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Allen Scott

Maine-
Korean War Veteran of the United States Army

"My experiences with the Korean War all started in 1947--it was a day like any other day except for me, I was standing in line waiting to be discharged from the Army."

- Allen Scott

 



THE 629TH MEDICAL CLEARING COMPANY (Sep)

by Allen Scott

My experiences with the Korean War all started in 1947--it was a day like any other day except for me, I was standing in line waiting to be discharged from the Army--I had a fistful of dollars and had only one more obstacle to pass through: I was asked, "Do you want to join the active or inactive reserves? If you join the inactive reserves there'll be no meetings or summer training camps." Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather, that I should have such an opportunity as this. Of course, I thought I was honored and so it was that I granted myself an inactive reservist.

When the North Koreans crossed over the 38th in June, 1950, I was home from college and having a good summer until late in July when it was declared that 'reservists' would be called up. The story in the newspaper said reservists would have "strenuous" training before being sent to Korea. In retrospect, I can say with a smile and without hesitation, "They lied!" And so it was that I spent the autumn of my life in 1950 in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. But I was not alone. College students by the thousands were pissin' and mournin' about their fate, that their lives and their educations were interrupted for a war no one seemed to understand. After the "strenuous" training we were sent by train to Seattle and then by ship to Japan for a week before going to Korea. Some of the less fortunate in Seattle were taken to the airport and flown directly to the front lines in Korea. The only person I remember through all of this was Ron Silver.

We were to disembark from the ship at Pusan, but we cruised on up the coast to Seoul. The fighting was in and around Seoul and we came into the harbor to disembark fresh troops for the front lines. The troops were all below deck and this voice gravely called out numbers. When a soldier's number was called, he was to climb the steps and disappear into the night. We waited and we waited--I was a 21 year-old kid standing next to a 21 year-old kid whose number came gravely from the loud-speaker. He put on his back-pack and picked up his rifle, but his duffle bag was more than he could manage. I picked up the duffle bag for him and together we climbed the steps. Once on deck, he moved to the stairs leading down to the landing craft. He was a small kid, smaller when he shuffled the duffle bag along the deck and descended, and he did go quietly into that good night. I briefly looked up and there was a hell'va fight in Seoul. It was a very snowy Christmas Eve, very sad, and every Christmas Eve I wonder if that kid survived.

The next day was Christmas and the ship was on its way back to Pusan, and a couple of days later we disembarked and went to a replacement depot. Six of us were assigned to the 629th Medical Clearing Company (629th Clearing Company?) and sent off by train to join the unit somewhere near the 38th. At some point, after more than ten hours and in the darkness, the train stopped at a rather large rail-yard. Demolitions around us were many and the UN was in retreat. We six medics were told to sit tight, a new train engineer would come and take us back south. I remember thinking about defending myself with a single clip of ammo and a rusty carbine. The engineer did come and this almost empty train left the station and headed out ahead of advancing North Korean and Chinese troops. In the morning we crossed a river to relative safety--British troops were dug in on the south bank awaiting the enemy. The train stopped long enough for me to meet the Happy Brit who traded a three-pound tin of English tea for a carton of Lucky Strike cigarettes. During the night hundreds of refugees got on the train, first inside the cars and then clinging for their lives on the outside of the cars. The train headed south with hundreds of refugees clinging to their salvation.

Back in Pusan I finally hooked up with the 629th Medical Clearing Company. This unit consisted of thirty medics with no particular ranks, two doctors, three cooks, a generator with a crusty caretaker, and two ambulances with drivers. When the Army broke from the Pusan Perimeter and headed north, the 629th followed the front lines and not too far behind, always at an airfield or airport. We usually broke camp in a matter of hours and headed to another airfield. We pitched one tent forty feet long as a ward and the wounded arrived on stretchers and lined up on the ground. Medics and the two doctors were there to give care during the night. Our purpose was to treat the wounded from the front lines as best we could, and then in the morning the C-47's started coming in early. We got the wounded on the planes for the hospital. Occasionally we were so close we could see the fighting, and the airfield just a hundred yards outside the medical tent. The C-47's were piloted by Turks and Greeks, air cowboys of the first order. They landed and we loaded the wounded on--six medics brought the stretchers out to the plane and six medics on the plane took them aboard and strapped them in firmly. Twelve medics could load a C-47 and have it back in the air in less than an hour. Inclement weather, low ceiling, the Turks always came through. It was a beautiful sight to see a Turk bring a C-47 in through the low hanging clouds....part of the mythical flying lore was that when no one else would fly, the Turks would.

We traveled the roads and country sides never staying longer than a week or two at any one airfield. Nights spent with the wounded, the smell of blood and death, and the muted sounds of hurt and pain were always with us, even the next day when the ward tent was empty the echoes of suffering lingered. And so we took the road most traveled again and again. It was at this time that the military skirmishes between the UN and the Chinese/North Koreans went back and forth. The standard joke was that villagers would hang signs on the poles: "Welcome UN Forces!" one day, and when the tides of war changed, they flipped the signs over,
"Welcome Chinese Army!" And then some clever engineer put up his own sign: "Stay Out of Ditch You Son of A Gun, I'm Trying To Make the Water Run!"

On one occasion a Second Lieutenant was shot in the mouth, the bullet entering one cheek and exiting the other cheek without touching a tooth. A Second Lieutenant with his mouth opened took on a new meaning; the jokes were many while the young man with big brown eyes suffered in a bewildered stupor. The mouth was wired open and we needed to get him to the hospital. The helicopter came, and me and the patient and the pilot crowded into this small glass bubble. The forty-five minute flight lasted a long time as I kept the man's mouth dry with a syringe and a towel while skimming a couple hundred feet above the trees below at a speed that seemed at least three hundred miles an hour. But there were other times during rest periods where actions were ignoble, at best. Several of the more daring men of the unit went scavenging one night and stole a jeep from the Marines. It took the Marines several days to find the now well-disguised jeep. And then there was the Medical Trunk Caper, caught wet-handed in the rain trying to retrieve medicinal liquor from the trunk. Or the Mother of All Capers--the night we opened the Joy Juice. Canned fruit had been collected for days and with the yeast fermented in a thirty-gallon Korean jug buried in the ground--we had a drink with a kick and a little too much yeast. I was half smashed the night I listened to General MacArthur speak to the Congress.

We knew our mission and it was very simple. During the rest periods we did not train. We were self-sufficient---our own cooks and mess tent, our own generator, our own water tank, a couple of trucks, a couple of ambulances, several tents, and thirty men ready to go. We played poker, lots of poker. Dental work was on-going. We even had a circumcision--a real major operation. At one rest period in the summer of 1951, I organized the local Korea kids to clear a large lot of all the pebbles and stones. I was going to set up a baseball diamond and teach them the rudiments of the game. I had a hundred kids picking up stones and pebbles and after several hours we had an amazingly clean piece of ground. Using white flour I had put down the first and third base lines when the signal came to move out. After fifty-four years, I can still remember some things very clearly, but the people became blurred images--the journalism major from the University of Kentucky, a kid named Chute or Shute, and a man named Swallenberg? from North Carolina.

This was the mission of the 629th, from the beginning of the war in 1950 until I left in October, 1951; During that time the unit was given three Bronze Stars and a Meritorious Unit Commendation, according to my discharge papers. And the unit probably lasted throughout the war until 1953. The 629th Medical Clearing Company (Sep) had a mission which was definitely that of evacuating front line wounded by C-47's to larger MASH units in the rear. I never knew this very small unit to do anything else, and it did not have any association, affiliation, or connection with any larger medical or military units. It was small and independent. And it seems it was quite different from the 629th Clearing Company listed with the medical units in Korea, though the 629th Medical Clearing Company (Sep) is not listed. I have e-mailed Charles Henthorn who was in the 618th Clearing Company, and his stay in Korea parallels my own, and his unit did almost identical work as the 629th Medical Clearing Company.

 

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