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Harold John Sydnam Jr.

Blaine, WA -
Korean War Veteran of the United States Marine Corps

"There are thousands of bits and pieces about my time in Korea that are not covered in this memoir: 11 months x 30 days x 24 hours X 60 minutes = 475,200 minutes.  Damned few of them were spent sleeping.  A LOT were spent waiting in stupefying boredom.  Some were spent playing "grab-ass."  Many of the rest involved some degree of terror."

- Syd Sydnam

 


[The following memoir includes Harold Sydnam's unpublished personal autobiography, "The Fortunate Years," as well as responses to an online interview between Syd and Lynnita Brown of the KWE.  The memoir was largely written in 2000, predating the current unpleasantness in Southeast Asia.  Furthermore, some of the friends mentioned have since died (Charlie Nail, Corpsman Wagstaff, etc.) or moved (Bob Gregg, Jack Hammack, etc.).]

 This collection of memories is dedicated to all Marines, past, present and future,
but especially to brothers who have called B-1-5 their “home”.
I further dedicate this to ALL brave Marines who have
given their lives so that strangers may live in freedom.
-
Syd Sydnam

Memoir Contents:


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Pre-Military

My name is Harold John Sydnam, Jr. I presently live with my wife, Jackie, in White Rock, British Columbia, Canada, just north of Blaine, Washington. I was born on 28 July, 1927, in Bandon, Oregon to Harold John Sydnam, Sr. (18 November 1896-14 March 1960) and Fern Katie Banta Sydnam (28 December 1902-09 October 1995). My father was born in Oregon and my mother in Oklahoma. I had a younger brother, Keith Leslie Sydnam, stillborn on 05 January 1932.  As a result, I was an "only child". Our branch of the Sydnam/Sydenham/etc. line is descended from Lt. George Sydnam (about 1654-1727) of Morebath, Poole, Devon, England, who came to New York as a lieutenant in the King's Army in 1694 and stayed as a civilian to marry and become my ninth generational source.

I grew up in the Great Depression, but my father always had a job. I have no recollection of never having enough to eat or clothes to wear, but we never had much disposable income. From my birth to age five, my parents and I lived on my grandfather's ranch in Denmark, Oregon. We moved for my father's work and when I was five and six we lived in Seattle, Washington, where I went to kindergarten and began the first grade. From the time I was six years old until I was 17, we lived in Lynden. Father was a cheese-maker for Darigold in Seattle, then he was the head cheese-maker for Darigold in Lynden. Mother did some seasonal work in vegetable and fruit canneries in Lynden. Lynden was small and everyone knew each other. Lynden was "white" and had a large community of Christian Reform Dutch who were mostly dairy farmers. This entire area would have been classified as,"rural, agricultural/dairy."

I was reasonably well behaved as a child. In a small town there wasn't much I could get away with, but at the same time we had more activity options than city folks. My father taught me to fish, hunt, trap, and enjoy the outdoors, and there were plenty of opportunities to go hiking. I didn't develop much interest in group activities, but one summer I was a Tenderfoot Scout, going on a couple of hikes and one camp. I found it boring so I stopped going.

While still in school I was a "box boy" at a drug store and Safeway grocery store, and a laborer at Darigold where I boxed cheese and loaded freight cars with barrels of powdered milk during World War II. I also did odd jobs on the farms of friends, and briefly worked for a home-mover and a house-salvager. School homework always came first, however.

I attended public schools Lynden (Washington) Elementary and Lynden High School, graduating from the latter in June of 1945. Other than playing disorganized baseball, basketball, and tennis with my chums, I was not in any sports while I was going to school. I was from a small farm-country town and school where there was not much structured activity other than basketball, and I had neither the height for nor an interest in playing it. I participated in the junior and senior class plays, but I wasn't a joiner and preferred hunting or fishing.

I was reading the Sunday funnies in our living room when news of the outbreak of World War II came on the radio. Father had been in the Army at the end of World War I, but nobody in my family was in World War II. I know there were school activities during World War II, but I can't recall any details. At home we collected the aluminum pots, pans, scrap, etc. Since we were in the Pacific Northwest and supposedly vulnerable to Japanese attack, Father was an air raid warden and an aircraft spotter for the Civil Defense. He learned to recognize current friendly and unfriendly aircraft by silhouette, and he took scheduled shifts in spotter towers to report aircraft movements seen or heard. I went to some classes with him and stood watch with him a couple of times. There was an RCAF and RAF training base at Abbotsford, British Columbia, just a few miles northeast of Lynden which contributed to "friendly" aircraft sightings.

Beginning on December 7, 1941, I had planned to join the Navy. In 1943, my best friend Harold "Jake" Jacobson, who was two years older than me, joined the Marines to fly, but washed out due to his bad color vision. He landed on Guam on D-plus-1 as an anti-aircraft gunner and stayed in the same gun pit until rotated back to the States and discharged. I had the hilarious idea that I might run across him somewhere in the Pacific if I, too, joined the Marines. Bob Love, my second best friend, was also older than me. He went into the United States Air Force and was a tail gunner in a B-17 in Europe. Both survived and we are still in contact with each other. All of my friends who were not 4-F joined some branch of the military except one who went into merchant marine cadets. Bob Young, who was in my class through grade and high school, went into the Navy after I went into the Marines. A few years later Bob and I married sisters, Jane and Nancy Elliott. Jane had been in our class throughout school and Nancy was two years behind us.

In the winter of 1944-45, "our" war was winding down, although the bloody battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa were fought in February and April of 1945. I joined the US Marine Corps Reserves in February 1945, to be called to active duty at graduation from high school and to serve "for the duration of the National Emergency, plus six months." I could not conceive not enlisting. My parents both approved of my decision to join sufficiently to sign my age waiver (I was only 17), provided I graduated first. I was certainly dependent on my parents, but I wanted independence at an early age.


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Boot  Camp

I was activated by the Marine Corps on June 16, 1945, and traveled to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, by commercial bus to the Seattle Receiving Depot and from there by train to San Diego. Nobody I knew traveled with me on the bus. No one else I knew joined the Marines, except my chum who preceded me one and a half years.

That was over 60 years ago, so I have absolutely no recollection about my first day of boot camp. I was assigned to Platoon Number 48. Our main DI was Gy. Sgt. J. A. Lagana, who had been wounded in action at Guadalcanal. His first assistant was a Hispanic whose name I do not recall. Marine Corps drill instructors (DIs) are the blacksmiths of the Corps. They take the raw material, heat us, chill us, beat us, temper us, and then hone us to a fine fighting edge. They then turn us over to our future fighting units.

The other assistant was a Private Smith, who apparently gained a sense of power from making those he had been put in charge of as miserable as he could devise. This included blows with fists, kicks, and the kind of "jobs" currently in fashion in the boot camp legends, such as midnight sidewalk scrubbings with toothbrushes, etcetera. In contrast, the Gunny was quite reasonable. He didn't go in for that crap, and I am sure that he had Smith transferred out. Gunny Lagana wanted to ready us to kill and stay alive. Very little about him was chicken shit, but I can't say the same for Private Smith.

I believe that boot camp was eight weeks. The training camp was located on hot, flat sand, "bordered by sea and asphalt". I remember receiving classroom and non-classroom training in a variety of subjects, including maps, grenades, Rocks and Shoals (military justice system, naval edition), drill, bayonet and hand-to-hand, and learning the "Marine Corps Way" (as differing from the right way and the wrong way). I also remember marches, some desert survival, some jungle survival, how to swim with pack and rifle, how to go up and down cargo nets, how to abandon ship and swim in burning fuel (ha!), how to survive in a raft at sea, and how to not catch VD (a useless course--I was never given the opportunity!). We had many lectures and training films on subjects forgotten and films likely slept through. Other instruction included how to clean a rifle, care and cleaning of self and issue items, packs and inspections. I have no recollection of any specific "tests" we had to take, but I never failed in anything. We went out on the rifle range to learn how to shoot an M-1, M-1 carbine, .45 automatic, Browning Automatic Rifle, and a .22 rifle. I shot expert with all weapons except the .45, which I qualified in.

The food in boot camp was not gourmet, but it must have been adequate and nourishing. I remember "shit-on-a-shingle" (creamed chip beef). I didn't like eggplant, but the way it was prepared, I thought it looked like ham. I was a slow learner in that regard. I ate a lot of eggplant, but never liked it.

We had no "free time" in boot camp. Screaming woke us and Taps put us down--the first time. We fell in and out in various uniforms for various reasons between Taps and Reveille, but I can't tell you why. Church was offered. We might have been able to refuse, but no one did. At the very least it provided rest!

I can only think of once that I had any "fun" in boot camp. I had applied for "V-7" and while at Camp Matthews (the rifle range), I was returned to MCRD to be tested. It was my birthday, July 28. I had enough time to hit the PX for a milkshake and a newspaper--two of my only "treats" in boot camp. It was the day the B-25 flew into the Empire State Building. I brought actual news into camp (we had no access to any news in boot camp) and was an instant hero (for five minutes). V-7 was a training program for officers that included four years of college in a fixed curriculum to graduate as an officer in Naval service doing a hitch of forgotten duration. Likely it was a regular enlistment of, say, six years with perhaps four more reserve status years. I knew then, but have now forgotten, the specifics. I passed the exam, but the draft ahead of me was stopped while already entrained. At any rate, the program was canceled due to the Japanese surrender and those boys were all diverted to Sea School for sea-going duty with the fleet.

If we ever "scrubbed the street with toothbrushes" in boot camp, it likely was only once and that at the behest of Private Smith. Gunny Lagana was very strict, but very fair--within his "wartime limits." I appreciated him at the time for his dedicated tough fairness. He was a good Marine. Still, cracks with a swagger stick were common. Being summer, we often wore pith helmets, and most "boots" had a scar down the center of their forehead from the screw-shank of the USMC emblem being driven down their skull by means of a swagger stick being applied to the top of the helmet in order to gain their full attention. I never recalled any DI but Private Smith punching a boot--and he didn't do it often or the Gunny would have caught him out. I am sure that I screwed up and paid for it, but nothing sticks in my memory. I can't believe that anyone got through boot training without some kind of well-deserved punishment--and we always heard scuttlebutt of others receiving severe "corrective measures."

One of the most popular corrective measures for boots who couldn't differentiate left foot/right foot was to fill their dungaree pockets with sand, have them hold their rifle over their head, and run around the Grinder (asphalt parade field) until they dropped. For smoking in ranks, one had a "boot bucket" put over his head and the boot was forced to smoke however many cigarettes the DI desired. A possible result was being dropped from training via sickbay. Standing at full attention until we dropped or until the DI got bored was also popular. The "bucket" with more than one cigarette was actually inhumane and rarely seen--never more than once by the Gunny. The other things were thought to be well-deserved and good training for "f...-ups." I know that we all got disciplined for the act of one or a few, but I cannot isolate an instance. It was done so boot peers would straighten him/them out. It worked. If there were any troublemakers, they didn't last long enough for me to remember them. All the guys I knew were highly motivated to pass Boots and go to war. Fatigue and clumsiness were the usual causes of mistakes--and stupidity was also present. Those who didn't make it out of boot camp didn't make it because they were too soft in body or mind. They did not have the ability or will to endure and learn.

For me personally, the hardest thing about boot camp was the complex marching drills. (I am not a dancer.) The rest of it was tough, but endurable and learnable. When I left boot camp, I was a much wiser "country boy." I was in good shape before I joined, but I was probably tougher and in better shape. I learned a lot of survival tactics and I was never sorry I joined the Marines. I was proud--and totally brainwashed! I felt like I was a Marine--from June 16, 1945 until right now. I will die a Marine.


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China Adventures

From Boots I was assigned to Marine Air Station, Miramar, California, just north of San Diego. There I pulled duty as a clerk in a PX. What a disaster! On August 6, 1945, "The Bomb" dropped on Hiroshima and another one was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9. On August 14, the Japanese surrendered. Rather than joining in on the celebration of "VJ Day," my bunch were confined to quarters on standby for MP duty should riots break out in San Diego. There were no riots and no chance to kiss the pretty girls. And no more war, we thought.

While I was at Miramar, my future brother-in-law, Bob Young, was in Navy boot camp at San Diego. Bob could go "ashore" on liberty day passes on weekends, so we would meet and explore San Diego together. The Zoo was a big attraction. Back then, downtown San Diego was a sea of Navy Blue and Marine Green. If Bob and I became separated, I stood on a sidewalk bench and looked across the green and white caps for Bob's, which stood several inches higher than the others (Bob was six foot four inches). I envied his height until 1950-51 when, as an infantryman, I realized that smaller holes were easier to dig.

During my duty at Miramar, my friend Jake rotated back from Guam and was treated at the Long Beach Naval Hospital for "jungle-rot" on his neck. On one occasion he came down to Miramar and visited with me. Additionally, I became great friends with Cletus "Pete" Hohn of Sauk Rapids, Minnesota. He had graduated in Platoon 49 with Earle Costello, who I would meet in 1946 in China. Earle now tells me that we 'met' in boot camp during one of the intra-platoon boxing bouts.

From November 24 to December 12, 1945, I was able to take a leave of absence. I went back to Lynden, Washington, for a few days visit with my folks, as well as with Nancy, Jake, and Bob. Jake and Bob had already been discharged. When I entrained back to Miramar, I had a very bad case of the flu. I was feverish and useless on the train. A sailor fed me doses of whiskey from his bottle and when we parted at San Diego Station, he told me, "That's the first time I ever did a favor for a damned Marine!" At the base, I checked into sickbay and was confined to bed for several days. About the time I returned to duty, I found that Pete had received orders to ship out to China. We owned an electric steam iron together and, as he was leaving, I bought out his share. It was probably about $5.00, but you must realize that our monthly wage was only about $30 or $35.

I found out that the Marine Corps had another surprise in store for me. I, too, was to go to China in a group after Pete's. On January 19, 1946, my group left California on a tired old Liberty Ship. We were stacked six deep on canvas bunks in the troop compartments. The showers were cold salt water, and the only soap that would lather was Lava soap. For years Nancy did not believe this until finally a fellow traveler confirmed it to her. We attempted to do our "laundry" by dragging our dungarees behind the ship on a line. Some clothing was lost and that which was retrieved hardly dried from the salt impregnation.

Shortly after leaving California, the ship developed engine problems and under reduced power, it took us about seven days to reach Honolulu. At Eva Airfield, we had a few days as "working-party" before we boarded the westbound escort carrier CVE USS Prince William. (The Navy defines CVE as "Combustible, Vulnerable, and Expendable.") When we were a few days out of Okinawa, we encountered a typhoon which caused substantial damage to the ship. We were dropped at a Marine encampment at Buckner Bay and the CVE returned to the States for decommissioning.

At Buckner Bay we were quartered in eight-man G.I. tents, and we were subject to daylight working parties. In the dawn's feeble light, we found that those of us not in the first ranks could slip away between tents and Quonsets and hide out in the jungle until the work day had been completed. At this time, the north end of Okinawa was "off limits," as the Japanese had not yet been cleared from that area. There were still unburied bodies visible in caves near our tent areas. In our "PX", the American Red Cross sold us various articles, including tobacco. During our days of goofing off in the jungle, we found a "mint condition" Nambu light machine gun which we cleaned and polished and kept hidden until we had to leave it on our departure. On one occasion a few chums and I hitchhiked south of Buckner Bay, past the ruins of Shuri Castle, to the outskirts of the decimated city of Naha. During this trip, I discovered that a Seabee was using a perfectly good Japanese bayonet for a tent peg. I still have the bayonet and the steel sheath for it that I picked up in China. Another memory of Okinawa is the rain and sticky red mud which made boon dock walks a heavy, sticky mess and must have added to combat misery.

Eventually we were discovered to be in the wrong place and our group embarked on the attack cargo ship, AKA84 USS Waukesha, for a ride to Tsingtao (now Qingdao), where we arrived on March 2, 1946. After a very brief stop at Tsingtao, we were flown in an R-4D (DC-3) to the airstrip at Tiensen (now Tanjin). There we joined Headquarters Squadron, First Marine Air Wing (HqSqn 1MAW) billeted at "The Old French Arsenal" east of the city. The Marines were said to have been sent to China to "aid in the repatriation of Japanese prisoners of war." Any one could see that we were also there to back up Chang against Mao without becoming too noticeably involved. Mao won in 1949.

At "The Arsenal," we enlisted men were quartered in the Foreign Legion's former horse stalls of stone construction. We were about six to eight in a room and we each had an old collapsible canvas cot and a wooden wardrobe. The cots were later replaced by steel double-tier bunks. My mates and I employed a houseboy named Cho She Ming. I think we each chipped in about 30 cents a month for his wage. Ming kept our room, our uniforms, and our weapons clean and squared away. He heated water for our morning shaves and in the winter the stove was alight early enough to warm the quarters. Ming also received "tips" in the form of cigarettes.

At the PX we could buy cigarettes for 50 cents a carton. A carton of "Luckies," the favored brand, was worth about $10 on the black market. In the winter we could smuggle out two cartons, one in each sleeve of our greatcoats. Near paydays, we treated ourselves to champagne on "liberty." After our fortunes were reduced, it became local vodka and quarts of Penguin beer, a dark and hearty brew. Both were cheap and strong. I had the good fortune to purchase a Zeiss Ikon, half of 120 bellows camera at the "Thieves' Market" in Tiensin with the proceeds of some of my cigarette barter. This camera had been made in Germany in 1934 for export to Manchukio. We only had black and white film then, but I took many photographs during my tour. The local taxis somehow burned charcoal for fuel. I never did figure out how this worked, but it was very common. Tiensin was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. In the spring the winds blew down off the Gobi Desert and seemed to coat everything with sand and camel dung, making Ming's job even more difficult, and sometimes even making breathing and eating unpleasant.

My duty as a Private with a sales clerk MOS was to stock and issue food to three enlisted and two officer messes. I recall that "Arkie" Johnson was the Mess Sergeant of the main enlisted mess. I had a warehouse on base to store the non-perishables and each mess had walk-in reefers for frozen and chilled food. As I recall, I also had a reefer at the warehouse, but aside from a day spent painting its interior with aluminum paint, I have no recollection of using it. The only supervisor I recall was a Colonel. I am sure that there was a sergeant of some description involved; however, most of my contact seemed to be with the Colonel, generally when he wanted some juices or other goodies that I had in stock. When the boats and barges arrived in port with supplies, I drew trucks and drivers from the motor pool and working parties to man them. Early on I drew Japanese POWs to load and unload, but after early May of 1946, when the POWs had been returned to Japan, I had to use Marines. The Marines were much less efficient and far less motivated than the POWs had been. I would submit a "requisition" for supplies to the officer in charge of the port facility and he would see that my workers took the correct amount from the warehouse to load on my trucks. Due to thievery at various levels, and the Colonel's needs, I became adroit at overstocking my trucks to keep ahead of my losses. At times I had to pay off some drivers with canned goods to insure careful and efficient handling of my goods. A running inventory of my requisitions and issues required constant attention. A personal advantage of this duty included knowing each of the Mess Sergeants and being able to take meals at a mess hall of my choice, including officer's messes. Another advantage for me was that when the squadron had to stand one of its rare military formations, I could usually find it necessary to be somewhere else in the "best interests of the Naval service." Once in a while I did get caught short and have to stand at drill, but not often.

On April 1, 1946, I was promoted to Private First Class (PFC). This did not constitute any award of merit, as every Private of good standing with six months service received the same promotion.  It did feel good to finally have something sewn on my sleeve.

The base had at least two tennis courts, and Pete Hohn and I played at any opportunity. As the weather grew hot, we scheduled our play for first light while it was still cool. Midday temperatures became oppressive. Pith helmets were issued and seldom was anyone expected to work outdoors in mid day. In our free time we could draw fishing gear and shotguns from Special Services to pursue irrigation ditch fish or pheasants in the field. On hunts we were required to be in groups of five or more, and one member had to carry a rifle and ammunition. In those days it was not uncommon for Chi-Coms or Chinese bandits to kidnap U.S. servicemen for ransom.

During the spring and summer, I had occasion to take two five-day Rest & Recreation (R&R) leaves. The first took me to Peiping (Beijing), where I visited the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and the Great Wall. I flew from Tiensen to Peiping and entrained from Peiping to the Wall. I also visited Earle Costello at the Marine Air Group (MAG) there. Watching the Chinese Nationalist fighter pilots train in the P-51 Mustangs provided a real thrill.

In those days, it was said that no buildings were allowed to be of a height that might afford visibility into the Forbidden City from the outside. It seemed that there was but one electric light per city block. Nights were very dark and mysterious downtown. In the hotel where I was billeted in Peiping, there was seldom any hot water, and often no water at all. Of course, none of us used local water for drinking without loading it with purification tables, nor did we eat uncooked food. During the few days that I spent in Peiping, I became acquainted with a gentleman and his son of about 12 years of age. The father had a small shop which, for its day, might have been called a gift shop. He was grooming the boy to run it for him. The father was quite proud of his son's blue eyes. He called them "American eyes." I taught the son as much English as I could in this short time and he taught me to use the abacus. I hope that he retained more than I did.

My second R&R was to Peitihio (Beidaihe), a former luxury beach resort up the China coast toward Funing and Chingwangtao and where the Great Wall enters the Bo Hai Sea (northwest Yellow Sea) at Shanhaiguan. Swimming there was a treat, but after any storm I had to be careful of the jellyfish. The locals much appreciated me catching and giving them jellyfish as they liked them for soup.

On my return to the French Arsenal, I learned that the Chi-Coms had blown a railroad bridge behind us and that our base had been put on full alert with barbed wire and defensive positions surrounding it. At this time we all had to maintain our rifles, packs, helmets, canteens, etc., ready for use. While at a movie one night, I heard my first bugled General Quarters. We quickly dispersed to our emergency stations, mine to assist in issuing weapons and ammunition. Aside from a few shots fired, this passed quietly, but I realized that my time in China was about over. The Chi-Coms held just about everything outside the Tsingtao-Tiensin-Peiping river and railroad corridor.

When I was relieved to fly home on August 1, 1946, it was with definite mixed feelings that I closed my China adventures. Pete stayed on for a couple more years and it was quite serious when he left. I loved China and the Chinese people I had met, but Mao's boys were doing some serious shooting and Chiang's boys were obviously losing. There was no option. Had it not been for that, I would have very likely shipped over to remain in China. I briefly returned to China 46 years later and found the basic people unchanged.

On my way home on an R-5D1--the military version of the DC-4, we stopped at Okinawa, Guam, Kwajalein and Johnston Island on our way to Hawaii. At Johnston Island, we had an engine change and I had an opportunity to swim at both Kwajalein and Johnston. At Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, we boarded CVA39, USS Shangri La, a major aircraft carrier, which transported us to California.

I arrived at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, on August 10, 1946. I was discharged on August 22, 1946, and I flew from San Diego to Seattle on a United Airlines DC-3 as a paying passenger. My rate of pay at discharge was $80 per month. I had $312.47 on the books, and was allowed five cents a mile for travel to Seattle.


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Odd Jobs and Back to School

This began a few months that have given me a good deal of confusion in the past several years.  I have no written record, and the best that I can piece together is that I went to work driving petroleum delivery trucks for Elliott & Verduin, Standard Oil Distributors.  Epps Jackson "Jack" Elliott was the father of the Elliott girls, Jane, Nancy, and Ann.  Their mother was Winnie Barclay Elliott, a former schoolteacher.  Their farm was on the west side of Bender Road, just south of the Canadian border at Lynden.

Oil truck driving in the winter around Lynden could be a tough job.  When the Northeaster blows down the Frazier River Canyon from a big interior high pressure cell, the bottom drops out of the thermometer.  Whatever snow lies upon the ground is blown into high, solid drifts.  This is the season when the farmers run out of heating oil in the middle of the night.  Customarily they have either a sick wife or a sick baby, and they expect a fuel oil delivery "right now."  Most of the time when we arrived at the farm we found that by tipping up the oil barrels, two or three days more fuel could be made available.  On those bad weather night trips we always drove with two in the truck so that help was at hand to shovel through drifts and to keep each other safe.  Mobile radios and cell phones were years in the future.

During farming weather, we delivered barrels of fuel and lubricant direct to the fields being worked.  We soon developed the knack of snatching full barrels of fuel off the ground to our bent knees and then into the bed of a pickup truck.  Other odd jobs I took on included working for Elmer Lund, mover and sometimes Mayor, where I learned the difficulty of moving cast iron cooking ranges and pianos up flights of stairs.  I also helped Chris Bonsen and his sons demolish old houses for salvage.  I occasionally worked for Chris and other friends on their farms.  I helped Bob Love build rock walls and stands for beehives.  I took any paying job that I could find and if none were to be found, I lent a hand to my friends and their families for lunch and a beer.

As it happened, Bob Young's father, Tom, was a partner in the local Union Oil distributorship.  Bob dated Jane and I dated Nancy.  As "little Ann" grew up, the four of us passed judgment on her dates.  The fellow that we all agreed upon, James Spratt Boynton, later married her and became an excellent husband, father, and friend to us all.

I planned to take up logging engineering, so in the spring of 1947 I began looking for a related job.  This led me to Bruce Hawley.  Bruce was a few years older than I was and a couple years older than Jake and Bob Love.  He had been working for the U.S. Forest Service out of Glacier, Washington.  While stringing telephone line, he had stuck a climbing spur into one of his feet and was recovering at his parents' home in Lynden.  I liked what Bruce told me of the job and I liked what I saw in him.  I soon went to work with him on the USFS trail crew, which meant a variety of duties.  My first day was spent digging an outhouse pit in the glacier gravel of one of the campgrounds.  The Ranger of the Glacier District was Harold Nyberg.  Max Eckenberg was Snow Ranger and Tony Geri was their First Aid Ranger.  Among the three of them, they did everything necessary to manage their district of Mount Baker National Forest.  Valerie Kelton was the camp cook that year, and a damned good one she was!

As trail crew, we cut firewood for the headquarters and campgrounds, strung and repaired steel telephone lines to various locations, built and improved wilderness trails for firefighter access and recreational travel, dug fire trails around slash areas to be burned, felled snags the loggers left standing, and fought wild fires as necessary.  In our spare time we hiked the country and ate.  Lord, how we could eat!  My hands grew tough enough to strike a match on my palm, and with my bare fingers I could pick a coal out of the fire to light my cigarette.  A word on smoking: I had quit smoking in China as cigarettes were worth too much.  In the trail crew, we were expected to take occasional smoke breaks, and if we didn't smoke, why stop working?  Bruce guided me to rolling my own, which took even longer than ready-mades and extended the break time a bit longer.  In buck-sawing firewood, Bruce and I had a natural rhythm and we frequently found ourselves on opposite ends of a saw.  We could make a saw work so easily that we tried to do all of our sawing where we could both sit and saw.  This kind of rubbed the supervisors the wrong way, but we put out too much work to be criticized for it.  Please note that the USFS had yet to discover power saws or any other labor-saving devices.

Bob Love, Jake and I attended Western Washington College of Education beginning with the fall quarter 1947.  The three of us rented a room in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Rammerman and their two daughters at 1127 High Street in Bellingham.  Harold was a brother of a friend of ours in Lynden. Their house was a short distance down the hill from the campus.  We had cots, a table, a coffee pot, and a toaster in our room.  All of us were attending courtesy of the G.I. Bill, which our military service had entitled us.  The Bill paid our tuition, books and supplies, and $65 per month toward living expenses.  Jane and Nancy Elliott were attending the University of Washington where they were both members of the sorority Delta Delta Delta (Tri-Delts).  Bob Young was also at UW, a fraternity member, and an oar on the UW crew.

Math and science were my main courses and I minored in skiing and beer drinking.  During this school year, Al "Young Cap" Hansen moved Cap Hansen's Tavern from his father's old location on Railroad Avenue to 209 Chestnut Street, just down the hill from where we roomed.  The day Cap opened, we were all on hand for draft beer and El Johnson's polish sausages.  Cap later told us that he gave serious thought to just installing a hose to our table to cut down on his walking.  Cap became a good chum and for 20 years, wherever I was, I sent him a card and note at Christmas.

While at WWCE, I joined the Camera Club.  As well as having the use and training in the darkroom, we had field trips.  One such trip involved a tour of the San Juan Islands in what was then the weekly mail boat out of Bellingham.  It was a very pleasant jaunt among the islands.


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Platoon Leaders Class

During the spring, the Marines visited WWCE to recruit for the Platoon Leaders Class (PLC).  They told us that two summers at Quantico and a B.A. would give us a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Corps.  It sounded good to me.  USMC officers were (are?) Gods.  Enlisted could not even enter "Officer's Country" without permission or orders.  They were not allowed to pass an officer from behind except on his left side (so as not to hinder his sword-arm) and without asking, "By your leave, Sir?" and saluting.  They were in a different world--a much nicer one.  They also received a whiskey ration in the field, whereas EMs received weak beer.  When I had left China, I was convinced that we would soon be at war with China, and I wanted better conditions in that war.

With some difficulty I managed to get my blood pressure below their maximum and, as of April 27, 1948, I was once again in the USMCR.  When summer came I was entrained to Quantico under active orders.  During the train ride to Quantico, I indulged in my last experience of gambling for money.  While I was in China, I had found cards a great waste of time, keeping me up all night, although neither winning nor losing more than perhaps a dollar.  On the train, however, I managed to win often enough to recoup all of my expenses.

The Corps had established the PLC to take inexperienced kids out of college and teach them to be Marines and officers.  Due to the number of returned vets on the G.I. Bill, they found that any vets in a training company of kids knocked the grading curve completely out of whack.  The company that I found myself in was entirely made up of former Marines.  We had a Captain from Amphibs as our C.O., where the non-vet companies had Lieutenants.  We drove our Captain to distraction, but when the chips were down we made him shine with our close-order drill, military bearing, marksmanship, and field maneuvers.

Two of my close mates were Pete Suderman from Galveston and Austin Tobin Jr., of New York City.  Austin was attending Dartmouth.  His father was Director of the New York Port Authority and his folks had a nice home in the city.  Pete had a car at Quantico, and a load of us would take weekend liberty together.  When in New York City, the Tobins put us up.  On one such occasion we were guests of the Port Authority at the dedication of Idlewild (now J. F. Kennedy) International Airport.  We had a limo and unlimited access to the Port's hospitality tents.  President Harry Truman gave the dedication.  It was a fine time.

Virginia Beach was one of our favorite liberty cities.  On one visit we attended a program by Peggy Lee.  I really was a fan of hers and I had the opportunity to see her again in Chicago on my return home.  Washington, D.C. was another favorite, and I saw, for the first time, the greatness and beauty that is our nation's Capitol.  We usually stayed at the Annapolis Hotel and fed and drank at O'Donalls Men's Bar, where a bucket of steamer clams could be washed down with an excellent brew.  Neither place exists today.  Monday mornings our group sometimes made it back just in time to fall in for roll-call, and we changed into the uniform of the day while the rest of the Company was at breakfast.  I recall one Monday morning when I was so hung over that I crawled through a patch of poison ivy with no ill effects.

While I really enjoyed that summer with good friends and great adventures, the Marine Corps in peacetime seemed overly "chicken" to me.  I just couldn't relate to the nit-picking that was necessary to keep the troops busy without a war going on.  (Just sum it up with the old military saying, "If it moves, salute it.  If it doesn't, paint it.")  Once back home and enrolled at UW, I began my attempt to get out of the Reserves.  I petitioned via the Seattle recruiting office and bitched a lot.  They, more than likely, round-filed any paper I submitted.  In the long run, I was most unsuccessful at this.

In September of 1948, Harry Merriam and I made another backpacking trip over Hannegan Pass and down to Chilliwac Lake.  We arranged with Harold Nyberg to make labor estimates on the work needed to bring the trail and phone lines up to standard.  In exchange for this, he loaned us a key to the USFS food caches and lookouts.  We were to tally what food we consumed and pay him ten cents a can for it.  This was an excellent deal for all of us as it gave the USFS a cheap work survey and saved us a lot of pack weight.  Harry and I had a great time, but simply did not get the grouse and fish that we had counted on to supplement our diet.  Like Indians, when we had food we ate it and when we didn't, we just kept going.

The fall semester I attended the University of Washington in pre-engineering, having decided to switch to Mining Engineering.  My first problem, after my lack of deep motivation, was being put into a class called Engineering Math.  The first week was no problem.  Then the class ran off and left me.  I had a chat with the professor and it developed that Calculus was a prerequisite.  From my high school records they thought that I had that and more.  I dropped that class.  Then Qualitative Analysis became a time and brain-consuming struggle.  My grades faltered and I thought that I was developing an ulcer.  At this time I was living in a boarding house off campus.  I dropped Qual, drank a pint of bourbon, and found that my "ulcer" disappeared.  By the end of the semester I knew my scholastic goose was cooked.  The UW was putting on a "Prospector's Course" during the Winter Semester.  Those who attended received no credit, but I signed up for it and learned a lot in a short time.  I also made a couple of very good friends, Mark Bielenberg of Deer Lodge, Montana, and Wayne Moen of Bellingham.  I was still on the G.I. Bill and the $65 per month wasn't stretching very well.  A barmaid at The Rathskeller downtown had a husband at the UW on "The Bill," and she carried my tab between paychecks.  The food there was fairly good and the beer was excellent, however even this credit couldn't totally keep me afloat.  At one point I was living in the Veterans' Dorm and trying to catch robins or squirrels to eat when Harry Merriam announced that he had killed an elk and invited me to feast with him.


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All Marine Reservists Frozen

On one of my visits home to Lynden, I skied at Mt. Baker and ruptured myself jumping snow cornices.  Surgery was indicated, but it was not immediate.  I returned to the UW and hobbled through the rest of the course.  I then went into St. Joseph's Hospital in Bellingham.  Due to past problems with my appendix, I had the doctor remove it while he was in there repairing my hernia.  The operation blew the rest of my savings and I was living with my parents, broke and trying to get my strength back.  I had a good crack at a camp job, cooking for a Union Oil exploration crew destined for the Gulf of Alaska in May of 1949.  However, it required backpacking and I simply could not get my muscles built back up that quickly.  Somewhere I found out that there was an opening as Station Agent with West Coast Airlines at the Bellingham Airport.  I interviewed and was hired to work under Reid Molliston, Station Manager.

WCA and United Air Lines (UAL) shared office space in the small Bellingham Airport terminal.  The UAL Station Manager's name was Rittenhouse.  His two agents were Ramsey and Philbrick.  One of my favorite WCA pilots was Captain George "Willie" Willingham.  Willie had flown the mail in the open cockpit days and had a face of creased leather.  Obviously he had lied about his age to retain his air transport rating this long.  He was an avid hunter, and the first variable power telescopic rifle sight I ever saw was one that he had bought in Germany and brought up for me to look over.  Some years later when I was an Alaska state policeman, Willie disappeared while on a moose hunt on the Alsek River, south of Yakutat.  As far as I know, his body was never found.

Reid hired another young man as station agent and this kid and I rented a tiny house south of Bellingham on Highway 99.  Dad had just replaced his 1941 Ford with a 1950 Mercury and I arranged to buy the Ford from him.  Eventually my house partner and I found that our expenses exceeded our resources, even before food was factored in.  He quit the job and I moved back in with my folks and paid them rent.  Times were rough all around and Reid, who had remained in the USAF Reserve, quit WCA and went back to his Air Force commission.  I became Station Manager and a one-man band.  Our first flight arrived around 0700.  The last one left at 2130.  I also had to do sales representations in town, clean my share of the terminal, check in passengers, baggage and freight, help load and unload the DC-3's, obtain flight clearance from Air Traffic Control and relay them by VHF, send passenger and load manifests on the teletype, take personal and telephonic seat reservations, and act as tower and ground control for our incoming and outgoing aircraft.  This was a seven-days-a-week schedule.  In my spare time I met an older and wiser lady who absorbed what time and energy that I had left.

In June of 1950, during some rare time off, I flew down to Bandon and went big-bore (.30 caliber rifle) shooting with my Uncle Orvil and the Bandon Rifle Club.  By that time I had become a club member.  On my return we made the Portland stop and the co-pilot, Bill Apple, who was a Marine air reservist, brought aboard a newspaper which had the headline, "All Marine Reservists Frozen."  The North Koreans had invaded South Korea and my effort to obtain my separation from the Corps was down the tube.

Ernie Scherf, a WCA flight attendant, was also a reservist.  One evening in early September he was up on a football charter from McMinnville and he told me that he had his orders to report for active duty.  I spent a while at the game with him and was kidding him about being recalled.  I went back to the terminal ahead of the crew to prep the flight and Bob Love was there with a large manila envelope containing my orders.  I was to report at the same time and place as Ernie.  Since I was considered 'inactive reserve,' I was not in a unit call-up.  I guess they were going alphabetically or whatever.  I did not petition to go--I was too busy (at work and play).  I knew it was coming and that it could not be avoided, but it had not yet become "my war."  My duty was clear.  I had not fought in World War II and I had expected to be engaged in another war.  I don't think I had yet awakened to my change of MOS, however.  Camp Pendleton clarified everything and issued "the beat of the drum" in my brain.

Receiving orders for active duty caused a bit of a whirlwind pulling my personal affairs in order and finding and training my WCA replacement.  I had petitioned for some consideration of all of the unpaid overtime hours that I had put in.  Several weeks after I was reactivated, WCA came through with a check for straight time for my overtime.  Not what I hoped for, but at least it was something.

About the time that I quit WCA, I bought a closed-face Kodak 35mm camera.  When Wayne Moen and I had skied, hiked, and prospected together in the Mt. Baker area,  I had experimented with this camera and black and white film.  I finally loaded a roll of Kodachrome color slide film in it and took a few pictures on a cliff-climbing jaunt that Wayne lured me into.  That was my first experience with color and I finished my very first roll while on active duty at Camp Pendleton, California.

To attempt an understanding of these times, please reflect that the war in Europe ended May 07, 1945.  The Japanese surrendered in Tokyo Bay on August 14, 1945, although not until that September in Singapore.  Europe was divided between the USSR and the West.  Our on-again-off-again ally was, again, "off."  Stalin had dreamed of world conquest and Khrushchev threatened to bury us.  The Berlin Air Lift operated from April 1948 until September 30, 1949.  In 1949, Nationalist China fell to the CCF and Chiang Kai-shek's forces fled to Taiwan.  In June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, a country partitioned by the United States' appeasement of the Soviets.

In the 1950's and 60's, backyard bomb shelters were advertised in North America.  Civil Defense, police forces, and the military collaborated on radiological monitoring and emergency notification and evacuation plans.  In a world threatened by extinction, a 'plan'--even an impossible one, meant hope.  Later, even the Chinese constructed large underground shelters as protection from the Soviet nuclear threat.  While global nuclear warfare was unthinkable, localized 'brush-fires' could be advanced with conventional weapons to gain--or deny, political or strategic advantages.  The dissolution of the USSR in 1991 only served to diffuse the focal point of these threats as the end of a plague might terminate a singularity of concentration only to allow a multitude of other diseases to become conspicuous.  My adult life has been spent in these shadows.  Where Mother and Father and I once discussed escape and rejoining in the case of a Japanese invasion of the West Coast, my 1960's experience included being trained for security and survival following a nuclear attack in Alaska.

Advanced Infantry Training

By 1230 hours, 11 October 1950, I was with a group of reactivated reservists on a train en route to Camp Pendleton, California, for advanced infantry training. The ever present rumor-mill was already in full swing. The hot topic was that our ultimate destination was to be: 1. Korea, 2. Japan, or 3. Indo-China. We arrived at Camp Pendleton on Friday the Thirteenth, which should have been a clue.

Following the age-old military system of “Run and Wait,” I recorded on Wednesday, 18 October, that I was one of fifty men in a barracks 18 miles from Camp Pendleton’s main gate undergoing “processing” in a totally disorganized manner. (From my barracks location we had to walk nearly three miles to the nearest post office to send or receive mail)  Approximately 400 men were gathered there at that time, all being sorted out in the Marine Corps fashion. By 18 October I had been assigned to Infantry and was awaiting assignment to a training unit. The fresh rumor was that the 3rd Division was to be re-created and that we would form it.

On 23 October I was assigned to the 2nd Platoon, “D” Company, 2nd Infantry Battalion, Training and Replacement Command under Major Sanford, USMC, formerly of Amphibians. I drew a rifle and battle equipment and was assigned with 31 other men to a Quonset hut. We had only our sea bags in which to store our clothing and personal effects. Reveille sounded at 0500 and lights out went at 2200. We were allowed nightly liberty from 1700 to 0530 and on weekends from 1300 Saturday to 0530 Monday. The expectation was that we would train at Camp Pendleton for about 11 weeks.

By 26 October I had been assigned as a Fire Team Leader in a Rifle Squad. We went for a few short hikes that day and then practiced Fire Team Movement ("Creep and Crawl" or “Snoop and Poop,” in the gravel-cruncher’s vernacular). I usually took breakfast and lunch at the mess and dinner at the Enlisted Men’s Club (EM Club or “the Slop Chute”). Lectures, training films, and practical demonstrations helped fill our days.

On 02 November at about 1630, we were dispatched to fight a brush fire on the military reservation under the direction of military types who had little or no knowledge of fire fighting. Approximately 200 men had (some) garden rakes, short-handled shovels and burlap bags for fire fighting equipment. Two chums, one a logger and the other a former U.S. Forest Service employee, and I gave up in disgust. We found a safe place where we would not be seen, burned or run over, and went to sleep. The fire drill was relieved about 0400 and we were able to bunk-in until around 0830. California weather was doing its usual strange tricks. The days had been quite hot and I noted that the night temperature was about 75F.

I reported on Saturday, 11 November that the day before being the Marine Corps Birthday, we were relieved at noon for holiday routine and a big lunch. I stood fireguard in the barracks from 0200 to 0400 and noted that it was now very cold and I did not feel warm again until 0930. I sent for my new 35mm Kodak Retina and waited in a long line to use the washing machines for my clothes. There was a lot of wind and dust from the area’s Santa Anna winds.

On Monday, 13 November, we had familiarization firing on the rifle range in the morning, followed by lunch and a rifle inspection. It was raining hard. Two hundred of us had Cholera and Tetanus shots and that was our day. On 14 November I remarked that the training schedule was not rough, but with the chow, or lack of the same, everyone was so weak that we had very little energy. That day’s rumor was that we would finish training on 22 December. We were scheduled to have a night problem on Friday night, 17 November.

On 16 November the rumor had changed (again) that we would finish training 9 December and leave this area the 10th in the 4th Replacement Draft. Ernie Scherf, Jim Shively, another fellow, and I planned to rent a single engine aircraft and fly home for Thanksgiving. That would be the next weekend when we would be off from 1700 Wednesday, 22 November, until 0500 Monday, 27 November. On 28 November I wrote that we were to now leave the area 06 December and the States on, or about, 15 December. The time between was to be spent drawing cold weather equipment and in cold weather training at Big Bear, in the local mountains.  Our plan to fly home for Thanksgiving went awry when the doctor from whom Ernie had arranged to rent the plane left town, neglecting to so advise his hanger people. By the time we located another plane, a Cessna 170, our time had grown too short to reach our homes so we flew to Las Vegas instead.

By Friday, 01 December, we were expecting to leave the States on 15 December. I had four hours guard duty that morning, field training the rest of the day, pay-call in the evening, and a two-hour guard tour from 2200-2400. We had exchanged all of our worn equipment for new and were sending expendable personal items to our homes. I had spent two hours working my new rifle into shape that day.

On 02 December we had a 10-mile forced march with field transport packs and then our group picture was taken. I had a good workout and really felt great all day. In fact, I went for a three-mile walk on my own after the hike. We finished at Camp Pendleton about 03 December and were trucked to Big Bear, where we played war games in the hills until 09 December, when we returned to Camp Pendleton at noon. Fifty-seven of us drew a draft for overseas to leave at 0900 the 10th. We were to entrain to Los Angeles and board an aircraft for the Far East. We were allowed our heavy winter equipment and 17 pounds of personal effects. After all of the rumors, the orders, of course, came as a surprise. I had finished my last roll of film and was, again, dead broke.

On Sunday, 10 December 1950 at 2040, I wrote that I was on a “Pullman Trooper” bound for the San Francisco area with about 400 other Marines. My back had been ‘sprung’ up at Big Bear, probably when Sgt. Frank Takeyama fell into my hole on top of me at night. A doctor told me it was just strained muscles and I should sleep on a hard surface and give it plenty of exercise. I told him that this would be no problem as I was en route to Korea. I did travel in misery for quite some time, but in a perverse way I was frightened of being left behind.

At Treasure Island Naval Station, on 11 December at 1600, I reported that, “There are more delays than a Chinese Fire Drill.” I borrowed enough cash to buy two rolls of color film. We were unable to leave the barracks except to eat. Our time here was spent listening to the foghorns of San Francisco and Alcatraz, eating the good food at the mess, playing cards, drinking, and thinking about skiing on Mt. Fujiyama when we got to Japan. I had dropped 20 pounds while at Camp Pendleton.  I had no idea where it had come from as I had not had much fat to begin with.

I must note that from about the time of our flight to Las Vegas through the time of our awaiting transport at Treasure Island, the battle at the Chosen Reservoir was going on and the reports we read and heard were grim, indeed. Baker Company had returned to Masan and set up in the Bean Patch on 16 December 1950, just three days before our group flew out of California for Korea.


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Flight to Korea

The group to which I was assigned went to Treasure Island, California, to be transported by air. The early rumors were that we were to fly on a Martin “Mars,” then the largest operating flying boat in the United States. In any case, we spent approximately a week and a half on “Five Minute Notice” while basically confined to barracks while the Navy Department sorted out transport for us. One of our group had previously been stationed at Treasure Island as a gate guard. Since he was well acquainted with the present guard personnel, he became our ‘supply man’, bringing in liquor and snacks. Our official schedule here was simply ‘standing by,’ so our activity consisted of eating, sleeping, reading, playing cards and drinking. There was a lot of drinking. By the time we were finally provided with transport, we were not in the very best of condition.

Thompson, Woods, Tall and I (we were all at the end of the alphabet) went over together.  Through no fault of our own, we were always the last to be moved out--everywhere.  Thompson, Woods, and I were also the last men off the beach when we left Korea.  My story-in-detail, much of it taken from my rough journal, commences at 19:30 hours, Tuesday, 19 December 1950, at the Navy Transport Office, VR-5, Moffett Field Naval Air Station, located at the southern end of San Francisco Bay:  I wrote:

“There are about 30 of us here and my small detachment is to leave at 21:30PST. The “Word” is that we will be on a civilian plane. There are Navy enlisted awaiting hops to home and a Navy Commander (slightly bald and growing portly) waiting for a ride to San Francisco. There are magazines, books and other impedimenta being devoured to affect the passage of time. “Rush & Wait."

There are two Captains in charge of us. There is one other Captain en route to rejoin his company of engineers in Korea. He had left it for an emergency leave just before the big retreat back through Korea started. Our flight destination is in the vicinity of Tokyo.

Christmas trees are in full regalia in the lobby. There is no Christmas Spirit in our group. I found nothing in the PX at Treasure Island to buy for Christmas. I did purchase a pipe and am now breaking it in. I’m reading “Women’s Barracks” to see how the other half live. Our briefing should start soon.

21:00P - I have checked-in all of my gear but my rifle. We should leave in a half hour but I hope it will be delayed. An Air Force training film on ditching a B-17 is playing for the second time. I have tried to call Nancy, but she is still en route to her Lynden home from Philadelphia and should be there about scheduled departure time. I hope that I am able to contact her.

21:40P - Aboard an R5D (DC-4) with engines running. I had managed to get a short call through to Nancy before they called the flight. We really have a plush plane - a DC-4 with 14 seats and eight bunks - an Admiral or Party of State ship!! Thompson and I are in the rear opposite the door, the steward’s seats. Just the two of us. Again, Very Plush! It was good to hear Nancy’s voice even for the short few words I allowed her to speak. Moving now.

22:19P - We just passed over the California coastline. Next land is the Hawaiian group. The reddish lights of San Francisco are fading to our starboard stern. The moon is reflecting from the wings. Silvery patches of scattered ocean-fog far beneath us. Altitude about 6T’.

20 December 1950 00:32P - A little known fact department: Our tanks can hold 3,380 gallons. That gas load lacks 2 tons and 376 pounds of equaling the Maximum Gross Landing Weight of a DC-3. This amount of gas would drive an automobile 67,600 miles and would cost (using ethyl price of 30 cents) $101,400.00! I hope the taxpayers realize that these 15 men being forwarded to the front are almost worth their weight in dollar bills.   Val (Vaillencourt) is busy explaining to our pilot the little known facts concerning the functioning of his .38-44 revolver. The officer should read Dick Tracy! The pilot, a Lt. Commander, figured that by civilian transport we would cost the government $2,825.00, whereas figuring actual gas and oil consumption, and wages of the crew, it is costing the government only $553.00. The Skipper seems like a helluva swell Joe. One of the few higher officers who will talk to you like one man to another.

19:30H ( Hawaiian time) - Back from dissipating. We, Vaillencourt, Thompson, Williams, Tall and myself, went for a swim this afternoon in the area pool. Very nice. After chow we mailed our Christmas cards and retired (Tom, Val & me) to the “White Hat,” where enlisted pigs may purchase mixed drinks. Just got back. Vodka Collins. We have been split up. Tom is leaving NOW (19:40). Val is the only one I know that is in the bunch with me waiting until tomorrow. Brings tears to the eyes, as Tom says. I think I will draw linen, wash-up and crap out. I have bags under my eyes. The barmaids at the club are the usual Hawaiian mix and terribly flat-chested. Just flat. Reminds me of China."

On 20 December 1950 I wrote home:

Speculation of a Rifleman

"A somber life.  Here I am, half drunk in Hawaii, headed for war with a people my previous Marine Corps duty taught me to love.  Now we must forget their sense of humor that survives utmost poverty.  We must forget that they are fighting either for a cause that promises betterment of their conditions, or because they have unwillingly been pressed into service.

To think that I may one day face Choe She Ming and one of us must kill the other.  Choe, who was one of the finest, most intelligent young Chinese I met there.  Or perhaps it might be the young boy with the "American eyes" that I met in Peiping who, in return for help with his English speller, taught me the abacus.  He, too, would now be of age to fight for the Chinese Red Army.  How can God expect that men can see and do good when they must move as political pawns in warfare, first killing Cain, then Able.  One day we must fight beside, the next against.  No fear that I will not kill with vigor.  I must or be killed.  Besides, it seems that there is Right on our side--it must always be so.  One must help the politicians, diplomats and militarists to convince oneself that he is in the right.  For all of the bigotry it remains--kill or be killed.

Personal desires must be disregarded until our present enemy is gain on our side, the right side, in conflict or in commerce.  Now the fighting is very far away--farther than while in training--thus it gives pause for mediation and moralizing.  Short pause.  Next month I may be home or dead.  Doubtful that I will survive a month of combat without loss of limb or life.

The majority of the casualties are caused by the weather and inadequate clothes.  We are trained to a hair to fight but few know how to stay warm and dry.  Fewer still are able to fight and keep from freezing at the same time.  I don't know if I want to stay whole and struggle the double battle for the whole winter.  Already I am weary unto the death of it all.

Where others lead ye shall go."

20 December 1950, 2030 hours, Barbers Pt., Hawaii
H.J. Sydnam, Corporal, USMCR, en route Korea

We left Barber's Point on December 21, 1950, in a Navy R4D with quite plush furnishings.  We stopped at Johnston Island, Kwajalein, and Guam. Besides the crew, there were six of us enlisted Marines, three male Naval medical officers (doctors?), and several female Navy officers (nurses).  Contrary to the usual war films, none were Marilyn Monroes.  I wrote in my journal:

01:09H Thursday 21 December - I am back at the field awaiting an 0200 takeoff. Six enlisted men and the rest are officers - Navy nurses. When I heard of the supercargo, it sounded like an enjoyable trip. It would still be an enjoyable trip if it could be made in darkness. My compliment to them is, “They smell good.” What a collection. They all have suitcases, too! A few are wearing leis. I believe there will be three male officers with us. I can’t get over these Navy officers (male).  They are so damned eager to make friends with you and talk with you - unheard of! There are three of us in this detail from the original draft and because we had been left behind by the main contingent there are no written orders with us. This caused a brief flurry of red tape before it was decided that we should go aboard anyway. I will be glad to get THIS flight over with. The group that was to have left Moffett behind us was fogged in and did not get off until this A.M. They arrived here about 22:30 or 23:00 and got into the field just as Tom’s group was going aboard. The first group out this PM left about 18:00 but had to return account of radio trouble. No idea when they left again.

03:22H - Finally onboard. One of the nurses has started things off right by fainting at the foot of the steps. Civilian type interior. The first time I have seen plush seats west of Hawaii.

03:46H - We have left Oahu behind in a shimmering silver sea. Moonlight on the islands. Beautiful and I am very tired.

07:30H - Stop at Johnston Island.

08:10 - I have eaten breakfast and waiting for the plane to be fueled. Warm. Right ear wouldn’t take on pressure on the way in and gave a lot of pain. We started down while I was asleep. No Goony Birds as yet.

08:19 - Our motors turning over. It is about 1,400 miles to Kwajalein - about twice as far as it is back to Oahu.

15:12H - We are very close to Kwajalein and have just passed over the atoll reefs to the east of the main atoll, heading into dark clouds. Here comes the bumps - no bumps after all - rain squall. Many, many different layers of clouds. Really quite pretty. I would have liked to have gotten a color shot of the same portion of the atoll that I have a bit west of at home (from my flight home from China in 1946) but we passed a bit too far to the north. Letting down now. My ears still bother me.

15:41 - About 1T feet up and ears like to killing me. Damn this cold! It hurts clear back in the mastoid and in the upper sinus, on the right side.

15:47 in the soup. Will have to come in on instruments if we don’t break clear soon. A little rough. Got my ears equalized a little more. Kinda down at the ragged bottom edge of the overcast.

15:53 Passing over more reefs and the fringe of the Kwaj atoll.

15:58 - On Kwajalein - field elevation 7 feet. 16:05 Engines off and now for chow. Hot in the plane.

Friday, 22 December 1950 14:52K (Kwajalein time & date) - We should be shoving off soon. It is terribly hot and humid. The pages of this notebook are quite damp. My clothes are sticky with my own grease, clear through. I will have to wait until a few hours out of Guam until it starts to cool off. You can smell the familiar dank smell of the tropics. I wish we could go for a swim, or just a shower, and change clothes. All of our packs, etc, are a few hours ahead of us. Not even a clean handkerchief. An Army B-17 Air-Sea Rescue ship which just came in is ready to go out again. It is quite a piece of equipment. The Army officers around here look like Gunga Din; shorts, sleeveless shirts & pith helmets.

15:06 Kwaj. - We are in the ship with engines running. Awfully hot! Figure 8-12 hours layover in Guam and if so I foresee a shower and a change of clothes if we catch up with the group ahead.

15:17 - Off Kwajalein and the next stop is Guam.

16:29K - It has cooled off a bit. We have left the Marshall Islands behind. Many huge and beautiful cloud formations. The women aboard add nothing to the comfort of the trip. Without them we could lounge around in our skivvies. On second thought it would still be a good idea - they are getting to look better all of the time. By the time we reach Tokyo they will doubtlessly be attractive - improbable, though. I wish I could smoke but my throat is completely burned out. One exposure left in the camera and all of my film is in Guam. I hope that I can make connections with it.

20:15G (Guam time) - We are presently making a let-down, presumably to Guam. My ears are unable to release pressure and the right ear is very bad.

20:22 - Touchdown on Guam and my left ear is ok now.

Saturday 23 December 1950 0600G - Filthy. Never have I been so filthy. My uniform is a squishing mat of my own grease. I had 2 sheets issued to sleep on and under last night here at Agana Airfield. I took a shower and used one sheet for a towel. The sweat didn’t dry out of my clothes during the night. It rained (poured) from about 0200 to 0400 this morning. We will be going aboard very shortly. I’m going to swindle an electric razor off one of the ensigns and shave after we get airborne - for the first time since we left the States. What I wouldn’t give for an Aloha shirt and a pair of shorts! I ordered two rolls, a piece of pie and coffee in the restaurant this morning and it took 30 minutes to get it. I bought a Saturday Evening Post and found later that it is a November 11 issue. I also bought a November 18 Colliers that I hadn’t read yet. Christ, I feel cruddy!

06:47 - Off Guam. Next stop is Tokyo.

0720T (Tokyo Time) - I just set my watch back one hour for the last time. I have been trying to shave with no luck. The electric plug-ins for the razor do not work and there is no water in the head. Our packs, etc, will arrive in Tokyo about midnight so we may get a chance to shave then. Sure getting hairy. Last shaved the 18th - 4 days growth.

0955T - Just passed over Iwo Jima and took a picture of it with my last exposure. One of the better looking nurses came over to our window to look and obliged me by massaging my neck & scalp with her ample breasts. First time I ever had an ensign do that!

11:00T - 550 miles South of Tokyo and cruising at 215 mph at 9T feet. Message from the Skipper: “The entire crew wishes to express their appreciation for your cooperation and good spirits under such trying conditions and to wish you a good tour of duty, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” That reminds me to record the fact that on “grad” day at Tent Camp #2 our CO, Major Sanford, told us, with tears in his beady-blue eyes, that, “I can’t say I’m sorry that I’m not going with you, but if I had to go overseas I couldn’t think of a finer group of men to go with.”

12:40T - Fujiyama has just reared her great white head above the solid cloud bank that lies ahead of us. Japan and the end of our flight is in sight! “‘Twon’t be long now!” From 9T feet the sea is a foam flecked mass beneath us. Evidently quite a strong wind is blowing on the surface. Once in a while I have a little difficulty breathing, partially from my cold and part from the altitude.

1300T - We are passing to the right of the Southern islands of Japan. It is very hazy out and the almost solid strata of clouds in that direction makes it difficult to see anything.

13:10T - We just passed over the coastline of Japan. Terraced farms prevail along the foothills along the coast. We have been dropping altitude for the last 10 minutes and are at about 5T feet now. Very hazy. A layer of smog up to about 6-7T feet. Fairly rugged mountains, sparsely timbered and quite a percentage is cultivated.

13:17T - I presume that we are over Tokyo Bay now. It is so smoggy that I can’t see more than a mile.

13:19T - Over the shore again now and the air is a bit better - now over shoals and oyster or kelp beds with a pattern of straight rows along the bottom.

13:27 - On the blocks and engines off at Haneda Field. Soldiers stationed at anti-aircraft positions around the field.

At 1330 on December 23, 1950, we landed at Haneda Airfield, Tokyo.   We were bused to Yokosuka, and then took a train to Otsu, arriving there at 0300 on December 24.  When I arrived in Japan, the smells "brought tears to my eyes," they were so reminiscent of China. From Haneda Airfield in Tokyo, we were bused to Yokosuka.  I continued writing in my journal:

21:55T - On board a Japanese “Pullman” in the vicinity of Yokohama. We went from Haneda Field to Yokosuka Navy Station, ate supper and checked in. We are being sent 300 miles North to re-group the replacements. The three of us still have no packs or winter gear. It is downright cold out and it seems like an old home week to be back in Asia. My throat is very sore and I think my adenoids are fouled up. 22:00T The train is starting to move out. These Japanese berths are rather short. I’ll go to sleep now. I was damned near in a hysterical state of exhaustion when we were eating this evening. I had about a one hour nap and feel a bit better.  Wish I had a bottle of saki.

Sunday 24 December 1950 13:00T Otsu, Japan - We arrived here about 0700 this morning and trucked up from the train station and went to chow. 34 of us came in and 17 have liberty today and the rest will have it tomorrow. There is a village of sorts outside the gate so I guess I’ll try to get Nancy a present tomorrow and myself a bottle. I exchanged $5 for Yen at Yokoska and the rest of my money is U.S. We are unable to spend U.S. money and there is no place to exchange it here. It is possible to find a black market exchange outside but you take a chance at brig-time. I don’t know how far $5 (1,742 Yen) will go but it looks like unless Nancy would like either a bouquet of onions or a Japanese girl the present will have to wait a bit and the spirit prevail. Seasonal pun is “Merry Christmas and Clappy New Year.” I understand that you can’t get out of the gate without a “pro-kit.” Downright discriminating! I wouldn’t sleep with any of these women if it would get me my return to the States. However, I could easily submit to a bottle of saki, which I think I shall. I turned into sickbay this morning and got my sore throat swabbed and got some pills and codeine. I checked up and found that no one has reported in with liquor poisoning so I guess the local hooch is okay.

22:08T - We have a very nice library and recreation hall here. I spent a hour or so reading, ate supper, studied Japanese for 2 hours and played Bingo. Won nothing. Tom and the bunch came in tonight and our gear with them. Val’s cold weather gear was missing. My can of rifle oil leaked from the changes of pressure and soaked up my only towel. It also got on my film but that was in water-proof cans. This is Christmas Eve and I had not quite realized it until now. We all made a wish for lots of cartridges and grenades and let it go at that.  I sent a handmade, penciled, Christmas card to Nancy. On the cover Santa is reading from several sheets of paper and pointing to a bright star. Inside, the text reads:

Lo! The Star is still there,
The Poles are the same.
I go I know not where,
But with you I remain.

As far as I travel,
O’r the land and the sea,
I can not unravel,
The You that is Me!

For You are within me,
Wherever I roam,
And with me you will go,
‘Till at last I come home!

Monday 25 December 1950 06:05T - Merry Christmas!! Tis Christmas’ morn. I guess Santa couldn’t get down the one inch steam pipe ’cause no cartridges or grenades this morning. I understand that it is snowing outside. We have a good turkey dinner this noon so I’m not going on liberty until this pm. (I did go out in the morning, however). It got pretty cold last night and I had to pull my parka over my one blanket. My throat is not any better despite all of the pills I have been swallowing. My nose is plugged up, too. I guess I’ll try to get a couple more hours of sleep. I don’t think that we have roll-call but wouldn’t bet.

25 December 1950 14:15T Kyoto, Japan - Four of us have just finished Christmas dinner in a Japanese Tea (?) House here in Kyoto. ‘Twas fried rice and beer. We are now involved in more beer and hot saki. We left our shoes outside in the checkroom and drew slippers to walk in. Very nice. Nice looking Japanese waitress - or am I getting drunk? If this had been payday, I would have my Christmas presents purchased; damascene metal art work. I feel pretty Christmassy right now. It seems much later in the day. My companions are: Val, Hampster and D.F. Smith. Tom and Tall got lost somehow.

16:50T - We are in the Rotary Club of Kyoto. We left the tea house and found not only Tom and Tall in the bar and grill, but “the drifter.” We retired to this place as it was the only place in Kyoto that had a place to crap (an Asian “squatter”) and I, at this time, am stricken with diarrhea. Horrible relief. I used Val’s present wrapping to wipe with. We are about to depart for Otsu and a private home where those who are so inclined may satisfy the flesh and Tom, Val and I can DRINK! Much, much, beer and hot saki go to the head. It’s a damn good thing that I, too, am a good boy because if I was a bad one I’d be a Helluva bad one (yak-yak!!)

19:10T - We are now in the house with the girls and “Mamasan.” The sergeant that led us here makes a continual comment as to the availability, or capacity, of the girls. This, I want one to understand, is not a house of prostitution. It is merely a private home of convenience. Mamasan went out for beer. I will adjourn until either later tonight or tomorrow. We are listening to Tokyo news now. Merry Christmas! The girls use Revlon and DuBerry cosmetics. The charcoal brazier keeps the ol’ feet warm!

26 December 1950 12:15T Otsu Barracks - We had a couple of fouled-up roll calls so far. We get a $20.00 draw tomorrow and I exchanged $20.00 for script today. I will try to get liberty tonight and buy presents. The damned chow line is miles long and I am waiting in the barracks until it diminishes.

27 December 1950 0730T Otsu Barracks - I went on liberty last night and rode the tram into Kyoto. It was 1800 by the time we got there and all of the damned shops were closed. It took about two hours to find a place to exchange my military money for script and then I couldn’t buy what I came to town for. Jesus, but it made me sore. I thought I had the presents for Nancy and the folks in the bag! Sgt Orland and I went to the Rotary Club to look for Tom and Rumley but they were not there. We bought two bottles of beer and before I even got a sip the damned Army MP’s bounced us out. It seems that there are only six places in Kyoto that are on-limits and that wasn’t one of them. We retired to The Tago (on-limits) and ate, had a couple beers and came back to the base. I just got back from breakfast and must wash clothes today. The Draft leaving here today is going directly to Pusan. I’m afraid there won’t be much time to wash once we get THERE! Gotta shower, too. Best start now!

1259T Otsu Barracks - It is snowing out, which reminds me, we had a White Christmas in the morning. It is quite cold. I have drawn all of my missing gear with the exception of a foul weather and a dungaree cap which they would not give me. My throat feels pretty good so I have started smoking my pipe again. I guess I will write a letter or two.

1350T Otsu Barracks - Tomorrow we head for Pusan. I was paid $20.00 this morning and no way to spend it. I hope that the rumors are true about Pusan being a fairly decent city. I must still buy presents. At best they will be early for next year. I ended up going on liberty last night as I got a guy to stand my watch and took off. I went to Otsu and it was really snowing. Five of us bought one beer and five glasses - no straws! Another Marine took pity on our financial plight (I had loaned Val 6,000 Yen) and bought us three more bottles. We went up to the girl’s place again to drink and toast feet (two of the boys had ulterior motives) but Papasan doesn’t allow drinking so we studied language for three hours and then Tall and I left for alcohol so the others could finish their “call.” We bought a couple-three half pints and brought them back to the barracks. The damned guy who relieved me had turned out the lights and hit the sack. None of the guys coming in off liberty could find him to check-in and all was in an uproar. It took me until 10:30 this a.m. to straighten out the mess, with a 5-hour interlude to sleep. It snowed all night and the ground was white this morning. It was good ham and macaroni this noon. Breakfast was good, too - or am I starving? I have to shower and pack my gear tonight. I finished a letter to Nancy and wrote to Bruce and Bob. I will also write to the folks today.

Thursday 28 December 1950 22:10T aboard a train in a Nip Pullman - We left Otsu about 1930. Our destination is Sasebo - the train’s destination that is. We are supposed to arrive at 11:30 tomorrow. I haven’t felt like writing in these notes as I have been sending home letters. I went into Kyoto last night and bought two watercolors and sent them home today. Val bought a miniature camera and film. It is a nice little job. We have been talking mountain climbing again this evening. I sure wish that I was back home to actually do it. I got a bit tight last night with Tom and Rumley while looking at “rare old treasures of the Orient” that they had purchased. Everything that Tom does is “high adventure.” Rumley bought a Jap pipe and two drags will exhaust the bowl of tobacco. Val doubts that he will get out of Korea. I have had my personal doubts since 1946. I would have given anything to have been home over Christmas vacation. I want so much to see Nancy, folks and the boys again. Perhaps I’ll be there soon. I dread the issuance of ammo to these guys. Some of these damned Boots are so cockeyed careless with their arms that someone could get shot before we even get to combat. Enough for tonight. Although I don’t feel much like one, I’ll have a nightcap and go to sleep. I’m in bed at this time.

On December 28, our draft entrained to Sasebo.  We had chow at an Army base in Sasebo (chow mein), and were then bussed down to the docks, where we boarded the USS Kona Maru on December 29.  There were no bunks--we had to sleep on the deck Oriental style.  We arrived at the dock in Pusan at 0830 on New Year's Eve day.  A South Korean Navy band greeted us.  It was a nice surprise and the damndest thing I ever saw.  The city was a short distance away.


Back to Memoir Contents

Baker Company (B-1-5)

Korea smelled about like Japan and China, but other than that I have no recollection of my first impression of Korea.  I saw no shooting or damage at the port.  It was just another Asian shore.  As far as I was concerned, we were at war with an invading communist force.  Where it was taking place was immaterial, though I would have preferred a flatter, more temperate playing field.  We debarked from the ship and were trucked approximately 46 miles to Masan, where I slept in an empty tent as a new member of 2nd Squad, 2nd Platoon, Baker Company, First Battalion, Fifth Regiment (B-1-5), 1st Marine Division.  I was its new fire team leader.  Since there were not enough cots, we had to scrounge or buy straw mats to sleep on once joined to the squad's tent.

On Monday, 1 January 1950 at 11:10, I wrote in my journal at Masan, South Korea:

I just found out that I’ve lost a day somewhere and don’t know how far back. We were trucked up from Pusan, a distance of about 46 miles, and were assigned to the 1st Division, 5th Regiment, B Company,  We slept in an empty tent, on the ground, and this morning we were further assigned. I am in 2nd squad, 2nd Platoon. Everyone had a Happy New Year last night - at least only a few are sober at this time. We will get a lot of training here. Holiday Routine today but we will go snoopin’ & poopin’ tomorrow. I will have to purchase a straw mat from the gooks to sleep on as there are not enough cots to go around. There are only three guys in this company that I know. The “Dirty Dozen” has been split. Tom & Tall went to “A” Co and Vaillencourt went to “C.”

Some of the replacement draft that I had trained with (like Sgt. Frank Takeyama) went to Baker Company, but my close travel buddies went to Able and Charlie Companies.  When I arrived at Baker Company, the Division was located at Masan at the "Bean Patch,"  although I had no idea it was called that at the time.  It was New Year's Eve and the Marines had just returned from the Chosin.  To me, they all looked wild and drunk.  So far as I know, my group of Marines were the first replacements to Baker Company following their advance from the Chosin.  They had been in Masan for only two weeks.  They were neither well-equipped nor well-nourished as yet.  They lived in tents with gravel floors (or dirt with rocks in it), and the tent had a stove.  They had been engaged in setting up a camp, celebrating their survival, Christmas, and New Year's all wrapped up in one 14-day package.  Their serious cases of frostbite and wounded had been evacuated for treatment, but I am sure that a very high percentage of those left had wounds or frostbite to some degree.  They were being fed hot rations, but individual groups were additionally cooking up whatever they could get their hands on.

I recall that in the tent I was assigned to, the cooking consisted of a variety (to me) of unidentifiable things stirred around in one big skillet, which then became the common dish for tools or fingers.  I had just arrived from what, in a later war, was called "The Big PX," and this looked pretty unsavory and wild to me.  Add that they had either had a beer ration and/or had bought booze from the locals and, for a time, discipline was not very tightly enforced.  If you can visualize a dog fight between two pit bulls which has just ended: the victor is in rough shape and the loser is no longer present.

Rumor had it that we had a 50-50 chance of going back to the States--either there or Pohang. On January 5th I wrote, "Last night’s news was that the 24th had been broken through and that Seoul and Komyang Airport had been evacuated. I hope the lack of resistance means that we are pulling out of Korea."

When I left the States, I had a cold.  From Japan I had a sore throat.  At Masan I had sore throat, chills, and fever and diarrhea.  By the time we moved up to Pohang, I had shaken off the illness.  I didn't take anything for it (once the small bottle of Suntory whiskey I brought from Japan was emptied), nor did it slow me down.  I spent a lot of time in very cold outhouses!  (I feared frostbite.)  I wrote about my illness and recovery:

"How time slips by unnoticed! I’d swear that each day is a month until I look in here and discover that I’ve missed nearly a week! I have had a cold with fever and chills but am much better today. I finally got a cot two nights ago and really had a good night’s sleep. We are burning a mixture of diesel and gasoline in the lamps and it doesn’t work so good. We are leaving via LST’s (Landing Ship Tank) for Pohang at any time. All packed and everything, but it probably won’t be until tomorrow, though. Snow is low and it is colder than Hell out. I gave away nearly all my clothes as too much to carry. I finally got a jungle-kit to carry my camera in.  I must remember to quote Dago Ed and the rooster he brought back from Masan tied to his guitar: Quote of the week - Murphy’s report: “There will be no Dunkirk in Korea. They’ll never reach the sea!”.

Nail, Murphy, Wray, Robie, Geiodono, Hall, Ferree & myself: Our squad. Ferree made sergeant today. We swiped a case of canned bacon, a lot of eggs and dried carrots and have had pretty good chow in the tent. Today is the first time I’ve had an appetite since the 5th. I still don’t feel too good but at least my bowels are beginning to move again, which is a good sign. I can’t really taste anything since the fever. It really burned me up. That was the first night I had the cot and I piled my parka on top of my sleeping bag and sweated it out all night. Perspiration really poured off of me. I have had a real thirst since then and just can’t get enough water. I hear that there is only 300 left of the original 5,000 in the Brigade. Maybe I will get lucky and get shot and go home. I think I had better send this to Nancy soon as I don’t think I’ll be able to add much more. I’m running out of pages anyway.

Friday 12 January 1950 10:45 Masan - Still here. Unpacked our sleeping bags last night and crapped out. Really cold. My happy constipation is over and it’s diarrhea again. I sat so long on that open toilet that I almost frostbit our future. It seems to be ok now but sure had me worried for a while. Guess I’ll end this notebook now and send it onto Nancy. Please keep it for me as I’ll want it when I get home. Hope you enjoy reading it over. I kept it up partly so that you might have a better idea of what all this mess is like. This is about the “end of the road” before we go into combat so I had better mail it to you. I hope it reaches you in its entirety. The last page, following, will serve as a letter to you.”

Winter Gear

The weather was mostly dry until about late January, when wind, rain, and mixed snow fell.  My cold weather uniform included a two-piece suit of long johns, one pair medium weight socks, one pair above the knee length ski socks, a flannel shirt, high-necked sweater, muffler, combat jacket, dungaree pants, waterproof storm pants, a pile-lined parka, and shoe pacs.

Clothing and Equipment - Sgt. H.J. Sydnam
Winter Issue - 1951
  • 1 carbine M-2 #6944321 & sling

  • 3 carbine M-2 magazines, 30 round

  • 1 magazine packet for above

  • 4 carbine packets for above, 15 round

  • 1 magazine packet for above

  • 1 carbine bayonet & sheath

  • stationery, razor, toothbrush

  • Cigs, lighter, rations, etc., etc., etc.

  • 1 pistol belt

  • 1 jungle kit

  • 1 first aid packet

  • 1 carbine grenade launcher

  • 2 canteen, 1 cup and 2 cover (1 canteen for stove gas)*

  • 1 compass & case

  • 1 pack ("field marching")

  • 1 sleeping bag & cover

  • 1 poncho

  • 1 shelter-half

  • 1 gas stove & container (single burner "Coleman" & metal 'can'--carried by squad leader only)

  • 1 M-1 ramrod

  • 1 field jacket

  • 1 helmet, liner & cover

  • 1 pair leggings

  • 1 combination tool

  • 1 yellow air panel

  • 1 frag grenade

  • 1 hand illuminating grenade (White Phosphorus)

  • 1 carbine grenade cartridge

  • 1 entrenching tool & cover

  • 1 air mattress

  • 1 pair field shoes, 9EE

  • 1 pair dungaree trousers

  • 1 skivvy shirt

  • 1 pair skivvy shorts

  • 1 flannel shirt**

  • 1 pair leather gloves**

  • 1 web belt & buckle

  • 4 pair cushion sole socks

  • 2 pair socks, wool (not ski)

  • 1 dungaree cap

  • 1 O.D. towel

Not on my personal inventory, but common issue: 1 pair waterproof trousers; 1 pair wool underpants and shirts; 1 pair gloves-mitten, shell and liner; liners for my "finger" gloves; 1 wool sweater; 1 hood for field jacket; field winter caps.  Then, of course, the rifleman had the M-1 rifle gear and the BARmen had their gear.  Each assistant BARman carried spare BAR magazines on top of his M-1 and ammunition for it.  Some carried grenades and some didn't.  The two items marked ** and the clothing listed after my O.D. towel were winter.  In the summer we had lighter sleeping bags, or just their shells.  The field jackets had liners for winter.  In a winter photo, I am pictured wearing shoepacs, leather tops, rubber bottoms, and a knee-length OD cloth "greatcoat" and wool sweater.  I used these during the Pohang road patrols.

In addition to the items listed above, I think I had a small wallet, also wrapped in plastic, but I have no clear record of it.  I remember carrying these items as personal possessions:

  • 1 35mm camera and 4+ rolls of film, generally 36ex Kodachrome ASA 25 slide film, all contained in plastic bags inside of two stripped out medical kits attached to my belt and tied down to my left leg.

  • 2 pair sunglasses & belt case

  • 1 wristwatch (not GI)

  • 1 Zippo lighter

  • 1 Boy Scout knife

  • 1 notebook, 4"x6", 172 pages (for lists and inventories)

  • 2 GI dog tags on stainless steel neck chain

Great Guerilla Hunt

There was no "front line" when I arrived at Baker Company.  We were in guerilla country.  At Masan from January 1 to January 15, we underwent training and patrols.  Following our training exercises and actual patrols out of Masan, we moved up to Pohang-dong between the 12th and 15th of January.  The move was made in the former Japanese LST #679, which I recall mainly because of the lack of headroom in the troop area. It was impossible to stand upright and, as was usual for a Japanese boat, there were no bunks or hammocks. Troops had to sleep directly on the decks with only rice-straw mats for mattresses.

At Pohang-dong, we did more patrols and probes of the enemy force during what was later termed the "Great Guerilla Hunt." Some of these patrols were by truck convoy, but many were on foot.  From 27 January until 01 March, we patrolled out of Pohang, Yongchon, Hahoe-Dong and Taegu. Here there were no front lines. We were deep into South Korea operating against guerilla or irregular forces and pockets of the North Korean Peoples Army (NKPA). Our patrols were both by foot and by armed motor vehicle convoy. The foot patrols ranged in size from squad to an entire rifle company with supporting weapons.

Between boot camp, Quantico and Camp Pendleton, I had no qualms about my leadership ability in the days and weeks after I arrived in Korea, even though I had had no actual combat experience other than the training I had received before arriving there. I probably felt that I was better qualified than most officers and many non-coms. I had fished and hunted since I was old enough to hold a gun or rod. What kept me alive in Korea was what I had learned as a young civilian hunter and "cowboys and Indians" player: 'See. Don't just look. SEE!' (And trust your gut.) For example, if you have some trees nearby, go look at them. No leaves, just bare branches, right? Were any of the limbs dead, broken, scarred? How many kinds of little birds were in the branches? Was that big one a crow, hawk, or jay? Were the little ones eating insects or seeds? What kind of birds were they? Are they usually around that area--or do you even remember seeing them before? You LOOK at the over-all. You SEE the detail; the shade of color that, although perhaps natural, does not belong there. The line that is out of place. The shadow that doesn't belong. A slight motion or sound that shouldn't be there. If you are a hunter, those may be significant. If you are a grunt, they can kill you. The same with observing people. Do they "fit"? Do they "belong"? Are they relaxed? Are they "open"? If you are a cop, all such things build toward reasonable doubt. Or, if you are not a cop, you might soon be mugged.

When I joined my company, I was in great physical condition, single (and rather glad for a non-messy end to an affair), and fed up with the job I had been doing.  The war looked like a rest home, in a way.  (That thought didn't last long!)  I do not have a specific memory of my first firefight, but I do recall my reaction to the first time I was shot at. We were on foot patrol at the fringe of a small village or family compound. As the first rounds came in, I had an overpowering urge to urinate. Fortunately, there was a nearby pile of logs that provided cover for my relief. This was such a common reaction that we all took amusement over the same distress of new replacements. After the first time it usually did not recur.  I do not recall having fear.  When exhausted I did not have enough energy to waste on fear.  I was well-lead, well-followed, and the Great Guerilla Hunt was excellent training, not to mention a "hunt" of the most dangerous game.  I did what I was told and so did the men under me.  We all worked together.  We grunts always assumed that the officers had a vague idea what was going on.

I also recall a large road patrol out of Masan or Pohang, when we were “ambushed” in the hills by what appeared to be a single rifleman. When he opened fire on the lead vehicles, everyone bailed out and hit the ditches. I have a mental movie of this man, clad in a flowing greatcoat, running full-out up a barren hillside with tanks, machine gunners and riflemen all blazing away at him until he disappeared over the crest, still at full speed. We joked about what he had to say when he returned to his unit, “Man, you shudda seen what I started!”

I was armed with an M-1 rifle.  In later months I had carbines, M-1's, and a 30-06 sniper rifle (briefly).  When I first joined Baker Company, I carried an excessive amount of ammunition on foot patrols. Early photos show that, in addition to the standard 10 clips of eight rounds each, I carried two bandoleers with an additional 10 clips, making a total of 160 rounds of .30 cal. ammo for my M-1 rifle. I also carried the light field marching pack on these patrols. Taken together with the helmet, lined field jacket, wind-proof trousers and a couple grenades this was a formidable load for maintaining a fast pace or a heavy climb. As time went on, I shed the extra bandoleers and, of course, when warmer weather came the clothing became lighter. Eventually, when I moved to Rockets and then Company Headquarters, I carried a carbine and four 30 round clips

Captured Squad

Someone came up with the idea of sending out squad sized reconnaissance patrols to observe the enemy and report back on his manpower, deployment, equipment, morale and all such theoretically valuable details. On 28 or 29 January, our 2nd and 3rd Squads were trucked out to adjoining areas. With me in our 2nd Squad were Sgt. Guy Ferree, Pfc’s Charlie Nail, Ted Skeals, T.A. Roberts, Eugene Oberding, and others that I have forgotten.  Our third squad, consisted of one Sergeant, two Corporals, and seven PFCs.

The historical diary for the 1st Battalion does not even mention this, but my (2nd) squad and the 3rd squad were trucked north to the area of Kusan-dong.  On 29 January, the 3rd squad was captured.  Our orders were "to make contact with the enemy, observe his distribution, morale, equipment, resources and deployment," and report back.  We were issued a fair amount of Won to pay for food and lodging and were then trucked to our areas.  The two squads were dropped at different locations.  In our area we had no problem making contact, as the village was under siege.  Hidy chose discretion and we holed up in a local "hotel" to await a break in the action.  There we became quite friendly with a commander of the South Korean police whose name was Commander Shim.  PFC Charlie Nail of Gainesville, Florida, was one of the squad, and he taught Shim to sing and strum a carbine sling to, "I'll Shut Up My Mug If You Will Fill Up My Jug With That Ol' Mountain Dew."  Often after that we encountered Shim and serenaded each other back and forth.

When the shooting cooled, we took to the field to do our job.  The first night out we holed up in a tiny village and spent some Won for food and shelter.  We got hooched-up and some went to sleep.  Sergeant Hidy had a "bad feeling" and had us quietly saddle-up and move quietly out onto the road back to Kusan-dong.  We were underway only a short time when all hell broke loose behind us and a sort of pursuit developed, but no shooting.  We did a very quick-march back to our known safe area at the above hotel.  It was very spooky all the way and the hackles were definitely up.

The next day we got the word that Sgt. Thomas Yesenko's squad had been captured and our mission went into abortion.  I have always felt that the villagers set up both squads, but Hidy was just enough in tune to trust his vibes and hike us out of there before our "hosts" could jump us.  I spent a good deal of time, especially during the guerrilla hunt, under Sergeant Hidy and Lieutenant Nolan, and though they put me in harm's way with great frequency, I learned a helluva lot from them and really learned to trust my antenna at all times.  As I have mentioned before in this memoir, I was brought up as a hunting farm boy who played cowboys and Indians and knew how to shoot and duck, but Harvey and Billy helped me hone it to the point that I exited Korea with bullet holes only in my clothes.

None of Sergeant Yesenko's 3rd Squad survived.  My notes say that the date of missing in action was January 29, 1951.  The official record says January 31, 1951.  Maybe we went out on the 29th and the squad was thought to have been captured the 31st.  At present I haven't located the official date of KIA, if there was one established.  In a letter written in September 1992, our former Machine Gun Sergeant, Waldo Wolfe, related the following:

“There really is no mystery to the Yesenko patrol and the fate of its members. What we initially heard, shortly after their disappearance, eventually came back to us even more sadly than originally laid out. Lt. Hancock had extreme confidence in Yesenko to operate at night, and they were very successful, but a combination of overconfidence and a turn of bad luck caught up to them, unfortunately. They thought they had a “safe” ville to hide out in during the day, and that was where they ran out of luck. They were captured and supposedly were being led away toward supposed POW status “up north.” Somewhere along the line I think they realized that they were going to their execution. Supposedly Cpl. West attempted to lead a break away, which did not succeed. He was rewarded by being bayoneted while the rest were forced to watch. Two of the villagers who were accompanying this charade were then directed to bury him off the beaten path while the rest of the unit, squad members, guerrillas, and villagers continued deeper into the wooded area, never to be seen again. Supposedly, the only two ‘survivors’ of this escapade’ were those two villagers who returned to their ville and dummied up. That is, until some time later, when Sgt “Red Dog” Keller and his company of green clad Korean Police got into the act in trying to locate and determine their fate. It was a short time after Lt. Hancock got killed that “Red Dog” and his Police supposedly wormed all of the above story from those two villagers. I know “Red Dog” fairly well, and he knew that Yesenko and I sometimes fox-holed together. I do remember how heavy he emphasized the hearsay aspect of what he told me.”

In September of 1992, I wrote a piece about the captured squad for the Baker Bandits newsletter, The Guidon.  Following that, I received the most heartbreaking letter from the father of Corporal Finley.  The father was terminally ill and emotional that after all those years someone would remember and write about his son.  It may have been the only time he ever saw his boy's name since "the telegram" came in 1951.  I still get my heart jerked when I think of that letter.

In Their Memory

Sgt. Thomas Yesenko - 551410
Cpl. Douglas S. Finley, Jr. - 1072229
Cpl. Roy L. West - 659586
Cpl. Michael C. Grubisish - 1050895
Pfc. Donald W. Donnell - 1137273
Pfc. Lee E. Dutcher - 640572
Pfc. Alfred E. Lawrence, Jr. - 649202
Pfc. Charles W. Melvold - 1112828
Pfc. George W. Rae - 1126128
Pfc. Paul E. Warren - 1103853

I cannot recall any real concern among the members of our company regarding the possibility of being captured after that.  I think we all had the idea of either taking the bastards with us or saving one bullet for ourselves.  I suppose, too, that 'capture' just wasn't given much thought by most Marines.

On February 6, we saw and engaged the enemy for the first time since my arrival in Korea.  Our first KIA was Lieutenant Hancock, the Company CO, on February 7.  We also had nine wounded in action with five evacuated that day.  I do not recall any personal trauma associated with any dead at this time.  Later, when personal friends were killed in action, I felt bad for them.

On one patrol, or advance when we had been in the hills for an extended period, Lt. Col. John Hopkins (“Idiot-6") decided to march us out to a rear area for a “rest.” We marched most of a day in the cold rain. The men were already exhausted to start with and our clothes were rotting off of our bodies. One of my men had cut off the flapping legs of his dungaree trousers and had only the cutoffs to protect his legs in the wet cold.  Meanwhile, the Colonel rode grandly along in his covered jeep. We set up in the rear area for one night and then marched back the way we had come to join in on the advance. I swore by that marches' end that if the opportunity ever presented itself, I would kill that son of a bitch for all of the various miseries that he put us through.  I must include that Sgt. Andy Feller was one who had a measure of respect for Lt. Colonel Hopkins and credited him with managing to keep us supplied even in the most trying circumstances.

The Enemy

I can't give you ages or uniforms, but the enemy were tough fighters.  A substantial amount of their arms was either captured or taken over from the material we gave to National China up to 1949.  They seemed to have a more reckless disregard for life than our forces did.  From what I saw, the Chinese were a lot more humane toward prisoners than the North Koreans.  I still remember the butchery of our captured troops, both our MIA squad and the Army units that we found over-run and slaughtered with no quarter.  I do not blame the Chinese as much as the North Koreans, who I feel were no better than armed animals.  I didn't see much but, particularly at Massacre Valley, it was well reputed that it was the North Koreans who tied the prisoners up and bayoneted them and the Chinese who cared for the POWs and POW wounded about as well as they cared for their own troops. It was the North Koreans who trapped and killed Sergeant Yesenko's squad.

The enemy was generally concealed by day and attacked or patrolled by night.  They had no air support, few tanks (I heard tanks once, but never saw one in operation), and their artillery and motorized equipment was very limited by our air support.  Our main concerns were mortars, machine guns, rifles, grenades, and sometimes mines.  The enemy avoided attacking Marines (also Turks, the French Foreign Legion, etc.) in favor of going for the weaker front--ROK and US Army.  When our flanks were penetrated, we were in danger of encirclement.

From personal photographs that I have of enemy dead and one prisoner of war, I observed that the enemy was wearing a jacket and trousers of what appeared to be a tan canvas-like material, a padded scarf-like wrap and a pack with a bedroll horseshoed over it.  There were no shoes or hat visible in the picture, and he wore no gloves.  A photograph taken April 23, 1951 shows the enemy wearing at least five layers from inside out on his upper body: a bluish shirt, a greenish shirt, a white thin jacket (for snow camouflage?), an OD jacket, and a blue vest.  He wore OD trousers held up with a brown leather belt and what appeared to be above-ankle leather boots.  He also wore a fur-lined winter hat with big earflaps and a furred visor, but no gloves.  In June of 1951, I saw enemy wearing OD jacket and trousers, a cloth cap, ankle-high laced boots with bright eyelets and rubber soles (I am unable to tell if the boots were leather or cloth), and khaki puttees that appeared to be soft cloth.

Truck Accident

Sometime probably in February, we came out of the mountains after what must have been a company-sized patrol of long duration and came into a US Army rear area.  We were beat, dirty, and wild.  We took a break in their tents, as they had stoves.  We had men without socks and probably other bits, and the G.I.'s busted their asses to give us the items we needed.  I don't know if they thought we were heroes or animals, or whether they were honored or wanted to get rid of us.  I just remember the individual kindness and their expression of either awe or revulsion.  Whatever, it worked.

The terrain from Masan north went from hilly to steeply mountainous.  Some of it was timbered and some was open. From January 27 to March 1 we patrolled out of Yongchon, Hahoe-dong, and Wonju by foot and truck, generally returning to tented areas.  If I "met" our officers, I do not recall.  For the first four to six weeks, I have no recollection above the rank of my squad leader, Sgt. Guy Ferree.  I became squad leader of Sergeant Ferree's squad (2nd) by February 19.  Sgt. Billy R. Hidy was Platoon Sergeant at that time.

We were traveling on a very narrow, winding dirt road through mountains at night with blackout lights on February 21.  During this night truck movement, the turn was too sharp to be swung and it was necessary to 'back and forth' to get around it.  The driver missed, the wheels broke over the shoulder, and the truck flipped, landing upside down, cab uphill, with most of one platoon inside.  The men were trapped beneath it, and two were killed.  Eleven of our men were injured.  Now that was traumatic.  It was the truck ahead of the one I was in.  At least one man was screaming, "Shoot me!" over and over.  Most of us had been traveling in our sleeping bags in the open 6x6 trucks, and at least some of those under the truck were still in their bags.  We tried to lift the truck, but any gain resulted in it slipping on the men under it.  A Jeep driver offered to go ahead to attempt to locate a wrecker or a tank retriever that he thought was ahead of us, and I went with him to ride shotgun.  I have no idea what happened to the driver of the truck that flipped over, assuming he was a survivor.  As a rule the young drivers tended to be fast and a bit careless.  None of us had found fault with that before, but after this accident we did, especially me.  This accident may not have been the driver's fault as it was a very tough circumstance.  I thought that they would all die.  Once it was established that we could do no more, we were ordered on to catch up with the convoy and the mess was left to corpsmen and wrecker operators.  On any occasion after that when we were subsequently moved by truck, I rode next to the driver.  As I took my position, I pointedly chambered a round and told him that he should drive carefully, as if we had an accident he would be the first to die.  That accident made me sick of the wanton waste by kid-cowboy truck drivers.  It never happened again (to my men).

In March 1993, our former XO, Lt. Mike Palatas, wrote of this move:

“It was one of those grey winter days. The afternoon air was filled with monoxide fumes. The Division NCO designated as “Roadmaster” went down our line of trucks and designated which drivers would have their lights turned on. It was every fifth vehicle, a tactic to deceive or confuse any enemy intelligence gatherers when the long convoy wended its way across the mountains northward. The rest of the vehicles used their blackout lights. Our move was not made without incident and casualties. I rode in the passenger seat. My truck’s engine sounded like it wouldn’t get very far. It idles so rough! Sometime during the night, and in between dozes, we came to a crawl, moving very slowly. Just ahead, but not yet seen, was a sharp curve in the road (these roads were all gravel or sometimes just dirt and mud). When we reached the curve, a pallor of dust hung in the air. A jeep had its lights facing the darkness downhill and not far down a 6X6 rested on its top. Our First Sergeant, Phil Dierickx, was seen in the brief light commanding our driver to keep moving. Marines were scrambling downhill to render assistance. I knew men were hurt and/or killed in this unfortunate accident. The truck driver negotiated the turn too sharply and the left side wheels dropped over the embankment causing the truck to roll. Sometime the next morning we arrived at our destination but we had no idea of where we were or how we got there.”

Lieutenant Palatas’ geographical confusion was not unusual. On the lower rungs of the ladder of command we seldom had more than a very vague idea where we were. My big criteria was, "If the sun comes up over the ocean, we must be on the east coast, and if you can't see the ocean we must be somewhere near the middle."  I don't recall ever seeing it set on the ocean, so I don't think we spent much, if any, time on the west coast--at least not in good weather.  Short of that sort of a reference, we plodded from the margin of one unreliable large-scale chart to the other margin. If the “Powers That Be” wanted us to go somewhere, they gave us rudimentary directions and pointed, “Thataway!”  Or, more likely, “Take that hill!”!

I know that on at least two occasions we were north of the 38th parallel.  I only once had a map in hand, and that was early on when I led a patrol to link with Charlie Company.  Even then I had only reference to the immediate terrain and no idea where in Korea that square was located.  Our hills just had numbers at that time.  The "Nevada Towns" designations were after I left.  We had the Punch Bowl, and I was there.  I heard of the Iron Triangle, but didn't know where it was or, naturally, if I had been there.  The hardest thing for me personally about being in Korea proved to be those damned mountains.  I loved skiing and backpacking, but this was simply not great terrain to labor over in this way.  I suppose no terrain makes war easy or fun, but the energy expenditure of mountain combat is extremely high.  It makes you old quickly.  Fortunately, the enemy had the same ground to cover.

During the January-February Guerilla Hunt, the terrain consisted of moderate hills with generally open slopes. Where they were timbered there was little underbrush as that had been harvested by the locals for fuel. In the earlier period we generally made patrols that brought us back to tented areas for our rest time. Once we left Division Reserve in mid-March, we were in nearly constant motion. As we advanced north the mountains became steeper, higher and more thickly wooded.


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Incredible Luck

On February 27 I wrote home that I had been living in a hole so long that I felt like a gopher. Into March, that situation had not changed. At the end of March we were moving rapidly northward and in mid-April crossed the 38th parallel in the vicinity of Hwachon. On April 15, I wrote home:

“When I came into this outfit (which happened to be on a drunken New Year's Eve immediately following their escape from “The Frozen Chosen,” and in a very primitive encampment), I hated the whole deal, but now I wouldn’t trade B-1-5 for any fighting, or non-fighting, unit in the world. I am not so damned Gung-Ho that I don’t want to get out of here as soon as possible, but I have gained a good, well-earned respect for this unit. We have some good men and officers and I’ll go with them anywhere. A good company in both respects and I am really proud to be with them.”

In early March, my squad was assigned a night patrol. It was blacker than the inside of your hat and we desperately tried to stumble quietly over our route. It was so dark that it was necessary to keep our hand on the shoulder of the man ahead of us. In my case, I was following Pfc. Jack Hammack, a young replacement from Arkansas. At one point he whispered back to me, “Look out for the war.” I was still wondering over that warning when I tripped over a tangle of communications w-i-r-e. Then a bit later I was sure that I was seeing the radium faces of enemy wristwatches--until I realized that it was an early hatch of fireflies! I never did care for night patrols.

I recall one daytime incident that happened on one of the wooded slopes during an advance through moderate fog. We encountered a group of the enemy, perhaps one of their patrols, and a firefight developed. An enemy soldier and I were attempting to kill each other at approximately the extreme range of our visibility. He was behind one tree and I was behind another. The trunks were 12" to 18" in diameter, and too thick for our bullets to penetrate. Neither of us could hit the other’s exposed body parts and neither of us dared leave our meager shelter. Finally, one or more of our guys outflanked him and disposed of my problem. I then discovered that I had been seated behind the tree trunk with my rifle stock between my legs guarding my “family jewels.”

On one of our company size patrol advances, probably in early March, I had another close call. We caught up to a main body of enemy and encountered fierce resistance from our front. There happened to be a Marine Corps photographer with my squad at that time and his presence served to heighten the squad’s chatter and activities. Hidy and Nail were hunkering down behind a couple large boulders. Hidy popped up now and then to do some shooting while Nail was busy shooting rifle grenades over to where very hot small arms fire was coming at us. It was a very hot zone and we were all pumping the photographer full of B.S. on how we planned to “charge over the top” and take the enemy when Mr. Nolan yelled down for Hidy to come up to him. Now the slope Hidy had to climb was quite exposed to enemy fire. He took off running full speed up the open slope with the photographer snapping pictures.  Suddenly Hidy stopped, turned around, and ran back to us saying, “I forgot my rifle!” Then he took off again up the slope.  When he returned from his briefing, the firing had died down a bit, but only a bit. He said, “Syd, you are to take your squad out front along that ridge and see how far you can go. There is an air-strike called in for later so be sure that you have air-panels.” Now, his delivery was incredulous and so was our reception! None of us, especially the photographer, could believe anyone could cross to the forward slope and live! However, we set out and drew very little fire. In fact, we progressed quite a long way out ahead of the company perhaps a mile or more, and the lack of resistance was unbelievable after how hot it had been such a short time before.

I was quite far ahead of the rest of the squad and Hidy, who had come along with us, was the next man behind me. As I negotiated a dip in the ridge where a path crossed it, I received “incoming” from my lower right front. I spotted a gook armed with a burp gun in a paddy drainage ditch perhaps 100 yards from me. I fired my rifle at him and could see a splash of mud from where I missed him. Thinking that if I walked my rounds into him, I could keep him pinned until I could take him out, I kept a rather steady fire going, as my splashes grew closer. Suddenly, he popped up and let loose a burst from his machine gun and I heard a great, metallic, “clang!” from my helmet as I pitched backwards onto the reverse slope. I sat there a moment thinking I had been hit in the head and feeling for holes and flowing blood. My ears rang far louder than usual and I very gingerly removed my helmet and felt my skull. When I could find no wounds, holes or blood, I checked a lot closer and saw that I had a bullet hole in my helmet strap, which had been just forward of my left ear.

About this time Hidy was coming up on the dip in the ridge and I yelled to him to “Watch it, it’s hot there!” just as a burst of fire went past him. I really didn’t want to stick my head up over the ridge again, so I told him that I would pitch a grenade down there to flush the gook out if he would shoot him. That worked and after we had gone a bit further we decided that we had exceeded our instructions and we returned to the company’s area. There, I found that both ends of my shelter half, which was rolled on top of my pack, and both sides of my parka hood had been shot through.  The bullets had passed me just above shoulder level, lacing my gear on both sides of my head. It could not have been closer without killing me.  When we left “the beach” months later to return home, I cut those straps off of my helmet. I still have them, with a burp-gun cartridge thrust through the hole, as souvenirs of one of my closest calls.


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Operation Rugged

Thank God, we owned the air.  Marine fighters gave us excellent close-in support with guns, bombs, napalm, and artillery spotting.  Somebody's aircraft air-dropped supplies to us on at least one operation (Operation Killer, I think).  The USS Missouri did service and the great rumble of her huge shells lumbering overhead were a real comfort.  The ship's distance from us was unknown.  We had no problems with the shells--it was a joy to hear them going over--toward the enemy!  As I recall, we usually were able to call in such support when needed.  The 11th Marines artillery was also great support, as were our tanks when they were available.  We had tanks with us on many occasions.  During the guerilla hunt road patrols, they often accompanied our column.  When we were on a concerted advance and terrain permitted, they sometimes were with us in support.  While their guns were always welcome, they made such enticing targets for ambitious enemy that they could be dangerous to have around.  (They drew fire.)

My 2nd squad’s roster dated April 10, 1951, reads as follows (present town of residence as now known).  The single asterisk indicates that the Marine was wounded in action on Hill 313 between 0315 and 0830 on April 23 at Hwachon, North Korea.  The double asterisk means that he was killed in action during the same time frame.

Squad Leader, Sydnam, H.J. Sgt 577965

1st Fire team

  • FTL - Bittinger, R.J., Cpl 1047609*
    Strongsville, OH
  • Rifle - Oberding, E.W. PFC 661209
  • BAR - Griggs, L.C. PFC 1057358
    Goldendale, WA
  • A. BAR - Hammack, J.C. PFC 1137949
    Springdale, AR

2nd Fire team

  • FTL - Skeals, T.M. PFC 1083558**
  • Rifle - Fineran, N.C. PFC 669649*
  • BAR - Giguere, W.O. PFC 1152151*
  • A. Bar - Marchington, C.J. PFC 1138871*

3rd Fire team

  • FTL - Dorsey, L.E. PFC 1139360
    May, TX
  • Rifle - Hart, D.M. PFC 1137359
  • BAR - Haler, D.A. PFC 1151420*
  • A. BAR - Gregg, R.D. PFC 1137182
    Greenville, NC

PFC Charlie Nail (now of Florida) left us March 20 with a broken bone in his right hand. He had been with Baker Company since August 31, 1950, and had first been wounded on September 3, 1950. He was a great guy.  We were all glad to see him go back to the States in such good shape, but his presence was greatly missed. Charlie loved children. He always managed to spend a few moments with village or refugee children to brighten their day. One of his great culinary attempts was baking a cake in his helmet with some mix we had stolen from a mess hall. It was good, but not great at a time when almost anything different was classified “good.”

As the weather warmed, wearing our wool long johns became unbearable. One day I finally could stand it no longer. We were in a situation where I did not dare risk taking off my shoes or trousers, so I borrowed a corpsman’s bandage scissors and cut the underwear off my body.

My incredible luck continued unabated. On an advance up a long, narrow valley with our tanks close behind us, the gooks began walking mortar rounds down into us. One round landed in a creek as a half dozen of our men were fording it. They were so unnerved that they ran in a circle around what was, fortunately, a dud round. I was caught in the open in the middle of a bone-dry paddy and I hit the deck alongside of a small cairn of rocks. As the explosions marched closer, I changed my mind and rolled several times to my right, dropping down a few inches into the next lower paddy. The next round landed exactly where I had originally lain. Hidy had been watching me, but missed my roll. He said that he thought that I was gone for sure, but when the dust cleared, I was laying there eating a candy ration. At the upper end of this same valley, once we had secured the high ground, three or four of us were standing near the ridge top looking back over the route of our advance. For some reason we all stepped forward down the reverse slope as a burst of machine gun fire swept over our heads.

Hill 313

The Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) Spring Offensive commenced on April 22-23, and from that date to July 1, 1951, B-1-5 had no less than 15 KIA, 123 WIA evacuated, and 14 WIA not evacuated.  With the exception of one corpsman, this did not count men from H&S, Weapons companies, air or artillery forward observers, or anyone not carried on our basic company count.  During the six or seven months I was in the platoons in my 2nd squad, only four or five of us were, to the best of my research, not wounded.  While some 29 men were wounded (some two or three times), only two (Ted Skeals and Don Rowe) were killed.

Late in the afternoon of April 23, B-1-5 began digging in for the night in a valley north of Hwachon. I had my foxhole about half dug when Lt. Harvey Nolan told the platoon that we were to saddle up and head back the way we had just come. We were to set up again on a point of high ground overlooking the Battalion Headquarters at Hwachon on the banks of the Pukhan-gang River, which was the outlet of the Hwachon Reservoir.  By the time we reached the foot of the hill, later identified as Hill 313, it was full dark. We climbed up to what appeared to be the crest and began setting up a defense. The sky was mostly overcast and a hole in the cloud cover moved across the moon.  It could be seen that we were not yet on the crest. Mr. Nolan told us to head on up again. He picked up his already inflated air mattress and, with our interpreter, began leading our straggle of troops up the dark trail. We had no inkling of any problem, and felt relatively secure so far behind the lines. Perhaps 50 yards from the top there was a shouted challenge.  The interpreter yelled, “Gooks!”  Mr. Nolan threw aside his air mattress and they both hit the deck as machine guns opened up. The air mattress was destroyed by the burst of fire.

At the onset of firing, the men took what cover they could and began returning fire in the dark. Since we were scattered, the situation was extremely confused. The slope was very steep and lightly timbered. The enemy rolled grenades down on us from their positions. My squad extended itself out to the left (north) side of the peak and I remained closer to the trail, hopefully where I could hear orders from Mr. Nolan. Thus began one of the longest nights of my life.  We were completely pinned down by heavy fire and grenades. In fact, when they ran out of grenades, they threw the wooden box at us! Casualties were immediate and nearly impossible to reach. In a depression just up-slope from me, PFC Podos lay calling for help. I kept yelling at him to shut up as he was giving our location away. He had been such a whiner that I thought him only lightly wounded.  However, after quite some time, Corpsman Melvin G. Wagstaff 5682224 (who still lives in Arizona or New Mexico) managed to reach him and told me he was dead--stitched across the chest by a machine gun. My chum PFC Ted Skeals, my 2nd fire team leader, was hit. Corpsman Merle E. Sutton 7990428 managed to get him dragged down to where he could pick him up and carry him down the slope. Both of them were killed there together. Out on the far left, PFC Russ Bittinger was hit in the hip.  He told me that it was Jack Hammack who managed to work him around to where he could be evacuated for treatment. His wound was such that he was later returned to Baker Company. Mr. Nolan was lightly wounded and 2Lt Pat McGahn, who had only joined us April 6 as an understudy to Mr. Nolan, was also wounded. In all, our platoon had seven KIA and 26 WIA that night. Lieutenants Nolan and McGahn, although WIA, fought on all night, as did many of our wounded men who could not be taken to safety. With the growing light, the enemy slowly withdrew and we gained the crest. As we did so, our Battalion CO, Lieutenant Colonel Hopkins (“Idiot-6"), made our tanks down in the valley open up on the crest with their 90mm cannon. Some of our wounded resulted from that debacle--after we had won the crest.  Lieutenant Nolan was awarded the Silver Star for that night’s action and Lieutenant McGahn received the Navy Cross. Both officers received Purple Hearts.

Early on I had become quite close with Ted Skeals and Sgt. Billy R. Hidy.  This was in spite of my resolve not to become close to anyone in these circumstances.  Billy had returned from the Yokosuka Naval Hospital on 27 January to be our new platoon sergeant. Naturally we had a lot of contact and found that we had a lot in common.  He and I got along famously and I involved him in my quest for interesting geological and mineral sites that we marched over or dug into. (I had been in pre-engineering in college with a mining engineer degree goal.)  There appears to be a fairly broad band of mineralization that crossed the Korean Peninsula about mid-way up, angling from the northeast to the southwest. During their occupation, the Japanese had done quite a bit of mining and Hidy and I found it necessary to check out a number of these mines. We also had Mr. Nolan firmly chew out the two of us for prospecting out ahead of our lines. I, somewhat jokingly, told Mr. Nolan that if he could count us “Present” and find us a supply of explosives, I could see that we all got rich from this area. At any rate, both Hidy and I carried around a nice sampling of ore from our extra curricular activities. Eventually I threw mine away to lighten my pack on a heavy climb. After Hidy was wounded and evacuated for the last time on 23 April, I came across his pack and retrieved his ore samples, which I brought home with me.

Skeals was in my squad and a really nice young man from Baltimore.  Both he and Billy were hit on April 23, 1951, and Skeals' wounds were fatal.  From then on I did not wish to get that close again with anyone.  Lieutenant Nolan was a bit of an exception, but he was an officer--my immediate CO, and it was more like a very great respect.  I also had a great respect for all of the men in my squad.  They were well-trained, disciplined, and extremely dependable.  I think we had the best squad in the best platoon in the Regiment.  I am proud to still be friends with the seven of them that I can still locate.  I had a highly respectful regard for a good many other men in the Company, too, but we didn't dig-in together so tight and often.

I may have known this at the time, but only recently while reading an historic summary of the war did I note that General Douglas MacArthur had been relieved of his command on April 11, 1951 and the CCF Spring Offensive began on April 22, 1951. I wonder now if the Chinese felt that we would be disorganized and weakened during the change of command. As far as we grunts in the field were concerned, however, it was business as usual.

What we had not known was that the Chinese had broken through an entire division of the Reserve Army of Korea (ROK) on our flanks and was intent on encircling us. Once Hill 313 had been cleared, the survivors of the 1st and 2nd squads were combined into my 2nd squad. We were then withdrawn to rejoin Baker Company and the company moved over a series of hills leading south as we fought our way out of the encirclement. When we were south of the river, we caught a ride on our tanks until well clear of the trap. It might be noted that it was in this CCF breakthrough that the Australian and other British Forces suffered their bloodiest time over in their own sector. (See Chapter 11, “The Struggle on the Imjin,” in ‘The Korean War’, by Max Hastings).


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Officers

I had no less than eight (8) Company Commanders and God knows how many XO's during my tour of duty in Korea.  I had at least five (5) Platoon Leaders during the time I spent in the platoons.  Following is a list of the officers coming and going just in one period of time.  I created the list for a son of one of my platoon leaders so he might have an inkling of what his father had been involved in.  His father, 1Lt Jim Cronin, was my 2nd Company Commander after Lieutenant Hancock was killed.  Cronin was a good officer, a good Marine, and a good man--any way you want to measure him.

B-1-5 Officers - 1951
  • February 15 - 1Lt Cornin assigned CO
  • March 8 - 1Lt Jack arrived as MG Lt.
  • April 6 - 2Lt McGahn arrived, assigned Platoon Leader - 7th Replacement Draft (RD)
  • April 6 - 2Lt Fisher arrived, assigned Platoon Leader - 7th Replacement Draft (RD)
  • April 8 - 1Lt Jack assigned XO
  • April 11 - 1Lt Stew Wright arrived, assigned MG Lt
  • April 12 - 1Lt Palatas dropped
  • April 14 - 1Lt Cronin awarded Silver Star for action March 30
  • April 23 - 2Lt McGahn - WIA, not evac
  • April 29 - 1Lt Ables - KIA
  • May 7 - 2Lt McDonald dropped
  • May 25 - 2Lt Cooper (Chas. G.) arrived, 8th RD
  • May 28 - 1Lt Kerrigan arrived, assigned XO
  • May 28 - 2Lt Cooper WIA, not evac
  • May 29 - 1Lt Stew Wright assigned XO
  • May 30 - 2Lt McGahn WIA, evac - gone
  • June 6 - 2Lt Galley arrived, 9th RD
  • June 6 - 2Lt Fagan arrived, 9th RD
  • June 7 - 1Lt Cronin left
  • June 10 - 1Lt Kerrigan assigned CO
  • June 10 - 2Lts. Cooper & Galley's MOS changed 301 to 302
  • June 11 - 1Lt Jack assigned XO
  • June 11 - 1Lt Jack WIA, evac - gone
  • June 16 - 2Lt Fisher KIA
  • June 17 - 2Lt Cooper WIA, evac - gone
  • June 17 - 2Lt Fagan WIA, evac - gone
  • June 17-21 - somewhere in here Willie Piner and I were acting CO & XO*
  • June 21 - 1Lt Simpson, Parks arrived
  • June 21 - 1Lt Baker, John arrived
  • June 24 - 1Lt Quigley arrived
  • June 29 - 1Lt Kerrigan left
  • June 30 - 1Lt Stew Wright assigned CO
  • June 30 - 1Lt Simpson assigned XO
  • July 2 - 1Lt Quigley dropped
  • July 11 - 1Lt Nolan left
  • July 12 - 1Lt Pappas assigned XO
  • July 22 - 1Lt Wright dropped

[*In mid-June, B-1-5 was shot to Hell and briefly had no officers present.  S/Sgt. Willie Piner was acting CO and I was acting XO.  We were, naturally, in reserve until reinforced and rearmed.]

I do not recall having any impression of any of our officers until 20 January, when 2Lt. Harvey Nolan arrived to be leader of the 2nd platoon wherein I was a fireteam leader of the 2nd squad. Mr. Nolan (in naval service, Lieutenants are commonly called "Mister"--remember the movie Mister Roberts?) was a “Mustang,” having been an enlisted man in World War II. He, too, had joined the Platoon Leader’s Class and had earned his commission there while graduating from Dartmouth. As it happened, at Dartmouth he was a chum of my PLC chum, Austin Tobin, Jr. This, together with shared experiences in the most adverse conditions, served to develop a mutual trust and friendship between us. Such a trust, however, was not without its drawbacks. At one point, after I had been promoted to squad leader following Sergeant Ferree’s rotation home 05 March, my squad members had a heart-to-heart chat with me asking if Mr. Nolan hated my guts. It seems that we were walking point so often that they thought that he might be trying to get rid of me. Once I explained that, on the contrary, it was because they were so good at their job that he wanted a unit up front that he could completely trust, I think that they drew pride from that. It didn’t lessen our exposure any, but their complaints dropped to a minimum.

My usual Platoon Leader was Mr. Nolan. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and 2nd Lieutenant McGahn (newly arrived) was to take over the 2nd Platoon from him. When Harvey left us, he gave me his gold bars "in case I received a field commission."  About 1964 I made lieutenant in the Alaska State Troopers and wrote to him that I was now (finally) wearing his bars, whereupon he sent me a pair of his Colonel eagles. That was a rank I skipped as I went from Lieutenant Colonel of the Division (of troopers) to a political appointment as Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety.

We went through several lieutenants in short order after Harvey left our company.  He came back from his posting at Regiment to help break them in--and explained to them that they should listen to their sergeants.  Harvey was in Juneau in about 1970 (+/-) when I was stationed there.  We shared a bottle of Scotch that night and re-fought the war. He died in 1989 and so did Charles, one of his sons. His widow, Jane, passed away in 2005. The other son, Alan (who retired as a USMC Major), and I are still in touch and he recently told me that Cronin was his Godfather.  God never made a finer man than Harvey Nolan, and the Marines have never had a finer officer.  All of us would have followed both Cronin and Nolan right through Hell with dry canteens.

1Lt. James Cronin had left Baker for H&S Company on 24 January and he came back as our Company Commander 15 February.  “Skipper” Cronin was a fine leader and a fine man. He really tried to take good care of his men and I think we all had a great respect for him because of his ability and manner. These two, Skipper Cronin and Mr. Nolan, were the officers that I most remembered up until the CCF offensive in April.


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Tour Continues

After Hill 313, there was a general withdrawal to the south of all allied troops.  As of May 4, 1951, I had spent less than a week under a roof (including shipboard) and less than two weeks in a tent.  On 26 May I wrote that we were seven miles below the 38th Parallel, having our first rest in 10 days of marching all daylight hours and that we had not slept in tents since 01 February.  Somewhere in this period we had come across large numbers of U.S. Army troops that had been slaughtered in their sleeping bags or tied up and bayoneted to death. The Army apparently had the unfortunate habit of everyone going to sleep at the same time, leaving no one on watch.

We moved south so fast that we were going through rear areas before they were able to clear themselves out. On one stop my guys found a stockpile of boxes of candy bars which they ‘liberated."  We also had time for a Squad Photo.  In the next two days we fell back some 25 miles to the “No Name Line” well south of Chunchon. The Chinese kept up their attacks by night as we withdrew, but our aircraft held them back during daylight hours. I can remember one night when we were dug-in on a defensive position with orders to shoot at any movement. The men were two-in-a-hole and everyone was near hallucination with exhaustion. No one could keep their eyes open for long. Mr. Nolan and I crawled from hole to hole all night risking being shot by our own men in an attempt to keep them alert.

While we were still on the move south, we had a chance to set up for the night in an area where we were, for the time being, fairly safe from attack or infiltration. This was our first crack at a bit of rest in days. In digging-in, I found that a few inches down there was a layer of frost about a foot thick. As the ground was firm sand, I went through the frost with a small hole and chambered out beneath it. As I completed my digging, I was amazed to see my old airline chum, Ernie Scherf, walk up to me. He had been an airborne radio operator at the end of World War II and a steward on West Coast Airline where we had both been employed prior to recall.  We were both inactive reserves and both called up at the same time.  Ernie became a foot-borne radio operator with the Forward Observers of the 11th Marines artillery regiment.  We had met one other time before in Korea.  After four months as a forward observer, the strain had finally taken its toll on him.  He had found my unit and stopped for a word on his way out to the hospital ship. I asked how badly he was hit and he told me that it was not a wound at all but that it was “mental.”  Two or three years later while I was working in Alaska, I learned that Ernie had been killed in a traffic accident in San Diego.

Later that night I checked my squad and found them all sound asleep in their holes. It was a situation where I could not take any official notice of their sleeping on watch, but I wanted to make a lasting impression on all of them. The best I could think of was to remove the slings from all of their weapons and take them back to my hole. That way if we were attacked, their ability to fight would not be affected. I then stood watch for them through the night in my beautiful hole that I couldn’t enjoy. When they woke and found their slings missing, they were properly mortified and I never again had a problem with any of my squad sleeping on watch.

Once we reached our “No Name Line” we were able to rest and eat. Mail was brought to us and we screened the long lines of refugees that were, again, moving south to escape the NKPA. At this time the photos show that we were all sporting white nylon neck scarves which we had made from the parachutes of the massive number of aerial flares that had been dropped to aid us in our night defenses during our “advance in retrograde” to this position.  When our forces were again reorganized, we began moving back north, retaking lost ground.

Some of the time we managed to maintain small air mattresses which made sleeping in a hole a bit warmer and kept the bag out of most of any mud. These always drew a laugh when the first incoming rounds hit and from the foxholes there would issue long “pfffffths” as the men pulled the plugs to drop another inch or two into the ground.  I had a personal phobia of being caught in my bag with a stuck zipper. It was my custom to sleep with my rifle leaned against the side of my hole with a small plastic bag over the muzzle to keep out rain or dirt.  I also slept with a grenade and knife on my chest. My theory was that if we were attacked, and I had a stuck zipper, I could chuck the grenade to buy time while I cut my way out of the bag to my rifle. I might point out that in these situations we only entered our bags when not on watch--and when we did we were fully dressed and ready to fight. One night I dug my hole in a bank of crumbled Wolframite, a rich ore of Manganese and Tungsten. On another occasion I dug in firm sand and constructed a narrow “grave” nearly four feet in depth. I knew that only a direct hit by a mortar could get to me in there and that if it did, I would neither hear nor feel it.

One day we watched our aircraft making a strike well to our front.  Another time, when we had the good fortune to be able to march in ranks on a road, we saw two Corsairs collide and fall to earth with no chutes opening. Our wonderful air support was certainly provided at a cost, but it was vital to our existence and greatly appreciated. On only one occasion did I hear an enemy aircraft, and that was one night when it apparently tried to bomb a bridge to our rear.

During the advance back north, our platoon ran the ridge lines providing flank support for the main body. Up there we had no chance to replenish our water and we were “choking mad with thirst,” as Kipling would say. When there was a call for a squad to volunteer to go down in the valley to set up a protective perimeter with the tank platoon for a night, my guys were quick to take it up. There was a lovely little stream down there and we knew that tankers always ate well. After we had lavished in unlimited water, we began preparing to dig in for the night around the tanks. Right at the moment of sundown, when it was too light to see muzzle flashes yet too dark to spot smoke, a gook 76mm rifle (cannon) cut loose at the tanks with several quick rounds. My squad, caught out in the open, hit the deck. A couple men dove under tanks. One of them (and to this day I have no idea who it was), lay head-to-head with me behind a tiny dirt paddy dam. He was “shook” and I, being the salty old squad leader, spoke calming phrases of encouragement to him until the shooting stopped. I then took stock of myself and found that I had taken off my helmet and was holding it over my crotch. A remarkable expression of values.  As it turned out, none of my men had been hurt and the tanks had all been missed. The tank commander, however, decided to move back to the rear for the night. He invited us to ride along, but we had had enough of this being so close to targets.  We humped back up the hill to rejoin our platoon and dig in for the night with them. At least we could take them all of the water that we could carry, and a warning about hooching up with tanks.

As we continued northeast in Operation Strangle toward Inje, the weather began deteriorating and by the end of May we were into heavy mountains being supplied by airdrop and again exhausted by fast moving and fighting. We had caught up to a main force and encountered extremely heavy opposition. While the Regiment was moving into position for a broad attack, we watched in horror as our aircraft mistakenly made a strike on our “Able” Company, which was moving up a ridge across a valley from us. Incredibly, they suffered few casualties, even though they had been bombed, strafed and napalmed.

At our objective, I recall that the 3rd platoon was committed on the first day, then the 1st platoon and on the third day our 2nd platoon. All for one little ridge.  Sgt. Frank Takeyama was Platoon Sergeant of our 1st platoon, and I can remember him coming back down from their turn at the attack on 31 May, bleeding from his own wounds and carrying two of his men who were wounded worse than he under his arms.  At the same time, “Charlie” Company was engaged nearby in taking Hill 610 (see “The Taking of Hill 610," a book by 2Lt P.N. “Pete” McCloskey), a Platoon Leader in Charlie Company.

We (Baker) were not engaged on 610, but we were around the corner from it on Grenade Hill.  Watching the decimation of the 3rd and 1st platoons really weighed on the mental state of our platoon. We knew that we were to be next and when our turn came on 01 June, the defense remained fierce. Concussion grenades that they rolled down on us were a real problem, as was machine gun fire from forward slope bunkers. A grenade sprained Dorsey’s back. Bob Gregg was blinded by another. I took a sharp hit in my left hip, which turned out to have penetrated my trousers and skivvy shorts, but not my skin.

S/Sgt Willy Piner and I had been firing rifle grenades up and over the crest. A bunker to our right front had chopped up our men for three days. After a time, I concluded that it was no longer effective but until that was confirmed, it remained a deterrent to our advance. I asked for our machine guns to lift their fire and borrowed Piner’s full-automatic carbine (he never cleaned it, never before loaned it, and it never jammed). I then made my way over to where I could lob a hand-illuminating grenade (White Phosphorus) into the bunker. When no one came out, I proclaimed it “clear” and that opened our advance over the ridge. We found quite a number of our grenades with their pins still in place and Piner and I accused each other of failure to pull them. That led to he and I accumulating huge collections of pins as future proof.   It appeared that there had been a field hospital on the enemy’s side, which might account for their fierce defense.

I have a picture that I took of Mr. Nolan as he rested on the crest of that hill and it fully indicates the intense strain that we had all been under. One of our Corpsmen (in June we had Corpsmen Stanley S. Roderich and Richard L. Magnussen in the 3rd Platoon) asked Mr. Nolan if he had one of the miniature bottles of Scotch that his wife, Jane, sent him. When he said that he had, the Corpsman prescribed that he drink it right then. That night I was as close to losing it as I could be. I lay there and mentally fly-fished every stream and lake that I had ever fished in the past. I knew that if I let myself go, I would be lost down a slope from which I might not return. By morning I had myself in hand again, but it was a very scary night. It gave me a better perspective with which to deal with many mental cases I later encountered in my police career, knowing what panic some live in.

Of my squad, Teagarden, Vivian, Dorsey and Gregg had to be evacuated. Icenogle, Rowe, Hammack and Wojulowicz were wounded lightly enough to fight on and Jack Hammack was wounded again on 03 June.  It was a very tough piece of country and there was bad weather much of the time.  Besides KIA and MIA, we lost quite a few men to exhaustion and sickness (see Chapter VII "Advance to the Punch Bowl" in the USMC Operation in Korea, Volume 4).  Simple words cannot do justice to just the physical effort expended, not to mention the shooting that went on.

From June 1 to June 18, 1951, Baker Company was cut up about as bad as it happened in the time I was there.  This was our offensive en route to the Kansas Line and the Punch Bowl.   All of us were in bad shape by now yet, unbelievably, we continued on the offensive. On 13 June, while we were advancing across an open, grassy, valley floor, our green 2Lt Fagan, who had only joined us five days earlier, made his first and last mistake. One of our White Phosphorus artillery marking rounds landed up-valley. Before I could reach him, he took the radioman’s mike and called in the “clear” that it had landed one thousand yards to our front. I knew then that we were going to be hit, as the enemy monitored our radios. All transmissions were supposed to be “shackled” in that day’s code.  A short time later, as “Charlie” Company was passing through our position, gook machine guns opened up, scything down men and the high grass. My traveling buddy, Donald Tall of Seattle, was killed instantly and dropped a few feet from me. I noticed that he had two canteens on his belt. My men had been without water, so when there was a lull in the shooting, I crawled over and took his water to share with my squad. At the same time Tall was hit, so was Mr. Fagan.  I heard later that Fagan lost a leg from his wounds.

When we had beaten back that attack we continued on to our immediate objective, a formidable mountain. As we started to climb, Pfc. Icenogle was hit 13 times by a burp-gun burst. I left Pfc. Oberding to care for him as we continued up the hill. Icenogle amazingly recovered to pull MP duty in Japan after his hospitalization. On top of the objective, Dorsey again saved my skin by shooting a gook in a hole that I had overlooked. This is the same action that 2Lt (now retired LtGen) Charles Cooper wrote of in his book, “Cheers and Tears.” Mr. Cooper was very badly wounded and evacuated that same day.

We were relieved by the 2nd Battalion on 18 June. By that time, Baker Company was so depleted that S/Sgt Willy Piner was acting Company Commander and I, Sgt. Harold Sydnam, was Acting Executive Officer. All of our officers had been wounded, killed or called away. We were no longer an effective fighting force.  From our company records, I recently found that between 23 April and 01 July, our company alone--not counting attached personnel--had lost 15 killed and 137 wounded. That amounted to about 64% of our total strength. Additionally, many men had been lost to mental and physical overloads due to continuous fighting in miserable weather, steep terrain, and almost nonexistent supply lines.

While in this reserve position, we received a beer issue for the men (I was the “beer-baron” for Baker Company) and a whiskey ration for the officers, of which we had none. Willy Piner and I were in hog heaven. We had tents, and a small stream flowed down through the company area. Our only duty was to man outposts around us on the high ground and wait for replacements. On 19 June Frank Takeyama was returned to duty from his wounds.  I remember him walking up the path by the creek where we had stashed our beer. By the time he reported in, he was fairly “tight” and he claimed this to be a great bivouac area because, “The creek is full of beer!” About that time other replacements and officers began arriving and Willy and I returned to enlisted duties again. The whiskey ration had already been expended.

By about June, Lieutenant Nolan tried to get me to apply for OCS to get out of Korea before I got hit.  That entailed much more reserve and active duty time than appealed to me, and I declined.  In turn, I offered that if he would count me present on the platoon muster, I would walk home, via Siberia and the Bering Sea if he would let me take a crack at it.  I was only half joking as I thought my chances were at least equal to staying where we were.  From that time until the latter part of August, Baker Company remained in reserve status, rebuilding and retraining itself.

On 11 July Mr. Nolan received his promotion to First Lieutenant and was reassigned to Weapons Company.  During the July-August period the “Peace Talks” droned on at Kaesong while both sides built up their forces.  Once the peace talks began, the allied efforts were obviously hopeless.  North Korea would say "peace talk," and we would cease-fire while they dug in, rearmed, and brought up replacements.  Then when the "peace talks" were declared over, we had to fight an entrenched enemy who we had almost whipped a short time before.  By that time I had been squad leader of the Rocket Squad (3.5-inch bazookas) where Cpl. Joe Ahrens taught me everything I knew of those weapons, and I had also been Platoon Sergeant of the 3rd Platoon under Mr. Parks Simpson.  Also in July, my 24th birthday came and went.  I have absolutely no recollection of it being any different than any other day.  Our unit history tells me that Baker Company was providing security for the 11th Marine’s (the artillery regiment) and that we had a beer ration issued, but I have no notation or independent memory of the day.


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Hostilities in the Punch Bowl

There were Republic of Korean troops and other foreign troops in our area from time to time.  The ROKs had a reputation for charging to the rear as soon as or just before things got serious. I know that much has been written about how good the Korean Marines were, but we still didn't trust them to hold on our flanks. I was nervous any time our, or the Korean, Army tied in with our flanks. If we were tied in with the Brits, Foreign Legion or Turks, I had fewer worries. I much preferred to have USMC units on our flanks.

I guess it was about August when we replaced the French troops on line once. (It was quite warm and very wet--my roll of film was partially spoiled by the heat/humidity.)  I was mightily impressed with the French because they appeared to be well-trained and armed and motivated.  They carried themselves well--and the gooks didn't like to hit their lines, either.

On 22 August, the North Korean People's Army (NKPA) walked out of the “peace talks” and on 26 August we were warned of a resumption of hostilities and our movement to and around the “Punch Bowl” area.  The weather was hot and rainy. On or about 11 September we relieved the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines on the Hays Line north of Inje, where we remained until early October. B-1-5 had not been on attack since June, when we had been so decimated that Willie Piner and I became CO and XO for a short time.

I had by then been assigned to company headquarters (unofficially) as “NCO Available” or, as the Korean chiggy-bearers called me, “Number One Sergeant.” By that time the officers had found that I could be counted on to fill in at any task. Whatever needed doing, I was given the opportunity to do it. This kept me off most patrols, but it was not a posting of great safety or leisure. My notes at this time indicated that I was dug in with the company corpsman and our bunker was four feet deep, covered with logs, dirt and sandbags.

In this location we were in a very unusual situation. Our left flank was totally unsecured and was commanded by enemy controlled high ground. They had a 76mm rifle up there and would fire two or three rounds at morning and evening twilight. They were so good at keeping it concealed that we had been unable to knock it out. We all took cover for the brief morning and evening period, and as soon as the rounds had been fired we resumed normal activities. During the nights we also took incoming from other 76mm rifles and from 120mm mortars.  Because of the unsecured flank, some dark nights the enemy would creep down our crest and roll grenades. The standing orders were for everyone to stay in their holes at night and anything that moved would be shot. We had mined, flared and barb-wired our front slope to the extent that we were sure that nothing could penetrate it. One day to our total astonishment, we watched as a deer bounded up the slope, over the crest, and down the back-slope into the timber.  We were so amazed that no one even thought to shoot at it.

On 11 September I had been detailed to take two Marines and a group of chiggy-bearers back down to a supply point and bring up a load of supplies, including wire, ammo and grenades. On our return to the company area, we were moving up a trail beneath trees that came out at “Charlie” Company on our right flank. Unexpectedly, the enemy 76mm let loose with two rounds that airburst or struck trees above us. That weapon had such a high velocity that we could not hear the shells until they exploded. These caught us flat-footed. Both young Marines were badly hit, although the rest of us somehow escaped injury. The Marine who was ahead of the others and a short distance behind me had some of the grenades in his pack set off, giving him massive wounds. The chiggy-bearers and I immediately abandoned our loads, did what we could to aid the two wounded, and carried them up to “Charlie” Company. While “Charlie’s” corpsmen were attending to them, we set about chopping out a helicopter landing zone. By the time radio contact had been established for air evacuation, it was full dark and the pilots refused to attempt a front-line landing in the dark. We arranged for the morning evacuation and I gingerly made my way back in the dark through “Baker” Company’s lines. Our chiggy-bearers had made it to company headquarters while there was still a bit of light and had reported that “Number One Sergeant was Okay,” so I was expected to cross inbound. I learned the next morning that both men died during the night.

Three days later, on 15 September, we moved off-line to the Battalion command post and on the 17th went back up to a new area which was heavily mined and subject to artillery and mortar fire. Our company Top Sergeant was wounded and I was made Acting Top.  We were just north of the Punch Bowl and some of the men had built a fire which turned out to be on top of either a dud round or a land mine. When the device “cooked-off,” T/Sgt Donald R Long, S/Sgt Donald J. Garrett, Pfc. William R Stewart, and two Corpsmen, HM3 Charles (nmi) Stack and HN Marvin J. Anderson were wounded by it. Treated for shock were two Pfc’s, George R. Fink and William A. Chambers, Jr.

After T/Sgt Piner relieved me as Acting Top, the Gunny became ill, so I put in some time as Acting Gunny.  In a letter home, I wrote, “Now that the Gunny is back I have returned to my normal duties of doing both of their jobs. Oh, for the happy-go-lucky life of a Squad Leader again!”

On 20 September we readjusted our position for the final time that month. We could expect a half dozen, or so rounds of mortars and of artillery and a probe or two of enemy patrols almost every night.  As an illustration of how we had been living I quote from a letter home dated September 21, 1951:

“Boy, the thought of eating with more than a spoon and being indoors--and seeing lights at night--sleeping in a bed and not in a hole in the ground. Being able to flush a toilet and drive a car, walk into a bar for a drink, or get a shave and haircut. Take a bath in a tub - with hot water. That kind of stuff is a rather strong drink to swallow all at once! So damned many things that I never thought that I would miss, like turning a doorknob or walking up steps or turning a radio dial to any station I like - or typing a letter! Even only nine months can make you forget which way a faucet turns or which way you flick a wall switch to turn on a light.”


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Navy Corpsmen - God Bless Them!

I would like to acknowledge the deep respect that we Marines felt for our Navy corpsmen. They were with us through thick and thin and often their part of it was even thicker than ours.  They are, truly, a unique and wonderful breed of men.

The two corpsmen I knew best had joined the 2nd Platoon almost as early as I. HN Melvin G Wagstaff, USN 5682224, from Snowflake, Arizona, and HN Merle E. Sutton, USN 7990428, were with us through the Great Guerilla Hunt and into our spring offensive. “Doc” Sutton was KIA on Hill 313 the 23rd of April. Mel Wagstaff, who preferred we did not call him “Doc” or “Corpsman” because that tended to draw enemy fire, left us to transfer to the medical battalion on 26 April and on home on 10 September 1951. Wagstaff had made a promise to himself that he would never lose a patient. Of course, it was impossible for him not to, and I feel that the death of Sutton added to the burden he carried. I have talked with Wagstaff on the phone in recent years, but have so far been unable to talk him into attending one of our “Baker Bandit” reunions.

Other corpsmen recorded in my personal notes were HN Samuel A. Main, USN 3878499, who replaced Wagstaff, and HM3 Charles (nmi) Stack, USN 3795675 and HN Marvin J. Anderson USN 3646923 who joined us later.  The latter were both WIA 17 September by the dud round or mine set off by the campfire.  All of us owed more to these “gallant few” than any of us can ever hope to repay.


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Daily Life

For an overnight we dug fighting holes and cleared fields of fire for the guns.  If we were staying longer, we got more elaborate as time, equipment, and resources dictated.  Fighting holes on the forward slope might be supplemented by small bunkers on the reverse slope so that times when it was less than 50 percent watch, men could lay down and sleep.  Barbed wire down-sloped to the front.  Trip-wires for flares, can-rattles, mines, or booby traps could be rigged.  Mortars and/or artillery were zeroed-in on key approaches or locations.  Bigger fields of fire were cut for the machine guns.  In a long-term emplacement, we dug a bunker and roofed and sandbagged it for a command post.  Later in the winter, we excavated a big hole for a warm-up tent where men off watch could thaw out.

When we were holding the line during the so-called "peace talks," we had time to construct bunkers.  By then I was a member of the Company Headquarters staff and could bunker on the reverse slope.  We dug a hole on a slope, covered it with logs so the opening faced "safety," sandbagged it on the sides and top as thick as we had either ambition (or fear), and tried to work in some tarping to forestall leaks.  The tarred cardboard from multi-rations was good for roofing.  Shelves could be carved from the dirt sides for knickknacks and candles.  A dog-leg entry kept draft and shrapnel out.  If it was "improved" upon an enemy's former hole, it might have vermin.  We tried not to do that.  In contrast to bunkers, foxholes always leaked  They couldn't stand up to a direct hit, while a good bunker could.  We never had trenches that I can recall.  I would assume that a trench would just be a long foxhole.

Keeping clean was always a problem for us, even when we were not on-line. Our feet were our main concern, after our weapons.  We carried as many pairs of socks as we could scrounge or get issued--at least three pair if at all possible, and these were rotated as long as necessary until they were worn out or washed.  The day's pair went into the sleeping bag at night to be dried, and a "new" pair put on either as off-watch time began or upon arising in the morning.  Clothing might rot off of our body, but socks were treated like gold.  The greatest care an infantryman gives to his body is that given to his feet.  Whenever possible we washed our feet and socks.

Helmets made excellent washbasins and were also used for shaving.  Shaving we did as frequently as possible, limited only by the lack of shooting and the adequate supply of water.  If possible, the water was heated first.  We invariably shaved before making an advance, and advances of any kind seemed to always take place on a Sunday.  I am unable to account for the frequency of showers and clean clothes we had.  It varied, of course, by what sort of activity we were engaged in.  When we went into at least Regimental reserve, it meant that we would likely be far enough in the rear so that shower tents could be erected and supplies of clean clothes brought to us.  In our turn, X-number of us would file into the first tent, strip bare, shower, sometimes de-louse or de-flea, put on clean clothing, and return to our area--perhaps to give each other haircuts.  During the warmer times (summer), we did a fair bit of washing-out of our clothes when we were in reserve. On one occasion I found a louse on me and was able to boil my clothes.  We had lice inherited from old bunkers, and we picked up worms from local water.  In one valley we were "wormed", as many of us had apparently picked up these parasites from drinking stream or paddy water that had been inadequately purified or just from the dust in the air.

On the march or attack, we ate C-rations.  In reserves we ate 5-in-1 (or better) rations--sometimes hot, although "hot" food in a mess kit congealed damnably fast when the weather was cold.  The stateside food I missed the most was fresh fruit and milk.  The only native food we ever found and ate was rice.  Sometimes we picked up some, husked it, and boiled it in a helmet.  It was a damned good change.  I love rice, even today.  Sure beats C-rats!  My body reacted just fine to it, thank you.  The best thing I ever ate in Korea was a hot turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day 1951. Our Thanksgiving Dinner was helicoptered in on a pad we had constructed on our reverse slope. A USMC photographer took a photo of “Top,” M/Sgt Ishmael Powers, and Sgt Sydnam eating a hot turkey dinner in a shell hole. That photo was published in the Top’s hometown paper. I had similar photos taken with my camera. I also received a “care package” from Jane Nolan that Lieutenant Nolan had signed off to me. Miniatures of Scotch and some fine cigars completed a memorable Thanksgiving."  Although I spent every American holiday except Christmas in Korea, this was the only "celebration" I recall.

I was not a gambler.  I mostly smoked a pipe, but C-rations contained cigarettes and I smoked those.  Pipe tobacco came from home and sometimes from the Red Cross.  (Isn't that a kick in these anti-tobacco times?)  I have no distinct memory of having any contact with the Red Cross in Korea except receiving the tobacco and some envelopes.  A bit of booze was mailed in to us, but we mainly had beer rations that we advance-purchased when in a rear area.  It was something like three cans for a dollar.  Several did not drink so I bought their ration or traded candy for it.  Sometimes an officer shared his whiskey ration, as I noted in regard to Lieutenant Nolan.

There was humor.  It was sometimes pretty black humor, but it was there.  1st Platoon would be setting out on patrol and 2nd platoon would yell, "We'll cover you--with dirt!"  Our "fight" song was Rock of Ages, especially the "...Let me hide myself in thee" part.  There were songs both remembered and made up.  Practical jokers of the type that liked to imitate the whistle of incoming mortars were firmly discouraged.  They were likely to be new replacements and they were unlikely to repeat the "joke."  On the 21st of September 1951, I wrote home: "We haven't been totally without humor lately either.  Upon the other hill a machine-gunner was out in front of the lines one night (for God knows what reason) and one of our automatic riflemen fired 16 rounds at him, finally hitting him in the leg.  When they carried him up, he insisted on being taken to the man that shot him, introduced himself, shook hands, and thanked the kid.  He said it was his second Purple Heart and now he could go home."

Sgt. Andy Feller, an old-timer, liked crossword puzzles and I made them up for him to solve.  In the rear area, after a beer ration, there might be a resemblance to any bunch of guys gathered around an evening campfire.  Cpl. Salvatore "Sammy" Digiovanni was a great Marine with a wonderful sense of humor.  He always had a smile, a good word, often a joke to pass along, and the fun of joining in on some songs (and sometimes some great sausage from home).

Mail-call occurred when we came off the line or advance, and the rear caught up with us.  I had chums, my girl, and my parents for regular correspondence.  I asked them to send 35mm Kodachrome film, which was always on my want-list.  Candy and cookies and such came and, once, a cracked and empty bottle that had once contained Scotch arrived.  (It could only be inhaled.)  I obtained envelopes and writing tablets from somewhere, and sometimes they were sent from home.  Guys like Sammy received sausage and such.  Lieutenant Nolan regularly received care packages from his wife that contained cigars and miniatures of Scotch, which he sometimes shared with me.

Letters from home occasionally contained bad news, too--about sickness, death, and divorce, and sometimes there were "Dear Johns," which was no different than any other isolated group would receive.  Even children's bad grades.  The reaction was, of course, negative, but since there was absolutely nothing that anyone could do about it, life went on.  I suppose if there was a next-of-kin death there would have been compassionate leave, but I do not remember any such.

When in reserve a chaplain would offer services.  It wasn't important to me, except when receiving incoming fire.  I did, however, attend the services as did most (if not all) of the men.

I never saw any American women while I was in Korea except in a USO show and once when Assistant Secretary of Defense Anna Rosenberg visited us about October 23.  She was accompanied by a female Colonel who I described in a letter home as "stunning."  We had orders to neither urinate or defecate in the Battalion area the day of their visit and this order was rescinded as soon as they departed.  As to seeing Korean women, in one location I heard that there were a couple of whores in a cave near us, but I can't confirm that was true--or know of anyone who went looking.  The contact we had with South Korean non-military was limited to interpreters, and I'm not sure if they were military or police.  Young Bok Oh was with our platoon for a fairly long time.  He and Russ Bittinger are still in contact, I believe.  We sometimes encountered Korean families on patrol or in refugee bands.  Candy for the kids was about the limit of our contact with the Korean natives, as well as taking a few photos of them, posed or otherwise.  We did inspect their houses for arms or enemy, but we were always either in very rural areas or in towns that had been leveled.  The one exception was mentioned in the time of the rice paddy patrols and the MIA squad.  Also, while at Kusan-dong on our squad patrol January 29 (when the other squad was captured), we had a couple of nights with Commander Shim, who I talked about earlier.

During our reserve period we were entertained by movies and two USO shows.  One, "The Western Jamboree," featured entertainers that I did not know, but included two women.  The other show featured Danny Kaye, who was very famous at that time.  My large Able Company friend, Sgt. "Horrible" Thompson, had been chosen to present Danny with "The Order of the Gook Spoon," a large flattened brass spoon that was a common eating device in Korea.  Most of us had acquired one and wore it ready-to-serve in the pencil pocket of our dungaree jackets.  Danny, in his usual antic fashion, was leaping around the stage while Thompson was attempting to make the award.  Finally, Thompson grabbed Danny by one shoulder and forcible held him in one place while he made the presentation.  "Horrible" Thompson was not easily awed.

On April 15, 1951, I wrote home:

"We are so far in the rear now that we are playing games.  Tomorrow my squad is to give a tactical demonstration (or rather to competitively participate in one) in either taking a pill-box or house-to-house combat.  Having contests on field-stripping BARs and light machine guns (blind-folded), firing contests for rockets, machine guns, mortars, etc.  Also three-legged races, relays, volley ball, grenade throwing, egg race, etc.  All points are accrued to each company and the winner gets a mess-hall surprise.  Also team winners get beer and stuff like that.

My boys are 'hot to go.'  We watched Charlie Company do an assault on a pill-box today.  They had heavy machine guns, 81mm mortars, rockets, flame throwers and the works.  Man, if we could only get all that stuff during a combat mission, we would have it knocked."

I have a pencil sketch of our pill-box assault in my notebook.  I also recall that a cock Chinese pheasant sat through all of the shooting until they opened up with the flame thrower and that flushed him out of the pill-box.  That really got a laugh.

A word here on my camera situation. Earlier in my memoir I mentioned that I had purchased a 35mm closed-face compact camera shortly before receiving my orders to report to duty. In fact, I started my very first experimental roll of Kodachrome at Mt. Baker and finished it at Camp Pendleton. In Korea, I cut the partitions out of the interior of two small canvas GI Jungle Kits which I then suspended, one above the other, from my cartridge belt. The bottom kit was tied down, gunslinger fashion, to my left leg. Our C-rations contained small plastic bags, and I used several of these to waterproof both camera and film. I relied on my folks and friends to send me film and always had a request in for it. I mailed the exposed film back to the States whenever and however I could and had it sent, at first, to my parents. “Soldier Mail” from a war zone in those days was sent postage-free. As I had no idea how my slides were turning out, never having seen any of the finished product, I had Bruce Hawley advising me on the exposures from lighting notes that I mailed him separately. This was a fully manual camera. After my mother was upset by some of my photos of dead bodies I had my finished slides sent first to Bruce so that he could censor what Mother might see. Very naturally, since I had other work to do, all of my photos were taken when there was no real action going on. The sole exceptions to this were a few black and white exposures that I made of Hidy and Nail while we were pinned down an hour or so before I had my helmet strap and clothing shot up.


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Going Home

On October 12, 1951, the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines were relieved online by the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, who were brought in by helicopter.  This was the first helicopter insertion that I was aware of.  After three weeks on line, we went to a reserve area three miles north of Inje, where we set up in a Korean dust bowl.  There we had our first hot meal in weeks. We were able to wash, draw clean clothes, rest, and carry out light patrolling. We even received new replacements, including a new Top Sergeant, M/Sgt Ishmael Powers, and Sgt. John Vergopia to replace me. On October 14 we began receiving 20-man tents. On 15 October we began a training schedule in addition to our patrols. We had showers available and set about playing games of various kinds. We even had an awards ceremony with the presentation of medals and promotions. On the 18th I note that I had a shower and a haircut.  We also began receiving diesel stoves for the tents.

The rumor mill had been in high gear for months, however by October 1951, the rotation criteria had almost become predictable.  On October 16, our former XO, whose new duties were at Division level, came back to visit and told me that I would probably leave with the November group in about a month.  The October group left October 18, and I missed being on that rotation by only six days of active duty time, so I was sure to be near the head of the next group.

Our mortar platoon leader, 1Lt. John Baker, tried an airborne raid and search for guerillas with a helicopter on October 29.  He took a volunteer patrol of two squads from Baker Company, plus two radiomen and a corpsman.  The story gained a lot in the telling, but I thought Baker to be simply out to get a Silver Star or a Navy Cross and that he didn't have much regard for the men who took him there.  I had no interest in joining his gung-ho exploit, and still think it was a badly executed operation, even if it might have been one of the first helio insertions of Marines.  It mainly served to get him a “going home” wound.  Besides himself, he got another Marine wounded and they supposedly killed four enemy. Baker and I didn’t get along at all, but in a letter home I admitted that he was a good officer and that my problem with him might have been because we were too much alike.

By October 31 I had my departure as date-certain.  I had been attached to Company Headquarters for quite some time, so I was not called upon to make any of the patrols.  The last days were spent in normal work routine, dealing with supplies and other staff problems.  The 8th of November, in our reserve tent camp near Inje, the men were given showers, haircuts, and new clothing for the upcoming winter. I had a picture taken of Andy Feller, Sam DiGiovanni and me celebrating our splendidly clean selves to commemorate the occasion.

On 10 November we had an unusually good lunch and a cake cutting in celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday. The unit diary says: "After a delicious noon meal of chicken, ham, potatoes, corn, beans and peaches, a cake cutting ceremony was held in the C.P. flag pole area in commemoration of the Marine Corps Birthday."  Then we drew rations and gear, pulled up the tents, and at 0100 moved up to relieve the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines on line.

We were in the new position on the 13th, improving bunkers and trenches, constructing warm-up bunkers and generally getting ready for the fast approaching winter. At the same time we were conducting patrols and night ambushes, taking occasional mortar and artillery rounds and repelling night probes. It was getting colder and colder and still the peace talks ground on.

I have a detailed description of an outstanding bunker that the “Top” and I built in mid-November at the last position we occupied before I left Korea. It was about as comfortable as an underground hovel could get:

“We really have a 1st class home here - the bedroom is about 8X5X4 and the dinette is about 6X4X4 with cupboard space in the walls. The front porch runs at an angle... (two 90 deg turns)... and is all covered over, and floored, with steel wire stakes so we won’t be tracking in mud. Instead of a step-down dining room we have a step-down bedroom. The whole works is laid out thus (sketch) with walls and a roof 3 to 4 feet thick made of timbers and sandbags. Between the bedroom and the dining room, and at the porch entrance, we have blanket doors (storm door). If we get a blizzard we may put up a third door at the end of the porch. You would be surprised at how comfortable and warm it is. For light we have candles and for heat a Coleman gas stove. Our rugs are deep pile burlap, the roof is Old American un-peeled logs, the walls of the bedroom are cunningly covered by a mosaic field of camouflaged poncho (M-1, 1941) while the kitchen is in rustic dirt."

To the front of our position was a large, heavily mined, valley. On the far side of the valley arose a great, bald mountain which was rapidly becoming heavily fortified by the enemy. Both sides made nightly patrols into the valley, but few encounters were reported. All of us “short-timers” lived in dread that the orders would come to “take that hill” before our group left for the States.

The weather changed and it began to rain, followed by clearing and a severe drop in temperature, accompanied by snow.  On November 26, the day the homeward-bound troops went down to Battalion for assembly, it was +5F, with snow.  Before leaving on rotation from the area of hostilities, we either had to ship-over (sign up for re-enlistment) or sign a waiver of rights to seniority for re-enlistment in the Corps. We were made to burn our bridges or go for a career. I gave the idea of staying in the Corps, earning a commission, and making it a career a good deal of thought.  My fiancée was in medical school and I decided that her doctoring and my officering would just not make a good life for either of us. I signed the waiver.

On November 27 the largest rotation draft of the war to date left for the sea. The day before, I had given my small hoard of morphine syrettes to the corpsmen and those of us headed home assembled at Battalion Headquarters in preparation for the move. This was the 11th Rotation Draft and there were five officers and 135 enlisted men.

Upon finally leaving I had very mixed emotions. I was very glad to leave, especially with the prospect of having to advance over the terrain to our front.  Also, I felt that I was overdue to leave and that my terrific luck couldn’t hold out forever. The Bandits were a great bunch of men, however, and it was not without regret that I was, for the first time in eleven months, going away from them and their dangers.

From the Battalion Headquarters we were in a truck convoy to the coast of the Sea of Japan.  This was the largest rotational draft of the war and it was a long convoy of open trucks.  It was very cold (about zero Fahrenheit) and there was a strong wind, so we had to constantly exercise in the back of the vehicles.  Even so, I froze the bottoms of both of my feet.  When we reached the beach (I recall it being only a beach and not a port), there were primitive warm-up facilities and a long, long wait to be lightered out to the ship.  Thompson, Woods and I had traveled with a good supply of beer which, of course, froze.  We tried heating it on the oil stove and eating it with our "gook spoons".  We located a group of locals' shacks, where we bought some hot radish soup that was very warming.  There was a Japanese landing craft beached at our embarkation point that was being used as a generation plant.  Since the three of us were familiar with that kind of vessel, we went on board, found the "paint locker," and went to sleep on warm shelves.  Unfortunately, we nearly missed our ride to the ship.  When we were finally found and lightered out, all of the troop bunks had been taken and we three had to sleep in the crew's head.  We were three of the four close traveling buddies who had arrived in Korea on December 28, 1950.  The fourth was Donald Tall, who was killed in action very near me on June 17.  He was from Seattle and was the one who had been a gate guard at Treasure Island.  He was in Charlie Company MG's.

The date was now November 27, 1951, and I held the rank of Sergeant.  From whatever beach that was on the east Korean coast, we were taken to Japan and trucked or bused to Kobe, where we reclaimed our sea bags left behind nearly a year before.  We were then transported to Otsu, arriving there November 30, 1951.  While in Japan we received medical checkups, shots, and processed paperwork.  We were allowed liberty until midnight each night.  Whiskey was $2.50 a bottle at the NCO Club and, aside from attempting the impossible task of drinking Kyoto dry, we also did some Christmas shopping.  It was more shopping than buying.  In all, a lot of steam was blown off before shipping out again.

We left out of Otsu, Japan, on December 9, 1951 on the USS General Pope for San Diego, arriving there on December 21, 1951.  It was just another Navy-hosted trip to endure.  On December 14 near the Dateline, I noted that I was having an emotional and physical hangover.  I presume now that it was from experiencing the release of pressure that we had all been under.  I have no recollection of having any duty on the trip, but I am sure that there was paint chipping, painting, and head cleaning, as were ever-present when guests of the United States Navy.  The sea was unusually calm and there was very little seasickness.  There were, however, a great many colds, presumably from our not being used to living indoors or in crowded conditions.

The ship first made a brief stop in San Francisco where Marines who were not to be separated or discharged were disembarked.  The Golden Gate Bridge was exciting enough to rate a photograph.  Nothing else did.  The rest of us rode on to San Diego.  After we debarked, buses took us to MCRD, San Diego.


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Post-Korea

I finished out my time in the Marine Corps at MCRD, San Diego, where I was separated on December 21, 1951, and returned to inactive reserve duty.  I had $980 on the books, $300 in mustering-out pay, and a travel allowance of $92.10. I had a Bronze Star with “Combat-V” and no Purple Hearts.  I had suffered many narrow misses and I attributed my survival to both the Corps’ training, my childhood of playing ‘Cowboys & Indians’ with Jake, my experience hunting, fishing and trapping--and terrific luck.  I had served under at least eight company commanders, an unknown number of executive officers, and, while assigned to platoons, at least five platoon leaders.

In San Diego, Thompson, Woods, and I bought civilian clothes, a suitcase of whiskey, and three chair coach tickets on a train.  We dropped Woods off in his home state of Montana, and Thompson and I continued on.  We had enough of a stop in Chicago to get cleaned up and our uniforms squared away.  We then traveled on to Philadelphia where Thompson's wife and my fiancée were waiting side-by-side at the train station, although those two had yet to meet. We had ended “our war.”

Some guys go a little wild after returning from war, but I did not.  I had blown off steam in Japan, drank my way across the United States on a train, and began to resume a life.  I didn't particularly have any trouble adjusting to civilian life, although for a time I didn't sleep well without a grenade and a knife on my stomach.  (I already mentioned that the grenade was to buy me time if the sleeping bag zipper stuck, while I used the knife to cut my way out of it.)  It took a while to get used to not having them in my bed.  Also, I had almost zero hearing in my left ear from explosions, etc.  It took around a year for that to partially return.

I had been in pre-engineering before I was recalled to active duty, and it was my intent to return to the University of Washington to resume those studies toward a degree in mining engineering.  I knew that it would be necessary for me to have a job as well, and my desire was to work in an engineering-related field, such as one involving engineering drawing.  Boeing had just laid off around 12,000 engineers due to the slow-down in the war, and the job market was flooded with highly skilled people.  I then simply began looking for any work that I might find.  I drove a fuel oil and gasoline delivery truck, plus did any other odd jobs that I could latch onto.  When I found a good job, it took me immediately to Alaska.  On February 13, 1952, I was offered a job working for Pacific Northern Airlines in Anchorage, Alaska, and without delay, I accepted it and moved north.  I still held that job when I received my final discharge from the Marine Corps on October 22, 1952.  My total service in the Corps for pay purposes was four years, ten months, and three days.

I married Nancy Elliott in June of 1953.  She was beginning her final year of medical school in Philadelphia and I was working in Anchorage, Alaska.  She completed med school and did a year's interning in Seattle, moving to Anchorage in 1955. I purchased a house on Sand Lake, south of the International Airport where I was employed as an airline dispatcher with Pacific Northern Airlines.  Nancy and I were divorced in 1974.  We had children Claire Ann, Elliott Knight, Robert Bruce, and Ben Allen Sydnam.

In the Spring of 1959, a cutback in dispatch offices bumped three of us out of work at Pacific Northern Airlines.  I then went to work with the Alaska Territorial Police, which became the Alaska State Police, then the Alaska State Troopers.  By April 1979, I was a Lieutenant Colonel, Deputy Director of the Division of State Troopers, and I accepted an appointment to be Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety's five divisions.  On January 1, 1983, I retired as Acting Commissioner, bought a 39-foot sloop to live on, met Jackie Ryan, a Canadian school teacher with four grown children (and a 27-foot sloop), and we were married in 1988.

I have held no jobs since my retirement in 1983 from Alaska. Instead, I sail, travel, and attend to family matters. I am also still writing (and living) a journal entitled, "The Fortunate Years," much of which is included in this memoir.

I have never filed a war-related disability claim.  My hearing regained enough to pass flight physicals, although it has now deteriorated.  Having been frozen in Korea, my feet were likely made more susceptible to later freezing, which occurred on several occasions, although fortunately with no loss of flesh.


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Final Reflections

I have never been sure if I was so tired in Korea that I was unafraid, or if I was so terrified the entire time that it seemed ‘normal.’ Whichever it was,  I could work effectively only if I maintained my concentration on the job at hand. That means that I had to ignore some unpleasant things. I know that at times I was so tired that the easiest way to determine if any enemy was present was to make myself a target. When they didn’t shoot at all, I could move the men forward. If they did shoot, the chances were good that they would miss and then they would have given their positions away for return-fire.

We never had the luxury of leaving the company area without an evacuation wound or sickness. The concept of “R&R” never occurred to us in that year. In Korea at that time, there probably wasn’t any place north of Pusan and Masan that was left standing in which to “recreate.”  There was no romance like one sees in movies. In fact, there was NO romance. There were a couple white women in the USO shows. The female Assistant Secretary of Defense, Anna Rosenberg, visited our Battalion area about 23 October in the company of a female Colonel who I recorded as “stunning.” That was as close to Movie Romance as we ever came in Korea.

I believe that the Korean War was a just cause. I think that the United States should have sent troops to Korea when the war broke out in 1950.  North Korea was guilty of aggression.  It was a just cause until MacArthur went overboard.  In my view it could have had an early conclusion had he stopped the drive north just a short distance above the 38th Parallel in 1950.  He should have gone north of the 38th parallel only to establish that the North Korean army must remain north of the 38th parallel.  No more.  We should never have threatened the Yalu or Chinese soil.  We had absolutely no business that far north.  Thank God that the Chinese and the Russians did not trust each other then or we would not have had air superiority when the Chinese did get into it. Without the air, I hesitate to say how bad it might have become.  Also, in 1951 we let the enemy escape us by calling for "peace talks" until they had time to re-arm and dig in.

I see nothing good as having come out of the Korean War.  It was a botched job.  MacArthur botched it.  It isn't finished yet, and it will erupt again.  I think the United States should still have troops there.  If we leave, North Korea will return.  And if we don't get a president with some sense of foreign policy, some degree of leadership--and the balls to back it up, North Korea will march South anyway, and it will be with a hand from the PRC and, maybe Russia.  A great deal more could be said.

Going to Korea and serving in the Marine Corps changed me. I have never since had any doubt in myself or my abilities. I have had the good fortune to never be confronted with a task that I was unable to bring to a satisfactory completion (barring a few felony cases and one or two homicides). I think that I know exactly who I am, warts and all. In 24 years of police work I never had to un-holster a gun or fight a prisoner. I do not feel that I have been arrogant, but only capable, confident, and fortunate. I have achieved a measure of success, and have relatively few regrets. I have pride in my service and in my life. My time in Korea was a terrific experience. I would not have missed it for the world, nor would I wish to repeat it. While some have nicknamed the Korean War, "the Forgotten War," I have never forgotten it. I presume it has acquired that nickname because the West was then preoccupied with Europe and the USSR.

I want those reading this memoir to understand that I felt the Korean War was a just cause which was turned from victory to disaster by the personal ambitions of the "American Caesar," Douglas MacArthur.  "Dugout Doug" had a very high opinion of himself.  President Truman waited too long to stop him.

I don't think that our government is doing a sufficient job in its efforts to locate and return Missing in Action personnel from the Korean War.  It never has.  I am morally certain that a great many POWs were passed into China and Russia.  Likely they are all dead by now.  Since we didn't "win" the war, we had little clout.  World War II was our last patriotic war, and the fact that we never won in Korea (nor have we signed a peace agreement), and the remaining fact that so few people even knew about that "police action" diverted attention.

Korean War veterans are not looked down upon--we are just invisible.  There are a lot of ghosts locked up in the closets of combat veterans.  They aren't necessarily "bad" ghosts, but they are in there, quietly waiting for someone to turn the key.  I found that attending the Baker Bandit reunions sanded my rough spots and answered a definite need.  I have a couple squad mates who refuse to go to the reunions and I know their ghosts still come out at night in their dreams.  There is a maze of forgotten incidents that a person is unlikely to recall on their own.  It does not necessarily have to do with war.  Just "life" creates a book in everyone, with or without trauma.  I have met people whose life stories are utterly fascinating.  When they die untold, a bit of me dies with them because that book was never left for anyone else's enlightenment or enjoyment.

I have discussed some of my experiences with my children, but all of that happened a long time before they were born and it is history.  They were all busy living their own lives and creating their own history.  Some day they may be interested, but I will likely be gone.  I have, of course, discussed it with vet friends of other wars and with my family.  I think that the old wives tale of men not discussing their experiences is mostly woven out of the attitudes of rear echelon troops who have the ribbons but not the scars, as well as from the fact that civilians have utterly no idea what the hell we are talking about anyway (this being somewhat like a mother discussing her infant's birth to a meeting of male union leaders).

The training I received in boot camp definitely served me well in Korea.  I was taught to obey an order instantly, without question, and to trust my superiors.  Later I was trained to replace them when they fell.  I think it would be beneficial for every young male to serve a military tour.  Young women could have the option of serving, but I don't think training should be co-ed.  There could be educational or job incentives to reward them for service.

I think all of the real war heroes are dead heroes--the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice to save a buddy, a unit, or to "go down in flames."  I have seen some brilliant displays of solid courage and leadership, for which I bow in respect--such as on or about June 1, 1951, when Sgt. Frank Takeyama, Platoon Sergeant of our 1st Platoon, came walking back down the hill from their area of attack.  He was wounded himself, but he was holding a wounded Marine under each arm.  He carried them out and all three were evacuated for treatment.  Now that is pretty close to a "war hero."  I can't name all of the dead heroes.

The Baker Bandits gathered in most of those who served in Korea with me.  I have also looked for and found others who are now on the rolls of the Bandits--or at least have had gilded invitations to join with us.  I am in frequent touch with seven or eight of my old rifle squad, most of whom come to the reunions.  Lt. Harvey Nolan passed away a few years ago, but before he did we shared a bottle of Scotch and fine memories.  Sergeant Hidy died before I located him through Social Security.  Pfc. Lester Dorsey (the last one on my search list) appears to have lost all memory.  Two of the later rocket squad are in touch, and Bandits.

I was on Korean soil only one time after my tour of duty there in 1950-51.  In 1989 when returning from Southeast Asia, we stopped in Seoul for fuel.  It is the only place I have been in the world where they put you through security screening getting off the aircraft, but not on re-boarding.  I have never wanted to return to Korea, and on that occasion I could not wait to leave.

Although I don't want to re-visit Korea, I do attend the Baker Bandits (B-1-5) reunions because those men were close to me, Inter Fraters Unum (one of the band of brothers).  No other military-type organization that I belong to has this closeness of history and experience.  This includes the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, 1st Marine Division Association, and the China Marine Association.  The Corps takes you apart and puts you back together in its own fashion.  Once indoctrinated, you never escape it.  Stories of "bad" Marines affect us all--deeply, as if a family member has strayed.

There are thousands of bits and pieces about my time in Korea that are not covered in this memoir: 11 months x 30 days x 24 hours X 60 minutes = 475,200 minutes.  Damned few of them were spent sleeping.  A lot were spent waiting in stupefying boredom.  Some were spent playing "grab-ass."  Many of the rest involved some degree of terror.  My strongest memories of Korea are the goddamned mountains and the wonderful comrades.  Things not covered in my memoir:  Did you know that on a long march on a road, when it is safe enough to march in ranks, you can actually sleep?  And you carry a can of C-rations in the top-right corner of your pack so you can dig it out, open it and eat on the march--even if the contents are frozen and you have to dig it out with a knife or bayonet.  And you carry your canteen inside your coat so it won't freeze.  By doing these things you can really march forever--so long as there is a break now and then so you can relieve yourself without falling too far behind and having to run in full gear to catch up again.  But we didn't often find ourselves that far out of range.  Just on some long hauls when there were no trucks available.  And you would see your big, burly mates strip down for a shower and they would have huge thighs and comparatively wizened arms.  Damned mountains!


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Addendum - Citations

Presidential Unit Citations

The Secretary of the Navy
Washington

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Presidential Unit Citation to the First Marine Division, Reinforced for service as set fort in the following CITATION:

“For extraordinary heroism in action against enemy aggressor forces in Korea during the periods 21 to 26 April, 16 May to 30 June, and 11 to 25 September, 1951. Spearheading the first counteroffensive in the spring of 1951, the First Marine Division, Reinforced, engaged the enemy in the mountainous center of Korea in a brilliant series of actions unparalleled in the history of the Marine Corps, destroying and routing hostile forces with an unrelenting drive of seventy miles north from Wonju. During the period 21 to 26 April, the full force of the enemy counteroffensive was met by the Division, north of the Hwatchon Reservoir. Although major units flanking the Marine Division were destroyed or driven back by the force of this attack, the Division held firm against the attackers, repelling the onslaught for three directions and preventing the encirclement of the key center of the lines. Following a rapid regrouping of friendly forces in close contact with the enemy, the First Marine Division, Reinforced, was committed into the flanks of the massive enemy penetration and, from 16 May to 30 June, was locked in violent and crucial battle which resulted in the enemy being driven back to the north with disastrous losses to his forces in the number of killed, wounded and captured. Carrying out a series of devastating assaults, the Division succeeded in reducing the enemy’s main fortified complex dominating the 38th Parallel. In the final significant offensive of the action in Korea, from 11 to 25 September 1951, the First Marine Division, Reinforced, completed the destruction of the enemy forces in Eastern Korea by advancing the front against a final desperate enemy defense in the ‘Punch Bowl’ area in heavy action which completed the liberation of South Korea in this locality. With the enemy’s major defenses reduced, his forces on the central front decimated, and the advantage of terrain and the tactical initiative passing to friendly forces, he never again recovered again sufficiently to resume the offensive in Korea. The outstanding courage, resourcefulness and aggressive fighting spirit of the officers and men of the First Marine Division, Reinforced, reflect the highest credit upon themselves and the United States Naval Service.”

The following reinforcing units of the First Marine Division participated in operations against enemy aggressor forces in Korea during the cited periods: (etc)”

For the President,
CHARLES S. THOMAS
Secretary of the Navy

Bronze Star Citation

I received a personal citation for action on June 1, 1951.  I think the incident cited wasn't as hairy as some that went without awards.  I value it more for my children/grandchildren's sake than mine.  I know what I did, and I didn't do any of it for medals.

Citation
US Marine Corps Headquarters
1st Marine Division (REINF)
c/o Fleet Post Office
San Francisco, California

In the name of the President of the United States, the Commanding General, 1st Marine Division (REINF) FMF takes pleasure in awarding the Bronze Star Medal to:

Sergeant Harold J. Sydnam
United States Marine Corps Reserve
for service as set forth in the following citation -

"For heroic achievement in connection with operations against the enemy while serving with a Marine infantry company in Korea on 1 June 1951.  Acting as a squad leader in a rifle platoon, Sergeant Sydnam was attacking with the platoon up a steep hill defended by a well entrenched enemy force when the unit was subjected to intense and accurate automatic weapons and hand grenade fire.  Despite the fact that the bare hillside offered no cover, he, with complete disregard for his personal safety, courageously crawled up the fire swept ground to within twenty yards of the enemy position and skillfully threw a volley of hand grenades which completely neutralized the positions, enabling his squad to advance and seize the objective.  His bravery and coolness under fire were an inspiration to all who observed him, and aided materially in the success achieved by the company.  Sergeant Sydnam's heroic actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."

Sergeant Sydnam is authorized to wear the Combat "V."

G.C. Thomas
Major General
U.S. Marine Corps

Temporary Citation (copied from the field flimsy that accompanied the award)


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Addendum - Poems and Songs

When you're walking down the Valley,
Are you sure the ridge is secured?
If not you best make certain,
That your life is well insured.

Does your asshole start to pucker,
when the shrapnel starts t o whine?
Those mortar rounds are breakin' up,
That old gang of mine!

Do you get that twitchy feeling
When the burp guns start to whine?
Those burp gun boys are breakin' up
That old gang of mine!

   - credited to Lts. Harvey Nolan and Frank McDonald

---

My Captain's a big Irish bastard,
The lieutenants are crooked as sin!
All of the non-coms are horseshit,
My God, what an outfit I'm in!
Horseshit, horseshit, it sounds just like horseshit to me.

---

We're a bunch of bastards,
Bastards are we!
We're a bunch of Bastards
From Baker Com-pan-ee!

---

We are the Baker Bandits, going out upon patrol,
And tho we're few in number we'll take a mighty toll!
We are the Baker Bandits you've heard so much about,
The gooks all hide their saki whenever we're about!
We're noted for our thievery in every thing we do.
Most gooks hate us - we hope you hate us too!

---

Oh, the moonlight's fair tonight along the Naktong,
From the fields there comes the scent of new spread shit!
Through the sycamores the burp gun flashes gleaming,
On the banks of the Naktong, far aaawaaay!

---

We hate to see you go!
We hate to see you go!
We hope to Hell you never come back -
We hate to see you go!

---

Take down your service flag Mother,
Replace it with one made of gold.
Your sonny was in the Marine Corps,
He died when he's 20 years old!

Oh, take back your wings made of silver
Oh, take back your wings made of gold,
Your sonny was in the Marine Corps,
He died when he's 20 years old,
Or les, Oh yes, T.S.,
He died when he's 20 years old!
   (as a dirge)
Ten Thousand dollars going home to the folks.
Ten thousand dollars going home to the folks.
   (as high-pitched, spritely)
Oh, won't they be excited!
Won't they be delighted!
Think of all the things that they can buy!
Ten thousand dollars going home to the folks!

---

In a tent so dark and dingy,
20 miles north of Inje,

 - (This one was never finished.) - HJS

 

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