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Cincinnati, Ohio -
"I have never told my children about Korea. No one would believe it if I were to tell them my story, except maybe this forum. The Korean War was never a popular war and I had nothing positive to tell them. I laid in a hole for a year, eating cold food, getting shot at--all for what? Nothing! I don't think we should have been in Korea in the first place. I didn't see anything to fight for there."
- Samuel Veal
My name is Samuel Veal of Cincinnati, Ohio. I was born April 15, 1934 in Cincinnati, a son of Clent and Irene Hawkins Veal. I was named after the Book of Samuel out of the Bible by my father's sister, my Aunt Smither Veal. She said I was her "Sun Man." My siblings were James (now deceased), Smither, Dorothy, Irene, Delores (now deceased), Barbara Ann and Gladys.
My father was a steel worker at the Andrew Steel Mill in Newport, Kentucky. He poured hot steel into huge metal pots, lifted cranes, and whatever he was told to do. My dad walked to and from work 20 miles each way every day. I do not know what time he arrived at work. He worked swing shifts and was away from home maybe 12 hours. My mother was mostly a homemaker, but in later years after we were up in size she worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. For about two years she did trucking freight, which involved lifting boxes.
I spent my childhood in Cincinnati in a neighborhood called West End. The neighborhood was 100 percent black. All businesses, except for a few, were owned by blacks. All the schools in the neighborhood were public schools, and they were also black. All families knew one another and congregated together. My siblings and I played and fought other kids in the neighborhood together. We had to fight in our neighborhood to survive. When my mother sent one of us to the store, there were kids waiting to take our money from us.
What I experienced as far as prejudice against blacks was watching some of the older black men sleeping outside on steps in front of their homes. The police would come along and hit the men on the bottom of their shoes to see them jump for harassment purposes. I also experienced being constantly harassed by the police driving through the neighborhood, stopping older people for no apparent reason. If I stepped outside of the West End when I was a teenager, I had to be prepared to fight the boys that lived in Price Hill or other areas where blacks were not allowed to trespass. Outside of the West End in Price Hill, College Hill, Walnut Hills, and any of the outlining areas of the city, including Vine Street up to Broadway (which was called Uptown), I would be refused service in any of the stores, department stores, clothing stores, dry cleaning stores, movie theatres, etc. If I chose to step out of the West End area, which was often, I had to be prepared to fight because I worked these areas and because I did not let anyone stop me from going to work.
My first address was 757 Barr Street, where I was brought home from General Hospital (the hospital where my mother gave birth to me). There were two boys and three girls at 757 Barr Street. When the family increased, we moved to a rental house at 732 Barr Street, across the street from 757 Barr Street. It was in the same block, but there were more rooms. We lived on the second floor with a family on the first and another on the third floor. At 757 Barr Street there was an inside toilet and at 732 Barr Street there was an outhouse. We did have running water. After moving to 732 Barr Street, my mother gave birth to three more girls.
The Great Depression drew us closer together. We had very little money and I knew we were poor. Sometimes I didn't have anything to eat for lunch at school and had to sit in the hallway during lunch time. This is how it was done in those days. My very first job was at the age of nine where I worked in Phillips Candy Store. I worked the cash register from 5 to 7 p.m. on weekdays (no Saturdays or Sundays). I had all the candy, ice cream, cookies, and whatever was in the store I was allowed to eat. I received $5 per week. As I got older (13-15 years old), I worked as a clerk in a grocery store called Harry's Market after school hours from 5 to 8 p.m. I earned $22 each week. Harry S. Wolfe was my supervisor in those days. It was studies first and then work--always. I also worked for the Sixth Street produce outside market on Saturdays selling fruit, vegetables, and shopping bags. When I became a teenager I worked for Woolworth's Five and Ten Cent Store where I worked in the baling room, baling cardboard boxes together from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. for $13.00 a week. All the money I earned from my jobs was brought home and shared with my parents, brothers and sisters.
I attended grade school at Harriett Beecher Stowe School. It was like an academy because we had to pass an IQ test to be enrolled there. Harriett Beecher Stowe School demanded excellence from the kindergarten to the 9th grade. I graduated from there with all A's and then went to Central High School, where I again earned all A's. I left school in the 12th grade and joined the Army at the age of 17, where I got my GED.
I liked school very much. I was a well-behaved child who respected my teachers. They were excellent teachers and were very strict back then. My teachers were Mr. Hall, science; Mrs. Curtley, English; and Mr. Turpo, math. They were all black. We had Math, Science, English, History, Music, Driver's Education, Swimming or Physical Education, and Negro History. When I say that the teachers were strict, I mean that they demanded 100 percent of our attention during class, did not tolerate any class interruptions, no hitting, chewing gum, speaking out of turn without first raising our hand, etc. If a child acted out, he or she would be paddled. I was never paddled. I will never forget these men and women for as long as I live--in a good way.
I played baseball, and was shortstop and centerfield. I only played with the other kids in the neighborhood. We did not win any tournaments, nor did we travel outside of the West End. My baseball hero at the time was Babe Ruth. He was the only one that was talked about a lot back in those days. There were no baseball heroes that were black for me to look up to. Later when I was a teen, it was Jackie Robinson.
I went to the Boy's Club to box. I started Cub Scouts at the age of 9 and entered Boy Scouts at age 13. I attended because I liked the military way when I was a youngster and I liked wearing a uniform. In Scouts we went on field trips and camped out in rural areas. We ushered at college football games and got to see the games for free. We had to help older people in whatever way they needed help--carrying groceries, going to the store for them, etc. We were taught discipline and team work--how to live with each other and to respect each other. I enjoyed being out of the house and away from my siblings for a while. Harry S. Wade and Jodi were two leaders I remember well. Jodi was our cook when we were out on the field trips. Harry S. Wade was a disciplinarian and a well-respected man whom I respected as well. He was a bachelor who lived and cared for his mother.
World War II
My parents told us the news about the outbreak of World War II. They told us nothing else about the war, but later I understood what was happening. My Uncle Budd Veal was in the Army and was wounded during the war. I was only eight years old at the time and I didn't hear where he served overseas, but he made it home okay. I was not old enough to be in the war, but as students we collected scrap iron and I did this, too. Mother made preserves, made her own soap, and worked with other women in the neighborhood to make sure the children were fed. Some families may have had flour, another sugar, or eggs, etc. They would then combine or put them together and bake a cake or cook a meal and everyone would eat.
I remember people celebrating the end of the war. It was like a New Year's Eve celebration. As I remember, people were happy and having a good time as one would do at a New Year's Eve party. This is what it looked like to me at that time and what I witnessed.
Recruiters came to our school when the Korean War broke out. They recruited young men 17 years of age with their parents' signature. The recruiting officers told us that we could finish our education for free and that we would get good pay, free room and board, free meals every day, and get a chance to travel not only in this country but outside of the country. I also had a chance to help my father support my siblings that were still at home. To a 17-year old, what the recruiters had to say looked very attractive.
Both of my parents had to sign for me to go into the Army. They were not okay with it. They were afraid for me because of the war being fought in Korea at the time. But at my insistence, they signed anyway. I took the recruiting sergeant to my parents' house with me to help to convince my parents that going into the Army would be to my advantage. My brother James, who was six years my senior, was in the Army having joined in 1950. He was already in Korea in 1951. If he talked about Korea in letters to my parents, it was not shared with me. James had nothing to do with me joining the military. He asked me not to join but the recruiters gave me reasons that seemed worth my while to join.
I enlisted on April 21, 1951, and left by troop train for basic training at Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky. This was my first time away from home for any length of time. I did consider this to be a big adventure and an exciting one, but my first few days away from home were when I wished that I hadn't joined. The home sickness I experienced was almost unbearable. It got better with time.
Camp Breckenridge was a little country town that was demolished and from that Camp Breckenridge came into existence because they needed new spaces to train the troops for the Korean War. Camp Breckenridge was located in the southern part of Kentucky in a rural area on the Tennessee borderline. There were all kinds of insects there. When we first arrived there we were picked up by non-commissioned officers who were corporals and sergeants. We were taken to barracks where all of our civilian clothes were taken from us and we were issued uniforms. We were given what was known as a Flying Twenty (a twenty dollar bill). With the twenty dollar bill we had to buy toilet articles, haircuts, shoe polish, bath towels and cloths. Twenty cents was left for a box of ice cream.
After receiving our military introduction to the post, we were assigned our basic training company, which was the 101st Airborne Division. I was in the 31st Dixie Division, which was an all rebel division and reception center. I was in the 1st Platoon at Dixie Division. Although I took basic with the 101st, it was not on jump status. We were required to do everything an airborne outfit did but jump. I was in Company A, 502 Infantry.
In my company, which was made up of over a thousand, there was only a handful of blacks. Some of the men had never seen a black man before and they had racist views that were deep. This was in the early 1950s--1951, when they were still hanging black people in that part of the country. Camp Breckenridge was a small southern town and it was not a friendly place for black people, especially back in those days. I stayed on post at all times because of that situation.
I lived in an open barrack--an open building with 50 other men in double bunk beds. The floor was made of wood, which we had to GI (clean and scrub) every night. We had showers on the first floor and showers for the men on the second floor. About 12 men could shower at once. We had large vegetable cans that were used as cigarette butt cans. I didn't smoke, but for the men that did, they could smoke freely. I can't remember whether anyone got in trouble for smoking where they weren't supposed to smoke.
Our instructors were World War II veterans. They included Sgt. Hobart Williams, Field First; 2nd Lt. Carl A. Williams, Executive Officer; 2nd Lt. Allison L. Nichols; Lieutenant Toomer; and 1st Sgt. Junior D. Littrell. Basic training was 16 weeks of infantry training. For me, it was 32 weeks. I had to take it twice because I was too young to be sent overseas. I had the choice of being put out of the Army or take the extra 16 weeks. I chose to take the additional 16 weeks.
We learned how to use all weapons, grenades, dynamite, infiltration course (maneuvering through barbed wire under enemy fire in the worst conditions), armed and unarmed defense training, and speed marches to walk 35-40 miles with full field equipment under all conditions. We also learned to be mean, vulgar and aggressive and learned to kill and avoid being killed. We learned to fight as a team for the protection of our country. We had to run as fast as we could, walk for miles with full field gear weighing over 70 pounds, speed march, and have wrestling competition. In basic training we had to repel down and climb up a wooden structure, mainly for recruits who were especially afraid of heights. These structures were about three to four stories high. We learned how to function under gas attacks by going into a gas house with our gas mask on. While we were in the house we were instructed to take our gas mask off, then immediately exit the house after tear gas was released. We watched educational films like the bombing of Japan with the atomic bomb, films of wounded men, and how to take care of our health.
From the time we got up we were awakened by whistles being blown in the barracks and instructors pushing our beds over if we didn't get up fast enough. We had a very short time to dress and be in formation for a head count, a very short time to eat, and the day's activities usually began with a long march or run. We had hot meals (the same as civilians), baths every day, twice a day, or whenever it was needed. Hygiene was a high priority. We were always rushed in basic training, including at mealtimes. After everything was completed, we had very little free time--less than an hour. The barracks had to be spotless and there were inspections throughout the day. Lights out was according to the Platoon Sergeant. Sometimes lights out was at 2200 hours, sometimes 2400 hours, depending on what we had to do or what the Platoon Sergeant in charge had us doing.
Our instructors were military strict. We were being changed from civilian to soldiers. (Changing from civilian to military was the hardest thing for me personally about basic.) By the end of basic training, however, I realized that everything I went through was for me and my safety and the safety of others. I was never physically hit, but I was awakened at night by the instructor for punishment. I was a sleepy head and overslept one morning and came out late for head count. The Corporal never forgot that. I was taken outside and made to dig a hole and then was expected to be at formation with the other troops the next morning.
In basic training we were always wrong, no matter what. One time I was taken out to dig a hole from night until daylight because the Sergeant was screaming in my face and I told him that he did not have to scream and spit in my face. I was awakened during the night quite a number of times because I was young and dumb in those days. I refused to adjust to military life on their basis. I was rebellious. The Corporal took me on long field marches late at night--just him and me with my full field equipment on my back. I went through this numerous times with this same NCO. I instigated a lot of this myself. I knew he was being punished along with me because he had to walk with me.
I saw some guys leave during the night and go AWOL. They got company punishment or Article 14 (working after work hours). Some troops were involved in fights and had to get into a ring and fight it out among themselves until one man quit or had a nose bleed. In order to keep everyone in line, there were instances when the whole platoon was disciplined for the wrongdoing of one individual. We would have to fall out in ranks with the left shoe on and the right shoe off, carrying our footlockers over our heads. We had to stand for a long period of time, then we would fall back into the barracks and come back out with the opposite shoe on and off a different foot, still carrying our footlockers over our heads. This happened quite often. There were no troublemakers in my platoon. They were not tolerated. Those who didn't make it out of basic mostly didn't because of physical or mental conditions.
We were free to go to any denomination church of our choice. The instructors did not bother us at church, but most did not take advantage of this. I have to admit that at the time, I was looking for any escape from the Sergeant.
After basic training was over, we had a ceremony similar to a high school graduation where we took a group picture. It was held in Camp Breckenridge, and no one had family members attending. It was a private graduation for trainees and officers only. This was only a process of getting men in, training them, and getting them overseas as quickly as possible.
I left basic training feeling like I could take care of myself in any situation and was willing to do so. I was a little boy when I first went into basic, and felt that I had matured into manhood after basic because I was ready to take on my own responsibilities.
Bound for Korea
I went home for three days and spent all of my time with my parents and siblings. I was given a going away party by my parents and friends, and then after my leave I was sent to Fort Lawton, Washington, by train. At the time I left for Washington state, my folks knew I was going over to Korea. My parents were very strong and really did not let me know how they felt about it, but I overheard my mother praying for me one night and she was crying.
I was at Ft. Lawton for one night. I received some shots and had an orientation. Orientation was about what to expect overseas, such as diseases that American doctors did not have a cure for. (We were advised not to make contact with females.) Our American money was taken away from us and replaced with "script" which consisted of no coins. The script was paper money in denominations of ones, fives and tens. We were allowed to make phone calls home. I then took a shower and went to bed for the night. The medical forms and insurance paperwork were done when I first joined the Army.
The Marine Adder
I left the States for Korea on December 27, 1951, on the ship Marine Adder. A band played when we left Seattle, a band played when we arrived in Japan, and it played when we left Japan. Leaving Seattle going to Japan, a band played Anchors Away.
The Marine Adder was a large, gray troop carrier about two football fields long. It held a few thousand men. The only people I knew on the ship were the men from my company that I had taken basic training with at Camp Breckenridge. Both Army and Navy personnel were on the ship. It was piloted by the Navy. Cargo consisted of our bags and probably other things.
We slept in hammocks in a large room with poles along the length of the room. The hammocks were tied to the poles. We all slept in the lower part of the ship and felt every wave that hit up against it. Eating schedules were similar to the schedules we had on land--early breakfast, lunch and dinner. We were fed a lot better food on the ship. The food was excellent (for those who weren't seasick and could eat). Full course meals were always served. The shower setup was the same as it was on land and we had a strict hygiene program, same as on land. Showers were taken twice a day. There was a PX on the ship. I bought toilet articles, ice cream, and candy. There was everything that a PX on land would have.
On the high seas the ship seemed like it was at the bottom of a mountain and there was nothing to see but water all around as far as the eye could see. We hit extremely rough weather and it was scary. The ship looked like it was surrounded by water. We couldn't see anything but water and it seemed like the waters were going to swallow up the ship. The ship was rocked to and fro by huge waves that made loud thunder-like noises and threw us out of our hammocks. During those extreme times we were not allowed on the top decks, but some of the others and I sneaked up to get a peek. We were given evacuation training on how to use the life boats and given life jackets to wear.
I had not been on a ship before and I was very seasick. There were a lot of soldiers that were sicker than I was. These men could not get up and walk, couldn't eat, and were in sick bay during the entire trip. No one died, but they did wish they were dead. So did I at times. We were so sick we couldn't eat and couldn't hold anything down. I got over my sickness about ten days out to sea. My stomach calmed down along with the weather.
From Seattle, Washington to Japan, the journey took 15 days. I had no duties on the ship. We watched movies down in the gully of the ship and had no further training on the ship. There was no celebration or certificate for crossing the Equator. This was strictly a troop movement operation and the sergeants let us know that there was nothing to celebrate. It was not mentioned to us that we had crossed the Equator.
Japan was our only stop-over. When we arrived there, a band played, If We Knew You Were Coming, We Would've Baked a Cake. Once we got to Japan we were further processed by getting more shots. One of the shots was called the "Japanese beetle." While in Japan we were issued combat gear, including rifles and ammunition. We then boarded a Military Landing Craft. When we left Japan going to Korea, a band played So Long, It's Been Good to Know You. Nothing eventful happened and there were no mishaps on the overnight trip from Japan to Korea.
I arrived at the port of Inchon, Korea, approximately on January 22, 1951 in the morning. We immediately left the ship and then loaded up on trucks. My first impression of Korea was that it was very scary and extremely cold. I could immediately tell that I was in a war zone with the smell, look and feel of a war zone. It was dirty and filthy with the smell of rotten dead bodies all around. I could also hear artillery fire. Inchon was definitely hunkered down for war. There were no buildings at all that were standing. We were at war once we landed in Korea and the full implications of this really hit home--the fact that I could lose my life at any given instance. Although we were in Inchon and we still were miles from the front line, we were under enemy attack from artillery and other heavy weapons.
We went from Inchon by truck to the area of Bunker Hill, where my regiment was already engaged in combat. Along the way I saw natives--kids and grownups, running behind our trucks and asking for food or handouts or whatever. They were war-torn natives and some had very little clothing in that extreme cold weather. I saw people, both grownups and children, that had lived through bombings, burnings, and starvation. I didn't see Korea as a country worth fighting for as far as the mountains and terrains, but as far as the people, I felt we were needed and I had no problem being there.
It was less than a day after I arrived when I saw my first dead enemy. It was also less than a day when I saw my first dead American. It made me angry when I saw these dead men. I thought that there could be a much better way, but did not know what way that could be. I still don't have an answer to that haunting question that some people have asked.
As I mentioned, Bunker Hill was being fought over when we got there. The Marines had already gotten their orders for taking the hill and the division I was in then had orders to back up the First Marine Division. I did not know anything about the Marine regiments other than they were there for the same reason that we were, which was to repel the communist takeover of South Korea. It was also not explained to us why Bunker Hill was being fought over, but I know that it was a strategic pathway that was needed to protect the surrounding area. Bunker Hill gave whoever held it the overlook of supply roads. All of our supplies came to us by trucks on these roads. We had no air drops in my unit.
I was assigned to the 3rd Squad, 1st Platoon, Love Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. I did not know anyone there, but I did see my brother on the opposite truck leaving the area to which I was going. We yelled out each other's names and waved, and then he was gone.
My initial job was Assistant Machine Gunner to Robert Mackey, and I liked it. Our machine gun was .30 caliber air-cooled. The fire power capacity was belt-fed, about 100 rounds per minute. There were four similar machine guns in my platoon. There was a .50 caliber machine gun and a variety of water-cooled .30 calibers. A water-cooled machine gun fired using water in the tank of the machine gun. An air-cooled machine gun fired without water. The air-cooled was better because we ran short of water a lot of the time. It took two people to operate both of these machine guns. They were fired from a tripod or hand-held. There was one man that actually fired the gun while the other man fed the belt of ammunition into it. The gun could also be carried by one person. My job as Assistant Gunner was to feed the ammo into the machine gun when firing. I had to keep account of the ammunition and carry it from position to position whenever necessary.
There were four squads in my platoon--three rifle squads and one heavy ammo squad. A rifle squad used small arms fire, such as a rifle or pistol. A heavy ammo squad used machine guns, mortars, flame throwers, and other heavy weapons. There were four platoons in my company. As I can remember, there were more than 12 companies in a regiment, but I can't remember the names of the companies. My company had two tanks on the front for fire support.
I cannot recall who the officers were in my company or anything about them. I saw my platoon sergeant pull one of our men away from a minefield and in doing so, he (the platoon sergeant) was blown up and lost both of his legs. I saw no cowardice among the officers. Since I was on the front lines, I did not meet any high-ranking officials.
I had the same officer throughout my career in Korea. Although I don't remember his name, I do recall that he was a well-trained military person who had been an officer during the Second World War. We knew that he sincerely cared about each and every one of us. At some point, whenever possible, he had a one-to-one with all of us. He talked to me about being his jeep driver. I was only 17 and had never driven a vehicle before, so I had no driving experience. But I told him that I knew how to drive. I did this to get to sleep in the Command Tent because it was warmer than sleeping in the foxhole. After one day he sent me back to the foxhole. He noticed right away that I didn't know how to change gears. When he asked me if I was going to change gears, I fooled around with it and managed to get it to change, but he was not fooled. He had the Captain take over the rest of the way. He wasn't mad and told me that he admired my courage.
We were on a mountain in bunkers and trenches and sometimes foxholes when I first got to Korea. During my first few days on the front line I had to dig a hole that we called a bunker inside of a hill. To dig out the bunker we used a shovel called an entrenching tool that we carried on the side of our belt. Picks and shovels were also used when possible. The bunkers were made from parts of trees and sand bags. We hung our raincoats over the opening for a door. The bunker was a place where we slept, ate, and awaited our turn to be on the outside. (There was always one who remained on the outside as a guard.) Foxholes were for fighting in, but for protection, if we were in a bunker we had to come out into the trenches to fight.
There was very little vegetation because of the heavy shelling the hill had taken. We slept in our bunkers and we dug slit trenches so we could fight out of them. A slit trench was a tunnel dug from the bunker where we slept across a certain section of a hill--the perimeter we were assigned to protect. It was used as an entrance to the bunker and we also used it when fighting. It was similar to a foxhole, but long in length. It could be as long as a city block. Our area was protected by barbed wire, heavy weapons, and the fact that we pulled guard 24 hours by the individual soldier, other support weapons, and by patrols pulled throughout the night.
I saw killing fields as we fired weapons and as we were being fired upon, both day and night. I saw the enemy and Americans being killed and wounded, screaming in pure agony. I was holding up very well emotionally (I guess as well as I could) with all that was going on around me. Of course, I was fearful. I knew I could be killed at the drop of a hat. I was armed personally all the time with an M-1 rifle, an unlimited supply of hand grenades, and a .45 caliber pistol. I carried four grenades at a time on my ammo belt on my back pack. The grenades had handles that could be clipped on our ammo belt and back pack. We used the grenades when we knew enemies were down below our final line of protection. They were used mostly at night instead of the rifle because a rifle fired at night could give our position away and a hand grenade would not.
Robert Mackey taught me the ropes when I first arrived in Korea. He was my first foxhole partner. He was very young--16 years old, and military savvy. He always kept a smile and had no fear of anything or anyone. Robert taught me how to live on the front lines and how two men assigned to a bunker could pull guard for 24 hours a day and be able to sleep during that period of time. This type of guard duty was done after dark throughout the time that we were on the front lines.
My "baptism of fire" (when I first experienced being fired upon) was steady, non-stop fire. It was continuous day and night with no relief. I had seen combat movies and discovered that the reality of war was basically the same--except this time I was a participant. What I learned "on the job" in Korea that I hadn't learned in basics was that dying was easy.
Front Line Memories
We moved from Bunker Hill to a hill called "Old Baldy". Old Baldy was given this name due to its lack of vegetation, which was blown away during combat action. Old Baldy stretched over a large terrain of Korea. I am not sure how many miles long it was, but it was a tall mountain facing a mountain called 1062 occupied by Red Chinese forces. It was straight up with cliffs and crevices. It had some roads made by our engineers, but in most cases there were no roads. Old Baldy was in the same vicinity as Bunker Hill, maybe a few miles away, in the vicinity of "No Man's Land." It was an area of ground that nobody owned or controlled, but the enemy used it as well as we did for patrols. We fought the Chinese there. We had to take over Old Baldy and we kept it and the surrounding area during my 11-month stay as a strategic point to protect the supply route bringing equipment in and out of that area. It was also strategic for the 9th Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division and the 3rd Division for keeping it cleared for evacuations of our wounded and dead.
We took over Old Baldy by ground fighting, artillery shelling, and air strikes, and were very successful in holding our position until the time I left Korea. Prior to a battle the enemy was fired upon by artillery, ships at sea, and Air Force strikes. We kept Old Baldy by fortifying our positions and firing from our held positions. One time in the early stages of the Korean War, our outfit was hit by the enemy and overran. A lot of our men were caught sleeping in their sleeping bags and were killed. To prevent that from happening to us, our engineers put barbed wire at the bottom of Old Baldy across the foot of the mountain, then we put tin cans or other obstacles that made a noise at night so we would know that the enemy was there.
There were troops of other nationalities around us, including Turks, Ethiopians, and Thailanders. I never had the occasion to spend any time in their area or with them on a social basis. The troops of other nations were all good fighters, but in my personal opinion none were as good as the American soldier. Later in my tour of Korea, the South Koreans were integrated into our company and squads. We also had some non-military South Koreans that worked in our command posts, mostly as interpreters, houseboys for the officers, and doing other non-combat duties.
Fighting was both day and night. Daytime was mostly sniper fire between ours and the enemy lines. Nighttime was usually patrols. There were two kinds of patrols--a listening patrol and a combat patrol. A listening patrol was to get to the enemy line as close as possible without making contact and to bring back information that was of importance used by the Air Force, Navy, etc. for tactical purposes. A combat patrol was to make contact with the enemy to destroy or capture them.
Enemy weapons were effective, especially mortars--an artillery piece about five feet long with a barrel about two feet in diameter. It was usually manned by two men and could be managed by one man. The nickname was a "tube" because it looked like a stovepipe. A round was dropped down inside of it and then that projectile was fired out of the tube. The enemy that we were fighting were mostly young, fearless fighters who fought differently than Americans did. We were trained to do things precisely by order and by skillful training. The enemy believed that it was an honor to die on the battlefield. They fought in bunches, which Americans did not do. They fought in waves of thousands at a time, and when they advanced toward our lines they blew bugles and made a great deal of noise by yelling. They came at us wave after wave after wave--thousands and more thousands, over and over.
We were involved in hand-to-hand combat with them more than once (in fact, quite a few times) when the hill we occupied was attacked by Chinese troops. It was swift, not prolonged, and to me personally, it was like a boxing match instead of a deadly encounter. I received a bayonet wound in my chest area when my squad was attacked by enemy ground troops. We were on a listening patrol in "No Man's Land" between Old Baldy and Hill 1062, another hill that was occupied by Chinese troops. My injury was not bad enough to put me into the hospital. Some of my comrades were hurt much more than I was. I don't remember seeing anyone cry, although I know they did, just as I did in a lot of cases for all types of different reasons. If you wonder, "Did I see anything in Korea that I considered to be an atrocity?," my answer is: The war itself was an atrocity.
Cpl. Robert Mackey, whom I mentioned earlier as having taught me the ropes when I first got to Korea, was killed on September 18, 1952, by artillery fire while walking down a road that had previously been put off limits. He was going on a two-day vacation to Inchon and went to a MASH unit to get shots before going on his two-day pass. The word didn't get back to the MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit in time for Mackey to be warned that the road was now off limits. I saw his body after he was killed and I was devastated by what had happened. His friendship meant a great deal to me. I found out later that Robert is buried in Fairlawn Burial Park, Hutchinson, Kansas. I think that "war heroes" are the men that died during the war. Robert Mackey is one that stands out in my mind, although there are many, many others.
I don't remember anyone being taken prisoner from my unit. No one ever talked about being captured. Most of the guys, including me, felt that they were never going to be captured. We all planned on fighting to the end if necessary. I was in numerous battles from January 1952 through December 1952 and received three battle stars for three major campaigns (winter, summer, winter). No major battle stands out in my mind. They were all the same as far as trying to not get killed. Some of them lasted 24/7, all day and all night and all were in North Korea in the area of Old Baldy.
We had excellent medics assigned to our unit, but I don't remember their names. They were brave, but not so skillful. The conscientious objectors were made medics. They were not doctors or Emergency Medical Service (EMS). They did not believe in picking up a weapon of any kind for war. In most cases they were brave men due to the fact that they would go to the aid of a wounded soldier on the front lines or the battlefield to do what they could. Generally the wounded were moved at night or whenever the enemy was pinned down to a point that it was safe to go out and remove the wounded. We carried our dead and wounded off the hill to awaiting trucks. These trucks delivered the casualties to Quartermasters, which was where lists of the wounded and dead were compiled. It was something that had to be done and I had no special feelings about it one way or the other, even the first time I had to handle someone that was dead or badly wounded. What stood out in my mind after the battles was all the young men I saw killed, wounded, and marred for life. I lost some close friends. When I returned to the States I attempted to look up the families of several of the buddies I lost in Korea, but to no avail. I also tried to find some of my buddies, but I never found anyone so I have not tried anymore. Among those I tried to find were James Steffenson (Louisville, Kentucky), Waverly Flood (Newark, New Jersey), and James McEachin (Hackensack, New Jersey).
I didn't see much prejudice on the front lines due to the fact that everyone needed one another and we had no problems on the front lines getting along. But there were definitely whites who had difficulty adjusting to the desegregation that had been ordered in the military. My unit was about 30 percent blacks and 70 percent whites. All commanders and leaders were white.
My initial job as assistant machine gunner changed to squad leader two months after I was assigned to my line company. With that job I made Corporal and held that job until I left Korea. It was a promotion. I preferred the squad leader position because there was more money to send home to my parents.
The weather in the winter was extremely cold when I first got to Korea. It was like no cold weather that I had ever experienced in my lifetime. I dealt with it the best that I could. I tried to stay warm with what I had to wear and that was it. Korea in winter was much colder than in my home state of Ohio--much, much colder. You have no idea how cold. It was 30 degrees below zero and lower, and we were sleeping in foxholes. During the winter, from inside to out, I wore a T-shirt, shorts, heavy duty fatigues, a pile jacket, a long parka with a hood, a pile cap that covered the ears, gloves, socks, and shoes that did not keep us warm.
When I first got to Korea, our shoes were called a "snow pack." A lot of the men had frozen feet because of them. They later came out with a different shoe called "Mickey Mouse boots." This boot kept us warm as long as we were walking, but when we stopped for a period of time, the sweat on our feet froze. Since we had no change of clothes, our wet socks turned to ice. I used to keep an extra pair of socks under my armpit to keep them warm and I rotated them daily. Robert Mackey taught me how to do this. The enemy wore cotton jackets with balloon-type cotton pants, and they also wore pile caps. Their shoes were made like our snow packs.
Summer in Korea was like what Spring is here. Temperatures did not reach 80. I don't recall any Spring-like weather. In summer we took off the parka, pile cap and pile jacket and wore our fatigue pants and shirts. There was a lot of rain in August and due to our sleeping in bunkers in the side of the hills, we had a lot of mud slides. I had a friend who died inside his bunker because of a mud landslide due to a cave-in. We were in the same platoon, but I do not remember his name. I went to his bunker the next morning and the accident had already taken place. I just dealt with it. That's what you did in the Army. There was nothing else that you could do.
I slept in the dirt of Korea for a year. I had lice and I don't know what other parasites on my body. If we were fortunate, we might get a bath every 30 days. During those times we were taken to the shower point and given other clothes to wear. The shower point was a tent located about 10-15 miles behind the front lines.
I was not in any reserve areas, so my meals consisted of C-rations. (I never ate the native food.) Non-foods that were supplied to us included toilet paper and soap. Neither of these came to us consistently. C-rations came in a box similar to a box lunch and all boxes had a can opener. We got breakfast, lunch and dinner inside a box. Inside the canned goods there were beans, sausage patties, corn beef hash, crackers, fruit, peaches, pears, and some type of chocolate bar. Each day we got this box of C-rations, but at no particular time of day. The box could come in the morning, during the day or at night. My least favorite was the sausage patties. They always had a covering of cold, white grease that we had to wipe off before eating--or at least I had to. My favorite was the corn beef hash. No drinks were ever included in the C-rations. The best meal I had in Korea was a Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. I had to walk down to the bottom of the hill where it was delivered by truck. It took a long time to get to the bottom of the hill. By the time I walked back up the hill, my Thanksgiving dinner was cold and had some ice on it, but it was still very good. The food I missed the most from stateside was my mother's cooking.
There were lighter moments at the shower points where we talked for a few hours. We constantly congregated with one another whenever possible. We played card games and listened to and told jokes. There was a guy in my outfit named James Steffinson who was a comedian. He was just a real funny guy who did and said things to make people laugh. In our leisure time we talked about family mostly--how we missed them and what we would do when we returned home.
I received mail mostly from my mother, and sometimes my sisters also sent cookies and candy. I also got letters throughout my stay. Certain things that I wrote home about (such as troop movements and locations) were marked out in heavy black. Mother sent me a music box, cookies and candy. I asked for a music box that didn't require electricity and my mother sent it and also picked out the records. I could wind it up and it played one record after being wound up by hand. I did not carry it in combat. It went from bunker to bunker to anyone who wanted to listen to it--and that was everyone. The men really enjoyed the music box. I left it for the other men in my platoon when I left Korea.
Since I was in a combat zone, I did not celebrate my 18th birthday while in Korea. There were USO shows, but I did not get to see any because I was on the front line and USO shows were for soldiers in the rear. Also since I was on the front line, nothing like church services was offered. I came from a religious background and my family went to church on a regular basis. Just before I left for Korea, an elderly woman in my neighborhood gave me a Bible and told me to carry it over my heart for safety. I carried that Bible in my shirt pocket over my heart all the while I was in Korea.
I never saw any American women in Korea and I never witnessed native prostitutes getting into the Army areas. Some of the soldiers went into areas where prostitutes were, but I was not interested in this lifestyle. We were told by our leaders in basic to stay away from prostitutes. They told us that the prostitutes carried diseases that had no known cure. I and some of the other soldiers took what was told to us very seriously.
I got to go on R&R in March or April of 1952. I caught a boat ride and went to Yokohama, Japan for three days. I went to movies, rode in rickshaws, and walked around. "Rest and Recuperation" didn't help for the simple fact that I had to go back on the front lines when I returned to Korea. The hardest thing about being in Korea was not knowing what the next day would bring.
My date to come home was in September, but I didn't leave until December due to them not having troops to replace us. I did not get a reprieve from going out on patrol just because I was due to go home. When my time for rotation came close and I continued to go out on patrols, I found myself being more careful than usual. Then one day I was on my way out on patrol and was called back to command post. I left that night. I did not know I was going to leave until 8:00 p.m., so I had no time to spend with the guys. I was gone by 9:00 p.m. I was glad I was leaving, but sad I was leaving the guys I had lived with. I didn't see any replacement troops as I left since it was night. I was the only one from my company leaving at that time.
My unit received citations for three major campaigns. The dates were Winter, Summer, and Winter. The citation was the Sigmund Rhee Presidential Unit Citation. I left Korea as a Corporal and received a battle star for each campaign. I also received the Combat Infantryman's Badge that was awarded during the first campaign for having gone through hand-to-hand combat with the enemy. I received the United Nations Ribbon for serving in the Korean War. I received the Good Conduct Medal for obvious reasons. These awards do hold great significance to me. It is something that I will never forget.
Heading for the States
I left Korea around December 14, 1952. I am not exactly sure of the date, but I do know that the month was December and the year was 1952. I went from Korea to Japan on a small military boat. I spent one week in Japan being processed. We were sprayed for lice and any other contamination developed from sleeping in a hole. We were then given our necessary shots, clean clothes, and about three days of restriction to the post until we sailed to the United States. From the time I left the front lines to the time I left Japan, one week had elapsed.
I don't remember the name of the ship that took us back to the States, but it carried military and civilian personnel. The general mood on the ship was of happiness to be leaving Korea. I had no duty on the ship and there were movies for entertainment. There was seasickness on the return trip because the sea was very rough during the winter months. My sea sickness lasted about three days. The trip lasted 14 days. The ship made a straight shot from Japan to Seattle, Washington. At Pier 91 in Seattle there was a military welcoming committee and a military band. Seeing mainland USA was very emotional for me. I was just happy to be back in the United States.
We left the ship and were sent to different camps around the country. I was sent to Fort Knox for processing, clothes, partial pay, and a leave of absence of seven days. I remember that I tried to buy a hamburger in Kentucky and was refused service due to the color of my skin. I didn't like it. I felt bad, but honestly, I did not know what to do or how to handle the rejection. I wanted to be treated like the white man. I felt indignation after having fought a war, but finally just accepted that that was how it was in those days.
I then caught a bus to Cincinnati and had dinner at my mother's house. I spent all of my leave time at my parents' house. After my leave I was reassigned to a permanent post. I then received orders for Camp Atterbury, Indiana, which became my permanent station for over a year, 1953-1954. I became a Sergeant 1st Class and was promoted to Platoon Sergeant. I trained recruits in basic training. I was discharged in 1954 and rejoined in 1954 due to no jobs in the civilian world and to keep my rank as Sergeant 1st Class.
After Camp Atterbury I went to Fort Campbell, Kentucky and stayed for one year with the 11th Airborne. From there I volunteered to go back overseas to Panama, where I stayed from 1955 to 1958. From 1958 to discharge, I was in Fort G. Meade, Maryland. In Panama, I became a jungle expert and taught jungle training. I also became a drill instructor. Because of the thick foliage, being in a jungle combat situation makes it very different than any other ordinary situations. In the jungle you have to fight all types of insects, hot weather, and animals. Your vision in the jungle is not as clear as in open areas such as in Korea. Skills I learned in Panama and then taught others were jungle navigation, jungle ambush, jungle fighting, and the use of weapons that are used in the jungle such as the machete. I also learned and taught jungle survival--how to eat off the land and trees, how to recognize what and what not to eat, what to drink and not to drink. Drinking from the water vine was an important source of water. A white milky color of water from the vine was not drinkable.
I had trouble adjusting to civilian life after leaving the Army. In 1959 after I was discharged, I was really looking forward to finding a good job at Proctor and Gamble, but was not accepted there and was told by the Caucasian guard who was on duty that I was in the wrong place and should know better. I tried for a post office job in Cincinnati, and was accepted, but I had already moved to New Jersey by the time they contacted my family. Since then I have seen prejudice many times, specifically during my job searches, but also on the job and throughout my daily everyday life. I see it every day in different places.
I had post war syndrome and I became a drunk. At that time I was employed at a car wash company in New Jersey, washing cars. I stopped being a drunk in 1952 after leading a secluded life and only making contact with my co-workers. I grew tired of the way I was living. I married my wife Irene in 1979. I met her at a Kroger's Grocery Store in Cincinnati, Ohio, and fell in love with her. We have children John, Brandon and Keysha, who are now grown. I taught myself to drive military and civilian vehicles in the States, and then settled into a job as a truck driver, traveling distances for the W.D. Beef Company, but am now employed as a security officer.
While I was in the military I studied Leadership Training Course and Jungle Warfare Training. Because of my entering into the military at a young age, I wasn't prepared for civilian life. Although I did very well in the military in rising up in rank, it wasn't good enough for finding a career or job in civilian life. I decided to get more schooling after my discharge to make myself more marketable. I did not get a college education, but I did attend trade school in Ohio (1977, 1984, and 1985) for the following: HVAC Technician (heating and ventilation, home weatherization), Maintenance and Private Police.
Korea carries the nickname "The Forgotten War" simply because it was never declared a war. It was called a "Korean conflict" or a "police action." It didn't get as much publicity as the Second World War and the Vietnam War. Also, technology played a huge role in both of these two wars. News coverage brought these wars right into folks' living rooms. I believe that World War II veterans are treated with more respect than Korean War veterans.
I have never told my children about Korea. No one would believe it if I were to tell them my story, except maybe this forum. The Korean War was never a popular war and I had nothing positive to tell them. I laid in a hole for a year, eating cold food, getting shot at--all for what? Nothing! I don't think we should have been in Korea in the first place. I didn't see anything to fight for there. The Korean War was a war that never should have been fought for the reason it was fought, which was to stop the spread of communism. Today the American business people are doing business with Red China. I mean, we are business partners, we trade with them, so I don't understand the reason why men were killed to stop communism in Korea. Very hypocritical.
I think that MacArthur was right to go north of the 38th parallel. The Chinese came into the war and killed a great deal of United Nation troops. In my opinion two of the most serious mistakes made by the United States during the war were firing General MacArthur and not going into China.
I have no desire to revisit Korea. I don't see any good that came out of the war there. I have received brochures about how Korea has been rebuilt, but I could care less what Korea looks like now, even if the streets are made of pure gold. I never in my life want to see that place again. I don't think the United States should still have troops stationed in Korea now. The South Korean government is able to protect its own country.
My basic and advanced training served me well in Korea. I received the very best training. I learned how to use a weapon, armed defense and unarmed defense, and physical training. It was mental brainwash, unbearable endurance, getting up in the middle of the night to dig holes, push-ups in the middle of the night, getting up early in the morning in cold, winter weather to run for miles in just our underwear. The main thing that kept me going was the team work and the desire and the honor to fight for the American flag and our country. I received the very best training. The United States' military basic and advanced training is the best in the world.
I have recurring nightmares about Korea from time to time. The nightmares are of bombs going off and the enemy running towards me and screaming. My wife says that she has witnessed me having terrible nightmares a few times a month. These nightmares have continued from the time we married to the present. Irene never disturbs me during a nightmare. If I wake up from one she and I talk about it and I feel better. I have never tried for disabilities. (I never knew I was entitled to them.) I also haven't been involved with any military societies or groups since I have been out of the Army. To block out all my combat experience, I refrained from joining these groups.
Writing this memoir has been difficult for me. It brought back a great deal of memories that I did not care to dredge up and was trying very hard to forget over these years. My time in Korea was unbelievable. My strongest memories of Korea are the deaths, the cold weather, and the C-ration diet that I was on for a year. I have told of all I knew and remembered about the United States Army, but I intentionally left out the gruesome part of my time in Korea. Going to Korea changed me in that I am more aware how short life is. I also realize how much hate is in the world. Being in the Army affected my post-military life. It made me realize how precious life is, and because of that I have a great deal of respect for human life.
Things Learned (Irene Veal)
[KWE Note: In assisting her husband Samuel do the interview that resulted in this memoir, Irene Veal told the Korean War Educator that she learned things she didn't know before the interview started.]