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Garlen L. "Spike" Selmyhr

Portland, OR-
Korean War Veteran of the United States Marine Corps

"Blow gently, wind, across the mound
That rises on Korean ground,
My friend sleeps there.

Drift slowly cloud, across the sky,
And be a banner flung on high
For my friend there.

Fall gently rain, upon the hills.
Flow softly down in quiet rills.
My friend fought there.

Stand!  Lofty crag!  A monument
For all the gallant lives there spent.
My friend died there."

-Spike Selmyhr

written October 1951 while in hospital in Japan


[The following memoir is the result of an online interview between Spike Selmyhr and Lynnita (Sommer) Brown that took place in the year 2000.]

Memoir Contents:


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Pre-Military

My name is Garlen L. Selmyhr of Portland, Oregon.  I was born on January 12, 1923, on a farm near Colfax, Wisconsin, the son of Arthur and Ida Selmyhr.  My father was a carpenter and a farmer.  My mother was a schoolteacher until she married my father.  Mother was the only one of five siblings who attended college.  She was the Salutatorian of her graduating class.  She died at age 28 of tuberculosis.  All three children (my older sister, my younger brother, and I) were then farmed out to aunts and uncles because Dad could not care for three small children and work.

My older sister was farmed out to one of my mother's brothers, and my younger brother was farmed out to one of my mother's sisters.  They were the relatives without children.  However, the wife of the uncle that took my sister died, and she was then given to the aunt who took my brother.  I went to live with one of my mother's brothers who lived on a farm in Otter Creek township, Dunn County, Wisconsin, with his mother and father who had homesteaded the place.  They were Norwegian immigrants.

I attended Oak Grove elementary school through most of the sixth grade.  Honest Injun, it was three miles from home and I did walk it in the snow!  As a sidelight, Grandmother Eli, who lived there, was a stern old matriarch and insisted that before I could enter the first grade, I had to read, write, and speak both Norwegian and English.  She spoke no English.  I lived there until my father remarried.  I then went to live with him and a new stepmother in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  (My sister and brother chose not to go to live with Dad, so we were never raised together.)  I attended Eau Claire Junior High School through the rest of the sixth grade and part of the seventh, when Dad moved to Couderay, Wisconsin, population 123.  There I attended school through the tenth grade.  (I was the valedictorian of the 8th grade.)

At this point there were no firm plans for me to continue high school, as the nearest high school was many miles away and would require bussing.  However, fate moved in.  A friend of my father in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, had an adopted son my age who got into trouble with the law.  A judge told his parents that if they could find a responsible adult who would take the boy for one year and be his mentor and supervisor, the boy would not go to reform school, as it was called in those days.  They came to my father, and he agreed to take the boy if they would take me so I could go to high school for the 11th grade.  The deal was done and I attended Eau Claire High School for my junior year while working in the home of these people.  I washed the dishes and pots and pans and cared for their lawn as well as the lawn of a friend of theirs.  I also stoked the coal-burning furnace of their home as well as that of the same friend.  I refer (somewhat facetiously) to this period as the time I was "an indentured, bonded servant."  Not a good time.

When it came time for my senior year, it was decided that I would go to Colfax, Wisconsin, to live with my father's mother, who was well into her eighties.  The high school there was three blocks from Grandma's house.  She was a jewel, and we loved each other.  This was one of the best years of my life.  she spoke only Norwegian, but as I said before, I spoke Norwegian too, so there was no problem.  I graduated from Colfax High School in June 1941.  During the summer I worked on the farm with my Dad.  During my senior year at Colfax High School, I worked in a restaurant as a dishwasher, waiter, and soda clerk.  I never had the opportunity to be a Boy Scout.  There were no patrols/chapters where I lived, except Eau Claire, and I had no time for that then.


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Joining Up

My brother served in the Navy in World War II.  In 1941 war seemed imminent and I in no way wanted to be drafted.  I wanted to control where I went as far as it was possible to do so.  A buddy of mine said that he was going to join the Marines and wanted me to also join.  I said, "No.  I want to join the Army Air Corps and become a pilot."  We agreed that I would go with him to the Marine recruiting office and he would accompany me to the Air Corps recruiting office.  Since we went to the Marine office first--need I say more?  A strapping young sergeant wearing those dress blues said, "How about you, young man?"  I said I wanted to fly.  He said didn't I know that the Marines had their own branch of aviation and that they flew higher, faster, and farther?  That did it.  I was going to be a Marine.  At first my Dad said no, and then he relented and signed the release so I could join.

I joined the Marine Corps in November of 1941 and went to San Diego, California for boot camp.  I traveled there by Pullman train--my first such experience.  A group of us arrived at the main gate where we were very cordially greeted by the sentry.  He advised us that transportation would shortly arrive, and in the meantime why didn't we go across the street and have a milkshake or a treat as that would be the last time for such things for a while.  Transportation arrived and we stepped across the painted line across the sidewalk that separated us from "the Corps."  As soon as we did, he yelled, "Get aboard the truck, you Shitheads!"

That first day we were taught some basic close order drill stuff so we could be marched hither and thither and have some sense of order.  We were also issued some green coveralls called dungarees, some other personal stuff.  They collected all of our civilian clothing and shipped it back home.  We were then assigned to bunks in a barracks.  I don't remember the names of my DIs.  My platoon number was 92.

I believe boot camp was 12 weeks.  The first few weeks of boot camp were spent in a barracks, and then we were moved into strong-backed tents.  Instruction was mostly close order drill and Marine Corps history, tradition and customs, and courtesies expected of us.  There was very little classroom training, although we watched training films that were basically about the history and traditions of the Corps, and once we saw the dreaded VD film.  Most training was outdoors and there was heavy emphasis on daily exercise.  There was great emphasis on the care and cleaning of the rifle (1903 Springfield bolt action--one of the sweetest rifles ever made).

Reveille was 0500 to the sound of the bugle.  We were to learn the various calls for reveille, meals, first call, and taps.  There was lots of physical exercise, then shower and shave.  (If we did not have a beard, we shaved anyway.)  We were marched to the mess hall.  Food was nothing spectacular, but it was wholesome, there was lots of it, and I thought it was good.  Personal hygiene was stressed.  There was no free time.  "Free time" was when we were told to shine our leather and our brass, and clean our weapon.  Church was offered during this free time.  I do not remember much about it, but quite a few recruits did attend and there was no interference from the DIs.  Lights Out meant silence, and if it was not forthcoming, we were rousted out for some push-ups or running.  There also was one case where one of the recruits was absent and the DIs roused us to check all the bunks, etc.

The DIs were very strict.  Our bunk had to be made just so.  Our towel had to be draped over the end of our bunk just so.  Our footlocker had to be stowed just so.  Getting rapped by a cane or swagger stick was pretty routine.  We all had headgear with a big Marine Corps metal emblem on it, and when the DI slapped that emblem it usually drew blood from one's forehead.

The only time I was disciplined for not doing something right was during close order drill if I did not hold the rifle just right, or perform a certain maneuver a certain way.  I believe that the collective-type discipline given by the DIs was to teach teamwork. The discipline was usually just a verbal chewing out.  On one occasion--I do not remember the infraction--I was forced to stand with my arms straight out in front and the DI laid my rifle across my wrists and told me if I dropped the rifle he would run me around the parade ground until I dropped.  I did not drop the rifle, but after a few minutes I felt as if my arms would fall off.

I did see others disciplined for doing something wrong, and punishment was usually something in the form of physical exercise like push-ups.  It was pretty common for the entire platoon to be punished for what one individual did.  Again, physical punishment and always strong verbal chew-outs.  The troublemakers were men who could not "cut it" and they were soon gone.  Where?  We never knew.  They left because of their attitude, they were weak, or they were too ready to give up.

The Number One test we had to pass was rifle marksmanship.  It was a disgrace not to qualify.  Sharpshooters and experts were paid a few dollars extra each month.  I loved to shoot and became a sharpshooter.  We also had to undergo experiencing tear gas.  We entered a closed room not wearing our gas masks.  Tear gas was released and we had to stay there until given the word to don masks.  By then we were all in tears.  We were then released, went outside, and recovered.

I did not have any "fun" per se during boot camp.  The "fun" part for me was finding out that I could do this stuff and that I could do it well--better than most of my fellow recruits.  I was never sorry I had joined the Marine Corps.  I knew I had done the right thing.  Learning to "tough it out" was the hardest thing for me in boot camp, but I realized that my DIs were good Marines and were trying to do their level best to make us good Marines too.  After boot camp, the senior DI invited me and a buddy to have a beer at the slop chute.

Boot camp ended with a final inspection, a parade to the stirring music of John Phillip Sousa, and the awarding of our marksmanship medals.  You better believe I left boot camp feeling like I was a Marine.  I came to boot camp weighing 129 pounds.  I left weighing 142, and that was muscle.  I had learned to look out for myself, to care for my gear, and to have an appreciation of the attitude that I must also look out for other Marines.  I knew I had found a place where I could--all on my own--do well.


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Camp Elliott

There was no leave after boot camp.  I was transferred to Camp Elliott (now Miramar) where I joined a unit of the 3rd Marine Division.  I was one of the few selected out of boot camp to go to Sea School, and then to be assigned to a capital ship.  Somehow, my orders were screwed up and I did not go.  I have often wondered if I had, would I have been aboard the cruiser Indianapolis or the carrier Franklin.  Life has many forks in the road, and one can only wonder what would have happened if one had taken the right fork as opposed to the left fork.

I arrived at Camp Elliott by truck and was assigned to a Weapons Company.  I met my NCO supervisors, was assigned bunk space, and drew "782" gear.  I stayed at Camp Elliott from January of 1942 until March 1942, where I learned to be a machine gunner of a heavy water-cooled Browning .30 caliber gun.  I also learned small unit tactics as they applied to the machine gun.  Almost always we were taught in outdoor classrooms or environments and our instructors were Company NCOs.  We had hands-on training in assembling, disassembling, clearing malfunctions or jams, and live firing exercises.  There was much less stress and much more interaction between instructors and students than there was during boot camp.  There was also less personal harassment.  We underwent practical tests such as timed responses to assembly, disassembly, clearing jams, and firing results.  How fast could we put the gun in action?  Could we demonstrate clearing jams?  What were our scores when live fire was held? The biggest challenge for me during this training was to excel and be better than the run of the mill.

My first liberty was in San Diego.  We had to wear our uniform.  I visited a woman I had known back in Colfax.  She was a waitress and we spoke briefly.  She commented on how great I looked in that uniform.  You must remember that one Sunday at noon in the mess hall they announced that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.  That was about a week after I got to boot camp.  I went into San Diego a few times (got my first tattoo), and went to Los Angeles and Hollywood a few times.  Remember--my pay as a Private was $21.00 a month before insurance deductions.  In Los Angeles we went to see Lili St. Cyr (a famous stripper) and also to the Brown Derby, where we lost out on getting a cab to two people who were drunk--Dezi Arnez and Lucille Ball  For a country boy, this was big city with a Bang!

I continued training at Camp Elliott for two months.  All training was on the base and consisted of tactical use of the machine gun and small unit infantry tactics with the machine gun as a supporting weapon.  The huge influx of post Pearl Harbor enlistments overflowed the rifle range capabilities at Camp Elliott, so some of us were transferred to temporary duty at Camp Luis Obispo, California, where the Marine Corps "borrowed" rifle range space/time from the Army.  There I did mess duty (hated it).  I seem to remember that it rained almost every day I was there, and I was there for three months.  I never went on liberty the whole time.  I received valuable lessons in how to play poker.  (The previous two sentences are definitely related.)  The poker lessons pretty well took care of liberty money.  I was delighted to go back to dry Camp Elliott.  I had no training at San Luis Obispo, and continued the same training as before when I got back to Camp Elliott.  An interesting sidelight...on forced marches in the hot desert, we were taught "water rationing" whereby we sparingly horded our water supply.  Later on it was found that this practice contributed to heat stroke and heat exhaustion.  I received no cold weather training.  Korea was eight years away.

I was in the 3rd Marine Division at this time.  My regimental commander was Colonel Lemuel C. Shepherd.  Later, "General" Shepherd visited our area in Korea after he became Commandant of the Marine Corps, but I did not personally meet him.  They split the existing 3rd Division and transferred maybe half of us to New River Marine Base (later to be called Camp Lejeune), North Carolina, to form the basis of a new 4th Division.


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New River Marine Base

When we left Camp Elliott, we went by troop train to North Carolina.  I believe the trip took six days and it was a nightmare of heat and humidity.  The cars where we lived and slept were not air conditioned (this was July 1942).  The dining cars were air conditioned and it took MPs to drive us out of there.  The windows of the other cars had to be kept open to get air, and the black soot from coal-burning locomotives dusted us daily.  There were no showers, so cleanliness was a dream.  Then to cap it all, some really bright officer decided we might be getting soft, stopped the train in Shreveport, Louisiana, got us out into a field, and conducted physical exercise.  In that heat and humidity, we were a "ripe" bunch of Marines.  Some left the train and went AWOL.

I loved California, and I did not look forward to North Carolina.  It was there that one day we were trucked to some training area by going through the officer housing area at Camp Lejeune.  Well I remember the big, two-story white colonial type housing.  This ambitious Private swore that one day he would live in one of those houses--and I did.  It was at Camp Lejeune that I finally made PFC (after 21 months), and not long after that made Corporal.  That was a big deal.  Now I could have the red stripe sewn on my dress blue trousers.

I had been in the Fleet Marine Force for several years when the opportunity to apply for the V-12 college training program presented itself.  I was a young, hard charger and it seemed that the 4th Division that I was in was never going into combat.  I wanted action.  So I applied for the V-12 program and after screening sessions at the company, battalion, regiment, and division level, I was selected.  It provided two years of college in 16 months.


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TBS  & PLC

TBS (The Basic School) was an organization that had three basic elements:

  • School Troops.  They were not candidates for any officer training.  They were a cadre of officers and enlisted who acted as "the enemy" during field training exercises.
  • OCS (Officer Candidate School).  This was a program that trained enlisted men who had been selected for Officer Training.  They may or may not have had any college.  If they successfully completed this program, then they were sent to PLC.  OCS was the initial training ground for "field commissioned" Marines.
  • PLC (Platoon Leaders Class).  PLC was a program that trained graduates of the OCS program and the V-12 program, graduating them as 2nd Lieutenants.

Now to further add confusion, the names of the programs that resulted in a commission were changed from time to time.  At one time "The Basic School" was a program that "graduated" 2nd Lieutenants.  One would be known as a graduate of the "24th Basic Class" or the "12th Basic Class."  Then when the name changed to "PLC", one was known as a graduate of the 14th PLC.  I always thought these designations and program name changes were a reflection of someone's ego--a distinction without a difference.

V-12 was strictly a college program--in a college--which, if successfully completed, led to PLC afterwards.  Applicants were given the option of applying to three colleges or universities in the U.S.  My three choices were Stanford, Duke and Dartmouth, in that order.  A buddy (much wiser than I) told me I would be swallowed up in those big schools and that I should go to a small school where I could get individual and personal attention with my studies.  I listened to him and was sent to Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. If I successfully completed this college work, I would then have the opportunity to go to Quantico, Virginia, for officer training and a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marine Corps.  Pretty heady stuff, but I couldn't believe it could happen to me.  (Incidentally, the outfit that I left was the 4th Marine Division that later landed on Iwo Jima.)

The detachment at Muhlenberg consisted of both Marines and Navy personnel.  Most of the approximately 100 Marines there had been selected from civilian life and had no prior military experience.  I was one of twelve from the Fleet Marine Force (FMF).  All of us from the FMF had to agree to revert to the rank of Private.  By now, pay was way up to $50.00 a month.  Living in a dormitory, little military drill or training, going to class, going on liberty in a city where most of the young male population had gone off to war--this was pretty heady stuff, too.

At first I did not do well academically as there were too many wonderful distractions.  But after some "personal guidance and counseling" from a tough old Marine Captain, I steadied down and did better.  After three semesters, the program at Muhlenberg ended and we were transferred to Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, for the last semester of the sixteen months.  By then I was making A's and B's.  From there we went to Camp Lejeune to undergo some training while waiting for assignment to Quantico.  it was now April 1945.  After sixteen months of college, dozens of screening programs, and probably lots of luck, I was off to Quantico.  It looked like it might be possible after all.

I have no memory of who the instructors were in Platoon Leader's Course.  I believed implicitly in their qualifications as they were mostly veterans of South Pacific battles.  (The Marine Corps success in the South Pacific was a bonus with regards to esprit de corps at this time.)  We received both classroom and field training.  It was demanding and there was frequent testing.  There was no room for error here.  Sleeping in class could get one dumped from the program.  We all took turns in leading our units in field work against "aggressors" and demonstrating what we had learned.  We were evaluated on our performance under those conditions.  Always the standards were high.  For example, we were observed and written up while on liberty.  Bad chits counted against us.  About every other weekend was liberty time.  We went to Washington, DC by bus or train.  DC was a great liberty town.

There was quite a bit of training in military history and the customs and traditions of the Marine Corps. We had communications training primarily on hand-held radios.  There was also lots of training on the coordination of fires and support weapon fire, both classroom and practical application.  This was very good, very popular, and lots of fun.  Daily inspections of our uniform were the norm and there was also no room for error.

Any semblance of cheating on an exam meant we were o-u-t.  There were some cases where men were dropped.  One or two were dropped for physical reasons.  Some were dropped for academic reasons.  Probably the work ethic of my parents and up-bringers and my days as an "indentured bonded servant" had helped to prepare me for the rigorous training I received in PLC.

I believe it is important to note that attrition in the PLC classes was maybe 30 percent.  I graduated from PLC in September 1945.  The war ended a month earlier and when that happened there was no longer a demand for all those Platoon Leaders who would be lost charging the beaches in Japan.  The attrition rate then jumped significantly.  Students were dropped like flies for minor reasons.  There were actual cases where students were in the auditorium for the ceremony of getting their bars pinned on when, with a tap on the shoulder, they were out!  I did not feel safe until I was on the train heading home on leave. 


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Camp Lejeune

From here I was transferred to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.  My initial assignment to Camp Lejeune was pretty boring.  The war was over and they didn't seem to know just what to do with us.  I was in a "holding" cadre awaiting assignment when another 2nd Lieutenant and I were told we were to become "custodians" of several barracks on the base.  We had to sign for the inventories in those buildings, and lo and behold, there were big shortages in pillows, mattresses, bunks, and foot lockers.  When we objected to signing for gear that wasn't there, we were told that we had better damn well sign.  So we did.  About a week later, we were told that we were to turn the buildings over to someone else, and guess what--we would be stuck with the shortages.  My buddy and I were too clever for those bastards and we got a work party together and transferred the shortages from his building to mine, got a signature from the new "owner", and then that night filled in the shortage in his building from mine.  We were so proud we had outwitted those poor examples of Marine Corps leadership.

Later I was assigned to an infantry company as a platoon leader and had a great experience doing so.  I had been a Fire Team Leader, a Squad Leader, and now a Platoon Leader.  At this time, people were being discharged and released from active duty by the thousands.  My unit was out of business and I was assigned to a Motor Transport Company.  I knew nothing about this duty.  The CO was a tyrant, allied with an adjutant who was his bosom buddy, and his staff car driver, a staff sergeant.  That threesome drank together, hunted and fished together, and in general left an impression on me that was not good.  An infantry battalion commander asked for me by name, and my CO said no. I wound up getting duty as the Officer of the Day three weekends in a row.  When I questioned the fairness of this, I caught hell.  At this point I said the hell with it.  I resigned my commission and accepted a commission in the reserves.  Civilian life was not what I wanted, but what I had experienced in that Motor Transport outfit was surely not what I wanted either.

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Reserves & Another War

In 1946, I met a woman named Anna at the Officer's club at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.  We were married in 1946 and set up housekeeping in Jacksonville, North Carolina.  She did not work outside the home.  After I resigned my commission in the active Marine Corps, my first civilian service job was clerical--shuffling papers.  You cannot imagine a more boring job.  Then I was hired by Proctor & Gamble as a salesman for a Macon, Georgia territory.  I sold more than my predecessors, but whatever we sold, more was required.  Selling soap and shortening was not too exciting.  Then I got a "family" job as a chemical formulator for a fertilizer factory.  My associates in all of these jobs were not of the caliber of the Marines I had served with.

I stayed in the reserves, and during active duty for two weeks in 1950, the war in Korea began.  Although I knew very little about the country of Korea--only that the North Koreans were communists and the South Koreans were not, that the country was rather mountainous, and that the people (both North and South) were rather poor and mainly agrarians--I immediately asked to be returned to active duty.  Through news stories and my Marine Corps magazine, I kept up on the news about the war effort.  My request for active duty was initially turned down, but in January 1951 I received orders to Pendleton and further assignment overseas as a replacement.  Hot damn!  At last.  I made a will and notified relatives.  My wife was shocked and upset.  She stayed in the house we bought.  Financially, my pay was allotted to my wife except for a small monthly "maintenance" amount paid to myself.


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"Openings"

After some refresher training at Pendleton, I left for Korea in May of 1951 on a troop transport. The ship was the USNS General William Weigel, which had a capacity of about 1000 troops and some equipment.  Basically, only the replacement draft was being transported.  I had been on similar ships before and I had never been sea sick, but some of the troops did suffer from "mal de mer."  I do not remember any rough weather on the trip, which lasted 14 days.  I played poker (I was better at it by then), read books, and sunbathed on the trip.  I had no duties and nothing eventful happened.  I knew a number of officers and enlisted in the draft.  I can't remember names except a 1st Lieutenant named Harold Anderson.

Our first stop was in Yokosuka, Japan.  Here we left most of our personal effects in storage and a brief liberty was permitted.  We arrived in Korea late morning May 23, 1951 at the port of Pusan.  We immediately disembarked from the ship, where Red Cross workers were passing out doughnuts.  The weather was hot and humid, but coming from Florida, hot and humid was not an insurmountable problem for me.  The port area was busy with military vehicles, military personnel--both U.S. and Korean, and there were tents and stacks of supplies all around the port.  My first impression of Korea was that it was a hot, mountainous, dusty, poor country with a population that had few creature comforts.  The natives were primarily poor peasant farmers who had been run up and down the peninsula by the forces of war.  I saw the natives infrequently, as we were busy being trucked, bussed, and flown out to our units.  There was no liberty, and most of us had no desire to go into Pusan even if it were not out of bounds.

At the regimental headquarters, I was told that there were "openings" in the 3rd Battalion, but that they were in an attack situation and I would have to wait a while.  I was afraid that I would be assigned to some unit or job other than troop leader, so I left Regimental Headquarters before I was scheduled to go. Since I knew there was an opening for a Platoon Leader of a rifle platoon, and also an opening for a platoon leader of a machine gun platoon (remember, right after boot camp I was an enlisted machine gunner), I felt that I had to get there before someone else could get either of those jobs.  I hitched a ride on a supply truck and reported in to the 3rd Battalion Headquarters, where I reported in to Major Simmons, the XO.  He said there was an "opening" in George Company for a Platoon Commander of one of the infantry platoons and also as a weapons platoon commander.  A no brainer here.  A machine gun platoon does not fight as a platoon.  Normal employment would be to have various squads or sections of the platoon assigned to infantry platoons in support of that platoon.  Therefore, that platoon leader was normally not in direct contact with the enemy except in a supporting/advisory capacity.  Thus I chose the infantry platoon and became the 28th Platoon Commander of the 3rd Platoon.  (Twenty-eight in 10 months!)  Casualties were high.  It had been a long, hard road, but my goal of combat duty as a Marine had been achieved.

It is difficult to explain why I was so determined to be in combat.  I had trained for years to do something, but never had had an opportunity to put what I had learned and practiced into action.  All of my previous training and exposure in the Corps recognized the "warrior" or combat veteran as someone special.  I can identify with some lines from John Ruskin that I believe went like this: "To test who is the stoutest of heart, the keenest eye, who is the swiftest of hand, these things cannot be truly determined unless the contest has the possibility of ending in death."  There is a poem called "Soldier" by Major General C.T. Lanham that talks about battle through the ages and ends with the lines:

"I see these things, still am I slave
When banners flaunt and bugles blow,
Content to fill a soldiers grave
For reasons I shall never know."

And some other lines...

"For how shall men die better,
than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of their fathers,
and the temples of their Gods."

In summary, I had to test myself in the crucible of battle.  For a Marine, that was the acid test as far as I was concerned.  I remember when we sailed out of San Diego for Korea.  It was a beautiful day in springtime.  I could not help but remember the poem, "I have a rendezvous with death, at some disputed barricade..."  I have thought many times about this drive.  It is still with me to some extent.  I like to challenge the mountains by back packing.  I ride a motorcycle.  I believe life is "spiced" and made more interesting by doing things that may be "on the edge."


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G-3-1

Armed with a .45 caliber automatic pistol, the Marine Corps K-bar knife, and several hand grenades, I was assigned to George Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.  When I got to my unit, I knew no one.  I was briefed on the tactical situation by the Company Commander Captain Frisbie, who told me that I was assigned to the 3rd Platoon.  Their Platoon Leader had been killed several days earlier, and the platoon was being temporarily led by a Staff Sergeant.  Staff Sergeant "Blackjack Jones" came down to the Company CP and took me to the platoon sector.  There I was briefed on the platoon area of responsibility, toured the platoon position on line, was introduced to the three squad leaders and platoon guide, selected a CP for myself, and checked on supplies of rations and ammo for the platoon.  I made a map study of our position and area, and checked with the Korean unit on my left flank.  Walking along the ridge line (dumb, dumb) I attracted a round of incoming fire from what they told me was a 76mm field piece that whistled overhead.  Welcome to Korea!  Actually, I doubt that they had fired at me specifically, as it would be a waste of ammunition to fire such a weapon at an individual.

The company was in a holding position with a South Korean (ROK) unit on the left flank of my platoon.  I  soon discovered that the ROK platoon had good fighters, but they moved out suddenly without notifying me.  That left my flank open.  Their platoon leader was an arrogant, surly individual who terrified his men.  Their personal sanitation and hygiene practices left much to be desired.

This was a time to review the enemy positions out in front (through field glasses), hear what had happened to the platoon in the recent battle, and generally get to know my troops.  Basically, it was a "quiet" time in terms of action, with the desultory enemy mortar and artillery fire that was largely ineffective.

Before I was assigned to my platoon, one of my Marines had been captured when, in a sneak raid, the enemy had grabbed his sleeping bag and ran away with it and him in it.  (They did not want to kill him in the bag and mess it up so they could not use it.)  They failed to search him, and when he got out of the bag he pulled the pin on a hand grenade and dropped it in their midst.  They scattered and so did he.  He escaped to return to our lines.  From then on he was nicknamed "Jumpy" because he was extremely nervous in the dark about movement and noise.  There was concern among the other men, too--particularly officers--about being taken prisoner.  I wore my rank insignia on the inside of my collar.  There were rumors about the horrible things that happened to captured Marine officers.  I taped a hand grenade to my pack shoulder strap, thinking I would pull the pin rather than be captured.  I have often wondered if I would have had the guts to actually do it.

Captain Frisbie was a veteran Marine and the kind of leader that inspired confidence in his leadership.  He was a cool, calm, and collected professional Marine.  When he issued orders, it was with confident authority.  He knew what he was doing, and he kept us informed about what was going on, not only in our Company, but in the other units as well.  Other officers were Lt. Bob Watson, Lt. Jared Krohn, Lt. Bob Morton, Lt. Jim Marsh, Lt. Tom Reid, Lt. Harold Connolly, and Lt. McCurdy.  They were all good Marines.  Connolly was a reservist called back to active duty who was a nice, honest guy.  Probably Marsh and I were the only ones who wanted to be there.  That is not a "slam" against the others, because wanting to be there was probably not the most "normal" attitude!  I was not taught "the ropes" of combat by the other officers.  I do not believe officers need to be taught "the ropes."  They do have to be taught the particulars of the enemy they face, as well as the routines and policies of the unit that are expected to be followed.  The only thing I learned "on the job" in Korea was the peculiarities of how that specific enemy operated and what was going on in that particular sector of the battlefield.  The North Koreans were a determined, tough bunch.  They did not seem very well educated, and in some cases were forced to fight.

Emotionally, I was totally in control, and I liked the job I was initially assigned very much.  It was what I came to Korea to do.  Yes, I did have moments of fear--fear that I would be afraid to some degree that would be a disgrace to me and my Marine Corps.  I was afraid of fear itself, but recognized that fear in combat is a natural thing, and an emotion/feeling that must be controlled--sort of like the old joke, "Never let them see you sweat."  I never did.  I did feel like doing it, though.

I saw my first dead enemy four or five days after I got to Korea.  It had no effect on me then.  Months later I wondered--were they married?  Did they have children?  What was their background and training?  I did not see a dead Marine for several weeks.  There were casualties, but not in my platoon, and therefore I did not see them.  The first time I saw a dead Marine it was when two casualties from another company were brought down the ridge line and placed near my CP.  They were on stretchers and covered with ponchos.  Both ponchos were bloody.  They were about six feet away, and as I saw them, the wind lifted one corner of one of the ponchos and revealed a black leg.  That surprised me, as I had assumed they were both Caucasian.  Here were two Marines.  Both paid the ultimate price in service to their country and their Corps.  Both were receiving the same care, respect, and attention.  The blood on both ponchos was red, and I realized then that the blood of a black Marine was as red as that of a white Marine.  From that day on I had a new attitude and perception of race relations.  My assumption about their ethnicity had been innocent, but wrong.

The conditions in the area during my first three months in Korea were as follows: Mountainous terrain, forested with vegetation denied the enemy clear visibility of our positions, but they damn sure knew where we were.  We were in a line of foxholes marking the most recent advance.  That advance was pretty well chronicled in records of the 1st Marine Regiment in what is called a unit diary.  I quote from that document:

"During the month of June, 1951, this regiment was engaged in a continuous battle which must be recorded as equal in violence to any encountered before in the Korean campaign.  At the beginning of the period, the 1st Marines relieved the 7th, on position, in the vicinity of Yanggu.  During the move to the LD, the 3rd Battalion received very heavy casualties.  Ten officers and forty two enlisted from enemy mortars.  Among these were four Company Commanders, the Artillery Liaison Officer, two Forward Observers, the Battalion S-3, the Battalion Medical Officer, and several key non-commissioned officers.  A reorganization of the Battalion was necessitated prior to the attack the following day.

The regiment attacked against a well entrenched tenacious enemy who employed heavy, accurate mortar and artillery fire from strong points located on the commanding ground.  During the nights the enemy continued probing attacks, but the attacks were repulsed each time with heavy enemy casualties.  The attack was continued on objective Able by the 3rd Battalion.  They counted 38 enemy dead on their objective.  The Battalion stopped two days to consolidate, sending out patrols to maintain contact.

The 9th day a general advance of 2,000 meters was made.  The units were again assaulting the commanding ground to their front.  Major elements of three enemy regiments occupied a fortified belt which had successfully repelled all previous allied attacks during many months of warfare. The enemy poured a withering stream of small arms and automatic weapons fire into the limited avenues of approach.  In addition, the enemy fired pre-registered concentrations of heavy mortars and artillery into the infantry to close with the enemy.  It was necessary to engage in hand to hand combat in order to take the positions in the final assault as the enemy had not been dislodged from his emplacements.  Outstanding courage and skill were displayed by the individual Marine in destroying the enemy with bayonets, hand grenades, rifle butts, and even bare hands.  On 11 June, units engaged enemy elements which had been bypassed.  This enemy was completely destroyed.  On 13 June, the 3rd Battalion assaulted Hill 787.  The enemy here put up the same determined resistance as had been encountered previously. A patrol reported an estimated enemy company fleeing North.  Small arms and automatic fire and artillery fire killed 50%.  Hill 787 was secured until driven out by assaulting troops.  It was necessary to use bayonets and grenades close in to destroy the determined enemy.  They had sworn to die rather than yield the ground.  A crack North Korean Division.  Total friendly casualties were 67 KIA, and 1044 WIA, but the 1st Marine Division drove the 6th NK Division from its heavily prepared positions, inflicting such disastrous casualties that this enemy unit for all practical purposes ceased to exist.  The Division was wiped out with the few survivors being absorbed by another North Korean Division."

I joined G Company, 3rd Battalion, on June 5, 1951, near a place called Yanggu, not far from the Hwachon Reservoir in Central Korea.  The above records refer to "bayonet" action, but I don't remember anyone ever mentioning such use, nor do I have any personal knowledge of it.  I frequently led patrols out in front of our lines "to maintain contact" and to set up an observation post from which I could call in artillery fire on the enemy.

Civilians were a problem to us only in the sense that they were out there between the lines sometimes giving aid and comfort to the enemy.  At least, that was my opinion.  I felt that if they wanted to, they could come through our lines and be protected, fed, and housed by South Koreans.  Of course, maybe those civilians were truly North Koreans.  On one of these patrols we found a farmhouse and could hear activity inside.  I sent part of the patrol to the other side of the house and then kicked in the door and led a charge inside.  No enemy--just an old farmer and his family.  I shall never forget that the man had a string of noodles hanging from chopsticks halfway to his mouth, and he was absolutely frozen motionless in that position.  I'm sure he thought they would be killed.  Big problem--we knew they were giving "aid and comfort" to the enemy as the enemy was just a few hundred yards away looking down on this place.  I decided to consider them "prisoners" and march them back to our lines and turn them over to the South Koreans.

As we started back with these "captives," we came under fire and had to really move out to get out of there.  One of the captives was a handicapped young woman (probably the farmer's daughter), and they could not keep up with us.  There were some votes for shooting them, but I pointed out that they were unarmed civilians, and that we had to let them go.  As a result of this "veto" we turned them loose and hustled back to our lines.  This was my "baptism of fire," although I thought it was rather benign.

I continued to take my turn at furnishing patrols out in front of our lines to "maintain contact."  (I hated that term because what it really meant was that we moved toward their positions until we received fire, and then immediately withdrew to report where it came from.)  Patrols also were used to call down artillery fire on enemy positions.  We were relieved, on position, by units of the 2nd Army Division and we went back into reserve for rest and reorganization.

We had very little contact with the natives--only with ROK troops on our flanks, the "Cargadores" who hauled rations, ammo, and water up to us on line, and that farmer eating the noodles.  When we were in reserve, we discovered about ten kids (maybe 8-10 years old) living in a cave and surviving by raiding our garbage dump for food.  We turned them over to the chaplain, who sent them to some orphanage.

Also while we were in reserve (summer of 1951), one of the troops in the company (one of a set of twins) was playing Russian roulette in the chow line one day and blew his brains out.  His twin was shocked and broken up.  As I remember it, he was given leave to accompany his brother's remains back to the States.

The most vivid memories I have of the first location north of Hwachon was my first day when the 76mm opened fire on me.  The unit then shifted to positions not too far to the right, and from there my most vivid memory is of the patrols I made out in front of their lines.  As mentioned, kicking in the door of the farmer's house and finding the Korean man eating noodles is a vivid memory.  Another vivid memory of that area is the time when we were returning from a patrol and I was notified by my CO that an enemy patrol had been spotted between me and home base.  We had passed each other in the dusk without contact.


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Life in a Combat Zone

Due to water shortage, it was difficult to keep clean while I was in Korea.  We had enough water to drink and prepare food, but not enough for bathing. We did daily washrag cleansing and shaving maybe every two or three days, but we did not change clothes but one time while we were on the line.  I only carried one extra set of clothing, as it seemed useless to put clean clothes on a dirty body.  When we went back in reserve ("in the rear with the gear") there were hot showers and a clean clothes exchange.  Once on line I got permission to hike way down the hill to a valley with a small stream in it.  I bathed there, and it was a real treat.

We lived in relative safety in a bunker.  It was an enlarged hole in the ground, walled with sandbags and roofed with timber and rocks and dirt.  Bunkers were better than foxholes because one could generally stand up in them, and they provided cover from anything except a direct hit.  Foxholes were generally about six to seven feet long, three feet wide, and at first about three feet deep.  The depth increased about a foot with every incoming artillery or mortar round.  I preferred living in the bunker, where my sleeping bag was the principle furnishing.  Warmer and dryer was always better than cold and wet.

On line we ate C-rations.  Some were good, some were bad.  When eating C-rations three times a day, it got tough to decide which ones to eat.  The only one I could eat on a continuing basis was beans and franks.  Ham and lima beans was pretty good, and so were the hamburger patties--if I added Tabasco.  I remember that one time they hauled up fresh bread and fresh eggs to the front line.  That was a real treat.  In the rear with the gear we had hot chow, and while many complained about Spam and powdered eggs, I thought it was quite good compared to C-rations.  I never ate the native food in Korea.  I missed stateside lobster and steak the most.

I had two special buddies while I was in Korea.  Lt. Jared Krohn was a gentlemanly, erudite young man who did not particularly want to be there, but was doing his best to be a good Marine leader.  That counted with me.  He was someone who could discuss literature, poetry, and the complexities of killing people to save other people.  The same was true of Lt. Robert Morton, who survived Korea and who I go to visit in Arizona about every two years.

War was serious, but there were lighter moments now and then.  Once during a fire fight one of my Marines lost it, stood up, and yelled at the enemy, "Come on you sons of bitches.  Kill me."  One of his buddies yelled over to him, "Don't worry, Jumpy.  They are trying to."  Sgt. Curt Corbin, a sergeant in my platoon, could sometimes be heard in the middle of the night singing, "She wanted watermelon; it was winter time," and my favorite, "I don't want fried potatoes, red ripe tomatoes...".  Corbin told great stories, too.

I also remember the time I went down the hill to bathe in the stream.  I was standing there naked when a Jeep came around the knoll with two American women in it.  I learned later that they were from a Bob Hope tour.  I could only stand there with one washcloth covering what needed to be covered and watch them go by.  I really do not believe they saw me.  Usually one does not look for naked Marines in such an area.

On the serious side, there was not anything much more serious than the chaplains holding services the night before we jumped off in the attack.  Religion was not important to me then, and I did not practice it in Korea.  Church was offered for the three major faiths.  I remember that the night before we jumped off in the attack in September of 1951, one of the chaplains came to me and told me that the father of one of my Marines had died.  He asked me, did I want him to tell the lad, or did I want to tell him?  As you might guess, I said I would do it.  I called the man aside and told him the bad news as gently as I could.  I told him that it just wasn't possible for us to get him home in time for the funeral, but that at the first opportunity we would send him home.  I will never forget his reply.  He said, "Lieutenant, I will try not to let this bother me in doing my job tomorrow."  Makes you realize what is meant by the term, "Duty, Honor, Country."

I received mail pretty regularly from my wife, sister, and Dad.  They sent photographic film, Tabasco (a critical item), canned sardines and potted meat, and cookies.  Tabasco is something I specifically requested from home, and my wife sent it.  Others pretty much got the same things in their packages as I did.  The packages generally were in good condition when they arrived.

There was no leisure time on line.  In the rear with the gear, we played cards, swam, played volleyball and softball, and just rested.  Once we saw a USO show by Betty Hutton.  It was a good show, but I was so far back in the crowd that Betty could have been anyone.  I smoked cigarettes, chewed tobacco, played a little poker in reserve, but drank very little.  They brought up beer one time on line.  I had a ration of two cans, but I gave one away to the troops.  In reserve, I bought four fifths of whiskey.  (Marine pilots who flew back to Japan delivered it.)  I kept one bottle and gave one bottle to each of my three squad leaders. Prior to Korea, I smoked, drank very little, and gambled a little mainly at the dog track.  I don't remember ever celebrating a holiday in Korea.  My birthday was in January, so I celebrated it in the hospital in Japan.  (It was nice to have another one.)


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Wounded

After we moved out of reserves, we went up north of the 38th parallel in the Imjin area near Soyang Gang River.  There we launched the last battle I was in and the one for which I have the most vivid memory of all.   It was there that I was shot on September 13, 1951.

Our objectives were to take the high ground on Hill 1052, and an even larger one, Hill 1161 (Kanmu-Bong).  There were about 2,200 troops on our side and an unknown number (but probably at least 1,000) on the enemy's side.  The enemy that I saw were young, generally tenacious and determined fighters.  They fought differently than us in that they seemed to have less concern for any casualties they might suffer in a headlong charge.  Not too much finesse.

About 0900, Lieutenant Connolly, the Company Commander, and Lieutenants Marsh, Morton and I made a reconnaissance of the area where we would attack.  We spotted a group of enemy moving along the ridge line above us.  Suddenly two enemy soldiers came out of the bush with their hands in the air, waving surrender leaflets.  Because of the enemy on the ridge line, Lieutenant Morton and I motioned with our .45 pistols for them to move back against a bank so we would not be observed by their friends on the ridge line.  They sort of went hysterical in the probable belief that they were about to be shot.  They got down on their knees and drew diagrams of the positions where their comrades were.  They said there were "many, many machine guns."  Were they ever correct!  There were heavy concentrations of small arms and automatic weapons fire, skillfully used to cover avenues of approach to their positions.  They made good use of camouflage, and were tenacious in holding their positions, although there was little initiative on the part of subordinates.

During the attack to take Hill 1052, my platoon was driving along a very narrow ridge line covered with trees and brush.  We began to receive small arms and automatic weapons fire on Hill 751, and I moved forward to encourage the men and to direct their fire and maneuver.  A major difficulty in battle is the total confusion of noise, shouting, the crack of bullets, and making sure the troops know where their officers are and that they are there sharing their danger.  If the officers are all down behind rocks, trees, etc., and say "Go get 'em" or "charge", no one is going to go.  However, if as the leader one stands up and says, "Let's go," they will all go.  The tough part is that when the first person stands up (the officer), he feels as if a large bull's eye has been painted on his body.

When the firing intensified, I threw myself down into a prone position and received a bullet in my left shoulder.  There was not a lot of pain, and when I tried to move my arm I found that it worked fine, so I again moved forward behind the leading squad.  The firing was pretty brisk, and the troops were doing well in returning the fire and in moving to covered and concealed positions.  Maybe ten or fifteen minutes later, I saw a North Korean come out from behind some rocks and start to point his rifle at me.  He was about 30 yards away from me when I shot him.  I had reacted to the small arms and automatic weapons fire from the enemy by directing the fire of my troops and encouraging them, and by dropping the enemy I faced.

After that, I was in a prone position looking for a target.  I picked what I thought was an arm or shoulder of an enemy and as I moved my head to the right to look through the sights (about 2-3 inches), I took a bullet that entered my left cheek and in grazing fashion exited behind my left ear, taking out part of the mastoid bone.  The shock was as if someone had hit me with a baseball bat.  No pain, but lots of blood.  I do not know whether it was a stray round, a machine gun round, or a rifle round.  God knows why, but I tried to stand up and discovered that the damage to my inner ear was such that I had no sense of balance.  I immediately fell down.

At that time, Sergeant English from the machine gun platoon came out and said, "Lieutenant, put your arm around my neck and I'll walk you back behind the ridge line to first aid."  I told him to get the hell out of there as bullets were flying all around us.  He ignored that remark, and with my arm around his neck we walked back maybe 25-30 yards with bullets kicking up dust around our feet and clipping leaves from the trees overhead.  Neither of us was touched again.  "War Hero" is a term tossed about too freely, in my opinion.  A war hero to me is someone who does something beyond the normal.  He does something dangerous that he might not normally choose to do to execute a mission or to save another Marine, but it must be above the normal responsibilities.  Sergeant English fits that perception.  He came out to assist me under a hail of small arms fire when I was hit.

HM Paglia of New Jersey was the Navy corpsman assigned to my unit.  He was a fine young man.  HN William Mackelfres of California was a good man, too.  We got to a corpsman who took off my helmet, looked at my head wound, and then covered his face with his hands and said, "Oh My God!"  I took that as a discouraging word.  I had no idea how badly I was hit.  I just knew that I was bleeding a lot.  He bandaged me up and they put me on a stretcher to evacuate me.  I refused to go until some of my men who had been wounded were taken away first.  Evacuation of the dead was not a priority at that time.  Then one of my BAR men, Jake Jakovec, went down the hill with me and the four Korean stretcher bearers. I was damn lucky, even though I had been wounded.  The instant I was hit in the head, I had just moved my head to the right about two or three inches to look through the sights of my weapon.  Had I not done so, that shot would have been right between the head lamps.  When I was evacuated, I really hated leaving my buddies behind.  Then, too, my combat career had been rather short.

Lt. Jared Krohn of Oakland, California, took over my platoon when I was hit.  He was killed the next day and I was saddened by the loss.  Lt. Robert Morton of Arizona then replaced Krohn and he was wounded the next night.  Members of the platoon that were hit were, as I remember: Sergeant Wentworth of California, Corporal Doriot of Colorado, PFC Reese of Wisconsin, Corporal Tyler of Louisiana, PFC Romero of California, PFC Balestriere of Maryland, PFC Dumas of Massachusetts, PFC McQueen of Mississippi, PFC Powers of Florida, PFC Strawser of Pennsylvania, PFC Glenn of Utah, and PFC Sievert of Michigan.  I knew them all pretty well.  I knew Jared Krohn best of all.  He and I had agreed to contact our respective families if anything happened to us.  Jared's wife gave birth to a son a month after he was killed.

Our initial objectives were met during this battle, but the company was ordered to hold up and dig in for the night.  Overall, the casualties were so high that the Commanding General ordered a halt to the attack.  This forward line of advance later became the DMZ, with minor adjustments here and there.


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Evacuated

Helicopters were used to evacuate the wounded while I was in Korea, but I know they were also used to re-supply troops.  When I was wounded, I was not evacuated via normal channels.  Volume IV of the official USMC History of the Korean War describes my evacuation as follows:

"Lt. Selmyhr's evacuation to battalion was anything but easy.  At one point the South Korean stretcher bearers were crossing a stream.  Spike Selmyhr remembers that stream bed was composed of smooth, rounded, and rather small stones.  'The stretcher bearers were slipping and sliding.  Suddenly one of the Korean 'cargadores' slipped and fell; his actions pulled down another bearer and I was dropped in the river.  Because I had a head wound, I had not been allowed anything to drink, and by this time I was dehydrated and extremely thirsty.  When I found myself in the river, I greedily drank my fill--to no ill effect!'  The evacuation to battalion aid took over seven hours."

I was put on an Air Force DC3 hospital plane and flown to Seoul.  I was conscious and there was some pain, but it was bearable.  I could not figure out why I was not going out to the hospital ship by chopper.  I never did learn why I went this strange evacuation route.  From Seoul, I went by hospital train to an Army MASH (yes, it was a screwy outfit) where I had surgery and stayed for several weeks.  I remember that there was a North Korean patient there who had taken a bullet in the center of his forehead and was still alive.  All night long he cried out, "Itai, Itai."  I think it was the equivalent of our "ouch", only more emphatic.  We all thought he was saying, "I die", and we wished him God Speed.

The treatment of my wounds at the MASH unit was not properly handled.  They gave me lots of pain medication, but not enough care to prevent infection of the wounds.  I was put on another hospital train to Pusan where I was put on the Navy hospital ship Repose.  When I got aboard that ship, a Navy doctor said my shoulder wound was almost gangrenous.  He was a burly ex football player who simply squeezed my shoulder wound to expel the matter.  If the ship had not had metal bulkheads, I would have gone right out into the ocean!  The medical care on the Repose was excellent, and very reassuring after the MASH experience.  The medical facility on the Repose was spotless.  There was no entertainment on the ship except watching the nurses and talking to other wounded about our experiences on the line.  The ship took me to Yokosuka, Japan to the Naval hospital where I received excellent care.  God, was it really 49 years ago?!

A nurse at USNH Yokosuka stands out in my mind.  She was a hellion, and on my case big time.  Why, I don't know, but probably because I was pretty feisty.  After a particularly stormy session, she slammed down a urine specimen bottle and said she would be back the next morning to get it.  That evening, some buddies smuggled in a can of beer for me.  I carefully rinsed out the urine specimen bottle and filled it about half way with beer.  When she came by the next morning, she snarled, "Where is the specimen?"  I said, "Right here," and drank it down.  She rushed out and said, "I'm never going into that man's room again!" 

I was at USNH Yokosuka for about six weeks.  I remember going into town alone--probably before I should have, and because the head wound had destroyed my sense of balance, I had trouble navigating. (The sense of balance problem gradually corrected itself over the months and years.)  I was later transferred to a convalescent camp near Kyoto, where I underwent routine checkups.  Meanwhile, my family had received a telegram stating that I had been wounded.  They were not too surprised, but they were shocked and wanted more information than was available.

The Naval doctors wanted to send me back to Oakland, California Naval Hospital and discharge me for medical reasons.  I fought that tooth and nail...and by subterfuge, lying, etc., fooled them into letting me go back to my unit...allegedly to see if I could really do it.  I knew that I was not up to combat at this point, but I felt that there were staff jobs I could handle until further recovery.  So on New Year's Eve 1951, I flew back to the 1st Marines.  And I have never looked back.

When I got there, I learned that our front lines were somewhat back from what we had captured earlier.  This was the result of the "peace talks."  It bothered me that ground we had taken at the expense of Marine lives had been given back.  The enemy had been ready to talk peace when we were driving them North, but during the pause they beefed up their defenses, and reorganized and refitted their units.

The company was on line when I returned to Korea, but I was not given a chance to rejoin my platoon.  I was given a job as assistant operations officer at the regimental headquarters.  The summer of 1951 had been hot and humid.  When I returned to Korea after convalescing, it was winter time with snow and temperatures down to 35 degrees below zero.


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Regimental HQ

The assistant operations officer assisted the operations officer in preparing plans for what the regiment (or regimental units) would do in the future.  Examples:

  • Plans for sending out patrols to capture prisoners for intelligence purposes.
  • Plans for executing orders from Division HQ.
  • Plans for one unit to relieve another unit on line.
  • Plans to move on line or into reserve.
  • Repositioning on line troops:
    • Move forward.
    • Move rearward.
    • Move laterally.

The regimental headquarters was located in a valley several miles to the rear of Hill 751 when I returned to Korea.  Its staff consisted of the regimental commander and his staff and the Headquarters and Service Company that provided the administrative and logistical support for the regimental headquarters.  Efforts at that time were devoted to maintaining a stabilized position on line on what later became part of the DMZ.  We also processed incoming replacements and rotated to stateside those Marines whose tour of duty was completed.

I worked in a tent during daytime activity, and lived in a bunker nearby in the event of enemy fire.  I resigned myself to staying at regimental HQ.  I felt lucky to be back there, and was totally focused on demonstrating that I could effectively function even though I was deaf in one ear.  I told no one that I was so handicapped.  My adjustment was probably made easier because I had been so close to not being there at all, and secondly, so close to being sent stateside and discharged for medical reasons.

I recall one event that happened while I was at regimental headquarters.  One day I was standing outside near the bunker with an enlisted Marine, explaining to him that several fighter planes approaching were Marine Corps F4U Corsairs.  Suddenly they opened fire, and we dove into the bunker where we heard them also drop bombs.  We were told later that they had apparently misread their maps, and were lost or something.  Also, we were told that they then flew north over our lines to strafe and bomb the enemy, and that the flight leader who apparently ordered the attack was shot down.

During this part of my tour of duty in Korea, I developed a friendship with Lieutenant Holloman, who had been a platoon leader in another battalion.  We seemed to have a rapport about combat, our jobs, and the Korean War.  I stayed at HQ from January 1, 1952 to March 1952.


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Going Home

I received orders from up the chain of command transferring me to the Basic School (TBS) where I was to be an instructor in tactics.  A tent had been set up in the rear area where I was billeted at Regimental Headquarters.  It was called "The Officer's Club."  It was about as primitive as it could be, but it served beer and a limited choice in other drinks.  Poker playing and dice (craps) was possible there.  When they found out that I was going home, the men in the unit hosted my return to the States.  I am afraid I "over-indulged."  The next morning (after a round of handshakes and hugs), I got on a truck and I was out of there.  I was glad to have finished a successful tour, but sad also.  The reality of that time was that probably never again in my lifetime would I serve with such a splendid group of men (warriors), who, to a man, would lay down their lives for one another.

I was taken by truck to an airfield, and then by plane to Japan, where we embarked for the United States.  Outside of the standard routine of picking up our orders, packing our gear, and turning in our weapon, the thing that I remember is that we lined up to go through a tent and they "deloused" us by spraying some powder up our sleeves, down our pants legs, etc., even though I had no lice or vermin.  I left Korea in March of 1952 with the rank of 1st Lieutenant.

I made the journey home on the Gen. William Weigel.  Everyone was very introspective, but also there was elation for the most part.  I had no duties on the trip, and it was a calm, easy voyage.  We went from Kobe, Japan, straight to San Francisco, watching a few movies on the return trip.  It was a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning when we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge.  Since that city has always been one of my favorites, it was sort of emotional, although there was no one waiting at the dock when the ship pulled in to it.  We got our luggage and went down the gangplank.  I checked into the St. Francis Hotel, ordered room service for food and beverages, and treated myself to having the hotel barber come to my room for a haircut.

Going to Korea had changed me.  I believe I was more at peace with myself.  Also, I decided that the rest of my life was a "bonus" and I would live it accordingly.  Others noticed the change in me.  I was increasingly able to be more conciliatory and willing to compromise.

As I mentioned earlier in this memoir, Jared Krohn and I had agreed to contact the family of whichever one of us did not make it.  I kept that promise when I returned to the States and went to visit his family in Oakland, California.  The Company Commander, Captain Connolly, asked if I wanted him to go along and I was glad to have him, as I sort of dreaded the meeting.  Jerry's father and mother were there and his wife, and the baby that was born a month after Jerry was killed.  Conversation was a little still until Captain Connolly (referring to my shoulder wound that became badly infected in the MASH hospital and almost turned into gangrene) said, "Spike, why don't you tell them about the time you almost got gonorrhea."  He had no idea that he had misspoken, so I said, "You mean when I almost got gangrene."  He again said, "Yes, when you nearly got gonorrhea."  By then the family had caught on, even if Connolly had not.  There were a few discreet smiles and looks.  It was not until we were outside and I told him what he had said that he realized his mistake.  Was he embarrassed!


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Military Career


(Click picture for a larger view)

Upon returning to the States, I first went to TBS as a Battalion instructor to teach offensive tactics. I then attended the Junior Amphibious Warfare School, and then went back to The Basic School to teach defensive tactics. The various posts and duties that followed my first assignments teaching tactics at Quantico are as follows:

  • I was sent to New Bedford, Massachusetts to organize a Marine Reserve Rifle Company.  I spent three years there doing just that.  I was pretty much on my own, responsible for good community relations.  There I was promoted to Major.
  • I was transferred to the 2nd Marine Division where I did duty as a logistics officer with the 6th Marines.  I made a six-month cruise in the Mediterranean with them.  I also served briefly as Executive Officer of the Regiment.
  • After that I was transferred to MAG 16 (a helicopter group) in Japan.  This was the Marine program where an infantry officer traded jobs with an aviator.  I have always sort of been a frustrated aviator, so this was a great opportunity.  I spent weekends in the hangar memorizing the cockpit check-off procedures and bumming rides to learn how to fly helicopters.  Some weekends I went to Atsugi Naval Air Station where a friend of mine took me for rides (and let me fly) a TV2 two-place jet.  I applied for and received a designation from the Chief of Naval Operations that qualified me as a co-pilot in helicopters.  On my first cross country flight we had a fire in the cargo compartment and had to make an emergency landing in a rice paddy.  I also took over as Group Operations Officer when the regular Operations Officer was promoted out of his billet.  We went on a carrier to the South China Sea, and I flew off the carrier.
  • When I was transferred to Arlington, Virginia, I was assigned as CO of the Guard Company.  During this tour I completed my baccalaureate degree work at the University of Maryland.  While I was the CO of the Guard Company, I also had an additional duty as Fire Marshal for the post.  During an Inspector General inspection of the base (that had my boss--a Lieutenant Colonel up for full Colonel--nervous), the IG, the CO and I were touring the base on foot when the IG remarked that I had painted the top half of the fire plugs red and the bottom half yellow (gold), and did I know that they were supposed to be the other way.  I replied that I did not know that, but that I would change them.  The IG then asked if I knew that some officer at Parris Island had made this same mistake and had been relieved (that's real bad) and what did I think of that.  I replied that I thought it was a totally asinine and inappropriate punishment for an event that had no impact whatever on the effectiveness of the fire fighting program.  My boss almost had a stroke, and said, "Oh that Spike.  What a sense of humor."  I said, "No Sir, I meant it."  The Inspector General then said, "Spike, I agree with you!"  I was later assigned to the 5th Marine Corps Reserve and Recruitment District, where I traveled a five-state area inspecting Marine Reserve units.
  • My next move was to Naval Air Station, Sanford, Florida, as CO of the Marine Barracks there.  This became a short tour as I was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and promoted out of the job.
  • The next assignment was to Strike Command at MacDill AFB, Tampa, Florida, where I was assigned as a logistical staff officer--a Marine on an Air Force Base, working for a tough old Army General.  It was a great tour of duty, as I was selected to be on a team of four officers who toured and inspected Military Assistance Programs in India, Ethiopia, Turkey, Greece, and Liberia.  I got to travel to many other countries.  One summer I made nine Atlantic crossings.  Strike Command was later renamed CENTCOM, and was probably better known for its commanding general, Norman Schwartzkoff.  While I was there they had a policy staff of one officer from each service.  I was the Marine representative and was also assigned to give the "command briefing" to visiting dignitaries.  The Command Briefing explained who we were, what we did, and our geographical/military area of responsibility.

The latter was my last tour of duty.  It was 1966 and I was 43 years old.  I did a little research and plotted my future as follows:  I would have to spend at least four years in grade before coming into the zone to make bird Colonel.  If selected--and I had no qualms about that--I would have to spend at least four more years in grade to be eligible for Brigadier General.  That would make me over 50 years of age, and the Marine Corps had never promoted a colonel to general who was over 48.  I did, however, check with my assignment officer at Headquarters Marine Corps.  He said I was scheduled to go to Vietnam as a logistical officer.  I said no way.  I wanted a battalion.  I said I had been a fire team leader, a squad leader, a platoon leader, a company commander, and I damn well wanted an infantry battalion because I was a trained combat troop leader.  He said there were not enough battalions.  I said, "What about a Recon battalion?"  He said I was not jump qualified.  I said I would get jump qualified.  He said the Marine Corps would not send an officer "as old as I was" to jump school.  I said, "The Army general I work for will send me to jump school if I ask for it."  He said, "No, it's going to be an assignment as a logistical officer."  I said, "You will have my letter asking for retirement.  I am not going to Vietnam to push papers and boxes."  So that is what I did, and I retired.  At the final parade, I received the Joint Service Commendation Medal as a goodbye.  I had a wonderful career, full of excitement, adventure, and travel.  What more could an 18-year old country boy from Wisconsin ask for.


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Post Military

As mentioned, I got my baccalaureate degree from the University of Maryland while I was still on active duty.  Since I was still in the Marine Corps, most of the other students were also still in the military.  Anna and I had two daughters, one now 45 and the other 47.  We divorced in 1979.

When I retired, I made up my mind that I would not be a "professional veteran."  My telephone book listing would not show my rank, and my mailbox would not show it either.  I had a wonderful career.  It was over.  It was time to move on, and I would not look back.  Forward was where I was going.  Nevertheless, serving in the Marine Corps affected my post-military life.  I want a place for everything and everything in its place.  I try to be neat, clean, proud of carriage but not arrogant, and I try to do what must be done, not just passably, but above average.  Like Ernie Lombardi used to say, "The amateur can't do a good job when he feels like it.  The professional does a good job when he doesn't feel like it."  I expect professionalism from those I deal with, and they have every right to expect the same from me.

After I retired from the Marine Corps--long after I retired--I got a Masters Degree from the University of Redlands in Redlands, California.  By the time I went for a Masters degree, no one knew I had been in Korea.  After the Corps, the main job I eventually settled in to was business manager or controller at the secondary school and college level.  Now I am a business consultant mainly doing accounting for small business organizations.  I have as many clients as I wish (I only want three), so I can have time to travel and play golf.  I also am a part-time actor doing radio and television commercials and an occasional movie.


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Final Reflections

The 1st Marine Division received two presidential unit citations while I served in Korea.  One was from Truman and one from Syngman Rhee.  They were blanket awards given to units who had done an excellent job.  Besides these two awards to the Division, I received the Korean Service Medal with three stars, the United Nations Medal, and, of course, the Purple Heart.  The Korean medal with three battle stars and the Purple Heart hold significance for me.

Besides the risky patrols in front of our lines and the fire fights, the battle of September 13, 1951 stands out in my mind after all these years because of the absolute skill, courage, and willingness of my Marines to close with the enemy.  Also, it stands out in my mind because I was shot.  Twice.  Also, I remember it because I met an enemy face to face who attempted to kill me, and I killed him.  We were fighting a brutal, vicious group of people who were trying to take from the South Koreans what they had not been able to acquire under the communists.  Here in Portland, I run into quite a few Koreans, and I have never met one that was not absolutely profuse in their thanks and appreciation for what we did in Korea.

In my mind, the toughest thing for me about being in the Korean War was seeing those young Marines lose their lives or being seriously wounded to the extent it might affect the rest of their lives.  When I say "young", I mean the oldest Marine in my platoon (not counting me) was 22 years old, and he was the Platoon Sergeant.

I absolutely do think that we should have sent troops to Korea when the war broke out.  We had made a promise to South Korea that if they were attacked, we would come to their aid.  We kept that promise.  To do otherwise would have been an act of international dishonesty.  I also believe that MacArthur should have gone north of the 38th parallel.  Whenever we drove hard and fought hard, we won and, as they say today, "we kicked butt."  Whenever we softened our attitudes or posture, the enemy took advantage of us.  I fully support civilian control of the military.  However, when civilians get into military tactics instead of national policy, things go awry. There is an old saying that there are only two areas where the amateur position is preferred over the professional.  One is military tactics and the other is prostitution.  Our biggest mistake was failure to pursue and to continue a win/win posture.  The U.S. has an almost pathological fear of "excessive casualties."  That is why stand off weapons and air warfare are so popular.  No need to send in the troops.  But no objective has ever been captured and held by weapons or aircraft.  It takes the grunt on the ground to close with and destroy the enemy.

We saved South Korea from being overrun by the communist North.  We also sent a message to the international community that we would honor our treaty commitments.  I believe that we should still have troops in South Korea, but that is not a really strong position.  It may be that we need to be there to prevent another drive south by the North Koreans, because they know they would meet the same fate they met in the 1950s.  That's what I want anyone reading this memoir to know--that when an ally called on us to carry out our promise to aid them in the event they were attacked, we immediately went to their assistance and in doing so prevented the spread of communism into South Korea.

I'm not sure why the Korean War carries the nickname "The Forgotten War."  Probably because the battlefields of Europe are so much more visited (and so easy to visit).   Korean battlefields are difficult to visit, and the country itself is not as attractive as Paris, Rome, Berlin, etc.  I've never been back to Korea and I do not have any particular desire to do so.  If I won a free trip I would go, but I would go only to visit the area of my battles.

For me, Korea was ten years after my training in boot camp, but the pride and love of the Corps that was instilled in me still is there.  Boot camp was a time when I learned about such men as Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly (recipient of two Medal of Honors) and how at Belleau Woods he led a charge against the Germans by shouting, "Come on, you sons of bitches.  Do you want to live forever?"  Now that is GUNG HO!  So what did I do.... Went out and got a tattoo that said, "Death or Glory".

I think that our government is doing an okay job in its efforts to locate and return Missing in Action personnel from the Korean War to the United States.  Remember--we are stubborn, they are stubborn.  And they have a different culture and a different attitude toward death and remains.  They also have a stubbornness that is probably related to what they perceive as our attitude toward them.

I do have a permanent disability associated with the Korean War.  I have total deafness in the left ear.  Since one must hear in both ears to determine the direction a sound is coming from, if someone calls my name, I don't know whether to look to the right or the left.  Small price to pay for moving my head two to three inches to the right one day in Korea!  I have had no difficulties in getting compensation for my disability.

G-3-1 Korea holds an annual reunion.  I did not know about it until several years ago when the reunion was in Seattle.  I had to go, and had some reservations about how I would react to seeing comrades from 40-some years ago.  It was wonderful.  I found almost all of my buddies.  The main one I still have not found is the Marine who was my runner/radio operator.  He was a Mormon from Salt Lake City, and I have hopes that because of their fine recordkeeping that I will be able to locate him.  As mentioned earlier, I visit Bob Morton, who lives in Sierra Vista, Arizona, about once every two years.  It makes for a nice motorcycle ride and a great visit.

To describe my time in Korea, I quote a Rudyard Kipling poem:

"I have eaten your bread and salt,
And I have drunk your water and wine.
The lives that ye led I have lived beside,
And the deaths that ye died were mine.
Is there aught that I did not know,
Of vigil or toil or ease?
One joy or woe that we did not share,
Dear hearts across the seas.
I shall tell of our lives in this distant land
For a sheltered peoples mirth,
In jesting guise, but ye are wise,
For ye know what the jest is worth.

For me, "Once a Marine, always a Marine" is true.  The 25 years that I spent in the Corps were defining years that I will always cherish.  I know I earned the title Marine.  As I said before, never again will I ever serve with such a grand, gallant group of men.

 

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