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Eldon L. "Ike" Stanley
Garden City, KS-
"I was scared every damned day. I prayed and I hoped that I could see the sun shine the next morning because that meant I got another day."
- Ike Stanley
My name is Eldon L. Stanley, but my dad gave me the nickname of "Ike" when I was born. He nicknamed all of us kids. I was born in Wichita, Kansas on October 15, 1930, a son of Charles and Frances Carson Stanley. We farmed for a while on my great grandfather's farm until the dust bowl got us and we moved to town. My great grandfather was a minister in Wichita. He worked for the State of Kansas, then he started the Wesley Hospital in Wichita.
My dad worked at a mill. We farmed a little bit and he worked at the Kansas Milling Company in Wichita where he made grain into flour. Then he put it in bags, they loaded it in box cars and trucks, and they shipped it out. I had seven brothers and sisters and then I had three more half brothers. Ten of us. I was next to the oldest. My oldest brother is now dead. He died at age 55 of alcoholism.
I grew up in Wichita and attended grade school, junior high, and high school there. I played athletics--went out for football, arm wrestled, and ran track. In 1942 during the war, my father left my mother and seven kids and went to Portland, Oregon where he went to work for a shipyard there. Years later in 1968, we went to Portland, Oregon to bury him. We never saw him from the time he left until then.
I was in school during World War II and remember the war very, very clearly. I had an uncle who was in World War II. He was in the Air Force. His name is Albert Carson and he’s the only living relative that I have left on my mother’s side of the family. He lives in Houston, Texas. I followed the war news because I was always into history and the things that were going on. I read a lot. I remember that we had scrap drives. We went out and collected copper and cans. We took the toothpaste tubes and rolled them up. To get another tube of toothpaste we had to take that one back and trade it in for it. Then we had to have stamps for our gasoline. Stamps for meat. Stamps for sugar. We had to have all of those stamps for everything really. We always bought 10-cent savings stamps, and then we put them in a book. After we got so many, we could maybe get a savings bond. Ten cents was a lot of money in those days.
I was in grade school in the 30s and 40s. I was in junior high in the 40s, and I graduated in 1949 mid-term, so I knew a lot of the guys that came back from the service and went back to high school. We heard a lot of stories from them. I also went to the movies and saw newsreels about the war. I went to the movies every Saturday. We swept wheat out of the boxcars so we could get enough money to go to the movies. We didn’t have any money when my dad left. We lived on Santa Fe Street and we had about six tracks in front of our house. We saw troop trains go by and we went out there and passed out stuff. They gave us candy or this and that. We got coal off of the other freight trains to heat our house during the war because we didn’t have any money. The police hounded us and followed us to try to keep us from doing it because it was against the law. We also swept out the cars to get enough grain to sell for chicken feed to people who had chickens in town. We sold it for a cent or two cents a pound. It cost us a nickel to see the movies on Saturday. We’d see the news, we'd see the movie, and we’d see the Lone Ranger serials.
I sold newspapers on a street corner on Saturday nights. My brother was five years old and he went out there with us. We had to watch him because all of the damned queers tried to pick up us kids on the street. We had to fight them off to keep him from being abducted. The life I grew up in wasn’t the best life that anybody could have. I had to run the streets. I stole chickens off of the people that I sold the wheat to for chicken feed. I took them home at 10 or 12 o’clock at night, cleaned and gutted them, and then I fried them for my brothers and sisters.
My mother was a good mom. Even with seven kids, she worked. We had some old lady who smoked a pipe that took care of the kids. She was stealing. We were poor as church mice and she was stealing from us. My mother worked at Boeing in Wichita in 1945, but she got fired because the war was over and because she was pregnant. After 1945 my family was on welfare. Mother had the baby and she adopted that baby out. The father went back to his family in eastern Kansas. He finally got divorced. He had seven kids over there. My mother married the guy in 1948, so I’ve got three half brothers that have seven half brothers and sisters on one side and seven half brothers and sisters on that side.
I was a juvenile delinquent and I was put in the detention home. I was put in a cell there with two other kids, and I was kept there a few weeks. There was a policeman that had a grudge against me, I guess. He came down and picked me up every morning about 6 o’clock. He took me out and threatened to throw me back in the detention home if I didn’t tell him this and that about whoever did this or that crime or whatever. When I was in the cell, I was in jail--there were bars on the windows. The pot they had down there had a big old door that was made of steel and had a little old opening in it. They could open that opening up from the outside and look in there. The commode they had was busted and it ran over floor.
My brother was also in the detention home, and he sneaked down there to see me. Everybody looked out while he talked to me when I was down there in that cell. I got my ass beat by a leather strap that was about an inch and a half wide and had holes in it. When I finally got out of that hole, they sent me upstairs. There I slept in the regular deal with the rest of the kids that were in juvenile detention. I was going from the eighth grade into the ninth grade, and I was probably smarter than most of the kids there, as well as probably smarter than the teacher. They took me out of the school because I was always correcting the teacher. I read ten to twelve books a week, sometimes reading under the covers with a flashlight. I didn’t flash or try to act any smarter than the others, but I knew the facts. I had read them. When I told the teachers that they were wrong, they didn’t like that. So they took me out of the detention home school and didn’t let me stay there.
When I was about 12 or 13, I went to help harvest wheat in western Kansas. I drove the tractor that was pulling the combine that harvested the wheat. It was a man's job and I was making a man's wages--about seven dollars a day. In the meantime, they gave my brother a rider out of town for a year when he was 13. They told him that if he came back, he would be thrown into jail for a year or two. When I finished the harvesting job, I bought a bunch of clothes to wear to school. My brother came home and he took all the clothes. He hocked them and left home again. The next time I saw him in town and he came home, he and I got into fisticuffs and I tried to cut his throat. My mother hit me in the head with a hammer and told me that if I couldn’t act any better than that I could get my ass out. I also had a lot of problems with the man my mother eventually married. I tried to kill him with my hands. I was 14 at the time. He was a drunk and sleeping with my mother. My dad was gone. I didn't feel it was right that he should do that, so I beat his head against a piece of cement. Mother called the law and they came and got me. They put him in the hospital for about three months.
I ran away from home when I was 15 and a half. My mother couldn't afford to feed me and all of the rest of the kids. I talked this other kid into running away from home with me. We decided to go to Oregon and got as far as Colorado, where the other kid had relatives. We slept on the road. His family called his mother and she got a hold of us. Then my mother sent me a letter asking me to come back home and go to school. Well, I had all of these problems with my--he wasn’t my father or stepfather--he was just the man who was screwing my mother as far as I was concerned. I didn’t have anything to do with him and eventually I moved out.
I moved in with a couple of guys. We had a room. They worked and they hauled me to school in the morning. I lied to the school because I was out of the school district. If they had found that out, they would have busted me and sent me over to another school where I didn’t want to go. Eventually these guys left and I went to the YMCA and lived there for my last two years of high school. Meanwhile, I was working one day a week. That was guaranteed. I didn’t have the money to join the Boy Scouts. I also didn’t have the money to join the YMCA. Everything we got back in those days cost us money. This was long after the CCC, which was going before World War II. I went to work at the swimming pool. The coach got me a job there as a lifeguard and cleaning the pool out. I was a sophomore at the time.
I went to work when I was about 16 for a transfer company. We moved furniture, refrigerators, televisions, radios. and stuff like that. I made about 75 cents an hour or about nine dollars a week. I spent six dollars a week on my room at the YMCA and spent the other three dollars for food. I wouldn’t ride the bus for a nickel because a nickel was too much money to spend on a bus ride. So I either walked or ran to high school or whatever. I was in the printing program. I printed the menu for the high school cafeteria and they gave me 25 cents every day for that. Then at night I went to my aunt’s house when she was working. I picked the lock on the door and raided the ice box. That’s how I was living.
I graduated from high school in mid-term January of 1949, and then I went to work full time for the transfer company in Wichita. I still had a lot of problems with the law. Nothing straightened me out. I was about to get drafted. I was 18 and half when I signed up for the draft. I had some buddies that had already gone to the Marine Corps when they were 17. What was all right for them was what I wanted. The Marine Corps was the only thing for me if I was going to go into the service, so I went and signed up. That's why I joined the Marine Corps--I didn't want to be drafted into the Army. As far as I was concerned, the Marine Corps was better than the Army. Why? Because the Marine Corps is the Marine Corps. You’ve got buddies that you know. It’s a smaller outfit. You find people--even 50 years later--that you knew back in those days. In the Army you don’t do that because it’s too damned big. You can’t relate to those people.
Back in those days, there were no offers of incentives to join the Marine Corps. Hey, back in those days if you joined the Marine Corps and you had a tooth that was decayed, they made you go down and fix your own tooth before they’d let you in the Marine Corps. You had to go down and pay the money out to fix your filling. I passed the physical all right, but I had two bad teeth. When I got to boot camp, they had to pull them and I never got any teeth back. My mother didn't know I joined. I was 18 so my mother didn’t have anything to do with it. I hadn’t seen my mother in a year and a half. The last time that I had gone to her house, that guy that she married locked me out. He wouldn’t let me in the house.
I signed up for the Marine Corps in Wichita and they sent me to Kansas City for tests. They sent my mother a statement saying that I had scored the highest that anybody who had come through Kansas City had ever scored on that test. It was an intelligence test. I’ve got an IQ of about 140 or 150. I mean, it was when I took the ACT when I was 35 and went to college. I don’t know if my mother was proud or not to receive the statement. I didn’t speak to my mom at the time. I found out about the letter she received about 20 to 30 years later. At the time, there wasn’t anything between my mother and myself. I was so much like my mother. We came from good stock. My grandfather was a Carson. I had ties to Kit Carson and I had ties to the Eskwoods, which were the Methodist Episcopals that came west with John Wesley. As I said, my great grandfather started Wesley Hospital in Wichita. He was very well liked and everyone knew him. I knew him. I was six years old when he died. None of my brothers and sisters were dummies. They were all pretty sharp.
I remember the trip from Kansas City to San Diego. They still had the Kansas City train depot open at that time. It was huge. Before I got out of the Marine Corps recruitment office, they gave me a chit to buy meals on the train. I got on the train in Kansas City. It took me about four or five days to get to San Diego. Nothing ran fast back in those days. We went down through Texas and Arizona and New Mexico. We went down into Old Mexico. I went by myself and didn't know anybody else on the train. That was when Truman and Eisenhower were both trying to do away with the Marine Corps in 1948 and 1949. They had cut the Marine Corps back. They tried to get rid of it. That’s not the first time they had tried to get rid of the Marine Corps. After every war we’ve had they’ve tried to get rid of the Marine Corps. Even after Korea they tried to get rid of the Marine Corps.
When I got to San Diego I tried to call somebody, but nobody was on duty. So I got on the bus—I think it cost me 10 cents or something like that. I rode out to the gate, got off that bus, and went up to the gate. It was on a Sunday in 1949--about April, I think, because April 6 is when I went in at Kansas City. It was about April 10, something like that. I stood at that gate for about an hour or hour and a half. Finally some guy came walking down there about a mile to that gate and let me in. I went up to the Receiving Barracks. Like I said, the Navy wasn’t giving the Marine Corps any money to operate on. They didn’t have any men coming in to the camp because they also didn’t have any men coming in to the Marine Corps at that time from the Mississippi River to the west coast. I sat there for two and a half weeks in the Receiving Barracks. We only had 26 guys that came in during that probably three-week period. They finally decided that they had to put us out there in a platoon.
During that two weeks, we got our asses whipped and beat. We didn’t have any military clothes. We still had on what we had on when we came in there. We cleaned out the offices at night. We had these DIs, you might say. They were football players. They were athletes. They were jocks. And these were the jobs they had. We had one guy, his name was Sergeant Tiny. He would come in there in the Receiving Barracks, grab a guy by the chest, and shove his ass back against the wall. The guys would just melt down the wall. He was about 300 pounds. He played on the football team there at San Diego at MCRD. During those first two weeks there, they yelled at us--nothing but. It wasn’t like today. You know in 1949 they said there was "the old corps and the new corps". We were, I guess, what you would call the "old corps", because everything was physical. Everything was done mentally and physically debilitating to your psyche. What they did was break us down and put us back together again.
For the first two weeks there was no organized training. No training at all. We just went out and cleaned toilets and cleaned floors and that’s it because we didn’t have a platoon put together. I didn't stop to think, “Is this what I got in the Corps for?” I was so damned scared I didn’t know what I cared for. I was scared of all those guys whipping the shit out of me. And I wasn’t any kid. I wasn’t a little guy. They weren't physical to me, though. I could do what they asked. I had been a juvenile delinquent before, and that’s why I joined the Marine Corps—to keep myself from going to prison or anything like that. Back in those days, a lot of guys got girls pregnant or they got in trouble, and the law gave those guys a choice—either go the Marine Corps or go to prison. A lot of the guys chose the Marine Corps and some chose prison. The ones that chose the Marine Corps sometimes wished to hell that they had gone to the prison. But I didn't. I didn't join it because of that. I joined because I had cops in Wichita who were on my butt all the time trying to throw me into jail if I didn't rat on other people. I wasn’t really that bad per se. I wasn’t a bad kid really. Going into the Marine Corps was a way for me to get out of the life cycle that I was going through when I was living in Wichita by myself. I had no family. I had no father. And I was trying to better myself and get out of that. I made a vow that once I left Wichita, I would never go back and live there. I’m 70 years old now and I have never gone back to live in Wichita, Kansas. I lived in Tulsa. I lived in Oklahoma City. I lived in Border, Texas. And now I live in Garden City.
Life in Boot Camp
When I finally got into a platoon at San Diego, I was in Platoon 16. The senior DI came up and told us, “You’ll never forget my name because my name is the same as the commandant of the Marine Corps." Clifton B. Cates was the Marine Corps commandant. My senior DI's name was Tech Sergeant Cates. I've got a picture of him at home. It was taken when we graduated. He was a World War II veteran. In fact, we were his last platoon that went through. He retired right after we went through in 1949. The junior DIs were Delaney and Stuart. Cates was probably 5’10”. Slim. 169-165. I weighed about 180. When we became a platoon the senior DI asked all those who thought they were tough enough to do anything to go back there. They had some of those junior DIs there and they beat the shit out of those guys who thought they were tough enough to go back there and do it. I didn't go. Hell, I wasn’t that tough.
Cates was a fair man. All of them were fair. I had no reason to hate him as long as I did what I was expected to do. I never got in trouble except when the platoon got in trouble. We had one junior DI who was from San Francisco. He was the second string quarterback for the MCRD. They were the All Service champs that year. The quarterback that they had eventually became quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. When I was in boot camp, we got in trouble for something or other. It was July and hotter than hell. As I said, this DI was a football player. Remember, I had been a football player, too. I was a wrestler. I had come straight out of high school into the Marine Corps, and I was in good physical condition. I didn’t smoke and I didn’t drink. The DI proceeded to run our asses around the parade field. It was about a half mile long and a quarter mile wide. We went around that thing four times in about 100 and some degrees. Everybody dropped out but me and him. And he said, “Stanley, are you about ready to drop out?” I said, “Sir, I’ll run your ass in the ground.” After that he was probably one of the best friends I ever had in boot camp. My actions told him, "Hey. I’m not quitting. If you want to quit that’s fine. But I don’t quit." I became right guide in the platoon then. I was the top dog in the platoon. The right guide was the guy who led the platoon. He was the guy up in the front by himself. Since the DI and I were the only ones standing up after running around that parade field, that meant that the guy that was right guide before me had fallen out. After that, the DI was probably my best buddy.
Our days in boot camp were regimented. Sometimes they came to us in the middle of the night and got our asses out of bed because they were drunk. They took us out there and marched us up and down the parade field at two or three o’clock in the morning. It depended on who was on duty and who the DIs were. We probably had one of the smallest platoons that ever went through San Diego because all of the platoons that went before us and after us were 60, 80, 90-men platoons. When we graduated, we had only 19 men in our platoon. We had 26 guys that started--all white. The ones that didn't make it just couldn’t cut the mustard. Some slept on watch. Some couldn’t cut it physically. Some couldn’t cut it mentally. And they surveyed them.
On a normal day, we were awakened in the morning by some DI coming in there and banging on a bucket or something like that. We got out of those racks and stood at the end of the bunks in our skivvies. We showered and shaved. They ran their hand across our face and if we didn't shave right--if we had any stubble--then we had to go back and shave again. Then they washed our face with alcohol so we wouldn’t get infected or something and we would have to dry shave. Of course, I tried to do everything by the book, but I did have to dry shave once. Then the next time we shaved like we were supposed to because we didn’t want to get dry shaved, get our skin to bleeding, and get washed off with alcohol.
I didn't smoke when I was in boot camp. I was in sports before I went into the Marine Corps. I played football, ran track, and wrestled. The only reason I got through high school was because I was in athletics. I tried out for the MCRD football team and I made it, but they didn’t keep me down there because they were sending all the orders out of Washington D.C. I was in the Corps almost two years before I started smoking. Smoking was allowed when I was a boot, but smokers had to roll their own cigarettes. The DI wouldn’t let them smoke any tailor-made cigarettes.
Smoking in the bathroom when they weren’t supposed to be smoking was the reason why the whole platoon got in trouble once. They put everybody under their wash buckets and they gave them all cigars. I told the DI, "Sir, I don’t smoke." I didn't feel like I should be punished since I wasn't a smoker. They didn't make me do it, but they gave me a damned bat and told me that if there was no smoke coming out from under someone's bucket, I was supposed to hit him on top of the bucket with the bat. I did. Those were my orders. That was what I was to do.
I also saw them put a cigarette out on a guy’s nose one time because he flinched when a DI came up in front of him. He said, “Don’t you flinch,” and he took a cigarette and ground it out on the guy's nose. I saw him pick that guy up and throw him back against the wall. He melted down the wall. Sergeant Tiny did that. As I said before, Sergeant Tiny weighed about 300 pounds. He was barrel-chested. He was big.
The only time that I bawled when I was in boot camp—and I bawled big—was when they pulled my teeth. I was homesick. I was sorry for myself because I was hurting mentally and physically. They put me on fire watch and I was there in the barracks by myself while everybody else was marching and doing all the stuff that they did. I sat down at one of the damned tables and started bawling my head off. I was 18 and a half years old and bawling my head off. Nobody saw me, and that was the only time that I cried. I straightened myself up before everybody came back to the barracks. There were lots of times when I heard the others crying at night. When we went to sack out at night, I heard a lot of them crying because they were homesick. I didn’t have that problem because I wasn’t living at home anyway when I left for the Marine Corps. I had already been away from home three years.
We had in-classroom and out-of-classroom training in boot camp. We learned military courtesy and discipline in the classroom. If anybody dozed off or anything during the lectures, the DI hit them right in the head and wake them up. We had a lot of films about not going out and getting screwed. They were the same ones they showed in World War II about venereal disease and all that. Of course, we saw films on weapons—how to put them together and how to tear them down, but we didn’t shoot them until we went to the rifle range.
The Marine Corps also had testing to see if we knew how to swim. I knew how since I had been a lifeguard back when I was in high school. In fact, they put me on that 30-foot diving board and they had abandoned ship drill. We had to grab our nose with one hand, grab our nuts with the other hand, and then jump off. I was diving off the thing in nine feet of water. They made me go up and do it again and again and again. I was just diving for the fun of it.
Then there was training in the use of a gas mask. We went into this building. At first we didn’t have any gas mask on. We had to sit there and then put the gas mask on. They released the gas in there and then we had to take our mask off. They made us sit there for so long and hold our breath and then we got to go out coughing and spitting and sputtering until we got all the crap out of our system.
We went out and dug fox holes. We went through the deals where they had machine guns and they shot them--using live ammo--over us. We had to crawl under the fences and barbed wire and all that on our back and on our belly. We had to take our rifle and lift up the wire so we could get under it. We had to push with our feet. We had grenades and we fired them.
We went up to the rifle range and we fired weapons. We fired machine guns, rifles, pistols, and just about every weapon they had in the Marine Corps. We stayed there for a couple or three weeks. That’s all we did--fire weapons. The DIs were not our instructors on the range. We had rifle coaches out there who taught us. Back in Kansas I had gone hunting for rabbits to kill to eat, so I knew how to shoot. We didn’t have the money to buy meat. I run around with these Mexican kids and they had some rifles. We went out and got 60 to 80 rabbits and then we divided them up. I took them home on a Saturday night, cleaned and skinned them, gutted them, put them in salt water, and then I fried them. On the rifle range, we had to score so high. I was a sharpshooter. I had this coach--a Mexican. He sat on my back until I touched the ground with my chin. We had different positions we had to fire from.
We did have some fun in boot camp. I saw some discipline that made me laugh. If some of the guys messed up, sometimes they made them run around the platoon while we were out there marching. They had to run around the platoon and say certain things. Once I became the right guide, I never had to do it. We also got to go to a few movies that weren't classroom films, depending on the DI we had. Some of them liked to go to the movies and some of them didn’t. We could go to church but I didn't go, even though my grandfather and my great grandfather were both Methodist ministers. When I was a kid I had to go to church on Wednesday nights. If there was a father and son banquet or something, my grandfather always gave me the opportunity to go and be somebody’s son. You know, for people who came in and didn’t have any kids. I was always elected to go.
On graduation day, we marched in a parade. In our platoon, I was the only man that was in greens. Everyone else was in dress blues. They couldn’t fit me with dress blues. I weighed 180 pounds. I was a wrestler. I had an 18-inch neck. They couldn’t fit me in the neck with dress blues and fit me in the body at the same time. If they fit me in the body, they couldn’t get a big enough neck. So they had to special make my dress blues. It took them a year to do it because they made them in Philadelphia.
I don’t feel like I changed per se because of boot camp. It was the same when I went to college later on. I didn’t feel like I had any more knowledge than before I went to college. I went for four years and I didn’t feel any smarter. I wasn't really any more disciplined after being in boot camp, either. I was as disciplined before I went in as when I got out. I did what I was told to do when I went in, and I did what I was told to do when I got out. But on graduation day, I was proud of what I had accomplished--the fact that I graduated and I was at the top. You know, today in boot camp if you’re the top guy in the platoon or whatever, you make PFC. But back in those days everybody made PFC whether you were the top dog or not. I made mine because I showed the DIs that I could do whatever they could do. They weren’t any better than I was. That DI that I had became my good buddy. When I was later stationed by San Francisco, he sent me me tickets to go to the ball games.
After boot camp was over, I got a ten-day leave. I wore my greens because that's all I had. I went back to Wichita, Kansas and to the YMCA. My mom didn't live there then. She had moved to Emporia, Kansas. She had new kids and a new husband. I didn’t see any of the people that I went to school with. Some of the guys who were in the same class I was in had gone into the Marine Corps, but they were not mid-term students. I didn't go back to the school while I was on leave. I only stayed in Wichita for probably four days. It took three days on the bus from San Diego to Wichita and three days on the bus going back to San Diego.
In San Diego, I went into a casual company for about two weeks. We didn't have any duty. We just had junk on the bunk inspections by some little old PFC asshole. He was like a little pogie. He was a PFC--we were all PFCs--but yet he was senior to us. He was over that casual platoon. What we were doing was waiting for orders. We didn’t have anything else to do, so that’s what we had--junk on the bunk. We had to have everything spit shined. If we wanted liberty we had to iron our shorts and put creases in them. Iron our tee shirts. Our shirts. And then we had to put them out on our bunk in a certain way. If we passed inspection, we got to go on liberty. If we didn’t, we got shit detail.
My orders were for Port Chicago, which was just north of Oakland, California in Suisun Bay. It was a naval ammunition depot where they put all of the ships into mothballs. The other towns around there were Pittsburgh, Walnut Creek, Oakland. Pittsburgh was next to Port Chicago and used to be Camp Stoneman, which was an Army base. They have closed it now. They also closed Port Chicago, which was at one time Concord Naval Weapons Depot. We didn't know it--well, I guess the officers did, but the rest of us didn't know that it was the place where they sent all of the weapons and ammo out into the Southwest Pacific through the Navy, including all of the atomic weapons, during World War II. I remember that some guy went up there, got on the railroad tracks, and the train ran over him and cut his legs off. He was out there trying to protest atomic weapons.
I was in the guard detachment there for a year. It was good duty. There was a lot of spit and polish. I stood main gate and I stood guard at the corporal of the guard’s office. I stood post number one and took all of the different calls from all of the different posts that reported in. I motored patrols out in the areas, too, but standing the main gate was basically what I did. Through the week we had port and starboard watch. We stood guard duty every other day and every other weekend, so in a week we stood watch and we had classes. Then on our day off, we went out and worked in the field playing soldier. We snooped and pooped. And then at 4 o’clock we went in. On the weekends we had to clean up the barracks and make sure we had enough cleanliness or we would have to clean it again.
After Port Chicago, I went home because I had gone into the Marine Corps for only a year. That’s all they would let me enlist for because the Marine Corps didn’t have any money. They wouldn’t let me enlist for four years. They wouldn’t let me enlist for three years either. And I wasn’t going into the Army for two years. No damned way. I enlisted in the USMCV volunteer program. Only 2,000 people went into the Marine Corps in that program. That was the only way we could get into the Marine Corps at the time. But that was better than me going two years into the Army. I wouldn’t go into the Army.
War in Korea
When I left Port Chicago, those guys out there tried to talk me into staying in and signing back up because they knew the war was coming. I said, “No way. I’m going back home and I’m going to have some fun.” I got out in May of 1950, but I was already in the reserves when I signed up for the Marine Corps. I went in for one year of active duty and six or seven years of inactive reserves. I didn’t have to attend any meetings because I wasn’t in active reserves. They just had my name on a roster up there in Washington.
I went back to work for the transfer company that I had worked for before. I stayed with them until just after the Korean War broke out. In September of 1950, I started school at Wichita University on a football scholarship. When I got out of high school, they had offered me $50 a month plus books, room, and tuition. After I spent that year in the service and I came back, they offered me $75 a month room, books, and tuition, so I started school at the university. Some of the guys that I had been in the Marine Corps with went to school out there and they didn’t ever go back to the Marine Corps. But I felt it was my duty to go back in. I dropped out of college and went back into the service because the Marine Corps was calling me. I got notice that I was to report to Oklahoma City on November 2, 1950.
After I reported in, I got on a train and went to Camp Pendleton. I had read about Korea. I was a history nut and I always read history. I knew where Korea was. I knew that there were communists in a free world and that the communists wanted South Korea, but Truman didn't want them to have it. It didn't make me any difference at the time that I got called back. I could take it or leave it. I had a girlfriend, but she was married and had three kids. She went back to California and I went out to war. Since it was Christmas time, I got a 10-day leave. I didn’t get any cold weather training before I went to Korea. They give it now, because my son went through boot camp and he went through that cold weather training up there at Pickle Meadows by Reno.
We left in January 1951 for Korea on the General Breckenridge. We got off the Breckenridge out in the middle of the Japanese sea and arrived in Korea on landing craft at the end of January 1951. It was the first time that I had ever been on a large ship. Oh, I had been out there and done all the things off the diving board like abandon ship drills and all that crap, but I had never actually been on the ocean. I didn’t get sick on the trip, but a lot of them did. The trip over was pretty nice, but I had gone over the hill the day before we shipped out, and I had office hours aboard the ship as a result. Before I left the States, I got liberty. I knew I was going to Korea. I had this girlfriend, so I shacked up with her. I came back 17 hours over the hill—over the time I was to be back from leave. They told me that I was not going to get out of going to Korea. I wasn't trying to get out of it. I was just shacking up with my girlfriend before I left the states. They said, “You’re going to have office hours when you get aboard ship in San Diego and when you get out there in the sea.” I said, “That’s fine with me. It doesn’t make any difference.”
On the ship, I had to go to captain's mast. (That means that they were going to determine how much they were going to penalize me as far as the thing I had done.) The officer asked me what I had done. I had always done the things the Marine Corps wanted me to do, but I did what I wanted to do, too, which was against the rules and regulations of the Marine Corps. I mean, I wanted to shack up with that gal, and I did. I came back late off of liberty and they gave me office hours. They said I was going to have EPD all the way across the ocean. That meant that I had to report to the boatswain’s mate at the boatswain’s locker at 0800 and I had to work all day as my punishment. But I didn’t do shit. I sat down there and played poker with the boatswain’s mate. They gave me a chit so I could go to early chow. I could go to the front of the line. I really had it better than everybody else because all the other Marines—3600 of them--had to go out there and chip paint off the goddamned deck. I just sat down there and played poker with the boatswain’s mate in the boatswain’s locker. It didn't make a shit to me that I was going off to war. I didn't care one way or the other.
We had liberty in Japan. We landed at Kobe and there was a bunch of those jarheads—those Marines over there who had been in Korea. They had frostbite, so they sent them back to Japan to get well. There were about 3,000 Marines in that EM club, and I was right in the middle of the first fight that started. These guys said we were pansy ass Marines because we hadn’t been to war. By god, they were frozen Chosin Marines, you know. There’s always been shit between the Chosin Few and the rest of the Marines who were over there in Korea. In all of the tapes and what have you that they’ve made about the Korean War and the Marine Corps, it’s always been from July until Christmas of 1950. After 1950 they never show anything about the Marine Corps and the fighting as far as what the ones who came later did because it’s always been the Chosin Few. "The Chosin Reservoir—we’re just fighting in a different direction," that’s what they say. "We’re not captured. We’re not this. We’re just fighting in a different direction." This is the thing with the Chosin Few. The Frozen Chosin. The guys up there. They think that’s the only goddamned thing that happened in Korea with the Marine Corps. That night in the EM club, they called out the SPs. They called out the MPs. It was Marines fighting Marines.
After we left Japan, we got on LSTs and went into Pohang Harbor at night. We had loaded our rifles and we came off of that LST in battle formation. We were ready to shoot anything. We didn’t get assigned until we got off at Pohang. We got in formation and they said, "You and you and you go to this group. You and you and you go to that group. You and you and you go to this group." I went to Howe Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. There were about 40 of us in that particular draft that walked on foot to that particular company, and they were still short I don’t know how many men. After the Marines came out of the Chosin Reservoir, they put them on ships and took them back to Pusan and the Pusan Perimeter. Pusan was the main town down there.
We didn’t go anywhere for the time being. We sat right there because they were on what they called the gook chase. When they came back from the reservoir and got back in the Pusan Perimeter, they put the 7th Marines at Pohang. They put the 5th Marines somewhere else. The 1st, 5th, 7th, and 11th were all in this perimeter around Pusan. We sat there and waited until the guys that were out there in the guerilla hunt came back. Then when we joined them in the first of February, we got on trucks and started the spring offensive at Wonju. I was in Operation Killer.
Most of the time the 1st Marine Division was in the middle and on the east coast of Korea in 1951. But when I left there in March of 1952, that’s when they moved from the east coast to the west coast and went over to around Seoul. Then they started their fighting over in that area.
My job in H-3-7 was to go up there and do what the hell they told me to do. I was a rifleman in 3rd squad, 3rd platoon, Howe company, 3rd battalion, 7th Marines. I don't really remember who our platoon leader was at that time. The only one I knew was Captain Hoye. He was our company commander. He’s dead now. Then we got Lieutenant McKnight and he stayed with us a long time. He was kind of anti-Marine. Well, not really anti-Marine. He was in World War II and he was in the reserves and got called back. It kind of ticked him off because he did.
I didn’t consider one way or the other whether Korea was a country worth fighting for. I was just doing a job. I was a Marine and they told me to do this and that’s what I did. Korea itself didn’t make me any difference one way or the other. I was doing a job because I was a Marine. We got on trucks and we traveled for about a week. It was raining like hell. We slept in the mud, sleeping in the rice paddies. We didn’t really find any enemy until after we got up through Wonju, Korea, which is up in the middle. We jumped off at Wonju. We went up through Taegu, got up to the 38th parallel, and then we went up into the Iron Triangle. We went up and we came back and we went up. They couldn’t catch up with the Marines. We dropped back and we straightened our lines out, and then we started back up north and went across the 38th again. We probably crossed the 38th ten times.
I can remember the first time someone was shooting real bullets at me. I got my ass down and tried to stay out of the line of fire. I wanted to live. We were north of Wonju. We went through a lot of days where the enemy—the North Koreans—dropped or fell back and we took the hills and didn’t have any fire. But then it got to the point that they decided, hey, we can’t keep dropping back and dropping back or we’re going to be back where we were in North Korea.
I was scared every damned day. I prayed and I hoped that I could see the sun shine the next morning because that meant I got another day. My daughter died of cancer when she was 37 years old. I said, "Sherry, I went through this crap in Korea. All you can do is pray that you see the sun shine in the morning, and then you’ll know you’re good for another day." She said, "I’m afraid to go to sleep, Daddy, because I’m afraid I won’t wake up." That’s kind of the way I went through Korea. I was afraid to go to sleep because I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up.
I remember the first time that I ever saw a fellow Marine dead. It was the result of a firefight. I don’t remember the guy’s name. I didn’t remember those guys’ names because I didn’t want to have those guys in my mind. All I was trying to do was survive. I didn’t want anybody else that survived or what have you hold me down or hold me back, so I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I mean, I knew guys who got killed and I knew guys that got wounded, but I didn’t want them to be on my mind because I was trying to survive on my own. But I did make a lot of buddies. Schultzy was a personal friend. Hoagy Carmichael was a personal friend. I don’t know what happened to Schultzy. I guess he went home. He came in there after I did. He went home I guess because he didn’t die until about 10 years ago or something like that. Hoagy Carmichael is in prison in Texas. He came up in the 12th draft. I was in the 5th. I went to the hospital in Japan and when I came back to Korea, he was a buck sergeant. He was my boss then.
When I got to Korea, war wasn't like the training. You can train your whole life and never get situated
where you can go into a combat situation. The only thing you could do in a combat situation was learn how to
survive right then in a fire fight. You kept your ass down and you tried not to be a hero and you didn’t get
One night I was leading our company down this ridge line when we were up in the Punchbowl. We were getting hit pretty bad. We couldn’t have any lights or anything. I was kind of senior man in the company. I was the oldest. I was leading a group down the ridge line and I was holding on to tree limbs, feeling where I was going with my feet. I had my pack on. I had my rifle slung over my shoulder and no lights. Once in a while a limb would break but my feet would hold. But once in a while my foot would slip and the limb would hold. One time my feet slipped and the limb broke at the same time. I rolled about 60 feet down the side of that hill. I was knocked out. Nobody found me. I lost the rest of my men. Temporarily, I didn’t have the use of either one of my legs. I finally came to and I crawled back just using my arms. The rifle barrel was bent. The only thing that kept me from breaking my back, I guess, was the fact that I had my back pack on. When I got back up there, they gave me some shots to try to kill the pain, but I still didn’t have any use of my legs. They carried me down to the bottom and I got in a damned ambulance. They sent me back to an aid station and then I was sent to the hospital ship down at Pusan. They shipped me back up to an air strip and I went to the hospital in Japan by airplane ambulance to Yokosuka Naval Hospital. I don't remember what month this happened, but several years later I had to have back surgery because of this fall down the cliff. Then I went back to Korea after that. They told me I was bird-dogging them.
Cold Weather, Gooks, & El Producto Cigars
I had arrived in Korea the last of January 1951, when it was colder than shit. I spent a winter and half over there. I was from Kansas and it gets cold there, but in Kansas I was in a house and I had a fire. In Korea I was sitting over there in a foxhole with just a sleeping bag. The wind blew like hell up there in the mountains. There was also snow running out the ass. It was windier than hell and the chill factor was probably 50 degrees below zero. To keep warm I wore socks, long johns, and skivvies. Just regular clothes. Then I had a parka that I even wore to bed. I wore it everywhere. I had a hat. We had a hood on our parka and we usually had a cap on. Sometimes we wore gloves and sometimes we didn't. It depended on whether we found them or lost them or somebody else got them.
At first we wore shoe pacs. The shoe pac was a boot that was made out of rubber. It was not breathable. There were insoles in them that were about a half inch thick. Our feet would sweat, then they would freeze, and then those insoles would freeze to our feet and our feet would get frostbitten. We had to keep a pair of socks in our armpits to keep them dry. We always changed our socks out and kept one in our shirt so it could dry out. We took the wet ones off our feet and put them up there and then put the other ones on. But if we sat all the time, they froze up on us and we had to chip those insoles out of the shoe pacs. Finally we got the Mickey Mouse boots which were like those coffee thermos. They had an air pocket between two layers of rubber and things were better. We didn’t have to wear the insoles in them, but yet they kept our feet warm until we had to stand. Then they got cold--kind of like a coffee thermos. But they were a lot better. They kept our feet warmer and we could change our socks out so we could keep our feet warm pretty well and keep them from freezing.
Sometimes we were in bunkers, but it was still just as cold in the bunkers. Schultzy and I had a bunker. A bunker was a hole in the ground with logs, dirt and what have you on over the top of it. It was just kind of like a cave. It had an opening. The bunker could have two to five people in it. We had a bunker on our outpost when we were up on the rock. I was the squad leader of a fire team and there were five of us in the bunker. There were four guys in the fire team and the squad leader. Up there we kind of messed around. But when we went back on the line, old Schultzy and I went down and got some old canisters that shells came in. We scrounged some kerosene and then we rigged up some lines, got some batteries and some flashlight bulbs, and we rigged up some lights. We also rigged up a nice fire and we had some straw in there. All the guys came in to the bunker and wrote letters and stuff like that because it was warm in there. We didn’t have to stand watch really because we had these guys coming in and out at the time.
All the time I was over there we were really on the move most of the time. We might set there for a week or a week and a half or maybe two weeks. But then we moved. It wasn’t until after I left that they started setting up a permanent line of defense. Always when I was over there, we were in the attack. We were always going forward. We went ahead of them and then we sat there sometimes a week or two until the rest of the line caught up. Then we moved and tried to keep the line steady across as we went up and north until they set up their MLR—the main line of resistance—like it is today. They didn’t set all that crap up until after I left there.
We were close enough to see the enemy. We found a lot of them that were 14 or 13 years old. They had those quilted clothes on and they had kind of cloth stuff wrapped around their feet because they didn’t have shoes. They lived off a bowl of rice.
One time we went up the hill and got into a bunker. They hit us without any weapons. They had these waves of Chinese come up and we shot at them and shot at them and shot at them. They kept sending waves up. Then when we ran out of ammo, they tried to overrun us and take our weapons away. They could use their ammo in our weapons, but we couldn’t use their ammo in our weapons. I had an M1 and a bayonet and that was probably about it. I always carried some grenades. They broke up into little squares.
The enemy really had more weapons that were automatic than we did because they had a lot of burp guns. We had the M1s which were semi-automatic. But yet in a lot of ways we had better fire power because the shells that they used in the burp guns when they shot us would stick in our clothing and they wouldn’t go through. So we had better fire power in the fact that the shells that we used would go through the person, the clothing, and everything like that. They were good fighters, but here again it depended on whether they were the North Koreans or the Chinese. They were in much worse shape than we were physically because of the cold and because of the food problem. They had rice and that’s all they had. We had C-rations and we could eat.
When it came to C-rations, I didn't really have a favorite. We got chicken or noodles. Or we got meat and beans or we got burgers and gravy. It just depended. There was a lot of grease in the meat and beans. A lot of times we had to eat them on the run. We couldn’t make fires. When they were frozen, we had to chip them out with a bayonet, put the frozen pieces in our mouth, and thaw them in it. The first month I was over there I lost over 30 pounds.
I never ate anything that the natives ate--gosh no. If we ate that crap we ended up with worms a foot long in our goddamned gut because everything they ate was grown with human feces. They took it right straight out of the honey pot and put it out on the field. That was the fertilizer. They were immune to it because they had done it for a thousand or two thousand years. There were two guys who spit up some goddamned worms ten inches long. They sent them back to the medics. But I didn't eat that crap. We got some crab apples and what have you and we made some apple jack. We swiped some sugar and some yeast and made some apple jack. We put it in one of those old 5-gallon water cans that they had and just left it sit out there for a week or two. They had some deer over there and a few pheasant. We got a deer one time. Of course, if there was any firing, they were already gone because they didn’t stick around. One time we were sitting out there up by Wonju and we kept hearing this noise out in front of us. We’re still laughing about it even today. One of the guys finally couldn’t help it…he shot. The next morning we went out there and he had shot a cow. I don’t know what they did with it. We didn’t stay there long enough to find out, I guess. But I didn’t eat much of the native stuff.
There were times when we went up those hills and we fixed bayonets and charged up the hills. And there were other times when we went up the hill and we didn’t fix bayonets and the Koreans or Chinese who were up there took off and we wouldn’t even fire a shot. There were times when we had to fight our way through. And there were times we lost ¾ of our battalion because it took us three days to take one damned hill. I'm not even really sure what the hill number was. It was Item Company. They had four guys left and one of them was my buddy from Wichita, Robert V. "Dick" Tate. He is now a retired M.D. He lives up in Bellingham, Washington. He was a Marine. He and I and two other guys lived together back when I was in high school. He was working. After he got back from the Corps he became a pharmacist down in Oklahoma City. He went to Oklahoma State. Then he went back. I was in the VA hospital there in Oklahoma City and he was in med school at Oklahoma University. He later practiced down in San Bernadino, California and retired. When he retired he moved up to Bellingham. I saw him last summer. Dr. Robert V. Tate. But to me he will always be Dick Tate. His platoon leader got the Congressional Medal of Honor. I came off of that hill. It took us three days to take it. We went up and tried to take it and we got our ass knocked off. And then Item company came up and his platoon went up there. They got to the top and the platoon leader Lieutenant Raymer was wounded. There were other guys wounded, too.
I was wounded in November of 1951. We were out there on the rock on an outpost about 300 or 400 yards in front of the Main Line of Resistance. The Chinese had an outpost about 30 yards from us in front of us. The 5th Marines were up there. They were wearing helmets and they were crouching down in the trenches and they were scared crapless. We went up there and replaced them. We volunteered to go up there. We decided, hell, this is a bunch of crap. Every time somebody got up, some gook got up and take a pot shot at them. So I had old Garrity up there. I was in that front bunker. I was the squad leader and he was the BAR man. We got one guy to walk across the sky line and this gook raised up. Old Garrity had the BAR. He cut him flat ass in two. The top of him fell off.
We were out there cleaning out a bunch of crap that they put out there. They had booby traps and this and that and what have you and set off a grenade. I got a bunch of that crap (shrapnel) in my butt and I still carry it. A corpsman by the name of Doc Tyree sent my ass back to the aid station. I had to walk three miles back to get there. I don't know if Doc Tyree is still around. I haven’t seen him since I left Korea. There are a couple of them here at the reunion, but they weren’t in our platoon.
At the aid station, they cut out some of the shrapnel. One piece was in that gluteus maximum muscle (that's a big muscle in the butt) and they said that they could cut it out, but if they did I wouldn’t be using my leg again. They didn’t cut it out. They took some of the small pieces out close to the surface. The wound I received was not enough to get me out of action. I went back on the line as soon as they cut that and said they couldn’t take it out unless they cut that muscle up. I couldn’t sit down for six months without it cutting. It didn't make me any difference that I went back to the front line. I was a Marine. I could have cared less whether I went or whether I didn’t. I was scared the whole time I was there, yet I went back. That’s hard to explain. I was scared, yeh, but I had a job. Like I said, when you went through boot camp, they tore your ass up and then put you back together the way they wanted to make you. They made me a killer, I know that.
About four years ago after my wife died—five years ago--I went out and I bought a shotgun—a brand new one. I paid about $400 for it. It carries eight shells. I haven’t hunted anything although I live in probably some of the best pheasant country in the whole world out in western Kansas. I eat pheasant. I eat deer. My daughter and her husband and my grandson kill deer down in Oklahoma and they butcher cattle and I eat it all. But I don’t go out and kill it because I can go out and buy it or it’s given to me. If I had to, I would go out and kill to eat. That’s all I would kill. But I don’t have to, so I don’t go out and hunt. But if somebody came into my house, I’ve got that 12 gauge shotgun sitting there and I’d shoot his ass out. It wouldn’t bother me a goddamn bit.
I killed the enemy in Korea, but it didn't really bother me. I looked at the enemy as someone who was trying to kill me and I tried to do him in before he did me in. It didn’t make me any difference whether he was human or what. It’s just like anything else. If I had a tiger out here and he was going to kill me, I would kill him before he killed me. And that’s the same way with any Chinese or any Korean or what have you. It wouldn’t have mattered to me. That’s just the way I am today. If somebody came into my house it wouldn’t matter to me whether they were human or whether they were a female. If they were trying to kill me, I would try to kill them before they killed me. And it doesn’t bother me a bit. I mean, it bothers me--but it doesn’t.
In Korea, we could hear the enemy coming. They weren’t silent killers. We could hear them coming up there to the lines. They started blowing those goddamned bugles and blowing their whistles and what have you. We knew they were coming. We knew they were out there. They used the whistles and bugles like we used radios to send our signals to different units. They used bugles and whistles to send signals to their units to attack or how to attack or whatever. We used bugles in the Army back in the Civil War, and that’s what they were using over there in the Korean War. They didn’t have the radios and what have you that we had so they used the stuff that was available, which was what we used back in the Civil War—I mean bugles and whistles. When we heard those bugles and whistles, we got ready to start shooting. But we didn’t shoot until we saw somebody or until somebody was in front of us because a lot of times we had to conserve our ammo.
One time we got up there on the same hill that I was talking about where Reymer got the Medal of Honor and they hit us all night long. They started hitting us when we got to the top of the hill. We pooled all of our ammo with that of about 40 guys out of two companies out of one regiment. It was Item Company and How Company. We took all the ammo and gave each rifleman that had M-1s seven rounds. Then we gave the rest of the ammo to the machine guns that were pointed down the draw.
Going up a hill one time in daylight we used our bayonets. It’s kind of hazy in my memory, but we fixed bayonets and went up. It was so damned steep, you know. What we were trying to do was use the bayonets to try to take them out. And we did. We got up to the top and then we hit them with the bayonets and they took off. We really didn’t kill anybody with the bayonets, but when we got to the top of the hill and we were sitting there with them in front of those gooks and what have you, we faked them out. We didn’t actually kill anybody. They took off before we could actually stick a bayonet into them.
When we were moving, we saw refugees from North Korea. They wanted to get south so they could get food and get more protection. Sometimes we had trouble with the natives. The Korean army or the Chinese took Korean women who wore long skirts. They strapped shells and tubes to the weapons to their legs and they tried to come through the other refugees. Our company didn't search them. Somebody else did. We weren’t on the roads usually. We were up in the hills. But we’d see them coming through and there would be other troops down there and they searched them. Some of the kids had grenades and they’d go up to some GIs.
As far as prostitutes, I never saw a prostitute all the time I was in Korea. I never saw any American women all the time I was in Korea either, not the whole time of 14 months that I was there. I never saw any female. We didn’t have any females up there where we were. Shit, it was too damned high in the hills.
I spent my 21st birthday in Korea on October 15, 1951. I got a drink of hard liquor from my platoon leader. That wasn’t the first time that I had hard liquor. Hell, I had that when I was stationed up there at Port Chicago when I was 18 years old. I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas of 1951 in Korea, too. I had Thanksgiving dinner. We walked about five miles and got some of that white turkey meat that was in little bundles and they sliced it. It wasn’t turkey turkey, you know. I didn't really miss American food while I was Korea and there wasn't really anything I wished that I could have food-wise while I was there. When we went back to Japan, I think we went up to the slop chute. We ordered a hamburger or something. I don’t know. This was after we left Korea.
During the time that we were on the front line, we couldn't keep clean. I went about four months before I had a shower. Oh, we’d jump into a stream once in a while to kind of wash off, but as far as staying clean, we didn't. But we shaved and we kept our hair short. We weren't expected to shave every day. A lot of guys wore a beard. A lot of guys wore moustaches. I couldn’t grow a beard. I still can’t grow a beard. A lot of guys got lice. I probably did. I scratched a lot. But I had my hair cut all the time close to my scalp. I had lice when I was kid so I knew what it was. When we left Korea, they showered us with DDT and all that to kill anything that was on our head before we came home.
I got very little mail. I didn’t have anybody and I didn’t write anybody because I was a estranged more or less from my mother and my family. The gal that I was staying with over there when I left California for Korea went back home. She was married. I didn’t have anything from her, mail or anything. I got very, very little mail and no packages. I didn’t get anything. I didn’t have anybody to send me anything. I didn’t have anybody to write me. When I got wounded and they sent my mother the telegram saying that I got wounded, I did write her that time to tell her that I was all right and I wasn’t dead. But I got very little mail. I probably didn’t get three letters all the time I was in Korea, but that didn't really bother me. Some of the other guys got packages from home. Old Schultzy lived in Camden, New Jersey and he worked for El Producto cigars. Hell, he’d get a package of cigars every month and he and I would smoke them. A few got a Dear John letter and we wrote some Dear John letters too, just for fun. We never got any packages from the Red Cross. Never. I never saw the Red Cross the whole time I was in Korea.
I think I saw one USO show. It was Paul Douglas and Jan Sterling. I don't know where we were at the time other than I was in Korea. I wasn’t on the front lines at the time. Some of the other guys and I were talking about that in the reunion this evening--what who saw, when and where. But that’s the only one I ever saw. It didn’t turn me on or turn me off. We had to walk a hell of a long ways to get down there to see the damned thing. That’s just like Christmas dinner. If we wanted some turkey, we had to walk three or four miles to get it off the front line. The effort wasn’t worth it. I mean, we could sit up there and eat those damned C-rations and get the same thing.
I was one of the first Marines that ever went on R&R. I don't remember when it was. I was almost ready to go home, so it was probably in the late part of 1951 or the early part of 1952. I was a short timer. It was the first time that they ever had R&R for the Marine Corps over there. All of these officers had to write up somebody in their unit, and my platoon leader, Lt. McKnight, wrote me up to go. Everybody got pissed off because I was a short timer and they thought I didn’t deserve to go and all that bullshit. But I went anyway. I wanted to go. Oh hell yeh. Any time we could get out of a damned war zone and go to Japan we wanted to go. We went to Kyoto, Japan. We flew over. In Japan, I screwed around. Drank. That’s about all. Oh, we had a little sex with some of the natives. I never took a Japanese bath while I was in Japan. Never. Never in my life. There were some guys over there on R&R that I knew that I had been back stateside with, so we had a good time while we were in Kyoto. We drank and we went out with the girls. And we drank. For a week.
When I got back to Korea, I had to go back on the front line. Then when it was close to my time to leave Korea, they sent me back to the battalion headquarters. Even when it was almost time to go, we still had to do a job, so they put me to chasing gooks up the hill with the C-rations and the shells. I'm talking about the mule trains. That was the thing that the enemy would zero their weapons in on. I mean, we had to stand out there with our rifle and threaten to kill these guys that wouldn’t go up the hill with all those rations and this and that. I told them I didn’t want any part of that shit. I wanted to stay alive. So I went back to the front lines until the day I left from Korea. I wanted to go back to my buddies because I knew those guys from being in combat with them. The people that were in the back area, I didn’t know them so I didn’t trust them with my life like I trusted the guys on the line. I’d been with them for months and we took care of each other. I trusted them. The guys in the back area, I didn’t know them. I didn’t trust them. But the guys on the line that I’d been with up there I knew they would cover my back and I’d cover their back.
Some of the short-timers ended up getting killed right before it was time to go home. I had a good buddy that got killed. He was a buck sergeant. He was going home and was on this hill. I never kept those names in my mind. These guys at the reunions bring up the names of these hills and their numbers. But it didn’t make me any difference. I just wanted to get through the damned thing. The name of a hill was the least of my worries. For me, Korea wasn't an adventure. I was scared. It wasn’t an adventure to me.
I served with heroes in Korea. But the thing about it is that all the heroes are dead. To me, a hero is a person who has gone out and given everything and not come back. I didn’t try to be a hero. I didn’t want to be a hero. When we got into a firefight, I kept my ass down--and that's why I'm here today. I didn’t try to go out there and try to take a hill by myself or something like this to say that I was a hero or that I won the Congressional Medal of Honor or something like that. Oh, I did my job, but you can do your job and stay alive whether you’re a hero or not, that’s what I’m saying. I served with a man who I considered to be a hero who did come back though. He's here at the reunion. His name is Studebaker. He was a machine gunner up there and he lost one of his machine gun crews. This was when the gooks were coming up in these waves. They were on dope and what have you, and they took that machine gun. Studebaker went out, took it back from them, and brought it back to the guys. I was a rifleman and he was a machine gunner so I didn’t actually serve alongside of him. He had his group and I had my group. But even today he is a hero to me because he did something above and beyond the call of duty. He didn’t have to go out there and get that gun. But all of his men had gotten killed and they had gotten the gun and he went out and got it back. And then there was old Gunny Spell. He was one of those guys from World War II. He was one of those heroes that came back. He just did his job. I admire the man because he was a World War II veteran.
War was serious, but there were times when we had some fun. We chopped the heads off of some of those dead bodies and put them on a post. And we took their arms off and hung them across. It was fun. Somebody who is a civilian might not think that was fun, but I don’t care. To keep your sanity you had to do certain things. Just like Arleigh Rhoades, this guy down there that’s an Indian. When he came back from Korea, he took some scalps home with him. He went over with a name and a tribe and as a boy. When he came back from the war, they gave him a warrior’s name. He actually took scalps home.
There were officers that I liked. I liked McKnight. There were some of them over there who were kind of shitty. I didn’t like our next company commander. He was a 1st Lieutenant. He sat on his ass in the goddamned bunker until the damned fight was over three days later. I saw him and he had creased, clean dungarees. Clean shaven. And I was one of only four guys left in our platoon. I reported to our executive officer. He came out of that bunker. I didn’t like his ass. I served with people that were--they weren’t cowards--but I think they were more afraid of dying than being cowards. That one officer was the only one that I felt was like that.
I wasn’t afraid of dying. I was afraid of the unknown. Not capture. I was never in that situation where I could be captured. There were quite a few missing in action during the time that I was there. We had guys that disappeared during a firefight and we didn’t find the bodies or what have you. Sometimes we went back into the area where they were and we found the bodies. But some of them we didn’t. We went out and retrieved dead bodies. We did that during Operation Mousetrap. Our battalion--H company--went out about 20 miles in front of enemy lines. We were the bait. And the other two companies were back there on the MLR. We were trying to entice anybody that was the enemy. We were in the mousetrap. We were the bait. It was Operation Mousetrap. We sat out there for about two weeks trying to entice the enemy to come. We had fun up there. That was the time that we got to lay out there in the sun. We didn’t have to do anything. We sat out there. We sunbathed out there in the middle of enemy territory. We had it knocked. We weren’t doing anything but sitting out there. Being bait is serious business, but it depends on how you look at it. We were out there in enemy territory, but that meant that we were out there above or beyond the hierarchy of the Marine Corps, too. So we were sitting out there doing nothing. We were out there sunbathing with our shirts off. We were sitting around. We were playing cards. We were doing this. We were doing that. We didn't have to dig holes. We didn't have to do anything. We were not working. We were just trying to entice them into the trap. It wasn't work when we were doing that. The upshot of Operation Mousetrap was that we got the gooks.
We did have a couple of little firefights and we got a couple or three guys killed out there. We went back up there on that hill the next day and we had to fight to get them back. But of course, by then the enemy had already left. So we got the bodies back. They had taken all the clothes off of them and everything, and they were dead. They took the shoes and the clothes and they wore them themselves. This was at Bloody Ridge. The gooks followed us. We finally got them. We had Item Company and George Company up there in this valley. We shot the gooks. When we went out there the next morning, there were over 900 of them dead. We went out there the next day and shot the ones that were wounded. We brought a couple of Caterpillars up and dug a hole and stuck them all in that hole and covered them up. We were responsible for all of them being dead because we led them back into the trap and then we had somebody standing down there. They led us up into our position and then when they got into the valley, we had them from three different directions of shooting. I saw the 900 bodies. I went out there with a pistol and helped kill the wounded who were still breathing. Their eyes were open and they were kind of begging us to leave them or put them out of their misery or whatever. They knew that they weren’t going to live. The prisoners were taken back and interrogated. They got about 80 or 90 prisoners.
The day I left for home, I was with my squad. We had white camouflage suits on the color of snow. They were colder than shit. This was still March. We went out on a duck blind and we were supposed to bring in some prisoners or kill some people. I got the guys together and I asked them, "Hey, what do you guys want to do? Do you want to go down there and get them?" We had heard them down there getting water out of the creek. "Whatever you guys want to do, I don’t care. If you want to go get them we’ll go get them or if you don’t then tell me." I didn’t know it was my last day. We didn’t go. It might have saved me. I was the squad leader and we didn’t go. They said, “No. We don’t want to get shot. We don’t want to go down there."
When it got daylight, I got the guys together and we went back up the hill and got back to our position. Our platoon sergeant came out there and he said, “Hey Stanley, you’re wanted down there. I think they’re drawing." I didn’t get any sleep that night and I went back down there that morning. Was I glad when they said it was time to leave Korea? You’re damned right. I was glad I was going home. I didn't have a chance to say goodbye to my squad. I went down there and they shot our ass with DDT, we got on that truck, and we were gone. We turned our weapons back in before we left the country. Most of the guys had personal weapons, so I wasn't worried about still being in the country with no weapon.
We left Korea on an LST and stayed in Japan for a couple or three days. When we left Japan we were on the General Weigel. While in Japan, we got to go in and buy some stuff. I bought a music box for my mother and I bought a bunch of silk scarves for a girl I knew in Wichita. Her mother ran a department store. When I went back, she refused to even see me. Her mother wouldn’t let me see her. I found out that she wanted to go with me when I was in high school because I was an athlete. She wanted to wear a letter sweater. She was one of the in crowd, you know. I was on the state championship football team and I was a good looking guy when I was young. I didn’t have a letter sweater. I didn’t have the money to buy it. I lied to her about it. Then when I came back from Korea I took those silk scarves over to her house and dropped them off. I talked to her parents for a while. She died here about three months ago.
When we got back to the States, we landed in Oakland. We crossed under the Golden Gate Bridge, but it was not an emotional time for me. I didn’t care one way or the other about the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m not a Californian and that didn’t mean anything to me. I had been stationed in Oakland and I had gone across the bay bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge several times. We’d go up north and we’d go across the bridge, but it wasn’t anything to me to go under it or to go over it. When I left the United States, we left out of San Diego. When we came back, we came back the northern route and we landed in Oakland. Then they put us on barges and took us over to Treasure Island where they started processing our asses out.
I went over the hill again and I shacked up with some gal down there. When everybody was out there in formation about 10 or 11 o’clock in the morning, this gal brought me back out there. We were in one of those big cars that Ford makes. We were in that damned car and they were cussing me out. The guys were all grinning. The officers chewed my butt out and told me to get my ass in the barracks. I went in there and who was running the barracks but the old master gunnery sergeant who went to Korea with me. He said, "I’ll get your ass out of here in time." I sat down, he pulled out a bottle, and then he sent all of these damned PFCs and privates to get all my paperwork done. He and I sat there and got drunk. I went home with all the rest of the guys, even though they told me I wasn’t going to go home until all that paperwork was done.
I don't think that going to Korea changed me. Not really. The only thing is, I came back with PTSD although I didn’t know I had it for years and years. Every time I went somewhere, I always got on the edge of town. Down in Texas, I bought a house where there wasn’t anything on the side of me. You could see forever. No trees. No nothing. It bugged me when I went to the mountains with my kids and my wife because all I could see was rough. That’s all I could see in Korea unless we cleaned out and cut out or shot down all the trees in front of us to make a field of fire.
I didn't have any trouble adjusting to civilian life, even though I came back to the United States as a trained killer. I didn’t settle into any permanent job. I wasn’t one of these guys that could go out and work for a company for 35 or 40 years. The longest job I ever had in my life was nine years, and that was teaching school. At first, I went back to work for that guy I worked for when I was in the transfer company in high school. Then I was a dance instructor for an Arthur Murray-type studio. The gal I was going with at the time was working there and I knew some other girls who worked there, too.
I was a dance instructor for a year and a half or so. Then I quit and went into hiding more or less. I was in love with this girl, but she had been married once before. At that time, in the Catholic society Catholic girls didn’t marry Protestant men as far as her folks were concerned. I had asked her to marry me. I bought the rings and everything. That was probably in the later part of 1952/1953. She turned me down and I took the rings back. I quit that job and I went underground for about six months.
I didn’t settle into any one job really. I was transferred from the dance studio in Wichita to one in Oklahoma City. I ran the studio and I hired a girl named Lorita Robinson. We later got married and then I worked for my father-in-law for four years. I worked for an oil company for five years. I went to work for a trucking company for four years. Then I had back surgery. I was 31 years old and had a wife and four kids--three daughters and one son. I had to have back surgery as the result of the fall off of that cliff in Korea. I think that it happened after November of 1951, but I’m not really sure. This is something that I’ve kind of put out of my mind, but it is something that has affected my life for the last 50 years.
I had the surgery in 1961. I had to fight the VA for ten years before they finally gave me service connection on it. I even had to take it to the VA board in Washington. I got 20% disability for several years and then I got 60% disability for over 20 years. I had two back surgeries on it, and I’ve still got a leg that’s numb. That’s why I’ve got to sit down all the time. I can’t stand up. All the muscle is gone in one leg. I’ve got to wear support socks to keep the damned thing from swelling up. And I take medication for it. It took me 40 years for me to get everything. I get 60% disability on my back and I get 50% PTSD. That's 110. But the VA says I've got a 60% here and I've got 50% there. It comes out 80% out of 110. That's how they have the damned books set up, so I get 80%. I live by myself. I don't owe anybody any money. I get my social security. I get VA disability. So I've got enough money to live on.
As far as the PTSD, sometimes I have nightmares about Korea. I've thought about Korea for the last 50 years. I think about the different battles that we went through. I think about the guys that I knew that got hit. I think about the guys that died after we came back, I guess from natural causes. And I lost some buddies over there that I went to high school with--Kenny Spencer and Lloyd Clapp. They died of wounds over there.
I had other symptoms of PTSD. Like whenever we lived anywhere I always wanted to live out on the edge of nowhere where everything was plain. No trees. Every time we moved into a place, that’s what I’d get. Loud noises bothered me, too. When I came back from Korea, I went with my brother to his girlfriend’s house on the Fourth of July. They thought it was funnier than hell when they came up behind me, started throwing firecrackers, and I hit the ground and started digging a hole. My hands were bloodier than hell. I was trying to dig a hole so I could get down and hide.
We’ve got an outfit in Wichita that are North High [??] Marines. The last three years we’ve met over in Joplin. The guy who is kind of ram-rodding it lives in Springfield, but Joplin is where we’ve been going. And then I belong to this outfit (H-3-7) and I belong to the Kansas Korean War Veterans Association. I belong to the Marine Corps League and I belong to the DAV, the American Legion, and the VFW. It's something I did after I got a little bit of money. At first I only joined the American Legion and the VFW. The others I bought a life membership in them because I had the money to do it.
I eventually finished college. Hell, I’ve got over 200 hours in college. When I was in high school, I just took the easiest courses I could just to graduate. I didn’t take Latin, I didn’t take Chemistry, and I didn’t take all the courses that were required to take to go to college. When I did go to college I was 31 years old. Like I said earlier, I had a wife. I had four kids. I had back surgery and couldn’t drive a truck anymore, so I decided I had to do something to change my life. I got a degree in history, social studies, and education from West Texas State University in 1965. While taking some of the courses, I had some arguments with my college professors in history. We argued over the facts of life and the facts of war and the facts of what went on. I took some classes up at Wichita State. They were against atomic weapons and what have you. I had to argue with them over this and that. I think that atomic weapons are a good thing if they’re put to the right use. They tried to use them in Korea and they finally voted it down two or three times because of the aftermath, plus the fact that Korea was a mountainous country. If they used atomic weapons there, all the flash would go straight up because they were in valleys. It wouldn’t have done a damned bit of good to use them.
After I got my degree, I went to work as executive director of Boys Club of America, It was in the town where I lived. I stayed there about a year and a half, and then I went into teaching. I taught junior high. But then I had to go back to school because I was teaching science and I didn’t have enough hours. So I went back to Oklahoma University and picked up 15 hours so I could have a teaching field in earth science.
I had a lifetime teaching certificate in Texas, but when I came back to Kansas, I had to go back to Wichita State to pick up another 15 hours. Altogether, I taught about 13 years and during those 13 years I didn't talk very often to the students about the Korean War. I usually taught science. When I taught history, I just tried to tell the students what the situation was and what we were going through. I didn’t try to make anybody think we were right or wrong. I told them that we were doing a job that needed to be done, and told them everybody that was involved. I told them that the war had kept communism from spreading all over Asia.
For me, the hardest thing about being in Korea was being scared, I guess. As I said, when my daughter was dying I told her, “Hey, when you see that sun come up in the morning, you know you’ve got another day.” I’m a history major and what have you. I went to school. I think that probably we did some good by being in Korea because we stopped the communist aggression in southeast and eastern Asia. MacArthur is not my favorite subject as far as the Korean War. He was overbearing. I saw him once in Korea. He thought he was smarter than everybody else.
I didn't tell my four kids about Korea. There wasn’t anything they needed to know about. My son Mike went into the service at the end of the Vietnam War. He was in high school so he didn’t go to Vietnam. He went into the Marine Corps after high school. But I haven't talked to Mike about me being a combat veteran. And I haven't really talked to my daughters. I’ve got 11 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren, but I haven't talked to any of them about being in Korea, either. They've never asked. I also haven't really talked to the public about it. When I was teaching school and I was teaching some history classes, yeh, I talked about it, but it didn’t make any difference to anybody.
Korea is the forgotten war because Korea was a forgotten country. It was a country that was not that important to the United States or the communists other than the fact that they wanted to control Korea. We made the decision not to let them. The decision that Truman made said, “Hey, we’ll stay there and fight them until we come to a decision." To this day, they haven’t made that decision. I never went back to Korea and I don't really want to go back. I didn’t lose anything over there.
Serving in the Marine Corps affected my life after the Corps. When you’re in the Marines, you’re never an ex-Marine. You’re always a former Marine. I stayed in the Reserves until 1961 until I couldn’t go back. I would probably have stayed in the Marine Corps active reserve for 30 years except that my back got bad and I had to have back surgery. That’s when I quit the active Marine Reserves.
I worry about the kids these days. As I said, I’ve got 11 grandkids and 8 great grandkids. I’ve got a 17-year old grandson. I bought a computer eight or nine months ago. I never saw my grandson much until I got the computer. He comes over to my house now. I worry about him. I worry about my granddaughter. I worry about their association with peers and what they listen to on the computer. The things that they are listening to are terrible--you know, the things that society says is "craft." The songs that they're listening to now are not "craft." They say in the songs—"kill ‘em and kill ‘em." I worry about it.
I'm still looking for a buddy from the Korean War. His name is Thomas "Tom" Roth. I was in boot camp with him in 1949. He was from Denver. I’ve looked on the internet. I’ve gotten a hold of the archive people in Denver and they say hire a private detective. I don’t know what his middle name was. When I came back from Korea I stopped off in Denver and talked to him. I was in school in Oklahoma University and he was in Colorado in the school of geology. I talked to him up there, and I was supposed to have met him one time in Colorado Springs. My old pickup gave out and I didn’t make it over there, so I didn’t get to see him and I’ve been looking for him ever since. I stayed in his house in Denver.
I attend the H-3-7 reunions because my wife is dead. When she died in 1996, I didn’t want to stay home, so I went to the one in Mobile, Alabama. It was the first one they had had in 50 years. This is the 6th year we’ve had it and I always try to attend.
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