalled that they were engaged in a firefight all the way up the hill and by the time they got to the top it was nearly dark so the company commander told them to "dig in."

Reinhart and another soldier decided to take cover in a big hole left by a bomb.  They tried to dig down a little farther for extra cover but once they got through the loose dirt on top they couldn't dig down any deeper so they just went to sleep right there.  As Reinhart dozed off that night he kept feeling something wet underneath him.  The other soldier commented about it too but they were so tired they just went to sleep.

When the two soldiers woke up the next morning the daylight showed that their clothes were soaked with blood.  The bomb hole they had picked to sleep in was the same one the enemy had chosen as a mass grave for their soldiers who were killed during the air strike.  Reinhart and his comrade had spent the night sleeping on a pile of dead bodies.  Reinhart said the North Koreans always buried their dead as quickly as possible so allied forces couldn't get a count.

Friendly Fire
Not long after the incident on Hill 717 Reinhart's company got into another battle.  He recalled that he was firing a mortar that consisted of a tripod, a base plate and a tube.  He said the ground was a little damp and each time he fired a mortar it would push his base plate into the ground.  He said that after a while he had fired so many mortars that his base plate was pounded in the ground deep enough that he had to dig to get it out.

As enemy forces continued pouring into the area, Reinhart's company commander called in an air strike that consisted of four planes.  The squad leader of the strike flew in on the first plane.  Realizing that the coordinates they had been given were incorrect and they were about to fire on their own troops, the squad leader tried to contact the other three planes but his radio malfunctioned.  The other three planes mistakenly came through and rained machine-gun fire down on the American troops.  Reinhart said the machine-gun fire came within 20 feet of his position.  Some of the men in his company were so angry, Reinhart said, they began firing at their own planes.

Things only got worse.  With the failure of the air strike, the company commander called in an artillery strike from a French unit which also used incorrect coordinates and fired another volley at their own troops.  Before the day was through, friendly fire had killed 55 Allied soldiers and wounded another 120.

Reinhart said that during his 9 1/2 months of duty in Korea he was probably in a "defensive position" (Meaning he was in a battle or ready for battle) about 70% of the time.  He said soldiers would be in a defensive position for about two or three months then they would retreat for a month or so to a "blocking position" meaning they were not in the front lines but still ready if needed.

Going Home
Reinhart was in Korea from April 27, 1951, until February 6, 1952.  On his return he sailed into Seattle at Pier 91 with a group of soldiers who were greeted by a boat full of girls who were singing, "If we knew you were coming we would have baked a cake."  After getting off the boat they boarded buses and were escorted through the streets where they were welcomed home and given free beer and other gifts.

Reinhart was decorated for five of the battles he took part in and he also received various other honors.  He said that when he came home he didn't have nay trouble getting readjusted to civilian life, but he also noted that there were others who did.  He said he has a friend who told him that even after 50 years he still thinks about the war constantly.

Reinhart also noted that some people just couldn't take the stress of war.  He said he was told that the man who was supposed to replace him "went goofy" shortly after his tour began.  "They busted him to a private and sent him home.  They said all he would do is sit and stare."  Reinhart noted that in those days troops "didn't have professionals to help them like they do these days."

For the most part, hostilities in Korea ceased June 27, 1953, when an armistice was signed.  The Korean War has become known as the "Forgotten War" because it was a major conflict of the 20th century that receives little attention when compared to World War II, the war preceding it, and the controversial war in Vietnam that followed it.

Return to Korea
In August 2004 Reinhart returned to Korea with a group of veterans during ceremonies commemorating the invasion at Inchon, the surprise landing by forces led by MacArthur that turned the tide of the war.  Reinhart was also accompanied on the trip by his son, Patrick, who is the records manager for the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.

During his return trip to Korea, Reinhart revisited the Han River, not far from where he battled his way up Hill 717.  He visited the Korean National Cemetery for a wreath-laying ceremony and he visited the Korean War Memorial that marked the 37,600 UN forces (33,600 Americans) who gave their lives during the Korean War.

There were 1.6 million Americans who served in Korea and Reinhart is one of over 5 million members of the Korean Veterans Organization.  Through the Internet Reinhart has located and visited with several of the soldiers he once fought with in Korea.  Several of the men he hasn't seen for over 50 years.  Reinhart said it is gratifying to see and hear from them after all these years and he continues to search.


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Notes from Korea 2004 Trip

  • All Korean boys must spend two years in the Army unless they would make a good actor or doctor.
  • Koreans make 10% interest on their money.
  • North and South Korea lost four million civilians in the war.
  • Their national cemetery has 165,000 remains buried there, seven thousand of which they don't know who they are.
  • There are 5,600,000 veterans in the Korean Veterans organization.
  • In 1951 it took 8,000 wan for $1.00 USA money.  In 2004 it takes 12,000 wan for $1.00 USA money.
  • My son Patrick from Texas said they are about to release the new state quarters but don't know where to release them because of people hording them.  Our last day there we turned in our currency and Patrick received a Texas quarter.
  • The North Korean ruler brags he has 12,000 pieces of artillery all underground and could have Seoul and Inchon, South Korea a burning inferno in three minutes.
  • South Korea is the largest ship-builder in the world.
  • South Korea is the fifth largest builder of cars and trucks in the world.
  • They have no rest or nursing homes in South Korea.  It is the children's duty to take care of their father and mother--mainly the wife of their son.
  • We complain about gas prices.  In Korea it is $5.00 per gallon in 2004.
  • South Koreans are not allowed to wear shorts in South Korea.
  • I couldn't get over how new and modern their airport was.  Patrick said it ought to be.  They copied off of ours in Dallas-Fort Worth for five to six weeks.
  • After meeting people from Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and South Korea, all speaking different languages but when their babies cry, they cry the language as in the USA!
 
 

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