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Jesus Rodriguez Sr.
La Habra, California -
"The savage fighting in Korea reminded me of something like the frontier days or the Civil War. There was hand-to-hand combat and heavy engagements like that where we were overpowered. Some of us managed to survive when the smoke cleared. We survived the fighting, the mental stress, the diseases. There were people who caught yellow jaundice. There were people who got jungle rot. There were people that later on got frost "bulletitis", and there was plenty of that. Bulletitis was slang for getting "sick." It meant anything that had to do with our health that was affected by the elements in which we were living. Hepatitis, malaria, and shrapnel were all things I personally experienced."
- Jesus Rodriguez
My name is Jesus Rodriguez. I was born June 21, 1932. My parents were Francisco and Margret Garcia Rodriguez, who migrated to the United States in 1928. My mother was from Mexico City, Mexico, and my father was from Canales, Mexico. My two siblings and I were born in the United States.
My father at one time worked for the railroad. Later he worked for a French restaurant as a pantry cook. About this time he deserted his family and went to work in San Francisco. He used to work for Chesterfield cigarette company. That’s about the time that I went into the service. When I came home from the Korean War he had a restaurant in Santa Monica. My father left home when I was age four. My mother worked as a seamstress. She worked at the Morgan laundry and she also did domestic work for some Jewish families.
Most of my childhood was spent in Los Angeles, California, and this particular ethnic neighborhood was of all races. There were Chinese, Japanese, Russians, Bullocks, and Jewish people. I liked living there because I didn't know of any other place. I grew up in the Great Depression and it was hard because my mother had to raise us, feed us, and send us to school. All I had to do to know that I was poor was look around and see what the other kids had. It was harder on me because I was the oldest. My brother Andrew was a year younger than me and I had a younger sister named Carmen, so I had to look after them when my mother went to work. My mother was VERY strict, so we were all very well-behaved. We were close, so wherever we went all three of us would go. As far as being close to my mother, it was a different story. My mother never hugged us or kissed us or cuddled us because she thought that if she would pass away, there would not be anyone that would hug and kiss us, so she didn’t want us to be used to that.
I attended Alpine Grade School in Los Angeles. I attended Belmont High School up to the eleventh grade. At that time I went into the Army. When I came home from the Army I finished high school. I liked some of my teachers and there were others that I did not like. Those I did not like was probably because I wasn’t doing good in class. I liked one gym teacher, but disliked the other because he settled everything with a paddle. I usually liked the vocational teachers who taught classes in wood shop and auto shop.
I was not in sports or clubs or ROTC, and I didn't participate in extracurricular activities because I sold newspapers after school. When people came outside of their jobs in the big buildings I was at the door with a pile of newspapers. I also had a job at a barbershop shining shoes and sweeping up the hair off and around the chairs. I was a Boy Scout for a short time. Meetings were held at the police station in Los Angeles. All the leaders were policeman, and that was to keep us off the streets. At the time it was fun, but I don’t remember what rank I achieved, if any. I did like the military part of it, but that was about it.
World War II
I heard about the outbreak of the Second World War in grammar school. That was a long time ago, but I can remember when the fire wardens came to the school and taught us what to do in the event there was an air raid attack with incendiary bombs. We were supposed to smother them with dirt to put them out. The war brought more work for my mother. My school used to have scrap drives where we could bring aluminum pans and rubber to school. They also used to sell war bonds to support the war effort. I remember the rationing books for food and shoes, and I remember that we had blackouts.
I had no immediate relatives in the war, but at times veterans who were older brothers of my classmates came to visit our school. My next-door neighbor had a son who volunteered in the airborne. His mother told my mother that he was killed in Normandy when he jumped. I was too young to think about wanting to be in the war myself.
I remember the end of World War II. I was selling newspapers and it was an Extra that the war was over. There was celebration in the streets and everybody was happy it was over. I sold a lot of newspapers that day.
Joining Up/Basic Training
The next day after my 17th birthday (June 22, 1949), I showed up at the recruiting office in Los Angeles and talked my mother into signing for me so that I could go into the service. I was promised that I would go to Japan, and that's where I wanted to go. I wanted to join the 1st Cavalry Division because some of the guys in the neighborhood who had joined the Army after World War II had come home already. At that time they had short enlistments, but I joined for three years in the regular Army.
I took basic training at Ft. Ord, which is located near Salinas, California. It’s a beautiful part of the state with a lot of heavy, big pines. It’s close to Monterey, California, which is right by the ocean. It was a fishing community at one time. All of the barracks were fairly new. They were built during the Second World War and I was there just a few years after that.
In the first moments after I arrived at the training camp the officers started hollering at us to move around. We had to clean the barracks that first day. We didn't get any equipment for a couple of days, including uniforms. We wore our civilian clothes.
I was assigned to training platoon #1. The instructors were veterans from the Second World War and some of the new soldiers that had graduated from basic. The only name I remember was the field 1st Sergeant. His name was Sergeant Jackson. The reason I remember his name is that he was a bad ass and mean. He stood on our ass. If we messed up he was on us, but that was his job when I stop to think about it now. He was a hell of a shot when it came to being on the range and firing weapons. He could really hit the target. Later I heard that he hung himself at a park in Oakland. That’s how serious he took his job. Sergeant Jackson was in charge of our basic training cycle. He took it upon himself to "weed out" the bad soldiers from the good. The stress he put upon himself to become a career soldier was too great, and, in my opinion, that's why he took his own life.
We got up about 5:00 in the morning. We were awakened by one of the cadre. He turned on the lights and started hollering at us to get ready. We had to wash up and shave every morning. I didn’t have a beard, but I was issued a shaving kit and I had to shave every morning. When the Sergeant put his face in front of mine and asked me, "Did you shave this morning, Soldier?", I said "Yes" because I did shave. After we got ready we fell in for head count every morning. They called that Reveille. After roll call they dismissed us so that we could go to the mess hall for breakfast. After breakfast we had a little bit of free time before we started our training for the day. Before we went to bed there was always the cleanup and care of the barracks. Lights Out was probably around 9 o’clock.
I enjoyed all the food that they fed us. At breakfast they put milk on the table. If we didn’t reach out and get our milk fast there might not be any left by the time it got to us because some guys didn’t care about anyone but themselves. A lot of the food was new to me. The portions were plentiful, but whatever we put on our tray we had to eat. Outside the mess hall there were trashcans with boiling water to wash our trays, but we weren't allowed to put any food in the trashcan. The Sergeant assigned a soldier named Tex to see that we ate all our food. If someone didn’t eat his food, he beat him up and made him eat his food.
If somebody screwed up during the day and made the cadre angry they made us fall out in the company street in the middle of the night just to harass us. It didn’t bother me--it was all part of my new life. I did not have a problem with the cadre because I did what I was told to do. If someone gave the instructors a bad time, they learned his name and were after him from then on. I knew that if I kept my mouth shut and did what I was told I would be alright. I was never disciplined because I knew better. I did what I was told and minded my own business. Because they kept us on the run all day long, one of the problems that they had was people falling asleep in class. That made the instructor very angry. Sometimes he walked up to the person that was asleep and just took a swing at him to wake him up.
We had corporal punishment at that time. We were in nine-man squads, and if one of the soldiers screwed up the Sergeant asked the squad leader to take care of the matter. For instance, if one of the soldiers didn’t bathe, he asked the squad leader to give him a "G.I. bath", which consisted of scrub brushes and some brown soap. The soap had lye in it and was very strong. Sometimes it took the whole squad to take care of that since the soldier who wouldn't take a bath sometimes fought back. Beating him down was a method of discipline. There was one occasion where the cadre were having trouble with one particular soldier. They took him to the cadre room and whipped him with a rifle cleaning rod. Sometimes if they caught a screw-up in the bathroom they beat him up in there.
There was individual discipline and at times there was platoon (group) discipline. Platoon discipline was used when the platoon did not pass inspection of the barracks. I think that by disciplining the platoon as a group because of something one man did it made us think about the consequences. If the others in the platoon didn’t get the screw-up right then, it was going to happen for sure later--like when he went to the latrine or between training. The cadre looked the other way. I know on one occasion two soldiers got into a fight. The cadre stopped the fight and told them to go to the supply room and get the boxing gloves. That was bad news because they had to fight until one was knocked out or beat up so much that he couldn’t fight anymore. A big circle was formed around them and kept them up so they couldn't fall.
Individuals that didn’t pass inspection in ranks could be disciplined with extra duty. The extra duty could be cleaning the latrine every night for a week after the day's training. I saw some soldiers disciplined for not being able to keep up in the training. If they had too many problems with a soldier sometimes they told him to go over the hill (desert) and go back home. We had a few troublemakers in the platoon. Some were thieves who stole wallets or valuables. If they were caught they were usually beat up by the other soldiers in the platoon and that would be the end of it. Some of the soldiers came from a background where they were gang members, but that didn't work in the Army--the biggest gang thereafter.
Training and Free Time
During the 17 weeks of basic training we learned a little bit about everything in regards to being a soldier. They even taught us how to brush our teeth. We had classes on close-order drill, map reading, and a lot of classes in all the weapons that we had to learn, especially the M-1 rifle and the .30 caliber machine gun. We also learned about hand grenades. We were taught how to address an officer, learning the chain of command from private to general.
I think the physical training was about the hardest for me because I was short. It seemed that everything that they built in the confidence course was built for bigger people. The monkey bars were spaced out far enough that I had to really stretch. The walls that we had to jump were quite high for me to jump, so I had to work hard to make it over the top. I took my training in the summer, so there were a lot of bees and Yellow Jackets. When we were in the field and we sat down to eat, they were all over us.
In the classrooms we had films on first aid. We had films on close-order drill. We had films on the weapons--cleaning them and disassembling them. We had classes on map reading. We had combat classes on film. We had classes on hygiene and sanitation. We had classes on venereal diseases. The classes didn’t bother me that much. We all had the same problem--trying to stay awake and learning how to work as a team. The hardest part was staying awake during class because they kept us on the run all day long. We had tests every day of all sorts to see what we were qualified to do.
After about four weeks we could go to the PX, the beer garden and dances. I was 17 years old, but I could drink on the post. I think a pitcher of beer was 50 cents, so when we were out drinking we were pretty good at it. Ft. Ord also had a soldier’s club in a big building. Dances were held there. I saw Tommy Dorsey and his brother there. Girls were brought in from Monterey and Salinas to dance with the soldiers. They were all chaperoned. There was a church on the post and I went to it. Church wasn't pushed on us. I didn't have to be told to go to church because I had always been raised that way.
If someone didn’t complete his basic training they sent him home. I found out that those who didn’t complete their basic training were not in the Army. Those who completed it became soldiers. Some could not keep up in the classes; some couldn’t keep up with the training; and some had health issues. Some were not coordinated and were unable to march. Some could not keep up physically in the training and some just could not take orders.
End of Basic
I was never sorry that I joined the Army. It was a new beginning in my life. I was on my own and I could do as I pleased. It was a new life and I enjoyed it. The only one I had to answer to was the Army. It wasn't like being home and looking after my brother and sister. Every day the instructors showed me that I could do things that I didn't think I could--the physical part, the learning part, working as a team, close-order drill and rifle drill, and how to get along with other people.
Was I well-prepared for combat when I left basic training? I don't know if anyone is really prepared at any time for war. I know that all the training helped, but at the time we thought that there would not be another war because "the war to end all wars" (World War II) had just been fought. I was more confident in what I could accomplish as an individual or as a team. I had learned how to get along with people--the do’s and don’ts. I learned about the Army very fast. Those who did their job and kept their mouth shut would do good. If you were a good soldier they left you alone. As mentioned earlier, if someone wasn’t, they learn his name right away and they were on him.
I think that I got ten days at home after basic training. I wore my uniform. I went to see my friends. A lot of people didn’t believe that I was in the Army. I was 17 years old, but I looked like I was 14. Looking young wasn’t too good for me. I was always getting stopped by the MPs.
"Outrunning a Hurricane"
After my leave I went by train to Camp Stoneman, which at that time was a point of embarkation near Pittsburgh, California. I was there for a couple of weeks before they cut orders after having enough people to fill a boat. We were ferried down to Oakland and put on a ship to go to the Orient. The ship that took us to Okinawa was the Simon Buckner.
A couple of days out we ran into a storm. Over the ship's loudspeaker the captain informed us that we were running into a typhoon. He said not to worry because we were changing course and we would outrun it. That was a bunch of bullshit. You don’t outrun a typhoon. I thought that the ship was going to come apart, the swells were so big. I thought I was going to die on that ship. I could look out of the porthole and see sky, then the ship dropped down into a swell and the ocean came up above the ship--and then it started to go down again, hit the bottom, and slam it about. It was Thanksgiving time and they were serving turkey in the galley. We had to stand up to eat. With the swells the ship rocked and the trays slid on the stainless steel table to the inside. We had to grab our tray or our turkey drum to keep it from going on somebody else’s tray. That lasted for about three days. Everybody got sick. I can remember it like it was today.
The ship stopped in Okinawa, they cut orders, and that's where I got off. When the ship was coming close to the island it was like paradise compared to home. I was surrounded by beauty. Everything was green, lush and pretty. I didn't find this to be a hardship tour even after six months.
Okinawa was very rural--there were no industries. The housing was all native. The homes were made of mud and straw. The camp where I lived consisted of Quonset huts. We had a theatre on base and on occasion we got a USO show or movies. The villages only consisted of prostitutes, but sometimes the soldiers had a girlfriend. The liquor of choice was Saki and Coke.
I was assigned to "A" Company of the 29th Regimental Combat Team. The reason I entered into the service was just to get away from school and have a little adventure, and, by golly, I got it with the 29th. I loved it because it was a spit and polished outfit. That's what I was looking for and that's what I wanted. I just fell into my niche with Company A. I just "went for it" and I enjoyed it.
I was in the 1st squad, 1st platoon, 1st battalion. The Army, Air Force, Navy, and Philippine Scouts had troops stationed on Okinawa, but the 29th RCT was the only Army infantry unit on Okinawa at that time. Its troops acted as guards for the island. There had been a typhoon prior to my arrival. The roofs of the huts were gone and we needed to guard clothing and other supplies. Often guards were bribed to release the products. The natives stole the tires and batteries of the cars. We had to have guards wherever there was an installation or motor pool. On the bulletin board there was a posted roster of 40 men and the procedure that they had to follow to prepare for guard duty: "clean your weapon, prepare your uniform, prepare for inspection by the Officer of the Day," etc. We used to pull guard in an OD wool uniform and it used to rain a lot. The uniforms were so uncomfortable. They got moldy because our sleep was in shifts and there wasn't enough time for our uniforms to be washed and dried between shifts.
Our day started around 5:00-5:30 in the morning. We had a 105 Howitzer that just happened to be in front of our barracks. Every day when morning came the field piece went off, the lights went on, the radio went on, and the station (I think it was from Japan) went on. Then things got busy. We had a platoon sergeant named Hubert Baker. Every morning he came into the barracks and went down the aisle to see if there were those who didn't get up fast enough and were still in the sack. Sergeant Baker was my favorite--and still is, of all the soldiers I met in the service. He was something else. He was just a regular Army soldier. He came down that aisle, reached down and grabbed that cot by the leg, and flipped it over. If someone wasn't on his feet, he'd be on his butt on the floor and getting up. Sergeant Baker made sure that everybody started moving--going to the latrine, starting to take showers, brushing our teeth, and getting ready for roll call.
When roll call was called the field First Sergeant was there with his clipboard. When Sergeant Baker called for a report, the field First Sergeant would say, "1st Platoon, all present and accounted for; 2nd Platoon, two men absent; 3rd Platoon, four men absent." Then they started to give instructions for the day and gave the command, "Take care of the people that weren't in ranks." Usually there were a couple of guys who staggered out with their boots in their hands, boots not laced, and got into formation late after the First Field had started to call roll. When we were dismissed we closed ranks, made it tight, and then Sergeant Baker walked up and asked the guy, "Well, what happened? How come you weren't out here in time?" No matter what the guy's answer was it always ended up with a right hook. The guy couldn't fall down because we had closed ranks. It was accepted that if we messed up we would have to answer to Sergeant Baker in the morning. Sergeant Baker would proceed to say, "If you want to carry this on any further, meet me behind the mess hall after breakfast." Six feet behind the mess hall there was a dense jungle. We could hear the thumps and groans. We couldn't see it, but we knew what was happening. That was the discipline. We were better off to take that first blow in ranks and not proceed with "meet me behind the mess hall." Sometimes there were people who thought they could take this sergeant, but it didn't work.
A work detail was drawn every day from the company. When I say "work detail", some went to work at the bakery delivering breads; some went to the ice plants to deliver ice; and some went into the construction of the regiment where they had mixing of cement and helping the engineers build and repair buildings on the post and what had to be done in the way of construction. They had helpers. There were people that went to the motor pool and helped them wash vehicles. I remember one time I went there and they had me try to fix tires. I wasn't too good at it because I wasn't that big of a guy. They had big tire irons and in those days they had 2 1/2-ton trucks. They didn't have those breaking machines at that time--we had to do it by hand. We had two irons and we had to pry them off. Those who didn't get on a work detail trained.
We trained every day for about six months, whether it was raining or not. At times I thought it was kind of silly, you know. I wondered why we trained so much. (It was peacetime.) Later on I realized why. We had some training in the company area, but usually we went out to places they had designated in the jungle. They had clearings where they taught us map reading, hand-to-hand combat, and bayonet training. I especially remember training with Sergeant Baker. Later when I was in Korea I remembered the things that he taught us. For instance, say we were in a column, were running, receiving fire, and we wanted to hit the ground. Sergeant Baker showed us how we could fall at a high port and land with the butt of our M1 hitting the ground to break our fall. He then showed us how to roll into a prone firing position in such a way that our hand would automatically slide into our rifle sling and we were ready to fire.
One of the big things about being on Okinawa was that we used to be put on a lot of guards. I mean, the 29th guarded every day. When I started soldiering for the guard mount, every piece of my clothing from my shorts to my handkerchief and my piece (my M1 rifle) was stamped with my service number--RA1935 69 96--on it.
It didn't take me long to realize that I had to find a way to get out of the guard, so I decided that I was going to be Soldier of the Day as often as I could. It would relieve me from guard mount and give me a three-day pass. When I got one of these passes I generally hit the village in the daytime and came back to my unit at night. My time in the village was spent like any other soldier--drinking and having fun with the natives.
To be Soldier of the Day I had to be sharp. I had some Corrigan jump boots that I polished like mirrors. I had all of my clothes tailored. I took the green paint off of my helmet liner and polished the brass studs in it with brown Kiwi shine. (I have a helmet liner like that now that I keep in my trophy room. Whenever we have a function I still wear it. People that see it come up and ask me what it is and how it came about.) I was very proud of my helmet liner. There was also a decal with the regimental crest on it that went on our hats with an eagle. I dyed my pistol belt and polished all the brass on it. It used to take a lot of work, but to be named Soldier of the Day meant that I had to maintain every aspect of military perfection and detail.
Not only did I have to be sharp in appearance to be Soldier of the Day, I also had to know the General Orders. There were 12 General Orders in all. One that I remember is, "Take charge of your post and all government properties in view." I had to know the chain of command from the President all the way down to the chain of command in the regiment. At that time John Pace Jr. was the Secretary of the Army, and we had to know a little bit about the current events that were going on--the Cold War, what was happening in Europe, etc. , because if there was a runner-up for Soldier of the Day at the Guard Mount that day, the officer would turn around and say something to the 1st Sergeant, he would write it down on his clipboard, and then he proceeded to go through ranks of the guard mount talking to them. Sometimes they came back and asked us a couple of questions if a tie needed to be broken, so we had to be on top of it--and I was good at it.
The Regimental Commander at that time was Colonel Graves. I enjoyed just going down there and spending the day. I had to sit there and open the door when he came out, walk out to his car and open his door, and sit in the front with his driver. Wherever he stopped I got out, opened the door for him, saluted him, and said, "Yes, Sir" and what have you. By making Soldier of the Day so often, I caught his eye. At one point he decided to send me to Leadership School. The characteristics of someone eligible for Leadership School included being a sharp soldier who was knowledgeable of procedures, proactive, a team player, well-liked, and dedicated. I had no choice but to go where I was ordered. I was selected by the company commander and could not withdraw. In the long run it was beneficial and I am glad I did it. I became a squad leader and ended up leading eight men in combat.
Leadership School was held at a point called Nago in northern Okinawa, even though it was an off-limits area. It was primarily populated by natives. Okinawa was divided in half due to population. I don't know what the population was at that time. There were those that took care of the jungle and those that took care of the city. The cities were all "villages". The jungle was the farms that supplied food to the villages. When I was stationed there it was only four years after World War II. There was not much there at the time, but the jungles required security to protect our assets and warehouses from the natives. The natives stole anything and everything, including tires, blankets, food, batteries, clothing, etc. We worked with the police to keep the areas secure.
Cadre from the regiment on TDY (temporary duty) were our instructors. They trained us to be leaders for troops from squad to platoon. We were trained on weaponry. We had to be able to instruct the drills, orders, and procedures in all aspects of combat training. Different squads required different detail. I was trained on all weapons in basic and advanced training. In Leadership School I personally was trained on .30 caliber machine guns, the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), and a sniper's rifle with scope. I was partial to the BAR because it was semi-automatic and fully automatic. This gave us fire power. The BAR acted like a machine gun.
Revelry was at 5:30 a.m. It was followed by wardrobe, first formation, and getting our daily assignments of chores. We did all aspects of facility maintenance, i.e., construction, delivery of supplies to the entire regiment, etc. The remainder of the evening was free time. We studied for tests that were usually coming up the next day. Tests were generally map-reading, how to give orders, hygiene and sanitation, combat, etc.
We had lunch every day. Dinner was at 5:00 p.m. If we were in the field we had C-rations. C-rations consisted of a can of meat or beans, a package of crackers, chocolate, cigarettes, and toilet paper. A Stationary Facility Meal consisted of meat, powdered eggs, potatoes, and milk products. We also had Kool-aid, fresh vegetables, soups, and stews. My favorite was pancakes.
Training for Combat
We trained every day for six months. At times I thought it was kind of silly, you know. It was peacetime, so I asked myself, "Why do we train so much?" Later I came to understand why. I went out on maneuvers at Bolo Point with the regiment one time. We went on the range and we went on night exercises in the jungle. There was a blue army and a red army. We used some black charcoal on our faces during this training. We were restricted to training areas because the Japanese had fought there during World War II and there were still a lot of booby traps and caves. One time we were issued M80s (large firecrackers) and we threw them at vehicles after they got hit and were out of commission. We went out in the rain as a company. We never walked when we passed by a regiment. We carried our guidon and double-timed because it was "A" Company. There was a lot of competition between companies and it was great.
When this training was over we either got a pass, went into the village and drank beer, or went to a show. We could go to the Soldier's Club or to the Beer Garden. There was a lot of activity. I used to go around looking for the guys I had gone through basic with, people who had gone through basic prior to me, and people that came in later. We were always meeting soldiers from all over Northern California, Southern California, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. I am of Mexican descent and there were a lot of Mexicans in the regiment because the quarter was drawn from those states and the State of Washington on the Pacific Coast. The camaraderie was great and there were no racial problems of any kind.
It was a young army. We all averaged about 17 or 18 years old. Those in their twenties were "old", with the exception of the cadre. The non-commissioned officers were Second World War veterans. There were also some older guys who had been Filipino scouts that fought the Japanese during World War II. Our 1st Sergeant, PO Sergeant, and platoon sergeants were all World War II veterans. The training they gave me actually helped me throughout my life and up to the present. There isn't a day that I don't think about the 29th Infantry Regiment and the people who were in my company. I still look for and make calls to the men I served with in the 29th.
I remember this one instructor when I was going to leadership school. He came up and stood nose to nose in front of me. He put his face that close to me and he said, "Jesus, if nothing else, you soldier for the flag." I remembered that. Since my name is Jesus, when it came to mail call or role call or for anything, they couldn't resist the temptation. They hollered, "Smith, Rakowsky, McCormick, Garcia." But when they came to me they hollered, "Jesus." It stuck with me in the regiment up to this day. When I go to the reunion or what have you, someone will say, "Well, hello there, Jesus." My name is Jesus, but I cut it down to Jes.
War Breaks Out
War broke out in Korea on June 25, 1950. I remember that the first time I heard about the situation in Korea was when news about it came over the radio. The first thing I said was, "How do we get out of this chicken shit outfit and get over there to Korea? That's what I want." We were young and gung-ho, and before we knew it, we were on alert. Then we started thinking about it--"God, we are going to go!"
On July 24, a month after the war started, "A" Company of the 1st Battalion of the 29th Regimental Combat Team got sent to Korea. We were told we were going to put down an uprising, like it was a bunch of people with spears. It was supposed to be a police action, but we took a whipping. There were 400 recruits that came in when we got alerted. Some of them claimed that they weren't ready for combat when they were sent to Korea, but I speak very positively about the training that I received while in the 29th.
Once we went on alert our weapons were brought into the barracks instead of being in the armorer's room. Ammunition was brought into the barracks, too, as were C-rations. We were on stand-by for a couple of days. Then one night we went into an assembly area where they gave us a battle-load of about 140-160 rounds. They put us on trucks and we moved out. It was raining, but all the people in the villages came out to the road and bowed to us as we drove by. They liked us and they were sorry to see us go. I had a girlfriend and the last words that she said to me when I left were, "You take it easy."
When we started to leave Okinawa they promised us six weeks of combat training in Japan if we would take over for some of the units that were leaving. But things had intensified so much in Korea and they were so disorganized that they decided that they were going to cut that down and we wouldn't be going to Japan. Instead, they told us that we were going on to Korea and would train there for a couple of weeks.
Sticks, Sickles, and Shovels
It was early in the morning when they got us to the port. We loaded up on a couple of Japanese freighters or fishing boats. The Tagasaka Maru, which was formerly a Japanese hospital ship during World War II, took us to Korea. I remember that it had mats on the floor and a wooden trough on the rail. At the time I didn't know it, but if we had to take a pee we took a pee in that. It ran down the trough and away it went. They were something different.
It was very hot while we were at sea so we spent a lot of time up on the deck just lying around, cleaning our weapons, and listening to some of the orientation that was being given. "Orientation" was being told that there was an uprising in South Korea and that a bunch of gooks had stormed into South Korea with sticks and sickles and shovels. The impression I got was that we were going to go there to quell down a strike of some kind. But that's not the way it worked out. To my surprise, those sticks and sickles and shovels turned out to be burp guns. Burp guns looked like machine guns. I think they shot about a 6.5 round. There was a cylinder under the gun and the gunner had what I called a "skate key". I called it that because it was on a string around the gunner's neck and was needed to make the submachine gun work. When it was loaded the gunner had to crank the cylinder to get spring tension in it before it could fire. If we came across a burp gun and didn't get the key, it didn't work because they had straight magazines and most of them had the cylinder.
The other surprise to me was that the North Koreans had a machine gun that was similar to our .30 caliber gun, but it was a Russian job. It had a shield in front of it and it had wheels and a pull bar. A couple of guys would grab the pull bar and take off running with it real fast. Instead of a tripod the gunners naturally hid behind the shield. At that time the runners weren't shy about coming up front with that thing. They would expose themselves because they could hide behind the shield and really put down some fire.
We got to Pusan, Korea, in the morning of July 25, 1950. We immediately got off the ship at a port where everything was dirty and smelled awful. I could tell that I was in a war zone because I could see a lot of troop movement. I saw the wounded and felt the rush to get us to the front lines was eminent. From the time I first arrived in Korea until the time I got to my unit, I saw natives. My first impression of them was that they were poor and dirty. Most of them were refugees by this point and they all looked the same. They were all begging for food. There was no place for the natives to stay. They slept on the side of the road, etc.
I was assigned to Squad One, Platoon One, Company "I", 1st Battalion of the 29th Regimental Combat Team (RCT). I knew everyone in my company. I had some friends in the battalion. The entire unit I was in from Okinawa was moved to Korea. Most of us were still all together. We were moved right up to the front in the Masan/Taegu/Chinju area. When we first got there we took over a big school and assembled in the school yard. We were to get our weapons ready for combat. I was the squad leader of a nine-man squad and then we were assigned locations.
We fought as an element of the 29th Infantry Regiment along with the larger, more publicized units in Korea from approximately July 22 to September 5, 1950. We were under-strength as a regiment. We only had two battalions--the 1st and the 3rd. The 2nd stayed on Okinawa. Our companies were also under-strength. We had a company of 150 some men when we went to Korea, and not all of those had been with the company that long. Some came into the company when we went to Korea. All of our people were TDY (temporary duty) to our company from other units. They had been driving buses in Naha, lent out to quartermaster, and even taken out of stockades.
We didn't get any publicity because we were a bastard outfit. That was bad due to the fact that we didn't have the support that the other outfits had. We had 60mm mortars and 81s, but we didn't have the 4.2 mortars, the 105s, the 155 artillery, the air support, or the Air Force liaison officer that the divisions had. I didn't realize this until we went into the 25th Infantry Division.
We weren't the best equipped outfit. We had old Jeeps and old trucks. We were told that we were the best supplied army in the world, yet the North Koreans caught us off guard. They really did. As far as mobilization, they did the best they could getting us over there in Japanese freighters and getting us on the boat.
I was assigned to the 1st Battalion with Colonel Wilson. We moved up to Anju. The 3rd Battalion went up to Hadong, where they had a bad time of it. They were ambushed and I believe that in a short time there were about 300 killed. There were 100 taken prisoners and all kinds of people were wounded. They were attached to the 21st Regiment of the 24th Division. We were attached to the 19th Regiment of the 24th Division.
I can remember like it was today when my company commander, Captain Basika, asked me if I wanted to be his runner. I thought to myself, "Being his runner he probably wants me to be his bodyguard." I said okay and I was sent up to the 1st Squad. I thought I was going to company headquarters. Lieutenant Griffin, the platoon leader, took off on a motorized patrol up the road and they threw some fire and started fighting. We didn't know too much about the enemy, but I couldn't figure out why we hadn't moved further up north. I didn't know that things were that bad. They didn't tell us much--just what we had to know for that day. I remember that the company commander asked me to dig a foxhole. He said, "Make it deep," so I made it deep. When I reported that it was done he said, "Now you go dig another one." When I asked him why, he said, "Because that one's mine." That's when I decided that I didn't want to be a runner.
I went back to my first squad. I was assistant squad leader at the time. Before we knew it, our battalion was surrounded. When the 3rd Battalion got ambushed at Hadong, they all took some heavy hits and a lot of casualties. Some of them made it out to the coast and got back to Pusan on small boats. Sadly, the 1st Battalion did not have any communications with the 24th Division. All we had were walkie-talkies. We had 300s (radios), but nothing big like the division had. They had big trucks and Jeeps with big radios. They could call for artillery support and what have you, but just being a regiment, we didn't have all that much support.
When we were surrounded we walked out. We walked at night and finally we made it back to our lines. The North Korean army was on our tail all the time, but we managed to get back to friendly lines. We tied in with the 19th again and started fighting. We fought not only in the daytime, but this fighting continued around the clock, including throughout the night. Sometimes the North Koreans probed in the daytime to find out exactly where we were. If they could flank us, they did. Sometimes we couldn't hold a line because we didn't have that many troops. We went up into the mountains and made a perimeter. We had to learn fast what was happening. If we tried to hold the line it was disastrous right off the bat.
The training we had didn't make a difference at this point because it was more or less on-the-job training. If we got smart we had a better chance. If a mortar round or artillery came in, we had to be lucky. I used to pray a lot. Another thing that helped me was that I was street smart from before going into the service. On the streets I learned how to fight. You fight like an animal and after a while you become an animal. Something else that helped me survive Korea was that going hungry wasn't new to me and didn't hurt me.
We didn't have shower units. If we were by a river we would jump in the river, clothes and all, and try to stay clean that way, but we always had to be on our toes. I remember one time bathing in a river that had a cement gate. The gooks shut off the gate and the river ran dry. We went out on a patrol to find out what happened to the water. The gooks saw us, knew that they were being pursued, and ran into a cave. We saw them go into it. We had an interpreter with us and he asked the gooks to come out, but they wouldn't. We fired into the tunnel, but they still wouldn't come out. We then got a block charge of TNT that looked like a carton of milk. It had an orange cord and a cap on it. We learned fast how to do all these things and then we blew up the entrance and sealed the tunnel. We opened the river's cement gate and the water started going down the river again. The sergeant asked me, "Did you guys take care of it?" We said, "Yeah." That's all there was to it. We went about our business again.
Attached to the 24th
At times it was real hard because the 24th Division used us (the 29th) to plug holes. Whenever there was a breakthrough, BAM! "Saddle up and move out." God, I remember cussing all the time, "Can't these guys hold?" We plugged holes for the Deuce Four, the all-black 24th Regiment. I remember moving through their positions, too. They were sitting on the road and we had to move through them to take the positions back. That didn't go over too good with the 29th. At times we hollered at them and they wanted to fight us. When that happened we told them, "Well, if you want to fight, go up there and fight for your country. Don't fight with us. We're going up there to retake your positions."
The regiment lost a lot of people but we held our positions. I especially remember one night when the fighting was real bad. They brought in a water-cooled .30 from Weapons Company of the 5th Regimental Combat Team. We strung wire all day and then we had to hold that night. We got the order that General Walker was told by MacArthur to hold, and we were told to hold to the last man to save our lives. I told this other guy, "I don't know what the hell they're talking about. We're fighting for our lives every day." It was crazy. It was savage. At times we were fighting as a squad, as a platoon, and as a company. There were times when people were dying all around us. There were times when we were fighting by ourselves. We would turn around and find out that the other guys in the company were either gone or dead.
Anui, Hadong, Haman, Chinju
We fought in Anui, Hadong, Haman, and Chinju. I remember the first time that we went through Haman. It was more than a small village. It was bigger--like a town, and it had lots of homes and cobbled streets. Haman had towers made out of rocks. I inquired what they were. It seemed like every large village had a town gathering place like a courtyard, and they also had a police station with a tower. As we came through the area we saw the 27th Infantry Regiment, the Wolfhounds from the 25th Regiment, and black troops from the 24th Infantry Regiment of the 25th.
After going through Haman we engaged the enemy in the Perimeter and had a firefight. Then we had to retreat. We had to come back through Haman, and I noticed that the town was destroyed. It had taken a hit and there had been some fighting in town. The whole town had been leveled off. It was rubble. That's how fierce that fight was. There had been a hell of a fight there.
There was fighting every day and every night. Our morale was low but we had gotten the picture that any time we got into a firefight the thing to do was to fight and fight hard because if the enemy came through, it was all over. If they broke through we were going to die, so the best thing to do for the unit was to stay together and fight--and we knew it. There were units that did surrender and it didn't work for them because their men were killed. They were never heard from again. There were units that ran, the enemy caught up with them, and they were shot in the back. And there were units, even small units, that held and fought through the night. When the smoke cleared in the morning, there they were. We always tried to counterattack, get our wounded, and help whoever got surrounded. By this time the 29th was really getting to be a crack unit.
We were in and out of Chinju a couple of times. Haman, Masan, Taegu. I would like to go back to the Pusan Perimeter area around Haman, the Chinju Pass area, and the Naktong. I would like to try and find where we had all of our firefights.
Fighting at The Notch
We were at the Chinju Pass when we were ambushed. The 19th was moving up with some armored cars and trucks. They went over the crest to the pass and proceeded down. At the same time, the North Korean 6th Division was coming up on the other side. When the two divisions met, they stopped and a firefight erupted. The people in those trucks and armored vehicles took casualties and they abandoned them. They jumped out of the vehicles and ran back over The Notch. "A" Company was asked to disembark from the trucks and move up on the left-hand side of The Notch. We proceeded to take the high ground. We started out on flat land and went through rice fields before reaching the very base of the mountain. The mountains in Korea were very steep and it took all day to climb them. The North Koreans were at the top of the mountain waiting for us and started shooting once we were almost to the top.
Now, it was very hot in those days and I wanted to travel light, so I had gotten rid of my entrenching tool. This is where I learned that you never get rid of your entrenching tool or your canteen. We started moving up to the top to take the high ground. Our platoon sergeant was a Filipino scout. The terrain played a big part in formations in which we traveled. The platoon sergeant gave us a diamond formation. Although it didn't give the enemy a good target because we were staggered, it was difficult to stay in a four-point formation while climbing. It was a steep mountain to have to climb and I said to myself, "This is crazy. A diamond formation? We're trying to get up this hill and we can hardly climb." Finally we made it to the crest and we got over. It was kind of flat. When we got there we started to take fire. People started digging foxholes and there I was with no entrenching tool. I saw a GI up ahead of me behind a log, so I made a dash for him, ran over beside him, and said, "Hi. Move over." When I fell there I pushed him and the guy rolled over. He was dead. I took his entrenching tool and that's the first time I started digging a little pit in front of me. I started getting deeper until I finally had dug a big enough hole that I could get into. We had to hold there, and then after a while we moved up and we cleared the mountain.
The next morning my squad was selected to go down into The Notch and retrieve the abandoned vehicles. Sergeant Baker led the patrol and we made our way down to the vehicles. On the right-hand side there was a gully and on the left-hand side there was a ravine. We had part of our "baptism of fire" when a firefight broke out while we were down there with the vehicles. After a while the firefight stopped. We managed to retrieve the armored cars and weapon vehicles. I don't know what they called them, but they had wheels in the front and tracks in the back. We made it back, but we took casualties.
Afraid All the Time
Thereafter we were assigned different objectives every day. We got together and fought as a unit--and we were good at it. But there wasn't a day that we weren't afraid. I was afraid all the time. I was afraid of taking a hit in the face or getting a gut wound. My biggest fear was getting captured. The Pioneer and Ammunition (P&A) Platoon used to run up and down the road through us in their armored Jeeps. They had a machine gun on a post on the Jeep and they had a hook on the front that could catch wire. They were regular cowboys up and down the roads. By this time the enemy had planted themselves behind us and we never knew if they would catch the kitchen or the supply. One day they ambushed the P&A Platoon. We found them in a ditch. They all had their hands tied behind their backs with C-ration wire--the wire that was used to tie the C-rations together. Atrocities had been committed on them. When I saw that at the young age of 17, I made up my mind that they would never catch me. I was afraid of that, so I would go to any extent to keep from getting captured.
We were surprised by the enemy's burp guns and their machine guns on wheels. But they also had a big green monster--the T-34 tank, that came on line. We couldn't stop those tanks. Our 2.36 rocket launches hit them, but they bounced right off. At first we tried to take them on and see what we could do, but we just couldn't do anything with them.
Watching the War
It might sound funny, but there were times when we took the high ground that we could watch the war. We could see the other platoon trying to take their objective on the right and on the left. We could watch the platoon trying to make it up to the top and we could see the North Koreans run over from the reverse slope and start throwing hand grenades on them and firing on them. There was nothing we could do because we didn't have communications with them. We could watch the war, but at the same time they could watch us and know what was going to happen to us once they took their high ground. We were supposed to tie in with them and we couldn't.
We had orange panels that we put on the reverse side of our position on the mountain. The panels were used to identify us and protect us from our own air strikes. At least, we thought they would protect us. Joe Chink got smart. When they overran a position the first thing they grabbed were those panels. They laid them out and sometimes it was reported that the North Koreans had the panels. That meant that the Air Force would come down and fire on the wrong people. They didn't realize that the panels had been stolen when the North Koreans had overran the position. Other times the North Koreans laid the panels on the mountains so that our Air Force wouldn't fire on them while they kept fighting us. That happened to us in the Pusan Perimeter. At that time we were told that we had to stay and fight and there was nowhere to go. In spite of being told there was "nowhere to go", we would have to come out of those mountains at times and go on patrol. That was always happening.
Under the House
Another time our company came into a village. We had to take the high ground in front of us. All of a sudden we started taking a lot of hits from behind. Guys were getting hit on the calves and the legs--the lower part of the leg and the feet. We couldn't figure out what was going on. What was happening was there were a couple of North Koreans hiding underneath a house. All they could see was legs and feet, and that's what they were firing at. Once we got the smarts on that we burned the house down with them in it. We were getting smart. It was more on-the-job training.
Sick with Malaria
I got sick with malaria while I was in Korea. I think I contracted it because of the mosquitoes and rice paddies. I always had a good appetite even though I was skinny, and we weren't getting that much food. I remember that one time the mess kitchen was brought up to the line. The cooks made biscuits and I could smell them. I had never turned a biscuit down, but I was so sick with malaria that I didn't eat. I did not get any treatment because we could not get back to the first aid tent unless we were wounded.
The war had gotten so bad that we could not retreat from the area. Many people faked mental illness to get medical attention. I suffered from malaria the entire time I was in Korea, which was one year. I got medical attention once I returned from Korea. The doctors didn't do much for me. I still suffered from the after effects of the disease for almost two years. The main side effect I had was the shaking and the high temperature.
Danger of Land Mines
When I was with the 29th we didn't have mines like the division did. They had land mines and road mines. We didn't have them and the ones that we did have were the ones that were planted in front of us. At times we were in our positions and then we would go out on the road to go out on patrol and right off the bat, "Boom!" Somebody would step on a mine. It was scary. Once somebody blows up, what do the rest of us do?
When I was in Korea I never saw one of those mine detectors. The only mine detector I saw while I was with the 29th was a bayonet. I remember one instance when they gave the order to "saddle up" and we hit the road. As we were coming up the road, all of a sudden we heard a big explosion in front of a bridge. I saw the hood of a Jeep coming down. It had gone up in the ground and it was spinning down real slow. There was black smoke. I remember it just like it was happening now. What happened was the Jeep went over a mine. It must have been a big sucker because it blew that Jeep into smithereens and the people that were in the Jeep were killed. They were dismantled. There was no hollering, no pain, or anything. They were dead.
We stopped and the sergeant told us to break out our bayonets and start probing on the road. We all knelt down on the road and started probing. All of a sudden an officer came and told us to get on our feet and move out. He told us to just step in the steps of the fellow in front of us. Across the road on the other side was a Korean cemetery that had mounds. The mounds symbolized the womb as a child comes into the world or something. It was all grassy. I thought to myself, "Well, this is real convenient. There's a cemetery and here we're walking through this mine field." The officer didn't walk in front of us. He just told us to move out. There was a hole to plug (a breakthrough) and we had to get out there and get the job done. We lucked out. We didn't step on a mine. We just moved out.
As I recall, when we got to the other side there was an officer there who told our outfit where to go. We had to move out on the double and that's the way it went. We got this momentum behind us and we could hear the fight going on. It intensified as we moved on and then the adrenalin in us got going. I told my squad to move out and started hollering commands. "Hurry up! Let's go!" The firing started and then we started taking casualties.
People started hollering. They hollered for medics and they called for their mother. I remember people talking to God and confessing that they would never be mean to their parents again. I heard them ask Him to help stop the pain or they promised to God they would go to church every day if He would just pull them out of this. Not only could I hear all this noise, I could smell the smell of powder and ammunition. I heard commands from different outfits that were moving upward. People were taking hits. All of this came together. It's something that I can't describe or make someone who has never been there understand.
That's where heroes come from--people who can move out under those conditions. That was the wonderful part of being part of the 29th. We had had rigid training. Our instructors sometimes treated us inhumanely in the way they talked to us and cussed at us and used corporal punishment. In combat, that all paid off. When they told us to move out, we moved out. I don't remember any time where anybody questioned it. Maybe some didn't move out as fast as they should have at times, but whether the command was to move forward to the rear (what they called "bugging out"), they were commands. The soldiers at that time did what they were told.
Tank Mountain (a/k/a Tank Hill) was a mountain on a perimeter that we assaulted. Different platoons and different companies tried to take this mountain. They approached it from different fingers. These mountains were high and it took us a long time to reach the top. The procedure was that if we got artillery or mortar support, we got as close to the top as we could before they lifted the support. Once they lifted the support (the mortars or what have you), we were supposed to run and take the high ground. If we weren't fast, if we got hung up, or if somebody stopped and the momentum stopped, then we weren't going to make it to the top. If that happened the North Koreans would come back over the reverse slope and start throwing hand grenades. They actually stood exposed, just shooting at us. They were exposed because they knew what it was all about. Some of those people had fought against the Japanese, so they had the smarts. We were learning, but we were learning the hard way.
Losing Squad Members
Sgt. Hubert Baker, a platoon sergeant, had a squad that was all Mexican. Prior to Korea he kept the Mexicans kind of separated in different squads. In garrison the Army didn't like for us to talk in Spanish. It was a no-no, but it was hard to enforce because they couldn't be watching everyone all of the time. Once we got in Korea, the Mexican squad had something going. Sergeant Baker's all-Mexican squad was moving and doing it right. Sergeant Baker changed his colors and he really liked having the Mexican squad because they followed orders and they moved out when ordered. Our Mexican squad included Manuel Gonzalez, George Gonzalez and Henry McCormick. (I don't know how he ended up with that name since he was Mexican.) Henry McCormick was the assistant gunner to the BARman, Oscar Gillegos. We had another kid whose name was Goodman. He wasn't Mexican, but he was in the squad. He was just good.
On the evening of the first day that we tried to take the mountain (August 19, 1950), we tried to make a frontal attack on some high ground and tried to knock out one of the machine guns on wheels. The only way that we could do it was to just go over the top, down into a gully, and come back and try to take that ridge. A machine gun caught us and to my immediate right Goodman dropped, George Gonzalez dropped, and then Manuel Gonzalez dropped. All three of them were killed with that first burst that we took. I lost half of my squad right there, just in one instant. That can tell you what kind of fighting we were doing and how intense it was. The make-up of a nine-man squad was the squad leader (me) and eight men under my leadership. Their duty was to follow me and to obey all of my commands, i.e., direction of fire, order of attack, cease fire, the call to action, etc.
It took us three days to take the mountain. The first two days we were being pushed out. On Day Three we took the mountain. Tank Mountain got its name because on the third day of trying to take the mountain, a tank cleared the way for us to get to the top. The tank cleared trees and made a road for us to travel on. Once we got to the top there was a higher ridge in front of that. It seemed like there was always a higher ridge in front. An officer halted all of the firing and told us that when he blew his whistle everybody was to fire their weapons so we could show the North Koreans what kind of fire power we had. I looked over at another guy and said, "I don't know what he is talking about. I only got three clips left for my M1." That's the way it went. We had to watch our water and we had to watch our ammo.
We fought all that day, dug in for the night, and made a perimeter on the spot. That night a North Korean walked in with a burp gun. He just walked right into the perimeter, sprayed it, and walked right back out. Everybody started firing and they threw hand grenades, but they didn't get him. That's how brave the North Koreans were. They just walked right in. So we learned about that and the next time there wasn't going to be any walking in.
A North Korean hit my foxhole buddy that night. The next morning there was heavy, pea-like fog. When the fog lifted I looked at my buddy and saw that he had taken a bullet in his forehead. His eyes were closed. I thought he looked like a North Korean, but he was my foxhole buddy. I never knew his name. I only knew that he was from Spain. He had not been there very long, so many of us hadn't had the chance to know him.
We were pulled off of Tank Mountain the next morning and started on the reverse side of the mountain. They drove us around to the other side of the mountain and we started again. We got pinned down by the same machine guns with the wheels. Lieutenant Baldwin sent a guy out to move in front to find out what was pinning us down. That person got hit. He sent another person and he got hit. Then he sent a third person and he got hit. Lieutenant Baldwin said, "Well, I'll have to do it myself. If nobody can do it, I'll do it." He moved up and he got hit in the chest. I remember him giving his binoculars, his .45, and his carving (rifle) away, and I thought at that time how dumb it was that all of this was happening.
All of a sudden I heard thrashing. I looked back and trees were coming down. Then I saw a tank coming up this steep hill. That was what was knocking the trees down. Lieutenant Griffin from "A" Company was behind with a telephone on the line and he was directing the tanks. After a little while I saw the enemy machine gun going up in the air after the tank delivered a round to it. Before we knew it, we got the momentum again with that tank. We went over the top and took our objective.
Once we took this objective it wasn't over. We knew that Charlie would come back at night. They used to call the enemy "Charlie", but I used to call him Joe Chink. Joe Chink never let up on us. In the daytime we had to take mortar rounds that came into the position, but at night for sure he would be there. It had an effect on us psychologically. As soon as it got late in the afternoon we started getting long shadows. For some reason it reminded me of Dracula because Joe Chink would be coming out with horns and bugles. It scared us down to the bone. Once we heard them we knew it was a command for them to exercise and they would move out.
In the daytime all we could see were what looked like women walking around in white dresses. The company or the battalion decided to send a patrol down there and I was on it. We came off the mountain and went down into a big village. The first thing that we ran into was a bunker or tunnel and there were some North Koreans in there. The interpreter asked them to come out, but they wouldn't. We found a cache of arms and in this cache were boxes of potato masher concussion grenades. Since they wouldn't come out, we threw a couple of them down in that bunker and tunnel and that was the end of that. We proceeded with our patrol down into the village where we found a courtyard with several wounded women lying in it. But on closer look, they weren't women after all. They were male North Korean soldiers. There must have been 50 or 60 of them in there. We kept checking out the village and found some more arms in carts. The weapons were covered with straw. We reported to the company and they told us to withdraw. On our way back they picked up the cache of weapons and gave them to the South Koreans. They fired a fire mission of white phosphorous and burned the village down. I know that those North Koreans went up in smoke.
No sooner had we done that than we were visited by a couple of T34s. I think they must have been hiding in a tunnel. As soon as it got dark they came out. We were on top of the mountain, so we just dug our holes a little deeper. Those tanks were awesome. They scared the hell out of us. We had no way of knocking them out. We fired a .75 recoilless at them, but they were sitting pretty because they knew we didn't have anything to take them out, whether they were out of range or whatever. To me, they were monsters out there. All we could do was either run behind the reverse side of the slope or dig our holes a little deeper.
While in the Pusan Perimeter some of us were selected to go on patrols that we called "suicide patrols." Our orders were to go out and make contact with the enemy, which meant that we had to go out there and either walk into an ambush or they were looking for us and we were looking for them and we were going to run into them. We didn't have to go too far. We went out on a couple of patrols that were disastrous. We made contact and it ended up in a big firefight. We were lucky to get back.
Firefight at the Trestle
There was a patrol every day. We had to decide how to get to our objective. If we didn't know if the enemy was out there we had to find out where he was. We had to learn to walk a certain way, such as how to stay out of open areas like the rice paddies. We had to walk in the tree line or walk down railroad trestles. We had to conceal ourselves the best way we could.
I remember that one of the first casualties we took was a corporal. He was an Indian. We had gotten down behind this railroad trestle because we knew that there was somebody out to our front on the high ground. It was a sniper who started shooting at us. He hit this corporal and gave him was we called a "million dollar wound". The bullet hit him in the wrist. As soon as he was hit he slid back, waved goodbye to us, and took off running. I got a little scared. I thought that's the way it is when you get hit--you just get it like that.
We laid there for a while, but even knowing there was a sniper with a burp gun out there we had to move out. After a while we went over the top and down on the other side of the trestle. We moved from around a finger and started to walk into what was a bamboo shoot (a bunch of bamboo). We walked through the bamboo single file with intervals between us. We had to try to look up at the sky line and be on alert while waiting our turn.
I had a carved bayonet tied in the straps of my boot at the time. I was pretty close to the point when it was my turn to go into the shoot when all of a sudden I saw a gook come out of a hole on the skyline. He sprayed us with his burp gun and everybody took off running. They ran around that finger and got on the other side. I was the last one, and when I got there I realized that I had lost my bayonet in that run. Nobody got hit, but we were learning fast what to look for. We withdrew and took another approach. The same guy let us get halfway up the finger on the ridge and then he pinned us down again. The decision was made that we couldn't be pinned down. We had to move, so instead of moving back we moved forward and made it up the hill. There was a lot of firing going on, but we took our objective.
Heat, Thirst, and Other Misery
I still remember how hot it was that day. We could pass out just from the heat itself. Some of us (including me) made the mistake of cutting off the sleeves of our fatigue jackets. It was cooler, but I got sunburned. I mean, I got brown. Then my skin got chapped. In Korea there were no facilities to take care of sunburn. If you had sunburn, you had sunburn. Then the next day you got it worse--but we still had to move.
The other thing that was against us was the water situation. It was so hot that we used to get thirsty. We had to learn about our water. Those who didn't have discipline got so thirsty that they wanted to drink rice paddy water or water out of wells in the villages. Anyone who did that would surely catch dysentery and that was bad. When we got sunburn we had to take salt tablets in order not to get sunstroke. Standing in the sun caused us to sweat out all of our natural salt. Our stomachs would turn white and get bloated from the sunburn. We nicknamed that stomach bloat, "shark belly". Shark bellies were white and all of our fatigues were stained with perspiration.
Another one of my surprises was the mosquitoes that we had out there. I mean, we could see them coming at us. They were that big in Korea. They had big mosquitoes, big rats, big trap-door spiders, and what they called a "horror booth" snake. I'm one of the few people that if there are five people around and there's any kind of lice, I'm the one that's going to get bit first. That's the same with those mosquitoes. I must be sweet or something because they came after me and left welts all over me. Back in Okinawa we used to have mosquito nets, but when we got to Korea there was no such thing as mosquito netting or mosquito repellant.
In Korea what we were most concerned about wasn't mosquitoes, however. Our priority was ammunition. There were times when we ran out of ammunition. I call it a "Mexican standoff." We went out on patrol, engaged the enemy, and had a firefight. Then we would run out of ammunition, disengage, and proceed to try to get back to our company. At times they brought up a supply of ammunition in cases. I for sure grabbed four bandoleers--two for each shoulder, and then I filled up my pouch with hand grenades. I think it had three or four compartments. I loaded that up on my right leg and then I filled up the pockets of my field jacket.
At that time Joe Chink came around at night. He would say, "Hey Joe. Hey Joe." If we answered him he wouldn't answer back, but he knew where we were at and sometimes he came after us. Some of the guys that answered had their throats slit the next morning. We learned that if we heard him say, "Hey Joe," to let him keep hollering. He would get closer and closer until we thought he was close enough, then we fed him a hand grenade. We just tossed it at him and we didn't hear, "Hey Joe" anymore. Sometimes the North Koreans were just trying to find out our approximate position and if somebody fired a machine gun or BAR they surely knew our location. Then they would come back in force, get as close as they could to that position, and when the BAR started firing in the early morning in the dark or in the fog, they knew exactly where it was and went after it.
Short End of the Stick
General MacArthur needed troops. I don't want to quote him, but he said he was going to use blood and bodies to buy time--and he did with the 29th for sure, even though he never mentioned the 29th in his memoirs. The 29th Regiment was used rather than the division troops. The 21st had the 2nd Battalion and the 19th had the 29th attached to it. Naturally they used the 29th in counter-attacks to plug holes. We had to do it in one day, take casualties, take the position, be relieved by the people in the division, pull back, and then we were used again the next day to plug a hole. That went on and on and on and we started to think, "When does this stop? I'm at the short end of the stick." It was demoralizing because we saw other guys sitting in foxholes and we were moving out. They hollered, "Saddle up," and there went the 29th.
I recently got to meet some of the other soldiers in the 29th. This year I attended a reunion in Santa Barbara because an assistant BAR gunner in Santa Barbara invited me to the 29th's reunion. They greeted me just like Henry McCormick. They had this camaraderie that came with it because they had tied in with the 29th and they were well aware of where I came from. They were well aware of the 29th, what we had done with the 19th and how we helped them. They had never forgotten it. At the regimental reunion, the commander now, Colonel Jordan, apologized on behalf of the Army for treating us the way they did when we came home. He made us feel at home. I went back to "A" Company to visit them and it was just like the prodigal son coming home. There was that much love for me for the company and the regiment.
One time we were coming down a winding path through the mountains. I remember I had an M1 and a .45 that I had acquired from somebody that didn't need it anymore--he had gotten killed. We were trying to make it back to our position where there was a squad patrol. I was the squad leader and I was bringing them back through the trails up through the paddies, just trying to get back. To our surprise here came a North Korean squad from the opposite direction. We came around the bend and I whipped out my empty .45. They surrendered, so we took their weapons and we marched them in. It's one of those things we laugh about when I talk with some of the fellows that I'm in contact with these many years later.
There was one BAR in each squad, but that changed after a while. Sgt. Hubert Baker was in charge of the squad, so he wanted more BARs. We got them by swiping them. One time we stole one from the Marines. Another time we stole another one. We always had a couple of guys in the platoon who were not the best soldiers, so anytime anybody screwed up they were put on detail. They either had to carry a BAR or BAR ammunition belt or carry a five-gallon can of water as punishment.
There were many things that people could do to get a detail. One was if someone was too mouthy. A straggler who couldn't keep up for any reason also usually ended up with the water. I don't care how we carried that five-gallon can of water, there was no comfortable way to carry it. That sucker was heavy. We could carry it on top of our heads. We could put it on our back with both hands behind our neck. We could carry it on our side. We could tie a rope on it. I don't care how we carried it, it was awkward and it was heavy.
When we engaged in a firefight we got the people carrying the BARs to turn them over to us. Sergeant Baker would grab a BAR and so would I. Those BARs were the key to taking on the North Koreans enemy. At that time the enemy was the North Korean Sixth Division, and they had the numbers. I mean, they had the people to make a frontal attack and at the same time flank us and then hit us from the rear. They knew what they were doing. They had it down. They had a little respect for our BARs, though. They knew that if the BAR hit them, they were going down. If it hit them on the leg, it would knock them right off their feet or it would cut them in half. It was an awesome weapon to fire, and we could tell if we were doing some damage with it, especially in a foxhole and firing the BAR in the prone position. We could get the momentum going behind the BAR where people started firing. The BAR got the show on the way.
We had to learn that everybody had to fire their rifles and we had to fire at something that was out there moving. We didn't just fire to fire. We had to pick our targets because there were plenty of them out there. We got scared and we got what I call "anxiety." We saw people coming at us and we were firing. At first our clip would eject on our last round and then we stumbled to get that next clip into our M1. After a while we didn't remember sticking that magazine in there--or we would come back and get another one. That's how intense the fighting got.
It was the same with the BAR. I mean, it was spitting them out, especially when we were up on the ridge and we could see the enemy crossing. It also depended on how close we were to the river. The North Koreans always tried to make it to the river. At first I couldn't figure out how the North Korean tanks were getting across the river and then getting up close to us. What was happening was the Air Force was knocking out all the bridges, but the North Koreans were building what they called "invisible bridges." At night we could hear them pounding and working out there. What they did was to fill up sand bags and rocks and put them in the river. They built them up so that they were below the water and we couldn't detect them. We couldn't see them because they were underwater bridges.
There was one guy who was very careful. He was very cautious about what he did. He was always looking for concealment--how to hide so he wouldn't be exposed. We started to move off again and BANG, he got it right in the head. That sharpened our nerves. We didn't know what to expect next. We were taking a lot of casualties, so we had to get smarter. The things we had to learn were to not think about bugging out. Instead, we needed to think about fighting and engaging because the enemy in front of us had the same idea. They had to fight to keep their momentum going, so we had to fight to counter it.
Once we got to the top of ridge and there were rice paddies all around, we could see evidence of the enemy. The grass was bent where somebody was crawling--the enemy was moving up on us. That was one of the disadvantages of crawling through the grass in the daytime. We weren't aware of it at first, but soon realized that the enemy was leaving a trail. Normally green grass looked darker when it was smashed by someone crawling through it. We learned that if we fed ammunition into the spot where the grass was still green, we would probably hit somebody. And it worked.
Patrolling the Naktong
We patrolled the Naktong River in the Pusan Perimeter. The North Koreans were crossing the Naktong and we had to repel them or they would flank us and unplug a hole in our lines. We had to move to plug those holes and we didn't get much sleep. At that time we were on alert as soon as it got dark. Two hours on and two hours off. We didn't get to see the kitchen very much. We had to eat C-rations, and at times we didn't even have those. We had to eat off what we could find. I remember that we used to eat melons. Sometimes we found corn. We ate whatever we could find.
One particular time we were asked as a platoon to go on a patrol and bring back a prisoner. I have a very good friend by the name of Robert L. Thompson. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky. We were a couple of young runts in the company. We were both 17 years old and we took to each other like brothers. We went on this patrol at night. We crossed the Naktong River and when we were about halfway across the North Koreans turned a spotlight on the river. It was crazy. We had our M1s over our heads and as we were walking a light came on us. You can imagine what thoughts went through our minds. I mean, we thought this was it. They had us out in the middle of the river and the whole platoon was out there. Everybody was in the water. When they started moving the light around I guess they didn't see us. I thought to myself that we would probably go back now that the light was on. But, no. The patrol proceeded and we got to the opposite bank, which was enemy-held.
At that time we had a plan of what we had to do. We had to go out and get a prisoner. There was a fork in the road there and one squad went up one way and we branched off another way. There was a pagoda (church) there. Inside of the church there were North Koreans sleeping. The sergeant who was in charge of our squad was Sgt. Jim Grandy. He was a Pollock and the toughest soldier I ever met. I mean, he was bad. Sergeant Grandy liked me, maybe because I was a runt. I used to weigh about 120 pounds probably, and had a 28-inch waist. I guess he got a kick out of me because I was kind of gung-ho.
While the North Koreans were sleeping, Sergeant Grandy passed on the word that everybody should get a hand grenade. When he threw his each one of us were to throw one into the pagoda. That's what we did. We heard hollering and then people came running out. In the commotion we all took off running toward the river. When we got there we started running across it trying to get back to our lines on the other side. We had our prisoner and we made it back, with the exception of an interpreter. It was almost daylight by that time. We got to the high ground on friendly lines and then we saw the interpreter coming. He was running and being chased by a couple of North Koreans. We all got up and cheered for him to make it and some of us started running towards him to help him but they shot him before he got close enough. We were out of range to help him. The Koreans retreated and went back across the river. Other than the interpreter, we had no casualties.
One morning we were sent out on a platoon reconnaissance patrol. We were supposed to find and tie into the regiment or a company of the 19th. It was kind of like a forced march. Lieutenant Baldwin told us that we were going to move out. Since it was a long march and we knew it, he told us that it was going to separate the men from the boys, and he took off. The NCOs (the older people) couldn't keep up. Some of them fell back or fell out.
We finally made it to our position, but the 19th wasn't there. We weren't lost, but we couldn't tie in. We were marooned out in the middle of nowhere and we were just an under-strength platoon at that time. We made a perimeter out there in no man's land and, sure enough, here came the gooks at night. They were crossing the Naktong but they didn't know we were there. We took them out. It wasn't a matter of wanting to take them on. We had no place to go. It was a situation where we had to engage. We actually beat them off.
The next day we hightailed back to our unit and reported that they sent us on a patrol in which we couldn't find the people we were supposed to tie in with or contact because they weren't there. Nobody knew where anybody was. The units were getting smaller. They were waiting for replacements. That's what was happening every day. We were also fighting every day. The patrols ran into patrols. The North Koreans ran into us and we ran into them and it developed into a firefight. Whoever had the upper hand pressed forward, otherwise they retreated or we retreated.
While in the Perimeter we used to get hit in the nighttime. In the daytime the North Koreans disappeared. I remember one particular time we were sent on a patrol because it was thought that there were some gooks hiding in a train tunnel. There were a lot of railroad tracks around there and there were tunnels that went through the mountains.
Imagine bringing the patrol up to the mouth of the tunnel, then having to descend into it and walk through it. As we started off it was light, but we couldn't see the end of the tunnel because as we proceeded through it the light got smaller until it soon disappeared. The plan was that we were supposed to go through the tunnel and run the gooks out. It was pitch black in there, but we had to keep going and get to the other side. We started hearing a noise. When we stopped, the noise stopped. When we started again we heard the noise again. We were whispering. To make a long story short, to our surprise, when the light from the end of the tunnel came, we saw some kind of cow or ox moving out there. We were relieved. We were also covered with soot and what have you because the trains used to burn coal and wood. From rubbing against the walls and inching our way across, we were covered with soot.
Back when we first arrived in Korea we were moved up to the front on a train. We were on the train several times and usually in box cars. I remember that it was real hot. The train took us into tunnels and when we came out of them we looked across at our buddy's face, black with soot and smoke from the train. These are things that we can laugh about now, but at the time, God, it was awesome.
In September of 1950, the 3rd Battalion of the 29th Regiment was transferred to the 27th Regiment (Wolfhounds) of the 25th Division. The 1st Battalion of the 29th (including me) went to the 35th Regiment of the 25th Division. Nothing changed other than the name of the regiment. The people in the company were still the men of the 29th and we stayed as a unit and continued to fight. The only difference was that we had artillery support now. We had people from the 25th Division and the 64th Field Artillery Battalion (FAB). We had tank support when we moved out and around the Pusan Perimeter. We had air support and we had artillery and that did make a difference.
It was while I was with the 35th Regiment that we had an engagement with the Chinese/North Koreans. It involved a lot of hand-to-hand and close fighting. A bullet was fired at me between my legs. It went through the front of my coat and out the back. I ran up to the guy that shot at me and whaled at him with my M1. I crushed his forehead in. I knew it was smashed because of the noise it made.
There were situations when we had brushes with the enemy. They ran by us and they overran our positions. If they didn't fire at us they would take a slash at us with a bayonet. They ran through our positions and then they came back and ran the other way. This caused a lot of confusion and it went on all the time. People were hollering and sometimes it was pitch dark, so we had to adapt to that. We actually never really "adapted" to it, but we had to be aware of what was going to happen. Even though it was dark that's how I knew the guy's forehead was crushed.
This action against the enemy took place on the night of February 2, 1951. As a result, I received a Silver Star. The citation is as follows:
I don't even bother to talk about some of these stories because people wouldn't believe me anyway. We were a young army with troops that averaged age 17, 18, 19. They were the young warriors. When I contact or write to the people in the 29th, I call them American heroes. I was awarded the Silver Star in Korea, but my most esteemed award is my Combat Infantry Badge. That was awarded to everyone in my company. I'm very proud of it and I'm sure that they are too because to earn it in Korea was hard.
I had a couple of friends who made it through the war without a scratch. They were lucky. I have a friend named Edward Belby who lives in Montana now. He served in Korea and then went on to become a Ranger and later on a Green Beret. We sit down and talk now and he tells me about fighting in Vietnam and Laos and what have you. He said he couldn't compare those with our early days in Korea.
The savage fighting in Korea reminded me of something like the frontier days or the Civil War. There was hand-to-hand combat and heavy engagements like that where we were overpowered. Some of us managed to survive when the smoke cleared. We survived the fighting, the mental stress, the diseases. There were people who caught yellow jaundice. There were people who got jungle rot. There were people that later on got frost "bulletitis", and there was plenty of that. Bulletitis was slang for getting "sick." It meant anything that had to do with our health that was affected by the elements in which we were living. Hepatitis, malaria, and shrapnel were all things I personally experienced.
Sometimes I just don't know how to express what happened to all these young warriors. That's why when we come together and see each other it's a satisfaction that I can't explain when we give each other a hug and talk about the things that happened to us--how the regiment was used for cannon fodder just to blow us away and buy time--and yet we never get any recognition.
A few years ago I was interviewed by Tony Diamond, one of the co-founders of the Bravo (Brotherhood Rally of American Veterans Organization) network. He was in the 29th in 1954, and when he heard about me he wanted to get some information. I sat down and talked to him. I keep in contact with my Korean War buddy, Robert Thompson. We reminisce and laugh a lot, and can't figure out why we made it back when all of our buddies didn't.
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