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William George "Bill" Venlos

Galena, Illinois -
Korean War Veteran of the United States Marine Corps

"There were so many things that were really difficult.  The heat.  The cold.  The death.  Seeing dead people a lot.  I did get hardened to that, but I couldn't harden myself to the weather elements like the monsoon$300-$400 rains.  The living conditions that I was in were really terrible.  I stop and think, "How did I exist doing that?"

- Bill Venlos

 

The transcribing and publishing of this memoir was
made possible by a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council.
 

 

[Bill Venlos was a Brigade/Chosin tanker in the Marine Corps during the Korean War.  The following memoir is the result of an in-person interview that took place between Lynnita (Sommer) Brown and Mr. Venlos in November of 1999 in his home.  Lynnita edited the transcription (by Tonda) into memoir form.  A staff sergeant in Able Company's Tank Battalion during the war, Bill died November 21, 2003 at the age of 73.]

Memoir Contents:


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Pre-Military

My name is William George "Bill" Venlos of Galena, Illinois.  I was born on January 17, 1930 in the northwest side of Chicago, Illinois and was raised there.  My father was Peter Nicholas Venlos (1890-1965) and my mother was Marion Habada Venlos (1893-1976).  I have two older brothers, Warren and Dale Peter Venlos.

My father was kind of a hard person to get any information from.  Even as kids we didn't know much about his background, but I do know that my dad came over here from Greece as an immigrant in the early 1920s.  His whole family was annihilated by the Turks during the Turkish-Grecian War that took place from 1919 to 1922. I guess my paternal grandfather was quite wealthy in Samara, which later became a Greek possession.  He had olive groves and lemon orchards and used to export things to England.  While on one of those trips he married an English woman.  I never knew either of my paternal grandparents.

The name Venlos is an Americanized version of Venizelos, a name that goes back to one of the early premiers of Greece.  My father was conscripted into the Turkish army during the Turkish-Grecian War after his family was killed.  He was a very good athlete at the time and escaped the Turks by swimming to an English ship and asking for diplomatic immunity because his mother had been English.  I still have the document signed in Greek and French that gave him permission to travel with immunity.

When my father immigrated to the United States he first worked for the railroad out west in Colorado.  I can recall as a child seeing pictures of train wrecks.  He was a foreman on a section crew that repaired tracks.  I still have some of his old-time tables for the pay periods.  He joined the Army before World War I, but came down with an illness and was discharged before the war began.

My mother had a Bohemian ancestry, but she was born in this country.  Her father was from Austria.  My grandparents on my mother's side were deceased before I was born.  They were buried at the Bohemian National Cemetery, also on the north side of Chicago.  Mother worked at Marshall Fields as a candy-dipper during the early 1920s.  After she married my father, he opened a food store on the northern side of Chicago.  To my understanding he had just opened two more when the Depression hit.  He tried to make a go with the three, but lost all of them.  He then tended bar in a little bar on the northern side of Harlem and Addison in Chicago that Al Capone used to patronize.

My earliest memory of my father was of him baking bread.  He set up a route and I pulled the wagon as he went door-to-door selling bread.  I was probably five years old at the time.  Sometimes people paid him off with a chicken.  I had a pet chicken that I named "Chicken".  I used to kid my brother, "Oh sure, you had a dog--but I had a chicken."  My father used to do most of the cooking.  One Sunday he made chicken and rice, which we all liked.  We were eating it and I didn't think much of it until suddenly I thought to myself, "Where's Chicken?" My brother said, "You're eating it."  I had to get up.  We always kidded about that.

I recall that my dad worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression.  That was a government work program created in response to the Depression.  Because of his railroad experience he was hired as a time-keeper.  I think he made about $30 a month, which was the pay rate back in those days.  

My dad was one of the most patriotic persons that I can ever remember.  I think the old immigrants were this type.  He was a naturalized citizen.  I still have his citizenship papers.  He was very proud to be an American, and always flew the flag on all the holidays.  One of my earliest remembrances of my dad was a Memorial Day when I was probably three or four years old.  We were visiting the Bohemian cemetery where my material grandparents are buried, waiting for a parade to come.  We were there quite early and it was very hot.  I mean, it was really steaming.  I remember waving a little hand-held flag waiting for the parade, but a little kid my age gets kind of edgy waiting. I put my arm down and dropped the flag on the ground.  My father chastised me for letting the flag touch the ground.  I still remember that to this day.

I didn't realize until later in life that my dad talked with an accent.  I used to go down to Greek Town near Chicago with him when he went to pick up his Greek olives and Greek delicacies.  The Greeks talked Greek to him, but he talked back to them in English.  He didn't talk Greek unless he was in privacy with a neighbor who was Greek.  One time I heard my dad haggling over prices with another Greek in a store. After leaving the store he said to me, "Billy, if you are ever going to do business with a Greek or a Jew, do it with a Jew.  You're gonna get a better deal." 


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School Days

I went to grammar school at Saint Priscilla's, a Catholic school on the northern side of Chicago.  After eight years I graduated from there and then went on to DuPaul Academy, which is a Catholic boys' high school, also on the north side of Chicago.  The nuns beat on me at Saint Priscilla, and then the brothers and priests at DuPaul beat on me.  You see, I was always in trouble for one thing or another.  Not vandalism or anything--just always looking for trouble.

My father smoked Old Golds and then quit smoking shortly after that.  My brother stole a pack of cigarettes from him and took them out to the guys to smoke.  I smoked one, too.  I think I had my first cigarette when I was about six years old.  I didn't continue smoking.  I was off and on.

When I was a kid in grammar school I used to sit by the window, look outside, and daydream.  Geography was my best subject in school.  I used to love to think of travelling to this and that.  When I daydreamed, a nun would come up and grab my ear.  I was always looking for some type of adventure.  Because we were near railroad tracks, we kids were forever hopping on moving freights.  When they still had the old steam engines we got in the viaduct that went over the main streets and hid in the girders.  The engineer started wailing with the whistle because he knew we were hiding in those little crevices on the bridge.  When he blew the steam we got all steamed up.

One time when I was 10 or 12 years old I was downtown Chicago.  There was a trick store down on South State Street, which was kind of skid row.  I picked up some itching powder that they used to have and some stink perfume and different things like that.  I went to school with it one morning when I was in the 8th grade and put some of this down the back of the kid in front of me.  He started itching and Sister Veronica said, "Can't you sit still, William?"  He said, "Well, Venlos put something down my back."  She asked me what I did and I showed her.  She told me to take it down to Sister Priscilla, who was the principal. I went there and she said, "What did you do?  Take everything out of your pocket and throw it in the garbage."  I took the itching powder and the bottle of stink perfume and it broke when I threw it in there.  Oh, that rotten egg smell!  Well, I didn't dare go home and tell my parents, because then I would get it again from them.  Corporal punishment was allowed back then, and I think it should be now in certain instances, too. 

Music wasn't a prerequisite for graduation in a public school.  A foreign language was needed to graduate from a private school, and so was music.  I had Spanish, which I was terrible at.  I decided to take a course in Greek to appease my father.  It was more like ancient Greek and I didn't understand it.  When I asked my dad, he said that it wasn't Greek--it was old-fashioned Greek. 


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The War Years

I can remember that I was a kid when World War II started.  Before that--I must have been nine years old--I still lived further from the city.  My friend Walter and I used to collect war cards from the Chino-Japanese war instead of baseball cards.  Quite a few other kids did, too.  It was a hobby.  We were kind of born into a war mentality even back before World War II.  Then when we moved into Chicago there were lots of empty lots  where we dug fox holes and played war games.  The young girls that we hung around with were the nurses.  That's how kids played when we were 9, 10, or 12 years old. 

When the war began my dad started working in defense plants.  He always wore his defense pins for production.  My older brother Warren was probably six years older than my brother Dale and me.  Warren joined the Marine Corps Reserve before World War II, but during training he broke an eardrum or something, so he was exempt for war action.  Instead, he worked in an aircraft plant at Orchard Field in Chicago.  A lot of people don't know that O'Hare International Airport is located on what was once part of the Douglas Aircraft Plant at Orchard Field.  My brother Dale joined the Marines I think in 1944 just before the war.  He was on Guam when the war ended, but he never saw any action.  I was in school.  I kind of remember buying little stamps for bonds or something like that during World War II.  I can remember rationing and all that when I was in high school. 

We later moved from out of far west Addison, Chicago to the end of the city a little further around Milwaukee and Addison.  There was Schurz High School where most of my friends went.  I can recall that a friend of mine and I worked at a German butcher shop.  We used to deliver meat and we used to clean chickens.  That was back when butcher shops had live poultry.  I remember seeing German prisoners of war that worked at the Ford plant and passed by the butcher shop in busses.  They were all waving and just so happy to be here.  There was really no security on them.  There was a Northwestern Railroad about two blocks behind us and one block the other way.  We walked and played on the railroad tracks.  There used to be a lot of military freight going through with tanks and trucks and all that, and we saw German and Italian prisoners of war on the trains, too.

Several fellas from the neighborhood fought in the war.  One of them, Vandenburg, I think, was killed on Guadalcanal.  We respected them.  We saw them in their uniform when they came home in their greens and we thought, "Boy, these are tough-looking guys."  I wanted to be like them.   I think I just wanted to be the best.  During World War II we were brought up on how heroic the Marines were in the Pacific islands.  The divisions of Army soldiers overwhelmed the Germans during the war, but the Marines never outnumbered the Japanese.  The Army just didn't do the job that the Marines did.


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Joining Up

My last year of high school I transferred to Carl Schurz High School.  I found out that I didn't have the credits that I needed to graduate with my class in 1947 because I didn't have music at my last school.  I figured the heck with it.  Getting to graduate with all my friends was why I had transferred to Schurz.  That was really a mistake because not only was I not able to graduate with my friends, it was also a drain on my folks because there was tuition.  At that time it was $350 a year or something to go to a school like Schurz, and that was a lot of money.  I didn't think my folks could afford it and I wasn't that outstanding of a student, so I quit and joined the Marines.

I think it was in March of 1947 that my friend Frank Falbert and I went down and joined the Marine Corps Reserves just being formed on the Navy Pier in Chicago.  I was worried about getting in because one of the fellows that I had gone to grammar school with had been turned down from the Marines.  He was a big, strapping kid, but he was narrow, skinny and underweight.  I was only about five foot four inches when I joined, but Marine Corps enlistment was down to about 72,000 personnel, so I guess they were taking anybody at the time.  My mom wasn't concerned that I joined because she saw that I liked the Marines and it was peacetime.

It was a couple of weeks before we got our enlistment affairs in shape.  I don't remember any officers there, but at that time there were maybe five of us brand-new boys just joining the Reserves.  We didn't know anything.  They gave us rifles to clean.  One rifle was brand new and full of cosmoline [grease].  Oh, what a mess.  It took us forever to clean the rifle.  We used to go down to the Reserves once or twice a month.  We got paid, but it wasn't much.

The Navy Pier back in those days was different than it is now.  Nowadays it's an entertainment center.  When I joined there was an old baby aircraft carrier there that the Navy used on old Lake Michigan to practice out of Glenview Naval Air Station.  One of the old flat-tops was still there, but it was decommissioned.  I believe it was the USS Wolverine, but am not sure.  I guess they were scrapping it or something.  They taught us about bulk heads, decks, and ladders that went on stairs, etc.   We were just 17-year old kids, so we used to go up and monkey around on the ship.

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Taking the Oath

About six or seven months after I joined the Reserves I joined the regular Marine Corps.  I remember the day I took the oath when I joined the Marines.  We were in an old building that had a big balcony around it.  We stood on the balcony and an officer down below said, "Repeat after me."  We swore allegiance to the United States government, the Marine Corps, the Naval service and all of that.  They told us that we could go home and say our goodbyes because after that we wouldn't be home anymore.  We were going to boot camp at Parris Island.  They were nice to us in Chicago, but once we were sworn in they started--"Your butt is mine, and you'd better show up for that train or we're going to come and get you."

Frank and I were downtown and said, "Hell, we're staying downtown."  We went to some bar on South State Street and got boozed up.  We got down to the train station just in time to catch it before it left.  There were about 14 of us from the Chicago area that were going to boot camp.  They all had their parents down there hugging and kissing them goodbye.  Frank and I came strolling in with a snoot full and got on the train.  Late that night around 11 o'clock we all bunked down in old Pullman cars and we slept all night.

The next morning we picked up a bunch of recruits in Cleveland, Ohio.  From there we transferred trains somewhere along the line and then we were on some military-type train.  It stopped in Savannah, Georgia and we had a layover because of track problems or something.  Everybody got out to see the town.  At that time Savannah was just a sleepy little southern town with swamp all around.  We had a good time that night.  It was the last good time we would have for a while.  When we got to Yemassee, South Carolina, we boarded an old wooden train that had wooden seats on it much like the trains they had in Korea.  The train didn't go into Parris Island, so we got on a bus that took us there. From there on it was just like going into another world.


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Parris Island

I remember my first day at boot camp.  I think every Marine does.  When we got off the bus there was screaming and yelling.  Having been in the Reserves a little, we were kind of expecting this.  I did anyway, but Frank was kind of giggling.  We were in a state of shock because of the yelling and orders to do this and that.  They beat on us with the swagger stick.  We were a non-person when we fist got there.  They wanted us to devoid ourselves of any other life before we joined.  That was the Marine Corps' method of training.

The first thing they did was run us through the haircut thing.  Oh man, they sheared us completely bald.  Then they took our ID picture.  They took away everything we had from civilian life, even pictures.  We weren't even allowed to keep a wallet.  All contraband had to be thrown away, and everything that was of value was tagged and shipped back to our folks. Everything was regimented by numbers and we had better do it right then.  They issued clothes to us.  We just walked through the line and they started throwing stuff at us.  They piled it on, but nothing fit us.  We got a shave kit and had to go through a physical and dental exam.

They ran us to chow while we were still in our civilian clothes. We saw other guys who had got there maybe just 24 hours before us.  I thought, "Gee, look at them.  Marines already."  Some were from our neighborhood in Illinois, and some of them looked us up while we were at boot camp when they were getting out.  They were maybe two weeks ahead of us, but they were real salty and senior to us.  We had to say "Sir" to them and everything.  These were guys we had grown up with, played baseball with and everything else. There were other platoons training, but we couldn't even talk to them.  We were limited as to where we could go.

One of the first things they gave us when we got to boot camp was a scrub bucket.  Everything loose went into the bucket--things like Barbasol shaving cream and razors.  At the time I didn't have much of a beard at all, but we were supposed to shave every day whether we needed to or not.  I was always getting caught for not shaving.

When I first got to Parris Island I had a pack of cigarettes.  There were three cigarettes in it and I kept them rolled up in my pocket.  We had to wash our clothes in a wash rack located behind the john.  The DI caught me there a week later trying to sneak a cigarette.  Oh boy, I got all kinds of hell.  My punishment was a little bit of everything--pushups, digging a hole and putting sand in it, all kinds of things.  They tried to think up something different all the time.  After a while I think they may have even ran out of ideas.   

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The Chicago Gangsters

Frank Falbert and I stayed together.  We were in the same barracks and same platoon.  Our main drill instructor (DI) was a southerner.  We thought that he was the meanest son of a gun.  We also had a boot corporal who had never been overseas.  He was basically a pretty nice fellow, but the southerner would come in drunk from liberty in Savannah, and it was nothing for him to wake us up at 3 o'clock in the morning and make us wash the deck down with our tooth brushes.  He used to call us the Chicago Gangsters.  There were fourteen of us.  Two of them received bad conduct discharges and another one got an undesirable discharge rather than a bad conduct discharge.  The two that got bad conduct discharges had criminal records, but hadn't told the recruiters.  I think one of them stole a car or something.

There was one other guy that was discharged during training.  He was a World War II veteran who didn't tell anyone when he joined that he had a disability.  He was from Hoopeston, Illinois.  The day he left they gave him an old blue wool suit, a white shirt, a plain tie and a straw fedora.  He couldn't go home in uniform and since they had taken everything civilian away from him when he arrived at Parris Island, that's what he wore.  He looked like some real hick going home.  He was a nice guy and would have made a good Marine, too.  He was a little older than us--probably 24 years old or something like that.

One of the reasons why the DI called me a Chicago gangster was because I had to go to the dentist due to a bad tooth.  I can remember lying in the dentist chair and the dentist drilling on my tooth doing what they call root canal nowadays.  I don't recall having any Novocaine.  Other shots didn't bother me, but I didn't go for shots in the mouth.  The dentist was a Navy lieutenant who slapped me in the head saying, "That don't hurt.  You're a Marine now."  My face looked like I had been in a fight.

About six of us were standing in a row and they put us in front of a Navy psychiatrist.  He had bushy hair and a bushy moustache.  He started asking us questions like, "Do you like girls?" and some embarrassing questions.  My buddy Frank was a wild kid.  He was a big, big muscular kid and Frank started laughing like this: "Mmmmm mmmm...."  So pretty soon I started:  "Mmmmmm mmmm."  All six of us were doubled over laughing, looking at this guy who was asking if we liked girls and that type of thing.  When you're a 17-18 year old kid this stuff is funny.  All of a sudden he said, "Get out of here."  He chewed our DI out for bringing us in and because we acted like that.  From that night on we were on the fecal roster all through boot camp.

I thought Frank was a tough kid.  In fact, they got him to box.  He was a platoon boxer and a heavyweight.  I was a lightweight.  Frank beat the heavyweight of the company that was going through boot camp at that time.  I had two fights and both of them were TKO.  I cut real easy above the eyes, so I lost the fights because they stopped them after I got cut.  They didn't use head gear at that time.  We had heavier gloves, but we didn't have any other protection other than that.

I thought back on my eight years of Catholic grammar school when I was hit by the nuns.  They would grab us by the ears, slap us in the head, and hit us across our knuckles with rulers.  The Franciscan nuns were pretty tough, although some were great like the ones who got out and played baseball.  But they were tough and demanding.  Then when I was in high school the priest and the brothers hit me.  So boot camp was almost laughable to me and it wasn't that tough.

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Daily Life in Boot Camp

As I mentioned earlier, every day was regimented.  Our day started at 5 o'clock in the morning.  The lights went on and there was a lot of yelling and screaming from the DI's.  At first Felder was one of the ones who could never get up.  He was in the bunk above me and they had to roll him out.  He just stood there laughing.  He used to get me in a lot of trouble because of his attitude.  I had no problem getting into my own trouble, but Frank was something else.

Once we were up we had to stand at attention waiting to hear whatever the DI wanted us to do at that particular minute.  There was a lot of physical training, so calisthenics was one of the first things we did.  It was very strenuous.  We were in our skivvy shorts--you know, our underwear.  Then we ran to the showers and the latrines and back.  Maybe the DI would then want a field day at the barracks.  Maybe we trained cleaning our rifle.  Then we went to classes.  We had the old Marine Corps manual.  It was like our Bible in boot camp.

We had the option on Sundays to go to church services at any denomination that was there. It was a respite from training, otherwise we were back cleaning the barracks.  They wanted us to be religious to have something to fall back on.  The old saying, "There are no atheists in the fox hole" is basically true.  I saw guys praying out loud in Korea.

We weren't in Quonset huts like most of the other recruits.  We were in long, wooden barracks called PBY huts that were still left over from World War I.  They were single-story buildings with no insulation whatsoever, and the boards were so warped there were spaces maybe three or four inches between each board.  We could lie in our sacks and see outside.  When it was the rainy season the rain came in and got everything wet.  It got pretty cold at night.  We had blankets, but when the rain came through it soaked our blankets and we had to air them out the next day.  It was like camping out really.  I think we were the last ones to use these particular barracks. They were located in the old 4th Battalion area of Parris Island way out near the swamp and beach. 

I can recall one particular instance in the PBY hut that was funny.  The huts had screen doors that opened in rather than out.  It was the job of the two recruits living nearest the door to hold the door and let everybody run out.  They were the last to go out.  When the instructors told us to fall out we had to do it in so many seconds.  One day the DI decided we weren't falling out fast enough, so he made us go out and come back in about 15 or 20 times.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.  I finally said to one guy, "Don't hold the goddamn door this time."  So when the DIs called out, "Fall out" again, we boomed right through the door and took the door with us.  The DI found out that it was me that did this and he had me do cleaning for him.  I had to spit-shine his shoes.  I was like his houseboy.  I had to come in on my knees, walk to him on my knees, and scrub the deck.

Pushups, running around the sandy parade field and doing laps were so-called punishment.  I already mentioned the scrub bucket that was issued to us on the first day of boot camp.  If we screwed up we had to walk around maybe for hours with that bucket over our head.  The DI beat on it with his swagger stick saying, "Can you hear me?  Hear me?"  It was kind of ridiculous and more like hazing than anything.  Although I don't approve of the hazing that was done in the Marine Corps, I realize that it was just to teach us discipline and respect for the people that give the orders.  

By rights Felder and I should have been the platoon guidons because we had some prior military experience.  One carried the platoon flag and the other was the right guard.  They were like leaders of the platoon, but Felder and I never made it as guidons because we were always in trouble.  A couple of other guys that had been in military school got the job because they were the "good boys." 

Some of the recruits called me "Greek."  One of them hated boot camp.  One night he came over to me and said, "Come on, Greek.  Let's go over the hill tonight.  I didn't know it was going to be like this.  I'm going home."  I told him, "I ain't going any place.  There's nothing out there."  He took off and I never saw him again.  I never regretting joining the Marine Corps when I was in boot camp.  It was kind of a lark.  They didn't really brainwash me like they do so many people because I had been through that with my parochial education.  I'm not saying that the nuns or priests beat us bloody, but they clouted us.

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Gnats and Crawling Rice

When standing in line for chow we couldn't talk to anybody, even if we recognized somebody from our old neighborhood.  There was no talking the first three or four weeks of boot camp.  After that they eased up a bit and we could have some kind of conversation or we could whisper.

At Parris Island they had gnats called sand fleas.  We called them piss ants.  They were tiny and they were all over us eating at us, but when we were standing at attention we didn't dare flinch.  We still had the old field scarves that we had to iron, so we chewed on them instead.  Then if the DI caught us they got in our face and said, "Those are my gnats and you're trying to kill them.  You can't wait until chow.  You want to eat them."  I couldn't help but laugh when he yelled at someone.  Maybe I was a little hysterical.  So many times it was funny to me, so I just chewed on that scarf.    When we got into the mess hall we soaked our scarves wet.  

I remember there was one big, heavy-set kid from Ohio that they kept threatening to throw out.  They told him, "Oh, you're not going make it.  You're too fat."  But he wanted to be a Marine so bad.  He used to say that he was a great eater.  He said to me, "Greek, eat slow.  You can eat a lot more."  This was also the only time we got to sit down, so he and I were always the last two out of that damn mess hall.  The last ones out of the mess hall always got the fecal detail--the shit roster I should say.  I was a skinny little kid who probably weighed maybe 140 pounds when I went into boot camp.  I got out weighing about 155-160 pounds and had probably grown an inch, too.  The big, heavy-set kid lost a lot of weight because of the proper diet.  He ate everything.  I remember one time we had rice, but the rice started crawling because there were maggots in it.  We were so hungry we ate it--really.  We had to serve a week of mess duty, too.  I can remember peeling potatoes with an old potato peeler.  There was a big stack of potatoes because there were hundreds of recruits going through boot camp at that time. 

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Brutal Days

Boot camp was 12 or 14 weeks when I was at Parris Island, but I think they shortened it during the Korean War.  Our days were long and brutal and it seemed like they never ended.  I think lights went out at 10 o'clock, but if the DI had a bug up his butt because he heard somebody whispering or something he would say, "Oh, you guys don't want to sleep."  The lights went back on and we had a field day in the barracks again.  In the morning we had to break our beds down.  The DI came in and dropped a quarter on it.  If it didn't bounce he might tear a hole in the mattress.  If just one guy didn't make his bed up right we could all be punished for it.  We had a couple of guys that goofed up all the time and couldn't keep up. The whole platoon suffered because of it.  They just weren't physically fit. In fact, there was one kid who had a hard time walking.  He had flat feet or something.  He was always in trouble. 

Each of us had a locker box.  It was a big box with a lid on it and we kept all of our personal gear, underwear, and that type of thing in it.  We had another locker that had a hook where we hung our clothes.  Everything had to be placed in a prescribed manner.  In the locker box our soap had to be here and our toothbrush had to be there.  There was one kid who just never got it right.  They made him carry that damn locker box around on his head all the time.  That thing probably weighed 50 pounds with everything in it.  He had to carry it around for hours.

The DI lived in the barracks with us, but he had a wall around his living space.  There was a door, but the walls were open at the top.  We could hear over the wall.  When the DI called us we had to knock on the door and tell him who we were.  There was a generally nice, quiet kid in our barracks who was always screwing up.  The DI called him, the recruit knocked on his door, but the DI said, "I can't hear you.  Who's that, some girl knocking?  If you can't knock on that door, you can't come in."  There was always ridicule.  The DI made that quiet kid climb over the wall instead of coming through the door.  When he dropped down he broke his ankle and that's the last time we saw him.  The DI said that to me one time.  "I can't hear you.  I still can't hear you."  So I knocked the panel out of the door.  Ohhh, did he have a fit then!  He said, "Get in here!"  As I said, I was always getting into trouble for one thing or another. 

I got letters from a girl back home.  Her name was Loretta and she was crazy about me when I left.  She didn't want me to join the Marines.  She was an Italian girl with beautiful long hair.  She sent me pictures of her sitting on a railing with her hair hanging down.  My DI saw this and asked what I was going to do with them.  He said that he liked the hair on her and he took the pictures.  It wasn't that he confiscated them.  He just said, "Oh, Boy.  She's a pretty girl.  Let me have those pictures."  He said he was going to snow somebody else by saying that this was his girlfriend.  I never did have any pictures because he took them. I don't think he should have been a DI.  He just wasn't tough enough in all sincerity.  We didn't give him any respect because he didn't deserve any.  He was good at drilling and this and that.  Back then we did a lot of what we called trooping and stomping.  Drilling, formations, right flank, left flank, right obliques, left obliques, rear marching--just all sorts maybe hours at a time until we almost dropped.  It was hot. 

A lot of things I learned in boot camp were a lark to me, but I took my training seriously.  A lot of guys didn't like the drilling and they cussed and moaned.  I did, too.  Frank never liked tearing down the M1.  We had to do it on the spot.  We had done that so much in the Reserves, cleaning all those old rifles.  I used to clean his rifle and he spit-shined my shoes.  One time I was cleaning his rifle and he hadn't put the bolt all the way back properly.  It closed on me and pinched my leg.  I still have a little scar as one of the remembrances.  I found out later that Gen. Ray Davis was commanding officer of the 9th Infantry Battalion in Chicago, but I guess I had already gone regular by the time he arrived.

We were required to go to the rifle range for two weeks.  The rifle range was a whole different area of Parris Island.  There were Quonset huts and little palm trees.  There were sidewalks, whereas we just had all sand.  At first we learned to snap in with the rifle.  There was no firing at all--just learning positions and how to adjust the belt in combat.  We were not taught by our regular DI's on the rifle range.  We were taught by rifle experts.  By that time we were pretty well disciplined.  Each of us had to qualify at the end of our rifle training.  On the day of qualification it was a rainy day.  They took turns taking us down to an area called the butts.  We were standing in trenches that had back drops.  In front of us were targets on pulleys.  Someone pulled the pulley and we fired at the target.  They then pulled the target back up after we fired so they could see what our firing score was.  The day I fired I had a heck of a time because my sling--the buckle for my sitting position--came loose.  I lost all the pressure of the strap and I almost didn't qualify.  To my understanding, if we didn't qualify with the rifle we couldn't finish boot camp.  They gave me time to stretch the rifle sling and I qualified as sharp shooter.

As boot camp continued we got to go to a movie once and we got to go to the PX after we came back from the rifle range.  Most of our training was done by that time.  At the beginning of boot camp we never got a good word.  No 'job well done'. No pat on the back.  Toward the end of our training the staff sergeant sometimes told us that we looked really good.  There was competition among the platoons to see which one was the most outstanding 'honor platoon'.  Esprit de Corps was learned in boot camp.  Our platoon learned how to work as a unit and we worked really well together.  We came in second place during the competition.

On graduation day the stands were full of people.  We wore our uniforms and they presented our emblems to us.  When we first got to Parris Island we were issued dungarees and dress greens.  We had to wear greens when we went to church.  During the graduation ceremony we wore our greens.  Even though I was in good physical shape when I first got to boot camp because I had always played baseball, football, and everything else, I went in the Marine Corps as a weakling.  As I mentioned earlier, I gained weight and height during boot camp.  I came out thinking I could whip the world.  I had learned discipline and how to work together.  I had never had that feeling before.  I don't think that even a kid that went to military school was as proud as those of us who succeeded in finishing boot camp.  After graduation the DI's came up to us, shook our hand, and said they were sorry they had been so tough on us.  We were Marines now, and they respected us.

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Respecting the DI

Two of our DI's weren't really tough Marines.  As I have already mentioned, I don't think they should have been DI's, but we came to respect the tough southern DI after we left boot camp.  We respected him for the discipline he taught us and the respect we had for ourselves and others.  We found out that he had been a World War II veteran in the Pacific and he had the ribbons to prove it.  Just before our graduation from boot camp he came down with recurring Malaria and he was very ill.  We respected him so much for the training we got from him and what he taught us about the Marines that a whole bunch of us went to see him in the hospital after graduation. At one time you probably had bosses that you didn't personally like, but you respected them for what they did and the position they were in.  The DIs were good teachers.


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Professional Mess Man

After graduation we got a ten-day leave that included travel time, too.  We took the Greyhound home, so that was a day we lost.  We didn't fly like they do nowadays.  Most of our time home was spent with family and our parents showing us off.

When leave was over we returned to Parris Island to get our orders.  A lot of our guys went into the Marine Air Wing.  We boarded a troop train and came across county down through Louisiana.  I'm trying to remember how many were on the train.  It was about a five-day trip.  We slept in the seats and on the floor.  There were no sleeping quarters on it because it was a military train with just a lot of seats.

We traveled through Louisiana and Oklahoma and then had a layover in Las Vegas due to a switching problem or something.  We got off the train a little bit and most of us snuck off.  One of our DIs from Parris Island was there and he was in charge of everything because the train was full of recruits that were going out to San Francisco to be shipped overseas.  He tried to stop us from leaving the train, but we said, "Ahh, go to Hell."  By that time he wasn't our DI anymore.  He wasn't God anymore.  We got out and had a couple of beers.  At that time Las Vegas was just a little crossroad with a few little taverns and slot machines.

From there we went on up to San Francisco and went to Treasure Island.  Treasure Island was a flat cement island actually next to another island called Yerba Buena Island.  The island was originally built for the San Francisco World's Fair.  Alcatraz was off in the distance about a mile away out in the bay.  At that time the train used to run the Open Bay Bridge.  (Not the Golden Gate Bridge, but the inner bridge further in the harbor.)

The last couple of weeks that Frank and I were in California, they had us chasing prisoners.  There was a federal  military prison on Yerba Buena island.  It was a bad brig.  At that time there wasn't the uniform military justice that the services go by these days.  It was the old Rocks and Shoals.  In those days if a prisoner escaped from you, you had to serve his time.  So here we were at this bottom boot camp chasing them.  These guys were bad.  Some of them had committed murder. They were everything--Army, Navy, Marines.  They were waiting for court-martial or already had been court-martialed.  The brig warden was a green warrant officer and there was a master sergeant, too.  Boy, those prisoners were mean son-of-a-guns.  They were put on work duty to pick up paper on the roads on Yerba Buena Island, sweep the streets, and that kind of thing.  Guards armed with shotguns had to take them out and then bring them in to the back of the brig.  They had to strip down completely.  The warrant officer and master sergeant had long rubber hose like billy clubs and they had to do a cavity search.  The prisoners bent over and the guards would whack them with the hose.  Oh man, I didn't want to go to the brig in that place.  Frank and I had duty there for one week and we were so glad to get off that detail when they finally gave us our new orders.  Frank was a big strapping boy, but he was more scared there than I was.  He was tough, but he was an only child and inside he was kind of a mama's boy.

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Illegal Immigrants

There were three Spanish-speaking guys that used to be in our tank in California--Cruze, Chavez, and I forget the other one.  I used to be down in the driver seat singing God Bless America while they were chatting in Spanish.  The Mexicans and people from South America used to illegally cross the border and follow a ridge line.  When we were at Pendleton we used to see them walking along the ridgeline.  Being the "Spanish-speaking tank", the Lieutenant sent us over there to corral the people because they were on government property. We had to call out to them, bring them down, and turn them over to immigration.  I used to feel so sorry for those poor people.  They had walked all the way from South America just to get to the United States and some of them hardly had any shoes on their feet.  Chavez could talk to them.  When we were sent to Guam I was in the bunk next to Chavez.  When he woke up in the morning he said, "Que horas es?"  I had taken Spanish in high school so I tried to answer him.  I told him, "Ocho el", but the fact that I took Spanish in high school didn't really help me understand the Spanish-speaking guys on our crew. 


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Guam

Frank shipped out to Guam one week before I did. I was instructed to do a week of mess duty in California.  After that I got onboard a ship to Hawaii.  I had never been on a big ship before.  We crossed the harbor from San Francisco and went over to Oakland to pick up supplies.  The guys were seasick already.  I saw guys lying in the well decks where the stairwells came down.  They laid there for a week at a time and couldn't eat.  They just laid there.  I was never seasick.  Just like what I had daydreamed about in grammar school, this was a big adventure for me.

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Sightseeing in Hawaii

I did a couple of days of mess duty on the ship and a few days of mess duty in Hawaii.  We stayed in Hawaii about five days.  At that time National City was the big liberty town.  That's where all the sailors were.  One thing I can honestly say is that I never had any problem with American sailors.  I got along with them.  You hear about bar fights, but I never did fight with sailors until years later when I got into a fight with an English sailor in San Diego.

We got to see the sights.  I found out that the best way to see someplace was to get on a bus, ride to the end of the line, then start working my way back.  I ended up in some really nice neighborhoods where people had never seen servicemen.  I was treated great.  That's how it always seemed to work in any major town I ever visited or went through.  We had a free weekend once and we went down to Waikiki beach.  We tried to swim one day, but the coral was so bad we got all caught up and couldn't even swim at Waikiki.  We went to Pearl Harbor where we saw a lot of old battleships from World War Two.  It was only a couple of years after the war and they hadn't salvaged everything yet.  We could still see parts of some of the ships sticking up out of the water and oil floating around.

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Social Life on Guam

From there I got on the ship again and went to Guam.  I served mess duty again a couple of days on the ship.  Everybody got a turn.  Once I got to Guam they put me in the infantry and right away I was on mess duty for a week.  I was a professional mess man by that time.  I knew all the shortcuts where to hide out and how to just get a mop and walk around like I was doing something.

Guam was a really pretty island.  It had a beautiful climate, but sometimes it got hot.  In fact, when we were on Guam we used to have what they called summer hours.  We started at 6 o'clock in the morning, had chow at 1 o'clock, and then after that we were secure for the day because it was too hot to go down in the tank to work.

When I got to Guam a bunch of civilians in a construction battalion were working there.  They went over on big contracts with big bonuses.  They stayed so many months and then got a bonus.  They worked for a private construction company under contract with the government. At the time there were no super highways on Guam.  I understand that there are now super highways, big hotels and everything on Guam. 

Frank ended up an engineer or something on Guam.  When I got in tanks we were right near each other, so we used to go drinking at night.  There was nothing to do on Guam but get drunk on 3.2 beer.  With four guys at a card table, we could pile a pyramid of beer cans so high we couldn't see the guy across from us and still be sober enough to get back to the Quonset.  After I got out of the Marine Corps I ran into a former Navy Chief who once had a bar in Apra harbor on Guam after he got out of the Navy.  He married a civil service worker and stayed on Guam.  He loved it over there. 

They had movies every night on the base.  There was an outdoor theater with welded benches made out of old World War II landing mats.  Even when it started raining it didn't matter to anyone.  They just kept sitting there.  There were also some USO shows and some of them were hilarious.  Everybody had a dog there, and there were also wild dogs.  They would take off for a week and we wouldn't see them.  Then they would come back and be sleeping at our feet on the bunk bed.  One particular USO show was an Australian show that was kind of operatic.  There was a soprano in the show singing high notes.  Just like it was staged, two dogs came up from one side of the stage.  One dog came and sat near her just looking at her while she sang, and then he started howling.  Everybody started laughing and it broke up the show.  It was really corny type humor, but the dog howling at the singer was hilarious.

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Venlos Starts With "V"

At that time Chiang Kai-shek was the leader of the Republic of China.  I was in an 81mm mortar border patrol when I first got to Guam with the 5th Marines.  My job was to carry the base plate around, along with my own gear.  Oh, it was hot in that jungle!  There was a little PX on Guam and I saw a list asking for volunteers for tanks.  They were sending 33 tank men to China to help get the Americans out of China before the communists took over.  I thought tank duty would be a lot better than being in an 81mm patrol in the jungle, so I put my name on the list.  Usually they started choosing alphabetically A, B, C, but for some reason they started at the bottom of the alphabet. Three of us had names at the second half of the alphabet.  I don't know why they wanted to have people volunteer for tanks when they could have assigned people that were just arriving on Guam.  Maybe it was because of our size.  I know that some big guys were in tanks, but most of them were about my size with my build. I think that probably my selection for tanks really saved my life.  There weren't too many guys in the Brigade that came back from Korea.  I don't think there were more than five thousand that went over, and that included the Air Wing, support groups, and everything else.  I once read that for every combat Army guy that was on the line there were twelve people supplying them.  I don't think the Marine Corps had that many. 

One of the volunteers was a guy named Holden.  He had been in that brig on Yerba Buena.  He did his time and then was shipped to Guam.  He and I got full liberty one day and he bought a huge locker box made of cheap wood.  It was actually bigger than a locker box.  It was almost the size of a coffin.  He and I got pretty boozed up and were sitting on the back of a liberty truck that picked us up after liberty in town.  We were on a real bumpy road--Holden, his coffin, and I, when the truck hit a bump and the coffin fell off, breaking into a million pieces.  He jumped off to try to collect the pieces.  I was sitting there with a hangover, trying to sleep when the truck hit another bump.  I flew out.  I woke up the next morning in the ditch alongside the road, all beat up, dirty, and in a ripped uniform.  I snuck back into camp.  Nobody had even missed me.

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Learn As You Go

There was no tank school.  I was just assigned to a tank and it was "learn as you go."  I immediately became part of a tank group on Guam.  I was assigned as assistant driver on Joe Walsh's tank.  He was my first commander and was one of the nicest guys.  He was originally from Peoria, Illinois, and was a career Marine who had made it all through World War II.  We trained on Sherman tanks.  They were medium-sized tanks that had been used in the Pacific during World War II and we had never brought them back to the States.  They stayed on Guam.

There was no driver's education for tanks.  It was much like luck.  As an assistant driver of a Marine Corps tank I was supposed to be able to know every position on a tank so I could replace somebody else if they were hit.  I had to learn about the gun--how to load it, how to fire it.  It was all done just by training.  We had impact areas where we went out and fired, and everybody had a chance to fire. 

We trained on what was called Brigade Hill.  It was  more of a plateau.  Our tank park was maybe a mile away from where our Quonset huts were.  A typhoon came through one day.  We had our tanks in a tank park on the edge of a cliff at the plateau.  We had covered them with tarps to keep the salt air off of them.  We had secured the tanks, but one of them probably hadn't been locked in gear.  When the typhoon came it blew that tank over the bluff.  It rolled down and we lost it.

I guess we all had some problems learning how to drive a tank. I heard that in the old days a driver turned left or right based on someone else in the tank kicking him in the shoulder.  We always had radios in the tank for communication.  A Sherman tank was pretty hard to drive.  It was nothing like driving a car--it was like driving a truck.  Unlike the Pershing tanks that we later took to Korea, the Sherman had a clutch.  Pershings had a shift, but not a clutch.  To get the Sherman in gear I stood up, "double-clutched" it, and drove it standing up.  Newer tanks were much easier to drive.  After I got out of service I had a milk route for a while.  I drove a Divco truck standing up so I could get in and out.  It had a full back seat and was much like driving a tank.

When learning how to drive the Sherman the hatch was open.  Needless to say, during combat while there was shooting going on, we were buttoned up.  The tank had a periscope, but it was just hard to see with it so I always had the tendency to take my Marine Corps K-bar [knife] and stick it in the hatch to keep the hatch open.  That's how I got some shrapnel in my face one time.

Sherman and Pershing tanks had five-man crews.  There was a driver, assistant driver, tank commander, loader and gunner.  The loader was on the left side of the turret and the gunner was on the right side under the tank commander who was sitting on a higher seat.  It was very confining and I can see where some people just couldn't take that.  I remember there was this one rookie who became claustrophobic during combat.  He was my loader in Korea.  He was a nice, quiet, nerd-type, but he was very frail.  He got wore out lifting 90mm shells and loading them.  There was a trick to loading.  The loader had to jam the shells home, back away, and get his arm out of the way before it recoiled.  It reminds me of when I was a kid, spotting pins in a bowling alley.  I had to get out of the way when that ball was coming or the pins would get me.

There were three tank platoons on Guam, and one went to China. Altogether there were some 30 tanks on Guam--five to a platoon and two to a section.  Then there was the platoon sergeant's or platoon leader's tank.  The Sherman tanks on Guam had a 105 Howitzer.  That was not a flat trajectory gun like the 90mm.  The flat trajectory guns had more velocity.  The Sherman tanks must have been brought back to the States after we left China because I don't see where they would have had that many tanks stateside.  In Korea we used Pershing tanks.  I trained on Guam for probably six to seven months. 

We had to do maintenance on the tanks.  They were pretty well broken in, but like most equipment, if we didn't run the tank there would be problems.  The Sherman was old, but it was pretty dependable.  During peacetime it was always boring having to clean the tanks.  The inside of the tank was all painted white.  I think that was for light when we were locked up because other than a little electric light there was no light down the driver's hatch.  The inside of the tank was like a hospital, it was so clean.  There was a lot of brass and spent ammunition shells. 

I don't think I ever learned everything there was to learn about driving tanks.  There was so much the drivers needed to know.  Later on I was a tank platoon sergeant teaching kids about the tanks.  I was constantly studying because the war was still going on.  I wanted to send those kids over to Korea with as much training as I could give them.


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"New" China Marines

I was on one of the tanks that went to China for about three weeks.  The term "China Marines" usually refers to pre- or post-World War II Marines that were captured on Corregidor.  I think they were from the old 4th Marine Regiment.  We were the "new" China Marines.

The Chinese communists were coming down from the north and taking over all of China.  At that time Chiang Kai-shek's government was basically a public government put in by the United States.  He had been an ally to us during World War II, so he was more or less established as the generalissimo in China.  Mao Tse-Tung was trying to introduce communism into China, which was ripe for it.  In any history that I have read about China it was always controlled by warlords and different tribes.  That's why there are so many different dialects.

The people were just dirt poor and everybody was trying to evacuate to get away from the communists that were coming in and slaughtering people.  I guess a lot of them thought that they were going to be much like the Japanese during World War II.  I guess Mao's people probably did do a lot of political killing.  There was a lot of turmoil.

There was an American missionary town about twenty miles inland from where we were based, and our job was to keep the road to it open.  We were basically a show of support. Our government wanted to make sure that all Americans that wanted to get out could get out of China.  Later on a lot of Americans and missionaries were trapped in China and were prisoners of the Chinese.  They went through hell during the days of communism.

We had a shuttle service type thing.  Two tanks went up to the missionary town one day, had a layover overnight, and then returned to the base.  On the way back to the base we met two tanks going up to the town. Along with the tanks there was a platoon of infantry just to keep the road open.  Periodically there was some shooting at us from way up in the hills.  They could have been communists, gang bangers, or maybe a peasant who didn't like the dust we were raising.  Whoever they were they were such poor shots everybody kind of laughed at them.  We were instructed not to fire back and we didn't.  I don't know of anybody that was really wounded, but a couple of years before some Marines had been killed over there.

China stunk.  The people there used to go around and pick up the garbage that had been tossed off the fantails of the ships.  They were like street people going through garbage dumps behind a McDonalds in the States.  They were starving.


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Flame Thrower Tanks

We were in China only three weeks because the missionary town was secured by then.  We were the last Marines to come out of China at that time.  We went back to Guam for two or three months in late 1948, and then we went back to the States in April or May of 1949.  I was then assigned to a flame thrower tank at Camp Del Mar as an assistant driver.  I knew nothing about it, but I was trained by a tank commander who was a legendary World War II Marine.  "Slope Plate MacDonald" was an old staff sergeant who had been on tanks in the South Pacific.  By "old" I mean that he was maybe 26 years old or something and I was only 19 years old at that time.  He was a gruff old guy who had been on tanks in the Pacific during World War II.  The front of a tank has a slope plate.  MacDonald was bald, so he got the name Slope Plate MacDonald.  He was a character--and a hard drinker. He was one of those guys who always complained that we were not doing our jobs right, but he was kind of a sweetheart, too. 

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Soaking Wet in Khaki's

There was a long pier going out in the ocean at Oceanside back then.  I think they rebuilt it later on, but it no longer went out that far.  At the end of the original pier there was a bar where we could buy beer and sit around.  When the surf came in the pier moved up and down.  We could actually feel it moving as the surf waves broke against the pilings down below.  The pier was probably two stories high off the water.  One day I was walking on the beach up to the bar when all of a sudden there came an emergency vehicle.  They could drive on the ferry like an ambulance.  I said, "What the hell's going on?"  MacDonald and another guy were all drunked up and they bet each other that they could jump off the pier and swim back to shore.   MacDonald was big like an inner tube himself, but said he could beat the other guy.  They both jumped in while the surf was pounding near the pilings and started swimming.  One guy couldn't make it, so he grabbed hold of a ladder that was on the piling.  MacDonald said he could make it, but all of the sudden he disappeared underneath the pier somewhere.  Someone called rescue and they came down to search for him.  By that time I had gotten there and got the story of what the hell happened.  I thought, "Oh, jeez."  I felt so bad.  I started walking back to town.  Across from the USO there was a new nightclub--the 501 Club or something like that.  We walked in and there was MacDonald sitting at the bar soaking wet in khaki's.  I couldn't believe it.

One of the tankers I served with had a 1939 Chrysler or something.  It was one of those old gangster-type cars.  He used to drive everybody around in his car.  One day Bill Rayfield, Joe Welch, Ranky and Steve Duro were going up to Los Angeles.  They each had a jug of wine sitting in the car.  Somebody got drunk coming back and they hit a light pole.  All of the electrical wires came down on it, but no one got hurt.  One of the newspapers, the Los Angeles Times or Examiner--whichever one it was back then, had a picture of these Marines sitting on the curb with their jugs of wine, the car up against a power pole with the wires down, and sparks flying.  The text under the picture said, "The Marines have landed and have the situation well at hand."  That's the kind of characters those guys were. 

Steve Duro was a big American Indian.  He was a World war II veteran who never reached the rank of corporal because he always got busted for drinking.  That old saying, "Indians can't handle fire water" was so true.  After just two or three beers he was a falling-down drunken idiot.  But that guy in combat was one of the bravest guys.  He evacuated some of the wounded guys in Korea.  More on him later.

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Sands of Iwo Jima

At the time I was at Del Mar, a movie company started filming the Sands of Iwo Jima starring John Wayne.  Our platoon was a Headquarters and Service platoon that had two flame tanks and two dozer tanks.  Tank platoons were all in fours at that time.  I was on MacDonald's tank and we were supposed to mix some napalm for one of the movie shots when the Marines were taking Suribachi.  The tanks were down and some still pictures were taken with John Wayne in the background.  We were mixing napalm and Slope Plate MacDonald said he knew how to do this.  We mixed a batch of flammable gel in a big kettle.  I remember pouring it in a big container with a big funnel.  It was so thick it was almost like Jello.  When we poured it in there it just ran out of the tube and down on the ground, but we finally got it right.

I think the Sands of Iwo Jima was filmed at Camp Del Mar and Camp Pendleton for 33 days in 1949 in late summer or early fall.  The weather was hard to tell out in California.  I usually go by weather, but California was always pretty hot or decent.  During the movie most of our time was riding that detail because MacDonald's tank was in the movie.  I got to meet John Wayne.  He was just the nicest, cordial, congenial person you'd want to know.  I not only shook hands with him, I have his autograph.  We gave him a ride in the tank one day.  I even went out drinking with him.  John Agar, Shirley Temple's ex-husband, was a drunk.  He came on the set drunk every day, and every day he was drunker.  They had to reshoot his scenes over and over.  Forrest Tucker was also in the movie--he was a nice man.  There were a couple of other prominent movie stars whose names I don't remember.

Camp Del Mar is the base across 0101 that was on the beach.  That's where our barracks were, but our tank park was out at Las Pulgas Canyon.  There were tractor trailer bus-type things that took us to the tank park every morning for training and working on the tanks.  The battle scenes were filmed on the beach right near our barracks, so we were down there every day watching them.  They had the tanks standing by for whatever they wanted us to do.  It was really nice duty and the rest of the company envied us.

My parents were proud of me and they watched the movie.  There was one scene in the original movie that was cut out--I guess because of the length or something.  The scene was of John Wayne critiquing five of us tankers who were standing in a circle.  I was there wearing a jacket that said Zalinski on it because I had spilled oil or something on mine.  At one time I had pictures of me with John Wayne, but every time one of my old girlfriends saw a picture of me with John they asked if they could have the picture.  Like a dummy I gave it to them.  I think they wanted it for John Wayne, not for me.

When the film came out they had a big premiere at Oceanside.  There was a big party down in Hollywood for all the Marines that had participated in the filming.  It was a nice get-together with a lot of starlets.  It was summer, so we wore our khakis.  That's when those of us in the Marine Corps still wore full khaki uniform, even the tie and our overseas hat.  Our clothes were cotton and all starched and ironed.  We had free time after hours, but we usually didn't have enough money to do much.  When we went on liberty or when we sent our clothes to the laundry they came back like a board.  We had to get our foot in the khakis and work our way down through it to open the legs because there was so much starch in it.  We didn't dare sit down before an inspection.  When we went on liberty and were out carousing all night, the next morning we looked like hell.  So we took those khakis to the tailor to get them steam-pressed and all that starch came back again.

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M26 Tanks Arrive

After the movie was completed the Marine Corps received four Pershing tanks.  It was the M26 tank (M4 A3E 8).  I think they got five of them on the east coast.  At Camp Lejeune they had four.  We had four on the west coast and for some reason I was put in the M26 towards the end.  That was a new tank that had never seen any real action in World War II.  It was produced during the end of World War II and the army had it.  I knew one fellow that was on one of them in Europe towards the end of the war, but he had never seen any action.  I guess they had them in mothballs while we were still using the old Shermans.  The flame thrower tank that I trained on was a Sherman.  The nomenclature for the Pershing was an M26.  There were different technical things on the tanks.  They were different in suspension.  Some only had a 75mm gun, some had the 105, and some had the long 75 that could shoot a flat trajectory shot. 

With the old Sherman tanks we put them in fourth gear, flew down the hill and kicked up mud.  We kind of babied those tanks stateside because we had a lot of breakdowns.  Once we got over that hill we ran the hell out of them and they seemed to run better.  There was a lieutenant who had just come out of tank school in Fort Knox and he was supposed to be the expert.  He wanted us to do everything by the book.

After we got the M26's we did a lot of training and firing on them.  The range at Camp Pendleton had a flat trajectory and there was concern that shells might bounce off or skip beyond their range and accidentally do damage in one of those small towns outside of Camp Pendleton.  Because of that concern and because we were kind of experimenting with our new M26's, we went down on the beach at San Onofre near San Clemente to fire 90mm shells over the ocean.  The Coast Guard cleared a two or three mile field so we could fire rounds and then they took the velocity down.  When we fired the gun there was a BOOM.  It was phenomenal to watch the round go.  We got a report back, "Cease fire!"  The shells were going too far.  They went out to where some private yachts were in the water near San Clementi island, so we had to cease fire.  The gun on the M26 was terrific. 

We had a platoon master sergeant named William Koontz.  Almost everything I learned about the M26 I learned from ol' Willy, who was another Marine Corps legend.  He was a holder of the Navy Cross from World War II.  Willy later became a warrant officer and finished his 35-year Marine Corps career.  He was just a real fatherly type.  He always wore his head shaved or had it real short on the sides.  He was a big, heavy man and sometimes we wondered how the heck he got in the turret in the tank.  Although I already knew about tanks, this was a whole new tank, gun and everything.  That man was a storyteller. We learned so much from him by just listening.  When we went out to have a night field party we had a big bon fire and, like a bunch of Boy Scouts, we really just listened to him tell sea stories.  We knew that most of them were true.

Willy Koontz told us things that a book couldn't tell us.  The ground in California is hollow and the least little bit of rain could wash out certain spots.  The water just stayed there.  One particular time after a rain we had to drive our tanks down in a creek bed.  Our tank was the first to go down and the tank got stuck in the mud.  Koontz came over and said, "Wait.  I'll show you something we did in World War II when something like this happened to our tank."  He got a log, took the side fenders off the tank, and tied the log onto it.  Another tank was in the front trying to pull us out while our tank was pushed from behind.  We finally got it out by walking it out that way.  Years later the editor of the Tanker Association newsletter had a picture of a tank without side fenders and asked me about it.  I told him that it was my tank and I explained what had happened.  He said that he had been trying to figure the picture out forever.


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Korean War Begins

Shortly after the movie detail ended we got a new platoon leader. He was a baby-faced lieutenant who had been through World War II and had all of his ribbons (including the Navy Cross) on his uniform, but he looked as young as I did.  He was one of the nicest lieutenants you would ever want to know.  Quite a few of us had taken the test to make corporal.  We had a formation in uniform one day and the names of the ones who had made corporal were called.  Mine wasn't called and I wondered, "What in the heck did I do?"  Before the lieutenant dismissed the formation he gave the corporal certificates out.  In the service we were usually known by our last name unless our name was really close to somebody else's name.  The lieutenant said, "Venlos, I want to see you in my office when this formation is over."  I thought, "Holy Christ.  What the hell did I do?"  I knocked on the door of his office and when he told me to come in I stood at attention and said, "PFC Venlos reporting as the lieutenant requested."  He held up a paper and said, "This is your corporal warrant.  When you go to the PX and get a haircut you'll get this warrant."  He was on me for getting a haircut because I was just never one of those that always shaved or got a haircut.  So I went to the PX, got a haircut, and I guess made corporal for getting it. Ha ha.

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Bastard Platoon

The Pershing tanks in our platoon were constantly breaking down due to overheating, broken fan belts and things like that.  The other tankers in the two platoons that still had the Sherman tanks used to pass us up and laugh.  When we went out firing and we broke down, someone had to come out and retrieve our tank or tow it or fix something on it.  There was always something going wrong.  We found out later that the problem was we weren't running them enough.  That was because of budget cuts.  I think the same thing happened when the new Abrams tanks first came out.  When they came out of Detroit they had passed all the tests, but once they got them in the field they were constantly breaking down due to filters and that sort of thing.  Everyone had a lot of faith in the old Sherman tanks, so when the Korean War broke out nobody wanted to be out in the M26's.  

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Liberty in Oceanside

My buddy Harold Waldoch used to pull liberty in Oceanside.  It was close to the base and it was cheap.  He and I used to go down there when we couldn't even afford to sit at the bar.  There was a little ice cream cafe place there, and during the winter months we would go down to the bar.  It was cold and nobody was swimming, but we just used to drink coffee and ice cream there.  It was real Boston coffee, so we got cup after cup of it.  We used to play the pinball machine that was there since we didn't have a heck of a lot of money.  We were making something like $75 or $80 per month.  Back in those days we got paid in cash on payday.

Waldoch wasn't in my outfit, but because our names began with "V" and "W", we were always one of the last ones to get paid.  We were also the last ones to go on liberty.  Being last in line for a payout, Harold and I used to either go down to Oceanside or go up to Los Angeles to see his cousins or uncle.  Even without money we tried to pick up girls.  Harold did meet a pretty redheaded girl and he got pretty serious about her.  He didn't know that she really didn't want to get serious.  She had a friend--kind of a blonde floozy, and they fixed me up with her.  I was never much of a guy that could talk to women, so I never had that BS line.  My wife will deny this, but I was always kind of bashful.

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Peacetime Was Boring

I was in Pendleton and we were still in training when the Korean War broke out.  I immediately looked Korea up because of my interest in geography.  In town we heard stories about the main side 5th Marines training.  We weren't with the 5th Marines--our tank platoon was at Camp Del Mar.  We were separate from them and not in the same barracks with them, but we sometimes trained with them doing tank problems with tank infantry.

I almost welcomed the Korean War because peacetime was so boring.  There was constant drilling because most of the other Marines had not been in the Corps as long as the three years I had already served. When Harold Waldoch and I were on liberty, drinking in a bar and half in our cup, we asked ourselves why we had joined the Marine Corps in the first place.  It was peacetime and we were so sick of training.  I used to make the statement that I wished a little banana war would start up someplace.  Later when we were in Korea, Harold and I used to look each other up and we ran across each other quite a bit.  But whenever tanks got hit or something he would worry.  He was a radio operative and he worried about me.  He told me, "You got what you prayed for.  You're the one responsible for this damn war."

Waldoch was late meeting me in LA once, and when he arrived he said that there was a big brawl in our barracks.  Infantry guys were getting so bored they started fights among themselves.  They always said, "A mission Marine is a happy Marine."  Waldoch said that two guys were duking it out, but he didn't know why.  Fighting went on all the time among the infantry guys.  Infantrymen were just a different breed of people.  In town there were lots of fights among buddies.  There was one platoon against another platoon in bar room brawls.  In fact, they wanted to close the whole town of Oceanside down because the mayor was complaining that there were too many fights in town.  General Graves Blanchard Erkstine, the commanding general of the Marine Corps at the time, said, "Yeah? Go ahead and do it and see how the town exists without the Marines."  Another time they didn't want to allow the Marine dependents (kids) to go to the school in Oceanside.  They weren't taxpayers in the town at that time.  There was always animosity between most service towns and a big base.  Most of them were there to make money off of the servicemen or the towns wouldn't be there in most cases.  General Erkstine said they would have to close the town if no Marines were allowed in town.

At first we didn't pay much attention to it when the Korean War broke out, but then as it started heating up and the reports came back about the T34 tanks and how Seoul had fallen within a couple of days we thought, "What the heck's going on?  Maybe we'll be called up."  Everybody was kind of wishing that.  Why would we wish that?  It's a male thing, I think.  It's to prove your manhood, I suppose.  Or the adventure of it.  You never think that you're the one that's not going to come back.  You're invincible, especially the Marines.

Most of the guys pulled liberty in civilian clothes.  One particular day I was walking on the beach down in Oceanside.  This was a week or five days or something after the Korean War started. They announced over the loudspeaker PA system on the beach, "All Marines report back to your units immediately."  All of a sudden a cheer went up.  Everybody started evacuating the beach.  It was almost emptied.  Everybody was so glad that we were finally getting to do something.  We thought it was another little banana war, but it was more than that.

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Lots of Excitement

We immediately started packing company equipment, ammunition and everything in big crates.  We had to train other platoons to operate the M26s because a lot of them had never driven one until a couple of days before we loaded them on trains.  A tank is a tank, but there was some difference to the driver in feeling the weight.  The M26 was more maneuverable on hills than a Sherman.  In a Sherman tank a driver could come off of a hill in fifth (high) gear.  Let it fly and the tank was down.  But with the Pershing M26, the highest gear to come down a hill was third gear.  It was supposed to be put down in reverse and eased down.  While I was in training earlier, I was grounded for thirty days because I had driven my tank down in third gear instead of putting it in low.  At that time I was assistant police sarge for Dent, an Asiatic character.  We were kind of close.

I remember going to main side and putting the tanks on flat train cars.  I think there were 25 tanks, so we were two or three days doing this. Everybody was excited, but it was hot and we worked our butts off.  I remember the day that we secured all the tanks.  They loaded us on tractor trailer buses and drove us down through Oceanside.  I remember a lot of people along the road cheering us and saying, "Come back."  It was really heart-warming the way the people sent us off.  It was like that almost all the way down to San Diego.  We were on old Highway 101.  It wasn't a super highway like it is now.  We had to go through Del Mar and all those little towns.

When we got to San Diego we offloaded our Pershing tanks onto a landing ship dock (LSD).  There were two tanks abreast of each other on the LSD.  Two were in front of us. A landing ship tank (LST) is a ship that they could unload or load and go out to sea.  The name of our LST was the Fort Marion.  They flooded the inside of the well deck to make it lower so they could float smaller boats like landing craft mediums (LCMs) into it.  Those usually held a couple of tanks.  They were in the bow of the ship and could be driven off by pumping out the water.

This was in July of 1950.  As we were getting out of the harbor and heading out to sea, we were up on deck as a band played the Marine Corps Hymn.  Suddenly a loud speaker said, "Tankers report down to the well deck."  A sailor had evidently left open some kind of valve and the water came in and flooded out some of the tanks.  My tank was one of them, but it didn't have any damage to it.  Two other tanks were lost completely (they wouldn't start) because salt water got into their engine and wires were destroyed.  They were probably rehabbed later when they got to Pusan.  We lost some ammunition, too.  We had loaded all new ammunition called high velocity armor piercing (HVAP).  It had a shell that had never been used during World War II.  We didn't know what the capacity of the shell was because we had straight-loaded it.  We had no high explosive (HE) ammunition and we had no white phosphorus (WP). 

We sailed in a convoy reminiscent of World War II.  I remember one day I went up on deck and looked around.  I saw ships all around just as far as I could see.  I don't know how many ships were in the convoy.  I thought there was supposed to be something like 50 or 75. Maybe it was bigger.  It was exciting.  I thought, "Oh boy!  This is really good!"  About a third or maybe half of our outfit was made up of World War II guys.  They had been through war and they had elected to stay in the service because they liked it.  War was part of their job.

There was gambling on the ship, but I never did gamble much.  When I first got to Guam I was the new kid in the neighborhood, so I didn't say anything when all the sergeants were gambling.  They had pots of $300-$400, which was a lot of money back then.  Some of them were pretty good gamblers.  One guy sent home $15,000 to his wife in the two years he was on Guam.  He had a stack of money order receipts.  On the ship to Korea the guys who had money sat there for days on end gambling during almost the three weeks it took us to sail there.  They paid someone to bring them a sandwich or coffee from chow and just played cards constantly.

I did a lot of reading.  None of us were smart enough to think to bring enough reading material, but at that time Mickey Spillane authored the book, My Gun is Quick.  There must have been 15 to 20 guys reading it at the same time, so they would look around after reading four or five pages saying, "Who's got page so and so?"  That's how the book was passed around--in pages.  We also had training in the tanks and in classes and there were calisthenics.  If some guy goofed off they put him on duty chipping paint like the sailors did.  I never had to do it, but I saw other Marines who were stuck doing that. 


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Arriving in Korea

We brought the high velocity ammunition on our ship because it was fast to load and we had to get it over to Korea. Once we got there we offloaded that ammo and then loaded a mixture of what ammo we would need.  We were supposed to stop off in Japan and reload everything to get it ready for an amphibious landing, but things in Korea were so bad at that time we never did get to Japan. 

The day before we landed in Korea was August 1, 1950.  I went up on the deck early that morning just after chow to have a cigarette.  It was a beautiful, beautiful day.  We were going through the southern Japanese islands and they were all green and beautiful.  The air was even green.  I rubbed my eyes because I thought I had green glasses on.  Everything was calm.  The author Joseph Wambaugh later wrote a book titled, The Blue Knight.  He mentioned an old phenomena called a green mist. I guess they experience it once or twice in California.  It is supposed to be an omen that if you ever experience it, nothing bad will ever happen to you.  It really has come to pass for me.  I still remember to this day how beautiful it was.

Our landing crafts only carried our tanks and tankers, as well as some engineers with the bulldozer stuff.  There was no infantry.  They were mostly on AKAs and APAs--transport type ships.  In fact, one of their ships, the Henrico, had to go back to the States due to mechanical problems, but it caught up later.  We were not the 1st Marine Division at that time.  We were the 1st Marine Provisional Brigade.

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Stifling Hot

We pulled into the big seaport of Pusan on August 2, but we didn't actually make an amphibious landing.  My first impression of Korea was that it stunk just like the garbage did in China.  There was a big crane on the dock.  They had to lift the tanks off the ship with the crane during the night.  I got up during the night and went out and watched them lift the tanks with that huge crane and set them on the dock.  I remember that when I came up from down below and saw Pusan it was stifling hot.  The humidity had us wringing wet immediately. The next morning we washed down the tanks and loaded the new ammo.  I was just wringing wet and sweating it up.  This happened to me so many times I'm surprised I'm here.  Everybody thinks that Korea is freezing, but we had temperatures there during August of 112 to 120 degrees.   That's hot!  August 3 was a busy day.  While we worked on our tanks the infantry spent the time on shore cleaning weapons, getting company gear, getting trucks and all that.  Then we went back aboard ship and ate a meal.

I had a tendency to lay down and fall asleep easily.  After we had worked all day long loading and putting the tanks on railroad flat cars to go up to the front, I sat down by some crates and got under a tent flap to try to get some shade.  I dozed off.  When I woke up the train was gone and so were my tanks.  I said, "Where the hell?"  All I saw was Koreans around me.  I got up on the crates and saw that they had pulled the flat cars further down in the freight yard, so I ran down there.  

When we first got to Korea the Army had all Shermans.  I'm not sure what the problem was, but the Shermans couldn't seem to fight the Russian T34 tanks.  I saw the propaganda on the T34s on the way over to Korea.  They were running over everything, so we were kind of anxious to see what our tanks were going to do about it.  Our tanks were for fighting and knocking stuff out.  Besides our Pershing tanks and armor-piercing ammunition, we also had some M4 flank tanks in a Headquarters and Service Company (H&S) platoon.  The M4s were bulldozer tanks with blades on the front.  H&S also had a couple of retriever tanks which had a big crane or boom on the back.  They were maintenance tanks to be used if we threw a track or if something heavy had to be lifted.

T34 tanks were running over everything and the Army couldn't stop them with the bazookas in their light M24 tanks.  The M24 was a cute little thing, but I wouldn't want to be in it.  I saw holes punched in the slope plate that had been made by 61mm shoulder weapons.  The slope plate was the toughest part of the tank.  We tied in with the M24s one night.  We looked over their tanks and said things like, "That's a nice little toy.  Who makes that--Tonka?"  Those guys were in awe of our tanks.  Later on in the Korean War after a main line of resistance (MLR) was reset on the front, they brought tanks up on an angle and fired a trajectory so they could get beyond the hills.  The old Sherman tank could be set on a time and tankers could fire behind a hill.  We couldn't do that with a 90mm because its flat trajectory couldn't shoot through a hill.

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Jumpy Nerves

My tank was Tank A42, which denotes that it was a Headquarters tank.  I can't really say that a tank was just a tank.  It was like home.  I liked the old girl because she was one of the oldest ones there still running.  We got in the first platoon, and after we loaded our tanks word was out that guerillas were in the area.  We heard a lot of shooting.  I guess of couple of Marines were shot and one was even killed that night by friendly fire from a guy who was shooting that shouldn't have been firing. That night I stood the 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. watch.  Everybody was kind of jumpy.  We were now in combat, but we didn't know where we were most of the time.  My mother sent maps of Korea to me so I would know where it was.

There was a 17-year old kid in the low-riding tank and I went to wake him up for his watch from 12 a.m. to 3 a.m..  He woke up waving his gun.  I had to take it away, and I told him, "Don't ever do that again."  The kid that pulled the pistol was too young, so they sent him back to Japan.  I don't remember his name anymore.  We got a whole bunch of replacements when we left our tank platoon back in the States.  The next day the General was really stern about all the shooting that went on during the night.  He really read the riot act to all the officers, and that came down the line to everybody else.  We didn't hear a shot for the next couple of nights and days.  We wondered who was in the area because so many North Koreans were infiltrating and so many South Koreans were actually communists who were agents of the North Koreans.

There were South Korean laborers that brought ammunition up to us.  We saw them carrying ammunition on "A" frames on their backs.  They also brought the wounded down on a stretcher-type thing.  We had an interpreter that wore a Marine uniform with captain's bars on it.  Captain Lee was his name, but he hardly spoke English.  From what we understood his home was in Seoul until he was driven out.  Since he had captain's bars we saluted him, but most of us thought that he was a spy and nobody ever trusted the guy.  As soon as we got to Seoul he disappeared and we never saw him again.  We got a new interpreter, a fellow from Masan that we called Murphy.  He spoke good English and he was the nicest guy.

There were many things happening at that time that caused us not to trust a Korean.  We were warned that there were guerillas and infiltrators in the area.  We didn't know if the Koreans around us were South Koreans or North Koreans dressed up as South Koreans.  That's the reason why we used passwords.  To this day I don't trust the South Koreans.

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On To Masan

We commenced to go to a particular area near Masan.  It was near the front.  Masan was a pretty good-sized town.  I remember a lot of stores with tile roofs.  We were right next to what was called a roundabout.  It was a square center or platform for directing traffic.  There was a statue there, but I don't know what it was. We broke down right in the town square.  We threw a fan belt and we didn't have another fan belt with us.  The tank was overheating, so we stopped.  Maybe the belt had deteriorated due to the salt water incident while in the ship en route to Korea or maybe it was just wear.  We radioed the retriever that we were broken down in Masan and stayed with our tank while waiting for the retriever to get there.  We didn't go scrounging around looking for Coke machines or anything. (Ha ha)

There was a lot of traffic in Masan.  We were going the other way and there we were broken down in town.  We didn't know anybody who spoke the language and nobody stopped to say hello or anything, so we kind of just sat there in the hot sun waiting for the retriever tank to come and bring us a fan belt.  Truckloads of wounded South Koreans were all around.  There were ox carts and Korean trucks coming through with wounded, and everybody was running just getting the hell out of town.  There were refugees carrying tons of stuff on carts and wearing backpacks with great, tall rolls of everything.  Women had kids tied to their backs and carried stuff on their heads.  The people were really work horses. 

Our first impression of Korea wasn't forced on us.  It was based on the wounded, the blood, the guys limping and on crutches, and the Army that was retreating out of there.  We were stuck in town with not another American in town and we couldn't see another white person there, but we didn't feel like a sitting duck.  It was just like we were in a movie.  Everything was going on around us.  We weren't part of it, but we were there.  It was just really, really weird.  The retriever came and we got to an area probably another three to five miles away.  As we pulled in, some artillery shells came falling in on us and we said, "What the hell is this?"

Our call sign for the company was canoe.  Canoe Able 1, Canoe Able 2, Canoe Able 3, Canoe Able 4.  That's how each tank crew talked with each other and how calls came in to us from company headquarters.  We were Canoe Able 4.  There was so much traffic [calls] that we were a little panicky.  We got some incoming and everybody said, "Button up."  But there were also North Koreans who had captured a radio and were on our wave length trying to mimic the Canoe Able call sign.  They were trying to get through to us and it was confusing, but we knew it wasn't any of our people talking.  Everybody started to say, "What did you do--bringing all this fire pinging at us!"  We parked and got ready to be there for the night.  The whole company of tanks was there.

There used to be a junky little North Korean biplane that flew over us two or three nights.  The guy flying it dropped hand grenades and mortar by hand on us.  We couldn't see him because it was dark, but we used to call him "Washing Machine Charlie" because we could hear him coming.  The plane sounded like an old washing machine or lawn mower.  It was hilarious.  One night as he got closer I could hear him coming.  The dozer tank had dug us into a position where just the turret was sticking up.  I was in my sleeping bag and I rolled off the tank and got stuck between the track and the tank.  I was laying there squirming to try to get out of my sleeping bag while Charlie was overhead dropping grenades.  Thinking back on that I have to laugh.  

On our third day we went to a kind of valley with hills all around.  It was a big work area where we were supposed to support the Army over on the front.  When we arrived the infantry was getting incoming mortars.  I think one of our guys got a piece of shrapnel, but it was nothing serious.  We saw no dead Marines on that particular day.  Maybe it was just stupidity on my part, but I never thought that I was going to be the one to get hit.  I never had that fear.  Of course, when the proverbial stuff hit the fan later on, I was one of the first ones to run for that tank.

That first day at Masan, all of a sudden we heard more firing out by the hills.  About 15 minutes later a bunch of Black Army troops that must have been from the 24th or 25th all-Black outfit came running into our area.  They had a Black lieutenant who was wounded in the arm.  I don't know if it was a border outfit or a special weapons outfit, but they had left all their weapons up in the hills.  The wounded lieutenant was talking to Lieutenant Craig, the executive officer in our platoon.  We were Headquarters and he tried to get a couple of tanks to go up there and reclaim the stuff that they had left up there when the North Koreans overran them.

One Black Army guy had a rain parka.  We were never issued the type of parka they used--a brown one that tied and had a hood on it.  When he took it off he laid it on the engine door of my tank and laid his M-1 on the tank.  He was a very black Black guy, but he was so scared he was white.  There was fear in his eyes.  I would guess he was probably my age at the time--20 or 21.  He was probably from garrison duty in Japan and he was just scared.  The wounded lieutenant was treating his wound and blood was running down his arm, but I don't think it was anything serious.  He had a carbine and was trying to rally his men saying, "We're gonna go back.  What did I tell you?  We're gonna ride back up."  The Black guy who had taken his parka off said, "They shootin.  They shootin at me and I ain't goin back."  He just took off and I never saw him again.  I had his rain jacket and his M-1 rifle for the whole time I was there, but I traded it later on.  My thought when he left was, "Dumb Army guy."  It wasn't racial. 

We had a Black guy in our outfit named Scotty.  He was from Denver, Colorado.  I lost contact with him after I got out, but wish that I could get in touch with him.  One time I had the hatch open and got some shrapnel on my hands when it deflected off the slope.  He was worried, but because we were in the traveling flow I didn't know that I was bleeding.  I had even split a tooth.  When we got back and I opened the hatch, he was standing there waiting to help me.  He said, "You're wounded."  There was a little blood, but everything was working so I said that it was nothing--it was superficial.  They wanted to evacuate me, but I said no.

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Our Tank Crew

The crew on our tank A42 included tank commander Bob Heine from Chicago.  He came into the Marine Corps toward the end of World War II and didn't have any overseas duty.  I know he wasn't in the Pacific theatre.  He was a buck sergeant at the time, but when he got out he was a gunny sergeant.  Joe Kelsey was the gunner.  He was from New York or New Jersey.  I think he was a barber or apprentice barber before he joined the Marines so he became our company barber.  He looked kind of like Perry Como--just a good-looking guy.  Most of the guys from the New York/New Jersey area were Italian.  We had a whole bunch of them and they all hung together.  Whenever they got a care package it was always good stuff like provolone, salami and everything.  Trofholz was the loader.  I think he was from Ohio or something.  I really didn't get to know him because he was kind of shy.  He is the one who replaced the kid they sent back to Japan early on.  Southward from Oregon was our assistant driver.  We each had to know how to do everyone else's job. If we got under fire and we had infantry enemy trying to knock us out with charges, we always worked together.  One tank was supposed to protect the other using our machine guns to knock the infantry out.

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Night Patrol

"A" Company, 1st Tank Battalion left Pusan and went to Masan.  From there we worked our way up to Chingdong-ni, then down to Kosong and up to Sachon.  After that we pulled all the way back to Masan again.

One time we went on an all-night patrol.  It was the first time that we had made the trek there.  I remember it was a night march and we were driving with the little blackout lights.  We could hardly see the tank in front of us.  Sergeant Harrington was the tank commander for 1st platoon.  I think his driver was O'Keefe, although neither I, nor anyone else that I could find, was ever able to really put crews together on certain tanks.  We came to a bridge over a small river and Sergeant Herrington's tank all of a sudden went through the bridge.  It wasn't strong enough for the tank.  He broke his wrist and a couple of other guys in the tank were hurt, too.  They evacuated them and left the tank there.  Harrington's tank was A13, the same tank that had flooded out on the ship.  It was just a bad luck tank.  We couldn't get by, so another tank tried to go around.  It threw a track and was disabled, too.  Then we had to wait for the engineers to come in and make another crossing further on down so we could cross the river and continue on that night.  I was just so sleepy.

We finally got our tanks going, but because Harrington's tank was out of commission we were in the first platoon instead of the fourth platoon.  The Headquarters platoon was supposed to be taken care of and be an auxiliary tank platoon. We still carried the A42 number.  It never did change because the number was written on the tank. As we reached a particular pass going up over a mountain to the right of us, all of a sudden we picked up modern music on our radio like Artie Shaw or something being broadcasted out of Australia.  It was just getting light out and it was such a beautiful view looking down on that valley.  There is a turn up the road here in Galena that reminds me of that, although it's not as high. We kept advancing.

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Encountering Fire

The next day we went through the infantry.  We were supposed to go to Chinju, but a week later we still had not made it that far.  The Army (I think the 5th Regimental Combat Team which was not attached to any Army division at that time) was supposed to be on our flank.  They were the ones that replaced the 24th Army Infantry Division and they weren't much better.  They were supposed to be on our right flank and follow the road that we were supposed to take.  They took a wrong turn or something and were holding us up because they bunched up at a junction.  We couldn't get through them to go forward to do our objectives for the day.  They had it all fouled up, but I guess they did get out.

We were way ahead of everybody on what was a 30-mile trek.  We were maybe 15 miles ahead of them, kind of hanging out.  That's when the Army guys were getting the hell kicked out of them on the right flank--the 2nd and 25th Divisions.  That's when they recalled us.  We were just too far out on a limb, but they needed help back there, so all the ground we had gained almost to Chinju we had to give back.  I remember the day that we got the word to turn around.  We were the first tank in line, but they said that the last tank wasn't there, so we got orders to turn around and come back.  The Army was losing too much ground. Its infantry was getting a lot of fire from North Koreans up in the hills as well as at road blocks.  We had to go and blow up the road blocks and cover the infantry from the road.  We were pretty much road-bound down there because it was mostly rice paddies.  We couldn't get off the road too much.  We stayed beside the hills because we couldn't really climb them.

When we went back we found out that the Army infantrymen were buttoned up on both sides of the road in the ditches because there was sniper fire. They wanted to use our tanks instead of the engineers to blow little bridges that were still there.  They wanted us to fire the 90s, but we couldn't see through the site.  We couldn't hit them because there was too much distance.  We had a bore on the tank, so we opened it, looked down, and tried to aim the tube of the gun so we could fire into the bridge.  But the shells were bouncing off, even though they were heavy.  The engineers had to come, put demolitions on the bridges, and blow them up so the North Koreans would have a hard time coming down.  We had driven them all the way back to Chinju.

We drove in and there was a lull.  Here came the Marine Corps Commanding General, General Eddie Craig, walking down the road where there had been sniper fire.  General Eddie had been through the Pacific and was given a brigade at that time.  He was 25 years old at the time.  He lived to be over 90 years old.  Anyway, the Army guys were hunkered down in those ditches trying to duck while I was outside the tank talking.  I saluted him, he asked me how I was doing, and then he commented that there was a little sniper fire coming in.  He walked down the road a little further and got into his helicopter.  He used to do the lines traveling in it.  An Army guy came down there and said, "Who's that old guy walking the road?  Correspondence?"  I told him, "Hell no.  That's our commanding general."  He said, "General?  We can't even get our captains up here," and then he laughed.  That's what poor leadership was.

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Whole Scope of Feelings

The Army admired us.  They were glad when the Marines came around.  In fact, we tied in one time with an Army outfit.  I felt there was a distrust of them.  There was pity for them and there was animosity towards them.  There was a whole scope of feelings because of their ill-training.  From Masan to Chinju the Marines had casualties while taking ground.  In fact, I consider Chinju a campaign, too.  We took a lot of ground there and it's not really written up the way it should have been.  It was one of the first aggressive actions actually taken in the Korean War. 

One particular time we tied with an Army outfit.  The second time we were on their compound we tied in for the night.  They had a mess hall tent set up.  They were eating steak and eggs, so we got in their line.  They didn't want to serve us because we weren't in their outfit, but we said, "Hey, what are you talking about?  We're saving your ass and then you don't want to feed us?"  Just before that I was talking to an Army tank driver who I think was in an anti-aircraft tank unit.  The Army had quad 50s which were four .50 caliber machine guns on a mount with a turret.  They could do anti-aircraft.  They also had some M4 tanks.  I asked him how long he had been in Korea and he said, "Would you believe two days ago I was a truck driver in Japan and here I am today a tank driver?  I had never seen a tank before." That's how they were in the Army.  They brought men over who didn't know how to take apart the .50 caliber machine gun.  They gave them school that night.  That guy was a clerk typist just a week before in Japan.  They were just so ill-trained, and then they were put in positions that they shouldn't have been in in the first place.  We had to feel sorry for them, but then again, they bugged out and didn't try to stop and fight half the time.

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Bar Fight

The South Koreans were so innovative that they opened a bar right in the town of Masan.  It was like a tavern, but Marines called it the slop shoot.  It was kind of a dive.  There was a three or four-piece band with a sax, trombone and drums, and they were trying to play American music like you'd hear on the M*A*S*H television show.  Their slop shoot was called the "Brack Cat."  They had a big sign that had a black cat drawn on it.

One time we came back from one of the fronts.  We were supposed to be in reserve for a week, but we were only there for one or two days.  No sooner had the guys reloaded than we went into town.  A skirmish broke out between Marines and Army guys at the bar. I was just sitting there with all these American beer cases--Budweiser and all those, thinking, "How in the hell did these gooks get all this beer?"  They must have been trained with the Army because it was so well-supplied.  I remember when we were on our flat cars and we saw Army boxcars full of beer.  The boxcars had little windows with bars on them.  We pried a bar off before the train stopped and stole cases of beer out of there. That happened a couple of times.  The Army had so many supplies.  Oh, my God.  When they bugged out they just left everything.

A buddy of mine, Joe Moreno, came in and said, "Come on.  There's fighting out there."  I said, "Sit down, Joey.  All the beer is here.  The fight's going on out there." While I was sitting there some big, broad Army guys--you know, the movie-type, came in.  I got knocked right through the damn sliding paper walls.  Nobody really got hurt, though.  It was just one of those things.  I think that Joe and I were the only members of the Marine brigade inside the bar.


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Naktong Campaigns

1st Naktong Campaign August 5-19, 1950

Soon after the bar fight, the first Naktong campaign began.  The Naktong was a pretty good-sized river.  In places it might have been as wide as the Mississippi, and there were places where we could wade across.  It spilled into the Nam River, as did a lot of tributaries and streams.  Where those two came together was called the Naktong Bulge, and that's where the North Koreans always tried to control ground.  Our tanks didn't get to the banks of the Naktong because there were hills all around and it was a jungle area.  The North Koreans crossed the Naktong coming east. Once they crossed it, the Marines pushed them back across.  I've heard the expression, "the Naktong ran red."  It had muddy clay so it was kind of a red river to begin with, so I don't know if there was blood in it or not. 

We heard that the North Koreans built underwater bridges on the rocks in the Naktong.  The Air Force had some saturation bombing there that didn't hit anything.  From the hills I saw the daredevil bombers in the Marine Air Wing come down so low over the area I thought they would never come back up, then all of a sudden there they came.  They were such low-level bombers.  We had experienced working with them back Stateside in peacetime when we ran maneuvers with the Air Wing.  We were the aggressor force and they came in with flour sacks and dropped them.  They came pretty damn close.  We had to depend on our radio antenna to designate us as the enemy tank and the aggressor force.  They clipped that antenna.  That's how low they were.  Those guys were crazy.

The tank company's role was to support the infantry.  We could see them taking the hills, but we couldn't get off the road unless there was agriculture other than rice or somewhere there was a dry field that wasn't too soggy and wasn't terraced.  I can remember the night that we were told we had to go back to Masan because the North Koreans had broken through.  At that time I think we were overlooking Chunchon, but as I said earlier, we didn't know where we were at a lot of the time.  Although it probably would have taken us until the next day to get there, we never made it to Chinju.

We were up on a high area and down below was a valley.  We had to stand guard on two-hour watches and I had the 12 a.m. to 2 a.m. watch.  It was pouring down rain and I had the rain jacket that the Black guy had left behind.  I was at the front of the tank because it was too wet to be up in the turret.  I was just standing there when I saw lights about two miles away down in the valley.  It must have been North Koreans bugging out or somebody.  I watched them for the longest time.  I was getting soaked and it was chilly. I was just so miserable that I didn't want to move.  All of a sudden I heard a little rustle next to me.  I thought, "Oh wow.  What's this?  Infiltrators?  Guerillas?"  It was black and I couldn't see anything more than just pinpoints of light down in the valley.  I said, "Who's there?"  It was O'Keefe, a big Irish kid.  We found out that we had been standing next to each other for 45 minutes, but it was so dark and we were so miserable we didn't know it.  I had a hood on and hadn't turned my head.  He had a parka on and he hadn't turned his head either.  We had both just been standing there being miserable.

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Tank Fire Fight

During the first Naktong campaign our tank never was in a firefight with an enemy tank, but the third platoon was.  We had all been out supporting infantry and then came back to a big, wide area where we reloaded and tied in for the night.  It was kind of a "circling the wagon" type thing.  Each tank took a field of fire to protect for the night.  After the kind of day it had been we settled down.  Word came out that third platoon came in before us and loaded up.  We had supported the Marines for the day, but that evening we got word that there were North Korean tanks and a battalion of infantry further on down the road where we had been.

Lieutenant Sweet was tank commander and platoon leader of third platoon.  His tanks saddled up and went back down there.  As they came around the bend there was a North Korean tank and they faced each other point blank.  The North Koreans fired at Sweet's tank and missed.  Joe Moreno's tank fired and knocked that tank out just like that. Fast.  Another T34 tank came around from behind that one.  I think there was a 75 recoilless rifle up in the hills that was shooting, and it knocked the tracks off the tank.  He couldn't move that other T34.  Sweet's crew had a supply of Army ammunition, and I understand that they fired right through the turret of the first one and knocked the second one out.  As I said, they were facing each other point blank, but it was not that simple to knock out the tanks.  Then another enemy tank came around and Ford's tank fired at it.  They got three tanks--BOOM--just like that.  Third platoon had no casualties.

After the three enemy tanks were knocked out we got to look at them. Like anything the Russians made, they were very durable, but they were pieces of junk.  I don't think the reputation of the T34s was deserved.  I don't know why the hell the Army was firing so far away.  Maybe they didn't have ammo.  I heard that before we got to Korea the T34s were flying right through everybody.  The Army claimed that their 75s and 105s were bouncing off the T34s.  I find that hard to believe.  I think they were just poor gunners who had had little practice, and that's why they weren't hitting them.  In a lot of cases the Army was probably moving too fast.  Their flank was supposed to be there to protect them, but sometimes it wasn't because the Army guys had bugged out.  When that happened the North Koreans were where they weren't supposed to be because they had circled around them coming in on their unprotected flank.

During this first campaign North Koreans fled because they were being strafed.  We were shelling them and it was a slaughter.  We participated in part of it.  As a tank driver I've always had the alibi that I never had to kill anybody, although there were a couple of times, I guess.  I was an observer.  I was sitting in the driver's seat looking through the periscope, just watching the whole war.  It was a lot like being in a box seat really.  I saw the infantry moving.  I was sitting there one day just watching as one Marine with fixed bayonet was going down through a little wooded area.  All of a sudden a North Korean in a brown suit popped up out of the weeds and came running at the Marine with a bayonet.  I was in my tank, so I couldn't yell at the Marine.  The Korean kept running at him so determined and I thought he was going to bayonet the Marine.  The Marine turned around and BOOM, he dropped him just like that.  It was almost funny.  It was surreal and I thought, "Well, serves his butt for being a dummy."  We saw people killed, but we became calloused.  It was exciting.  The adrenaline pumped pretty big at times.  There was lots of fear, too.  Anybody that says he wasn't afraid is a damned fool.

We moved up a little bit and there was a tall, industrial-type chimney like the old school chimneys.  Someone got on the phone and said they were getting sniper fire and thought it was coming from the chimney.  We started firing the 90 at the chimney starting at the top.  Nothing.  So then we fired one round of high explosive (HE) at the bottom.  All of a sudden there was an explosion and the whole chimney started to topple over.  The explosive had weakened it.  We saw the sniper come flying out of there with the explosion. 

As the driver of the tank they said I was a "sightseer".  Trofholz was waiting for a fire mission with the bow gun.  All of a sudden a North Korean came running out of a house across the road and went down along the ditch right towards us probably 200 yards away.  With the bow gun there is no site because it's inside the tank.  Trofholz had to fire it by ear or by tracer.  He must have fired up a whole belt because that North Korean ducked down and was gone.  We don't know where he went.  I was laughing at Trofholz saying, "You poor shot. You couldn't hit him."  All of a sudden this old papasan came walking out hiking across the road with a cane.  Trofholz went "BOOM BOOM" because he was shocked to see somebody else moving up there.  He dropped that old man right there.  I thought, "You're dumb.  Watch where you're shooting."  A lot of tragic stuff went on every day.

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Seeing the Dead

I think the first time I saw a dead Marine was down at Chunchon.  We came into the town and there were buildings on both sides.  We were going down a boulevard and probably a half a block or so down from us was a schoolyard.  A hospital Jeep with a Navy corpsman and stretchers with a couple of wounded came around the corner and turned right in front of us.  All of a sudden there was a BOOM and the Jeep took a hit.  We found out later that these guys had taken a wrong turn going to the aid station.  There were enemy anti-tank guns in the schoolyard, and two of them were waiting for us.  I guess the hospital Jeep spooked the North Korean anti-tank gunners. We opened fire on them immediately.  The guys in the hospital Jeep lost their lives and saved ours.

We went into that schoolyard because that part of the town was secured.  I remember that as I got out of my tank there was a head of a North Korean just sitting there looking up at me.  I was so damn mad I took that thing and kicked it like a football.  Lark's tank was next to us and the head rolled over in front of him.  He got out and kicked it back over to me.  We kept playing this for a while.  We had a lot of sentimental feelings for the guys in the hospital Jeep because we had seen the attack.  We became very hard-hearted.

At the Naktong I didn't see just one dead Marine, there were several.  I think there had been an ambush at a road block or something.  We didn't usually see them because there was a poncho covering them alongside the road.  Graves Registration was coming to pick the bodies up.  When I saw a camouflaged Army poncho covering somebody I didn't think much of it, but when I saw a Marine poncho, it really got to me because that was a brother who had been killed or wounded.

The first time I saw dead Army guys was near the Naktong.  There were eight or nine of them lying there dead.  Their hands were wrapped really tight with communication wire.  I could see the front of them and their heads and faces were burnt.  Somebody had thrown them on a fire and shot them, but I don't know if they were shot before or after.  The Army guys were probably surrendering before they were killed.  Most Marines would not surrender because they didn't know how the Koreans would treat them if they did.  The North and South Koreans were very barbaric people.

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Shit List

Our tanks gave support to the infantry, but not always.  We gave support at our tank commander's discretion.  At one time our platoon sergeant was a guy that nobody liked.  Even when we came back to Stateside from Guam we didn't like him.  He was a no good son-of-a-gun and just not a likeable person.  In Korea he was platoon sergeant of the first platoon in another section of tanks.  One particular day we had a fire mission to give fire support to the infantry.  We were told to knock it off because the infantry was moving up the hill.  We got out of the tank to talk.  Joe Welsch's tank was in our section.  While we were talking, all of a sudden we heard a .50 caliber machine gun about 50 feet away from the platoon sergeant's tank.  The .50s were mounted in such a way that the gunner had to stand on the turret to fire them because there was so much equipment inside of the tank the .50s couldn't be fired from inside.  So many guys had been shot off the back of the tanks that they had to mount them up front.  It was still hard to fire from up there.

The platoon sergeant got out of his tank while we were looking in another direction.  We started to hear shooting and realized that the platoon sergeant was standing on the turret shooting up into the hills where the Marines had gone. We yelled at him, but he was shooting in the direction of the Marines like crazy.  He thought that the Marines were still at it.  He hadn't got the word.  Lark and I ran like hell up the hill, jumped up on his tank, and pulled him off that gun.  He never liked us anyway, but he said, "What are you doing?"  We told him that the Marines were still up there.  He was a master sergeant out there and we were corporals.  We were definitely on his shit list from then on, but nothing came out of that particular episode.

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Hot and Grungy

Tanks had fire power over an infantry.  Everything was a tank/infantry coordination thing.  I saw a hundred Army tanks going out with no infantry support, but the Marines didn't work that way.  The infantry supported us if we were overwhelmed by the enemy (as we were up north when the Chinese swarmed us).  They protected us and we protected them.  We had a phone on the back of the tank where the infantry or anybody could get on there and say, "Hey, I'm getting fire over here."  They directed our fire.  That happened quite a bit between the tank and infantry.  In fact, I think that in the Sands of Iwo Jima movie John Wayne was on the back of an old Sherman talking to the tank commander.

A lot of infantry didn't like to see us because they claimed that when we came up to knock out a machine gun or whatever for them we drew fire.  But when it was a hot day they were all happy to see us because we always had water and spare ammo in the tank.  On the M26 we had ammunition boxes and we kept all the goodies in them, so they were always glad to see us.

Korea was hot, very hot, in the summer.  The Brigade men walked in the heat and some dropped in it, but it was worse inside the tank.  We couldn't touch the tank to get out of it without sometimes burning our hands.  The tank felt like a hot tray or like when you touch a hot car on a hot day in the sunshine.   There were no fans or air-conditioning inside the tank either.  When we had fire missions there were times when the loader got heat exhaustion and we had to get him out of there.  We then tried to get the infantry to come up and load because the tank commander was busy and the gunner was shooting, so somebody had to load.  Every once in a while an infantry guy would come up, but most of them said, "I don't want no part in that there death trap."  They called tanks a death trap because if we got shelled we ordinarily didn't get out.  The tank had four hatches.  Two were above the slope and two were down below. On the M26 the lower hatches could be popped and someone could get out through the bottom.  One time a shell came in and blew the foot off one of the guys in the tank.

We were comfortable with our own [Marines].  All Marines are basically supposed to be infantry, and a couple of times that happened to me.  But I wouldn't want to be infantry.  I have the highest respect for those guys because they had such a tough life compared to what we went through in tanks.  We had it made basically.  Our tank was our home and our protector.  It was everything--kind of like our second mother.  When it rained we had to cover the tank with a tarp.  We used part of the tarp to make a lean-to alongside the tank and most of us slept under it because the tank was too cramped to get comfortable sleep inside of it.  There were times when we had a fire mission and we couldn't traverse the turret because there were so many souvenirs and chow.

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Sniper Fire

There was a break between the two Naktong campaigns.  Before we went back to Miryang, my buddy Lark and I once went swimming in what we thought was the Naktong River.  We got so grungy that after a while it didn't matter, but we hadn't had a bath for weeks at a time and we were grumpy.  In town we sometimes got a little water in our helmet, but we smelled so bad we blamed everybody else because they were stinking.  We decided to wash ourselves in the river.  We didn't wash our dungarees because we didn't want them to be wet.  We had enough of that when the monsoon rains came.  We took off our dungarees and went into the river bare-naked to wash.  It just felt so good to be halfway clean again.  Suddenly we saw "ping-ping" in the water all around us.  A sniper was shooting at us.  Not long ago Lark and I got together and laughed about that.

As a child I had a tendency to walk in my sleep occasionally.  One particular night after we got back to Miryang I got off watch and went to sleep fatigued.  I woke up when it was pitch black and realized that I had been walking.  I didn't remember where I was and was feeling around.  I could feel a tank, so I got real close to it to try to see the number on it.  I tried to be as quiet as I could so I wouldn't get shot.  I discovered that I had walked two tanks away from my own tank.  Man, that was scary.  I told very few people about that because they could have Sectioned 8 me out.

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C-rations and Dysentery

Other than the steak and eggs that we got in the Army camp once, our food was C-rations.  There were some I liked and some that I didn't but other guys did.  I couldn't stand lima beans and ham, so I traded them for beans and franks.  I love them to this day.  Some of the rations were little fork-sized beef patties in gravy, but most of the time we had to eat that stuff cold.  Sometimes we scrounged some Korean food, too.  They had a fruit that looked like a pear but tasted like an apple, and we could eat them off the trees.  Later on they told us not to eat the Korean food because we could get dysentery.  I didn't get it, but there were episodes later on when guys had intestinal worms.

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2nd Naktong Campaign September 1-15, 1950

When we were told to go back because the Army was losing ground, the Marines had hard feelings toward the Army.  We had no use for the Army at that time because of their cowardness.  When we went back to the Naktong Bulge the second time it was because the Army had lost the ground that we had retaken in the first Naktong campaign. We were supposed to be getting ready to load up and go to Japan.  (At the time we didn't know there was going to be a landing at Inchon.)  The rest of the division was coming over.  We had been issued Army dungarees, we were all the time sweating in them, and they were riding off of us.

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First Fatality

2nd Lt. John Carson was a G2 or G3.  We nicknamed him Kit Carson.  We knew him Stateside, and now he was in Korea as a reconnaissance officer.  His job was to go up behind enemy lines and check on bridges to see if our tanks could go over them.  He and a sergeant went out one day and the sergeant was shot in the leg.  Lieutenant Carson, the first in our company who was killed in action, was killed on September 3, 1950. We didn't have that many guys killed in tanks.  As they said, "Ya gotta hold that metal between ya."

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Vrooom!

During the second Naktong campaign there was a mounted infantry motorcycle/Jeep North Korean reconnaissance company that was supposed to be a shock force.  They had all new motorcycles and shiny, beautiful Russian Jeeps all over the place.  They had brought them down from North Korea and some of the Jeeps hardly had dust on them.  The Army had them on the run and the Marine Air Wing came in and strafed them.  When we came through we found their equipment and motorcycles that looked like old camouflaged Indian cycles with a side car.  Some of them had machine guns mounted on the side car.  There was kind of a lull so my assistant driver (Southward) and I were looking at them.  He had a motorcycle back home in Oregon, so he got one of the Russian motorcycles started.  I had never driven a motorcycle in my life, but he told me to get on it and try it.  I got on the thing and VROOOM, I took off.  The front end came up, I went down in a ditch, and off I flew.  It was a good thing that I had my tank helmet on because I landed on my head.  Oh, man!  I thought I would never get on a motorcycle again--and I didn't for about 20 or 30 years.

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Danger, Rain, Misery

During the first Naktong campaign I didn't even see the river, but from where we were up high in the second campaign, we could see gooks running like crazy as fire power came down on them.  We found a lot of caves down there at the Naktong.  The North Koreans had dug holes in the sides of the mountains and they were storing ammo and field guns in them.  A lot was American equipment that they had captured from the Army.  I think there were 105s in it.  We turned the equipment back over to the Army.  We couldn't haul all of it because we didn't have enough vehicles, but there were times when the Army infantry was moving and they called in Army trucks.

We did quite a bit of traveling from one front to another on railroad flat cars.  Most of the towns like Masan and Pusan were connected by rail.  The front wasn't too far away, so guys marched and occasionally some of them rode on our tanks.  I remember there was a master sergeant who was trying to get on the tank's .50 when he was shot off.  We heard that he was shipped back to the States.  We know he survived because he was at some of our tank reunions. There were other guys, too, but I can't recall who the heck all of them were who were shot up, hit with shrapnel or killed.

The fighting during the second Naktong campaign was tank to tank.  The second platoon knocked out four or five North Korean tanks.  At that time I had yet to have any tank to tank combat.  On the next to last day before the campaign was secured, it was raining like hell.  Lark and I were the lead tanks.  Mine was the first tank and Lark's was next.  That particular day the infantry was getting a lot of fire.  After we came around a bend outside of town we started getting some infantry fire a couple of hundred yards to our right across a rice paddy.  We had short rounds coming in so we had to stop artillery for a while because the planes couldn't come in to help us due to the overcast.

We were told to work that town, so we stopped and gave fire on that particular village.  Sergeant Sandy's tank and Christopherson and Steve Duro's tank went ahead of us.  They came around the bend and the same thing happened to them.  Christopherson's tank was hit first.  It was a terrible day for war.  The infantry was up on the hill giving us shooting support.  They could see the North Koreans ahead of us, but they couldn't communicate with us because the radios were out due to the bad weather.  The North Korean tanks knocked out two of our tanks before the infantry could send some bazookas down to knock the North Korean tanks out.  The crew of the two tanks eventually got out--Christopherson, Duro, Sergeant Sandy and O'Brien, but I heard that O'Brien lost an eye.

We stopped when the two tanks were hit.  By then our radios were working again, so Heine, our tank commander, got on the radio and told us to hold up because he thought he heard enemy tanks.  The North Korean tanks sounded different than ours because they had a rattly-sounding track and their engine had a kind of roar.  He told us to cut our engine, so we turned it off.  I was sitting there with my hatch open a little bit because I was going to get out and try to peek around the corner to see what was going on, but I couldn't really get out because Heine had the gun traversed over my hatch.  It was raining again and I was sitting in a metal bucket seat that had a thin, leather-type padded seat made of real course hair.  Because it was an older tank, the padding was worn.  I was soaked, my butt was raw, and I was just miserable.  I kept telling Heine to traverse that gun so I could get out and run back to see if I could get the retriever tank to give us jump cables.  He wouldn't do it and I got damned mad.  He finally had to manually traverse the gun since the battery power was out.  It was just enough for me to open the hatch and get out.  I then went to get the retriever tank.

When I got back, Duro had Christopherson over his shoulder.  I helped him since he had carried him for quite a ways.  Christopherson was in shock and his foot was dangling by a thread, so I helped Duro get him to a company area.  They evacuated him immediately--probably to a hospital ship someplace out there.  That was the last time I saw him.  Other guys who had been wounded visited him in the hospital in Japan.  One of them said that the doctor told Christopherson not to worry because he would be dancing after they gave him a new foot.  Christopherson was supposed to have said, "Oh, that's pretty good, Doc.  I couldn't dance before."  I heard that they took his foot off from the ankle down.

That was the worst day of the war for us.  Our old tank had been idling all day on a battery that hadn't been replaced for a year or so.  The alternator wasn't recharging the battery, and between using electricity for traversing during the fire mission we had been on and then idling for the rest of the day, the old battery had failed.  I got the retriever tank to come and jump our tank.  

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Bad News from Home

In the early part of the Korean War we had a staff sergeant who was only with us a short time.  During World War II he had been taken prisoner of war by the Japanese and spent the whole war mostly in Korea as a POW in a prison camp.  He was slave labor working in mines.  That was before the Korean War when the Japanese occupied Korea.  He was a little short, stocky guy.  He was a very nice, quiet man and had a nice family.  While I was in the States before the Korean War, I met his wife and young family.  He didn't have to go to Korea, but he volunteered to go there.  We thought, "Oh, boy.  He's going back to get revenge."  But he was very nice to the Koreans.  All of a sudden he got a notice that his wife was in a serious automobile accident and they shipped him home on an emergency leave all the way back to Chicago.  We heard he got off the plane at Midway Airport still with all his 72 gear and everything and walked downtown to catch a train to where he lived down in southern Illinois someplace.  It was in the paper and everything.


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Calm Before Storm

After the second Naktong campaign we went to Miryang and waited until we were called out again.  I received mail from my mother, and even my father wrote to me in broken Greek and English. I occasionally got packages, too.  My mother used to send me a lot of candy.  She worked at Marshall Fields and they had good candy.  I also got salami from home.  Many times things were pilfered out of our packages.  Some guys wrote home for booze and this and that.  The mail handlers at the APO had the right to break into packages because they were supposed to confiscate any liquor.  If they did open them there would be a little notation stating that this or that had been confiscated.  A couple of times we did get liquor.  My assistant driver was Southward.  His father owned a cannery up in Oregon and he used to can whiskey for us.  Sometimes he put the liquid in the can and sometimes he put a whole bottle in the can.  He would label it something else--like maybe beets.

At the time, I had a girlfriend named Connie.  When I was going to high school, I worked with her mother in a national chain grocery store.  She was a checker and when we got to be friends she fixed me up with her daughter.  She wrote to me quite a bit, but I never returned her letters.  In fact, later on in my short Marine Corps career I was chewed out by a commanding general. It came all the way down from the Commandant that I was not writing home.  I'm sorry I didn't because there was a lot of history there. When I did write, I told my family that everything was fine and that hardly anything was going on.  I didn't want to worry my folks.

One time the 5th Regimental Combat Team was there.  It pissed me off when they called them the "fire brigade" because it wasn't true.  A fire brigade was like firemen.  They were always going out from one front to another when an emergency broke out.  Marines do have a superiority complex about that period of the war, but we were the only ones doing anything.  The Army was just ridiculous, although in a lot of cases it was not their own fault.  They just weren't trained correctly.  They had poor leadership, poor officers, and poor training programs.  They did everything wrong.  In Japan they had been living the good life before they were sent into war in Korea. When we were at Miryang the Army divisions blended together.  I remember seeing the Indianhead patch of the 2nd Division.  I think the 24th and 25th Divisions were there, along with the 5th RCT.  We wondered if it was going to do any good to take back ground for them again, but we had our job to do, so we left them to do their own thing and we went down to Pusan.

They decided not to send us to Japan, so we were on a kind of "rest and recuperation" in Pusan.  We were set up by the docks during the four or five days that we were there, and we were supposed to wait for a ship so we could load it.  We weren't supposed to get off of the docks, but we snuck out and did a little boozing and carousing of the town. What could they do to us--kill us? (Ha, ha)  It seemed like a house of prostitution opened up no matter where we were.  As I said earlier about the Brack Cat, those people were innovative.

The last night we were supposed to load the ship, Joe Welsch, Bob Lark, six or seven guys and I weren't there when it was time to combat-load the tanks.  We were charging around downtown.  We were put on report and the tank commander was chastised, but nothing was done.  We were put on mess duty when we got on the ship.  It was an old LST from the States with an all-Navy Reserve crew on it. The LST had two decks.  The upper deck carried trucks and the lower deck carried our four or five tanks.  The captain of the ship was a junior grade lieutenant who was very lax and open through our episodes of coming back late.  I was always on a couple days mess duty, but it occupied my time. 


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Inchon Landing

Once we got to Inchon a ramp was lowered and we unloaded.  The date was September 15, 1950, and it must have been about 5:20 or 5:30 in the evening.  It was already getting dark when we finally landed.  The second platoon was on a landing craft medium (LCM) and they landed on the small island of Wolmi-do out in the harbor.  It was connected to the mainland by a causeway.  The Marines landed in waves and I guess the tanks and heavy equipment were probably about the third wave.

The area had been shelled all day.  The tides were enormous, which is why we had to wait to land after sunset.  That was when the tides were the lowest.  We were out beyond the harbor just waiting to land.  We weren't allowed to go topside, but we tried to get up on top of the LST to see what was going on.  We could see some of the shelling, but there was so much smoke we couldn't see all that well.  There were planes overhead and a couple of cruisers were shelling over us.  The big shells sounded like freight trains going over us.  It was just a big roar, so we ran downstairs.

We had to stay with our tanks.  Oh my God, we must have sat on our tanks for six or seven hours waiting and anticipating the landing.  We didn't have a time that we would be going in.  We also didn't know anything about the tides.  The people operating our craft knew, but we just sat on the tanks.  Just before we were supposed to get out of the LST we got the word to start our engines.  As I mentioned before, this was an old LST.  The exhaust fans weren't running while our engines were running.  I was almost overcome by carbon monoxide.  I remember the ramp door opening, but I don't remember driving off the ramp.  I must have been on automatic pilot.  When I got on the beach and the air hit me, I came to.  I had the worst headache I ever had in my life.  Oh, it was just terrible.  A couple of other guys had headaches, too.

Before we landed engineers had to come in and break up areas in the eight or ten-foot seawall so our tanks could get in.  There were wounded being evacuated to the beach.  Some of the Naval Reserve guys up on the ship wanted to be part of the war, so they were shooting like crazy.  They could have knocked us off.  When the door of our LST dropped, some of the wounded lying there had their legs broken.  The door was quickly lifted, the wounded were moved, the door was lowered again, and we drove out of the ship. There were already Marines in the town.  We might have fired a couple of rounds up on the ridge, but the area was pretty well secured by that time.


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After Inchon

After the Inchon Invasion the Brigade was absorbed by and became the 1st Marine Division.  They organized us back to our proper designations with the replacements.  Regiments included Chesty Puller's 7th Regiment, the 5th Regiment, and the 11th Regiment (an artillery outfit that supported the 5th Marines).  Replacements came from the 2nd Division at Camp Lejeune, and others were veterans from Pendleton.  Our tank company became A Company, 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division.  At the time there was still a 1st Platoon.

A "B" tank company came over.  Patrick Burns was on Tank 41.  Robert Christopherson was on Tank 13.  That was the one we lost with the salt water on the ship coming over.  We lost that tank again when it got hit the second time we were at the Naktong.  Sgt. Walter Sandy was a tank platoon leader.  The last time anybody saw him was after two tanks got hit.  A couple of guys were shell-shocked and their eardrums were damaged to the point they couldn't hear.

MacArthur came up that particular morning.  We had a guy in one of our tank crews that had a Bohemian-type name.  He was a big guy, so we called him "Bohunk".  He was in a tank that was right on the road while we were up on a bluff watching.  MacArthur waited for the press so he could shake Bohunk's hand and say what a great job the Marines were doing.  MacArthur was another one that always had medals and always pinned a medal on someone during a photo shoot.  When MacArthur tried to pin a medal on Bohunk, the two of them kept missing each other during the handshake.  It was a Laurel and Hardy type thing and we were sitting there watching it and chuckling.

By this time I had been in three campaigns in Korea and war was getting numb to me.  I wondered what was going to happen next.  The next day we stayed in Inchon.  We set up a perimeter and went scrounging around to see what was left in town.  There was a bank and some of the guys blew the big vault door off.  There was a bar door and we could see all this North Korean money in there.  Just then Army MPs came in and said, "You guys have got no business here."  We got the hell out of there.

We kept scrounging around looking for souvenirs and stuff.  I remember going down some stairs and seeing a big hall with a bunch of Koreans in it.  At the time we didn't know that they were South Korean Marines that had landed at Inchon.  They were wearing gray uniforms and told us to come in.  They were having a feast with kimchi and stuff like that, so we joined them and started eating.  We didn't know until the next day, but we were eating dog.  It wasn't bad.  Even though we had been warned not to eat the Korean food, I never had a big problem with it.  I've been to a couple of banquets here in the USA that Koreans put on for the First Marine Division Association in Chicago. They had a tremendous salad bar and they must have had 150 different kinds of food.  Some of it was terrible and some was delicious.

The next morning early we moved out on towards Seoul, an industrial town.  We stopped in one little town where there was a schoolyard and we set up a perimeter for the night overlooking a valley.  I think it was Yangdong-po.  I had one of those old folding Army cots that I stole from the Army.  I always tied it on the slope plate of my tank.  Early one particular morning everybody was just waking up.  I was folding my cot when all of a sudden VROOM--a round came in and there was an explosion in the hills behind us.  It jarred us and I said, "What the hell is this?" I looked down the road in the valley and there was a damn North Korean tank coming at us.  I yelled to Heine that there was a gook tank down there.  He jumped up and got in the gunner seat.  The loader got in and started loading.  Joe Kelsey fired one round and knocked that tank out dead.  I've heard others say that there was an infantry up there and they knocked it out, but I was there.  I saw it.  My hatch was open, but I wasn't in my tank because they had to traverse over my hatch.  I jumped underneath the front of my tank, so I had a "box seat" watching the round take off and hit the tank.  That's why I know it was our kill that day.

Another Korean tank came down and went down in the ditch alongside the other one.  Kelsey fired again and it was over.  Heine gave him another range.  At that time range was just a guessing game.  They fired by saying "up by 50, down by..."  If I remember correctly it was firing at 1200 yards.  Kelsey must have fired five or six rounds before he finally hit that second one because it was down lower than the first one. He fired the first round over it, but it was short and he hit the road, bouncing the round.  They finally hit the second tank, but by then somehow the infantry had also hit it before it really blew.   I could actually see the shells.  In fact, one time I had a periscope shot out and I could actually see the bullet coming.

During the previous night they were doing a road block, but we weren't on the road.  We were up on the bluffs.  Down below there was a commotion during the night.  We couldn't figure out what all the noise was.  We had two tanks on the other side of the road and one down on the road.  I guess they had infantry there and they stopped some North Koreans who were trying to reinforce the North Koreans at Inchon.  They didn't know that we had come this far already.  They thought our tanks were North Korean tanks, so they came right up to them.  That commotion the night before was when they were being captured.

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Securing Kimpo

We went all the way into Seoul, but before that we were the first tanks to take the airport at Kimpo. The Army paratroopers were supposed to secure Kimpo, but we got in there and moved so fast we took it for them.  There was a river between Kimpo and Seoul and we were still on the Kimpo side.  There were several big hangars there and we secured them and the area around them.  We found bales and boxes full of surrender leaflets.  I suppose the North Koreans had planned to air-drop them over the South Koreans before things went bad for them.

That night the North Koreans counterattacked at Kimpo.  I was sleeping on the engineer door, and when I woke up I saw all these pretty flares going--green tracers and red tracers.  Man, I rolled off that tank! We were attached to the 3rd Marines and their infantry was with us that night.  The North Koreans were peasant fighters.  They could climb those hills up and down, be here one minute and over there the next. 

The next day we went to cross the Han River, a big river between Inchon and Seoul.  It was a pretty wide river there, and we couldn't get across because the bridges were all blown from previous action.  They did have barges and had sent some patrols across.  Things weren't that bad at first and they didn't run into any real hostile fire, so Colonel Murray, the regimental commander of the 5th Marines, said he wouldn't send his tanks across until his tanks could hold them.  He was always appreciative of his tanks.  Colonel Murray didn't get the credit that other battalion commanders and Chesty Puller got, even though he was up in the Reservoir and commanded the two regiments that came out of there.

They brought in barges and they floated us across the river.  By that time there was no opposition because the infantry had already been across.  A bunch of civilians were on the road, so the Lieutenant told us to hold up.  He went down with Lark to talk to them to see what they wanted.  One civilian was a Korean policeman who could speak English.  He said they had two North Korean prisoners and both were fairly high-ranking officers.  They were turning them over to Washington because they were caught hiding out in the town or something.  When the Lieutenant tried to interrogate one of them, one of the North Koreans spit on him and made a threatening motion.  One of the tankers who was with our lieutenant had a Thompson, fired a bullet, and dropped him right there, no questions asked.  The other North Korean was very arrogant with an "I dare ya" attitude, so we tied him up and took him prisoner.  I still have a lapel pin and the belt from one of the North Korean's uniform. 

We didn't really want to be traveling toward our company area just outside of Seoul with the prisoner.  We asked who was going to guard the prisoner and everybody said, "I'm not watching him."  The same guy with the Thompson said he would watch him.  We tied the prisoner on the tube of the gun with his hands behind him because he was so arrogant, and then tied him to the turret. We drove along until it was getting dark and we tied in with an Army outfit that had amphibious trucks called DUKWs.  Everybody had to stand their watch anyway and nobody wanted to spend the time guarding a North Korean prisoner, so he was taken out and BOOM, BOOM, they did away with him.  That's the way it worked during war.

The next morning we headed for our company area and when we went across some railroad tracks we threw a track on our tank.  We radioed and radioed that we were over tracks and didn't have any tank bar.  When in combat we were supposed to be able to repair all this ourselves, but we had lost all the stuff we needed to make the repair.  The retriever tank couldn't get back to us that day, so they came out, picked us up, and we locked the tank all up like we would lock our car up in a bad neighborhood.  They took us to the company command post (CP) and the retriever tank was supposed to go out, fix the track, and bring our tank in to us.  For some reason it took longer than it should have. 

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Flying Hand Grenades

Our crew was put on an outpost near the company area, which was in a railroad yard outside of Seoul.  Under about 15 sets of tracks was a tunnel for civilians to walk so they wouldn't have to walk on the tracks. At the end of the tunnel was a big field like a prairie.  It must have been some kind of agricultural area with some dikes for rice paddies.  There were lots of high weeds there. We were put at the end of the tunnel so nobody could infiltrate it.  At the other end was the command post for the company.  We were sitting there watching in the middle of the afternoon when a couple of South Koreans came up to us saying "Out here.  Out here."  They hardly spoke English, but one of the little Koreans made me understand that there were North Koreans out there.  He said, "Surrender, surrender."  I thought that maybe they wanted us to go out there and get them to surrender.  Trofholz, O'Keefe (the big Irish kid who was a driver in the other section), and I went out there.  I had a Thompson submachine gun with no extra clip and my .45.  O'Keefe had an M2 with no extra ammo and Trofholz had a pistol. 

I told the South Korean standing on the dike to tell the people out in the field to come out and surrender.  He yelled out there and all of a sudden here came a whole bunch of hand grenades flying out.  I jumped down and a South Korean jumped on top of me.  The grenades were exploding all around us.  I felt a sting in my arm and realized that I had gotten a little piece of shrapnel  in my arm.  I told the guy on me to get off of me.  I didn't know that he was hurt right then and that he was dying on top of me.  I pushed him off, got up, and started working that Thompson.  I was so damn mad.  I thought to myself, "Here I come being a nice guy and telling them to surrender and they're throwing hand grenades."  That's how my mentality was working.  A peace-loving person lets the enemy give up in the war and there those guys were trying to kill me.  I knew from the beginning what kind of enemy we were working against, but I was just being a good guy, I guess.  It was probably my Christian upbringing.  I don't kick dogs.  I feed birds and everything else.  I've always been like that.

I thought I told O'Keefe to circle around them so we could box them in, and I told Trofholz to go back to the CP and tell them that we had some North Koreans out there firing at us. Trofholz ran back and got a bunch of people.  In the meantime, O'Keefe circled around the guys shooting at us.  He was firing in toward them (and me) and I was firing toward him.  I said to him, "Quit firing.  You're shooting at me, ya dumb Irishman."  A bunch of our guys came out of the tunnel.  When the shooting was over there were three dead North Koreans in a pit they had made.  They had machineguns.  One who was shot up but still alive was taken prisoner.  They saw that I was bleeding on the arm a little, so they took me back to the corpsman and he wrapped my arm up. It was nothing serious.  The corpsman tried to patch up the prisoner while our guys and an interpreter interrogated him.


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Mission - Seoul

Once in Seoul we waited for a fire mission on one of the main drags.  There was an intersection and the infantry was getting a lot of fire from artillery and anti-tank fire.  We fired down there a few times, but I don't know if we hit anything or not.  While we were sitting there waiting for our next fire mission, all of a sudden I saw some South Korean police with arm bands marching a bunch of North Korean prisoners.  Some were in uniform and some were in civilian clothes that were used to try to hide their identity.  Being a driver, I didn't have much to do except sit there until the tank commander told us to move up.  I was watching the group through the tank periscope when the policemen told the prisoners to undress.  Small groups of them were walked into a building by a uniformed South Korean Marine with a BAR and tech radio.  I heard "Brrrrrup" and then the Marine came out to get other prisoners.  He was an executioner.  At that time during the war there wasn't time to set up a prison stockade and take people off the line to guard prisoners.  That's what war is all about, I guess.

The 5th Marines came in one way and we came in from another way.  There was street to street fighting in Seoul and it was harder for the infantry because they didn't know who was who and where the sniping was coming from.  I saw everything burning and not a window in any place.  Buildings were half blown up.  The town was just devastated.  There were narrow streets that our tanks in no way could get through, so we were just major fire support on wider boulevards.  We received some machinegun fire and a couple rounds of 90s, but really nothing much more than that.

We saw civilians in Seoul.  They were running down the street while the Marines were advancing.  I have a picture of a woman with a bandaged arm standing by a two-story apartment building.  The house was on fire and she was trying to get somebody out who was in the building.  She tried to stop everybody to help.  The Marines were going on by because there was a war going on, and we didn't stop.  Another thing I remember is that we were coming down the street while the infantry was firing and fighting house to house when we saw a little baby sitting in the middle of the street.  The infant had no diapers and was just sitting in its own waste crying.  Heine, my tank commander, was a father.  He got out of the tank, picked that kid up, took it in the tank and kept it there for several hours.  The baby was a little girl, and all she did was cry and scream.  Heine tried to cradle her, and all the while the war was still going on we were still going down the street and the infantry was still going house to house.  That poor kid--we were ready to throw her out of the tank. (Ha, ha.) We ended up in another schoolyard that had a wall around it.  Things had quieted down quite a bit at that time and we went around scrounging to see if we could get somebody who knew who the baby was.  Heine tried to give her some C-rations, but the baby just kept crying.  We made diapers out of our T-shirts and did everything we could until some old couple finally came and took that baby. I still remember her.  It's one of those things that really stick in my mind.  I have pictures of Marines that put their helmets on the little kids and took them into a foxhole to protect them.  As I have said before, there was a war going on, but the Korean people were out in the field planting and digging rice in the paddies.  We saw them getting killed, too, but it was like they were oblivious to what was going on around them. 

David Douglas Duncan was a famous photographer who spent a lot of time with the Brigade and the 5th Marines.  He took a lot of pictures and they were put into a book.  His pictures taken during the Korean War depict so much that I remember.  They bring back a lot of remembrances and things that I would probably forget otherwise.

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MacArthur as God

Seoul wasn't really completely secured yet, but MacArthur declared that the city was taken and he was turning the keys to the town back to Syngman Rhee.  Syngman Rhee came by in an old limousine, MacArthur came by in his Jeep, and the road was lined with South Koreans.  Where they all came from in the middle of the war like that I don't know.  We weren't allowed to see the ceremony.  We were way down the street where we had our tanks in a parking lot.  MacArthur went by waving at all the people.  He was the hero to the Oriental people. To the Japanese and Koreans at that time he was God. 

When the 1st Marines came through Seoul, Chesty Puller was their commanding officer.  He said, "I don't have enough Purple Heart men here."  In other words, they weren't doing their job because they weren't getting enough wounded and kills--you know, blood and guts.  Puller himself had been wounded seven times and he got five Navy Crosses as well as other medals.

The American Marines had done all the work at this point in time, so MacArthur did say some good things about the Marines.  Harry Truman was the one that was on everybody's fecal because he had called us nothing but a bunch of whatever.  Truman said the Marines had a bigger propaganda machine than the Army.  He made some pretty terrible remarks about Korea being a police war and that the Marines were nothing but policemen.  MacArthur's statements were a morale booster because we then started seeing guys with trucks that they called police cars and so and so and referring to police stations.  They took Truman's comments in jest.

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Sorrow and Laughter

The next day we left Seoul and went north.  There were leftover mines outside of Seoul, and we hit one.  It did very little damage--just blew a couple of pads off of our tank.  After Seoul we thought the war was almost over, but I don't think we got as far as the 30th Parallel when we ran into action in a little village.  There were two little towns with a rice paddy between them and a trail.  We tied into one of the little towns the first night up there.  I don't know if American engineers or North Koreans had put mines out there along the trail.  That night, all of a sudden we heard an explosion go off and we heard screaming and crying, including cries of children.  A farmer had come through with a cart pulled by an oxen.  There were maybe six or eight kids--some riding in the cart and some walking.  The old farmer tripped over a mine and the weight of the oxen caused it to explode.  It blew them all to Hell.  I think three or four kids were dead, and the rest were hurt pretty bad.  The screaming was just pathetic.

The sorrow that night was followed by an enemy engagement and laughter the next night.  We were in a perimeter area in a small village and the Lieutenant told Joe Salotti  to park the tank he was driving over by an old outhouse.  It stunk like Hell, but that's where they wanted the tank for a field of fire.  All of a sudden we got a bunch of incoming fire.  The infantry was behind us and they were firing out.  I unlocked my tank, jumped under it, and looked back because that's where the firing was coming from.  I didn't know if we were surrounded by the enemy or if it was the 5th Marines infantry, but I knew that the 5th Marines were supposed to be up on the ridge, not in positions down below and down near the road like we were.  I cranked off a few rounds with my .45. The North Koreans came in from out of the fields and the rice paddies, but we beat them off. It was a pretty good engagement because the next day somebody went out to do a count and there were over 300 dead.

Joe Salotti was out on his tank when the action started and he dove into the dung hole.  Oh, did Joe stink!  We could hear his cussing over all the shooting.  He yelled at me and I said, "What's going on Joe?  Are you wounded?"  He said he wasn't and said for me to come over and help him.  I said, "I ain't getting near you!"  (Ha Ha)  We were supposed to get a beer ration, but I don't think we saw more than three or four beer rations the whole time.  The Army guys always got the beer.  When we drove into the village that night we had used one of the town wells to tie our beer rations onto a rope and drop them in the well to keep them cool.  The guys started throwing buckets of well water on Joe. 


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Operation Yo Yo

After that we went back to Inchon.  We worked on the tanks and put our gear in them for water transport.  The gear could be used to land off a craft. In case we went under water the tank would still run because there were big tubes for the exhaust or the engine.  It was supposed to be all sealed and all the hatches tight so we could come in through deep water.  It wasn't just theory.  I saw it work later on when I was platoon sergeant.  We had to do it for practice landing out in California.  Some of it worked and some of it didn't.  (It didn't work on the particular tank I was on in California.)

Our tank platoon and a Dog infantry company loaded onto a Japanese LST to make the trip to Wonsan.  Dog Company was the one that really caught hell later on at the Chosin Reservoir. During World War II our government had given the Japanese a bunch of ships for their industry.  This one had been used for fishing in peacetime.  They must have requisitioned it back from the Japanese because the whole crew was Japanese.  They didn't use the head's washrooms and crappers.  Over the side--that's how they did it.  They also didn't use the galley.  They cooked in hibachi pots on the deck.  The thing stunk like fish.

We went down to the horn around Pusan from the Yellow Sea up to the Japanese Sea.  The harbor at Wonsan was heavily mined, so we floated back and forth along the coast for almost two weeks on that stinkin' bucket of balls.  One guy worked on the tanks down in the well deck.  That deck didn't have an exhaust, but we still had to run the tanks in it to charge the batteries.  We got headaches from the fumes.  One of the Dog Company guys was in the Reserves and studying to be a chiropractor when he was called into active duty.  He was a radio man and stood the radio watch.  We had command of the radio room because the Japanese didn't use any of the equipment there.  I got to be friends with him and we played cribbage together.  During the brief friendship that developed between us he did things with my neck to move it and pop it, and then my headache would be gone.  I don't know if he ever made it through the Reservoir.

The captain of the LST was Japanese, but he spoke fairly good English.  At that time I had grown a beard as much as I could.  He thought that I was old because that's the sign to the Orientals that you're old.  Papasans had beards.  He must have been probably 25 years old, but he had been on the big Japanese naval ship Yamamoto--the one that had the 18-inch guns that the United States sank during World War II.  He had lost several fingers on the one hand in that battle, and he talked to me about it.  Since he thought I was old, he told me about his daughter.  He said, "My daughter you take back. War almost over now.  You take back.  She be house girl for you in America.  She get good education.  She get nothing in Japan."  I guess he had worked in Seattle as a gardener for some time before World War II, and when he went back to Japan he became an officer in the Japanese Navy.  He was a really interesting man.  He brought us Japanese toast and tea when we were standing watch.

We made our own food on the LST.  Some of the guys had gotten care packages with things like pasta and salami.  We made enough spaghetti for almost the whole damn ship.  We acquisitioned a big thing of coffee that made 50 pounds of coffee.  We had that on our tank and we had coffee for everybody.  I remember once I made fudge with cocoa and sugar and I forget what else.  I put it on the fantail of the ship so it could cool.  When I came back somebody had taken four squares out of there.  I never did find out who did that. We had rations that were called B-rations.  They were supposed to feed five guys and sometimes there were small hams in them.

There was nothing to do on that damn ship except monkey around and do maintenance on the tanks.  We got almost in the middle of a typhoon.  The LST rolled back and forth.  It was unbelievable.  Two of the tanks broke loose even though we had them shackled down there with ties and a big chain.  We had to go down into the tank well, get between the tanks while they were banging together, quickly shackle them, and wait for the ship to roll the other way so we could get out.

While we were floating back and forth we saw mines that had broken loose.  We shot them so they would explode instead of hit the ship.  For two weeks it was just boredom, thinking, "If the war is over, what the hell are we going up north for anyway?" 


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Chosin Reservoir Campaign

We were so glad when we landed.  I needed to have a drink or something to get that LST smell washed out of my system.  Bob Hope was already there when we arrived.  It was kind of embarrassing to most of us.  We were protecting the airport at Wonsan and we saw him the next morning.  He had put on a full show the day before for the Army troops that had come up with the Koreans ahead of time.  As he was getting ready to board the plane he put on a brief show, kidding the Marines saying, "I got here before you did" and that type of thing.  It was kind of a joke.  There was a big crowd around and Marilyn Maxwell, one of his blonde entertainers, was waving at everybody.

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Thieves Amongst Us

When we first landed at Wonsan there was a seawall right at the harbor for a while.  We set tents up there.  One time I was out of my tent shaving.  I had a helmet full of water, my razor, and a can of beer sitting there, and I was all lathered up.  I went back into the tent to get a towel.  There were a bunch of Koreas in blue suits there being indoctrinated or trained or something.  They looked Navy, but I don't know what they were supposed to be.  There were two truckloads of them getting on trucks as I went into the tent.  When I came out my razor, shaving cream, mirror and everything were gone.  I was still all lathered up.  I said, "Goddamn thieving gooks."  It was probably out of necessity, but they would steal anything when we weren't looking.  Back down south they stole so many things we had to watch them.  I wasn't thinking of that at Wonsan. 

I had a dummy hand grenade behind me.  There was no powder in it, so all it could do was go "BANG!"  I pretended like the Koreans spoke English and said, "All right.  Who stole my razor?"  I was standing there with my grenade and they were all laughing.  I took the grenade and threw it into the goddamn trash and they all jumped out of their chairs.  They were all along the seawall, and some of them jumped over it into the damn bay.  I walked away laughing, but I never did get the razor. (Ha ha)

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Beating Rape Charges

There was one guy in tanks who was disgraceful to the Marine Corps.  He was accused of raping a Korean girl.  He was supposed to go on general court martial for that.  The Army was prosecuting this pretty good.  There was no cover-up or anything.  Before they could court martial him the Chinese came in out of North Korea and he beat the whole thing.  There weren't any witnesses or proof or anything.  We don't know if he really did it or if it was just propaganda or something.  He wasn't a likeable guy, so I wouldn't put it past him.

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Pulling Outpost Duty

When we were in Wonsan there was a village street where we had some sandbags set up for a listening post for a company perimeter.  The afternoon before, we were right near the airport in Wonsan.  We used to pick up  weapons as souvenirs and trade them to pilots who were flying in bottles of Japanese Suntory whisky, which is an excellent whisky.  We traded a rifle, a carbine, a Russian-made carbine or a burp gun for so many pounds of whisky.  I traded a Russian carbine for a bottle of Suntory.  One day we were drinking this bottle of whisky and I was feeling pretty good.  It came about 8 or 9 o'clock and P.P. Burns and I passed it back and forth and drank half of the quart bottle.

I got word that I was supposed to take the 10:00 p.m.-12 a.m. watch that night on the outpost.  At first I felt better, but then I started getting a headache hangover from that whisky.  I went out to the outpost and it must have been pretty close to 12 o'clock when I heard a noise down the village street.  I listened and knew that they were getting closer because I heard people talking and whispering.  I called, "Who goes there? Halt!"  I got no response.  We had a .30 caliber machinegun sitting there in case of any opposition or any kind of infiltration, but I didn't use it.  I used to have an M1, but I had traded it to an infantry guy that had lost his weapon.  That night I had brought out another Korean carbine that I used to carry.  It was brand new.  I called out a couple of times and saw somebody run. Nobody replied when I called for a password, and it seemed like they were getting closer, so I cranked a round into that new carbine instead of firing the machinegun and let one fly straight down the street.  I aimed it a little high because I wasn't sure if they were civilians out doing whatever or if it was a couple of Marine tankers who had snuck out and were trying to sneak back into the base.  Our tankers could hear the difference between the sound of a Russian carbine and one of our regular weapons, so immediately there were more people up on the ready thinking that we were being attacked.

I was relieved shortly after that.  The captain called me down to his tent and said, "What the hell were you thinking shooting that damned weapon?"  He really chewed me up and down.  I told him that I didn't want to fire the .30 in case there were civilians down the street.  After chewing me out he said, "Well, you were right, but get the hell out of here.  You're going to be on outpost duty from here on out."  And I was.  I pulled a lot of outpost duty. (Ha ha)

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Lost Rosary

I was brought up Catholic and I had a rosary with me in Korea.  It wasn't that I was always praying the rosary, I just always had it with me.  After we landed at Wonsan there was a little North Korean girl with a baby on her back.  She was a "washy wash" woman.  We had a bunch of dirty dungarees, so I gave them to her to wash.  My rosary was in one of them, and when she brought my clothes back all cleaned and pressed she gave me the rosary, made a cross with her hand, and said, "Me Catholic too."  I thought it was a nice gesture on her part, and my hope is that she was one of the ones that got evacuated out.  I lost that rosary later in Korea.  My mother sent me a cheap little plastic mission rosary and I carried it all through my military career. 

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Guerilla Action

From Wonsan we headed south where there was a lot of guerilla action.  North Koreans had infiltrated through the South Koreans.  We were sent down to a little seaport town.  I don't remember what the name of it was, but I still remember that the weather was just beautiful as we rolled into town.  It was a fishing village and they had dried squid and dried fish hanging in rows on lines.  I guess they were for the winter or for export or whatever they did with all that dried fish.  The town was so peaceful, the water was just beautiful, and it was a balmy fall day.

From there we went inland, but there was some report that there were Army rangers that had been attacked by some Koreans.  This must have been maybe about 30 miles south of Wonsan--maybe not even that far.  We went up to where they were to support them, but the action was over by that time.  We found out that most of them had been Marines during World War II and just after, and then they had joined the Army.

A couple of friends of mine from grammar school first joined the Marines, and then joined the Army. In fact, my friend Pat who was from my old neighborhood in the States, was left behind down in Pusan.  He was a couple of years older than me when we were in grammar school.  I think about the second year of high school he joined the Marines, spent a year or two with them, then got out and joined the Army.  He was one of the first Army guys to go over to Korea.  He laid with his leg all shot up for five days in a rice paddy until the Marines found him.  He said the worst mistake he ever made was leaving the Marines to join the Army.

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Spoiled Americans

There was a recent Associated Press story about civilians who were killed at No Gun Ri in Korea.  I can see how that could happen.  It happened to us quite a few times.  Hoards of civilians were coming down out of the Reservoir area.  We were the last tank in line.  We had a gun traversed to the rear because the civilians were coming and coming and we didn't know if there were Chinese mixed in--which they did a lot.  We fired over the civilians' heads and then they fell back a little, but the people wanted to get out of there so bad it was pathetic.  I mean, people with little babies, old papasans and mamasans that could barely walk, ox carts loaded to the hilt and oxen following them.  People don't realize what war is.  I have often said that the people in this country are so damned spoiled because they have never had to go through that.

When we went up to support the rangers we set up a road block.  As I said, hoards of North Korean civilians were coming down.  We placed a tank here and a tank there and we didn't let them get near us.  We didn't know who was in the crowd.  There were lots of cases where something looked suspicious and we had to shake the civilians down.  We found guns, and nobody would admit to who owned them.  There would be a two-wheel ox cart and we would see something sticking out that looked like a gun barrel or something.  We stopped it and went over to check it out.  Meanwhile there was somebody on the tank with the .50 trained on those people.  There were hundreds and hundreds of them wearing white garbs.  There were North Koreans who wanted no part of the Communists and just wanted to get the hell out of there, but there were also North Korean guerillas who had infiltrated with the civilians.

At that time I don't think any Chinese had been run into yet.  I do know a couple of guys who were going up north with the 7th Marines about that time, and they did run into them.  One of the guys in my local chapter of the First Marine Division was wounded at Sudong.  They had pretty good action there.  When the word came that they were running into Chinese we loaded onto railroad flat cars.  I remember riding all night on that train.  We were in the tanks and the soot from the engine got all over us.  When we went through the railroad tunnels we were just blacker than hell when we came out of them.  We went through Wonsan, Hamhung and Hungnam, and then dismounted at a certain point because there were only narrow gauge railroads and they couldn't transport us any further north.

One of my memories was being in a big town and seeing a pregnant Korean woman being interrogated by two Koreans.  An American Army guy and a couple of Marines were there, too.  The two Koreans were kind of rough with her and they were shaking her.  As I said, she was expecting.  All of a sudden she turned around and spit in the face of one of the Koreans.  He had a short bayonet-type sword, took it, and ran it right through her. I saw it happen.  Nobody said anything, not even the Army guy.  He turned away and said, "Well, that's just the way it is."  She was killed because she was arrogant.  That's why I thought that the South Koreans were just as barbaric as the North Koreans.  Another time we heard that a ditch had been uncovered with about 300 North Korean civilians who were shot down because they weren't sympathetic to the South.  They were political prisoners.  We didn't see it, although we were right nearby.  We were still on the flat cars at that time.

We were all filthy dirty.  All of a sudden there was an Army supply depot all lit up out in the middle of the night and in the middle of nowhere.  There we were on the flat cars seeing cases of food, little canned hams, cans of juices, tents, all kinds of stuff.  We were like, "What the hell?"  I couldn't believe that the Army had stockpiled all that food in the short time they had been in North Korea.  All of that stuff was for officers or whatever.  I have to say, the Army traveled good.  We got off the train and went over to some little Army Pfc who was standing guard.  I said, "How about letting us have some of those supplies?"  He said he couldn't do that and adjusted his rifle.  I pulled my pistol out real quick, and he dropped his rifle and said, "Okay. Take what you want."  We threw cases of ham and that stuff on the train and then got the hell out of there because the train had started moving.

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Jumped by Chinese

We went up to Chinhung-ni and we were there for quite a while.  We basically slept outside, but at that time we had a tent and our pot belly stove.  Steve Duro got a hold of some Korean red wine--plum wine or something, and he got drunker than a skunk.  He got kind of ornery when somebody made him mad, and he refused to sleep indoors in the tent.  He slept outside when it was 33 degrees below zero. He had a handlebar moustache. One night when he was sleeping I clipped both sides of his moustache.  Oh, that Indian was on the warpath!  He never did find out who did it. He was so proud of his facial hair.  He grew kind of a little fluffy one after that.

We did patrols out of there because there were a lot of reports of Chinese being in the area.  We could have just patrolled the area to see what was nearby and to decide if it was passable and if a tank could get through there, but at the time we had no infantry.  We went on a swamp patrol going down a dry, all rock and stone river bed.  This was one of the scariest times I experienced in Korea.

While going down the river bed we came to an area where there was a high bank on one side.  Suddenly a bunch of Chinese jumped down on the tank.  We tankers started protecting each other, each firing on each other's tank to shoot the Chinese off.  Lark's tank was behind us firing to knock them off.  One of the Chinese had a burp gun, and he was just above the head of my assistant tank driver trying to get the hatch open.  He must have thought that was where the driver was. We had night lights with a little frame around them on our tank and he hung the sling of his burp gun on there, trying to break open and lift the hatch up.  I took my pistol and shot him off the tank.  I don't know if I killed him or not, but he was gone.  We got the hell out of there and went back to the company area to report the incident.  When we got back the burp gun was still hanging there.  I still have that same burp gun. 

It didn't bother me that I possibly took a life.  He was trying to kill me.  It was self defense.  To this day I have no qualms about it.  War was wearing thin by that time.  It was early November and it had started getting cold there.  I think that the mind was getting numb, too.  I had seen so much death in Korea I knew that killing someone was just a consequence of war.  Where I live now there are deer.  I couldn't find it easier to shoot some people than I would those deer.  To tell you the truth, there are some people that don't deserve to live.

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The Sound of Bugles

We couldn't get any further north than Chinhung-ni. We were right near the bridge that the Marines blew below Koto-ri.  We heard the blast that night.  We had several skirmishes in our area, but the Chinese were concentrating on the rest of the people north of us at the Reservoir.  Operation Drysdale was led by an English colonel.  Some of the leaders wanted to stagger the tanks in what was a pretty good-sized convoy, but in reading history books I am led to believe that Drysdale wanted to group his tanks together.  That's how they got stuck. The platoons were all together and standing too close together.  There were just too damn many Chinamen around them.  They wore camouflage and I guess there was just no way of seeing them.  There were a hundred thousand of them all around them and they couldn't even see where they were.

They didn't have the artillery we had and they didn't have the tanks when I was there.  We had one attack from the Chinese.  We had set barrels out in the field about 100 yards out or so.  The guys trained there so we could fire a .30 caliber tracer bullet.  The theory was that it would light up the area so we could see in the dark.  It did happen one night, and it worked.  The 55 gallon drum of gasoline fuel blew up and gave us light to see the Chinese.

One particular night I was on watch sitting in the hatch.  It was so damn cold I didn't want to move.  All of a sudden bugles started and the Chinese ran right by our tank.  They didn't stop to do anything.  We shot them and they dropped.  From the light we could see that some of them had what looked like sticks.  They were drunk or doped up or something, and just ran right by us.  The 3rd Army's Puerto Rican outfit had moved in during the night just before the attack, but we didn't know it at the time.  We got to talking to them and later that night they were hit.  They had several casualties.  None of our tankers were hurt and our tanks weren't damaged, but they could have been if we hadn't set the charges and got a fire going. 

Most of the Chinese looked pretty young, but Orientals do have that youthful look.  I heard that some of them were pretty seasoned soldiers.  They wore rubber shoes, but later on they wore boondockers and stuff like that.   The Chinese fought like professional soldiers, but we saw them with no shoes on.  Their feet were just black because they were frozen.  I think they really did beat themselves because of the cold, just like we did.  MacArthur had no business sending our troops into North Korea.

The North Koreans were peasant fighters.  They could climb those hills up and down, be here one minute and over there the next.  I have to give them credit, they were tenacious fighters.  Oh, they were mean, of course.  That's what you've got to be in war.

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Sub-Zero Conditions

When we first got going up north we still had summer wear.  We had no jackets.  We had long johns, but I never got a parka until I came down out of the Reservoir, to tell you the truth.  I just had layers of clothes on.  We had mittens that had a hole for the trigger finger.  To this day my hands are very sensitive to cold and my feet are the same way because they froze on the way out of the Reservoir.  A year or two ago it got 36 degrees below zero here in Illinois, but here you're out in the cold for maybe ten minutes.  In Korea we were living in it. There were no fires to keep us warm.

I never had shoe pacs.  I had boondockers and galoshes.  When walking I got circulation in my feet, but once I was sitting in that tank and my foot was on that pedal constantly, I lost circulation.  It was hot in the tank in the summer, but in the winter it was extra cold because I had all that cold metal around me.  When we were wet we got stuck to the metal.  We had nights that were so cold.  One night we were right near a water purification operation that engineers had set up in a little creek that was running down below us.  We went down there to talk to those guys.  They were also operating a weather station, and they had recorded 33 below zero that one particular night.  They were having a hard time making purified water, even though it was a fast-flowing creek.  It froze faster than they could make it.

Before the Chinese really started getting everywhere with the rest of the Division up there, we once had some heat in Chinhung-ni. There was a hole where there was an old Chinese bunker, and since we were going to be there for a few days we put logs in it.  We always carried a pot belly stove on our tank.  We were a moving truck really.  We put the pot belly stove in the bunker and used raw gasoline in it instead of using the fuel we were supposed to use in it.  Three of us could fit in the bunker and the other two guys, Trepholz and Southward, dug a hole next to ours.  This was in an old Korean cemetery that had mound dirt over it.  They started picking their hole and then they started running into bones because the dead were not buried deep.  Southward put all the bones together in human form.  I've got a picture of it.  As I say, we became pretty morbid after a while.

Some of my memories of the war are blurry, but I remember that someplace along the line up north (I don't remember when) we had tents set up and somebody came in with a box of goodies.  He was from the Salvation Army.  We got little hand towels, some soap, a couple of candy bars and things like that.  We thought it was great, but then pretty soon he came back and said, "Wait a minute.  That's for the whole company."  There was only enough there for maybe one or two tankers at the most, but instead it was meant for the whole company.  I told him, "Here take it if they need it."  Everybody says that the Salvation Army does so great and they really do, but I have a sour taste about it because they gave the whole company what wasn't enough for even one or two tankers.

That same day Lark and I decided to take a walk down to where the infantry was.  There was a long line outside of a tent and we found out that some North Korean girl was being forced to have sex with a bunch of Marines.  I think out of necessity some village girls became prostitutes just to exist, but this poor girl was being forced to have sex with all of those guys.  We started yelling at them, but they said, "Mind your own business."  Lark and I told them that they were disgusting.  It could have been Army guys, I guess, but at that time there were no Army guys in that area.  I hate to say it, but there are even disgusting Marines.


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Back to Masan

I believe the 1st Tank Battalion was the last to come out of the Chosin Reservoir.  There was nobody behind us at that time.  Civilians were coming down after that and, as mentioned earlier, we had to shoot over their heads to keep them back enough, but there was no fighting going on with my tank.  I guess it was because the Chinese were so thoroughly beaten by that time.  That's why I say it wasn't a retreat--it was really a withdrawal under the orders of General Almond.  They finally admitted that we had no business being up there. 

On the way out of the Reservoir I remember seeing trucks with feet and boondockers hanging over the sides.  What bodies of dead Marines that they could locate were brought back.  We weren't in the area, but we did hear that there was a ceremony for the dead who had to be left behind in a mass burial.  Some of the walking Marines loved to ride on our tanks, sitting on the engine door because of the heat. 

Once back at the port of Hungnam we were down on the docks waiting for whichever ship we were supposed to load up on. As I mentioned before, the Army had everything.  They had hot showers at Hungnam and I said, "Wow!  That's for me."  I went over there and an Army guy said I could get a three-minute shower or something like that. The water had to be turned on and off with a chain.  I got really soaped up after being grungy for over a month.  Suddenly the quartermaster or whoever he was turned the water off.  I said, "Hey, pal.  I'm all soaped."  There was no hot water, heaters or anything, and I was cold.  He said, "Well, that's all you get.  Get out of there, Jarhead."  I took my pistol and said, "Turn that goddamn thing on or you're dead."  He was scared shitless and I didn't care.  I was being Asiatic.  I didn't give a damn.  He turned the water back on and I finished taking my shower stark naked with a pistol in my hand.

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Bean Patch 

When we came back from North Korea we went back to Masan to an area that was kind of a run-down old farm field.  I heard later that they called the area the Bean Patch.  We went into reserve and did maintenance on our tanks such as greasing, changing oil, and things like that.  My assistant driver had gotten all drunked up and started driving our tank around.  He ran over some officers' equipment or a tent or something.

One day we were supposed to fall out for decorations--Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars, whatever.  Sergeant Dent, the guy who was shot in the leg when Lieutenant Carson was killed, was supposed to get one, but he said he wasn't going to claim his medal.  One time we had some incoming short rounds that shredded a few tents, but didn't even come close to any of us.  One of the cooks burned his arm on a cook stove while he was cooking and he was up for a Purple Heart.  I was supposed to be one of the recipients but I thought, "I ain't going if Dent ain't."  I didn't fall out to get a medal that day, but I eventually got it when I came back and was at Dahlgren, Virginia.  A corporal who was a truck driver up in the Reservoir was stationed at Dahlgren when I was there.  He got two Silver Stars and a Bronze Star.  He was like another Audie Murphy. 

Our tank yard was in a schoolyard.  There was an M26 tank there that could be driven by an assistant driver, and that side had a bow gun that could be fired from inside.  Evidently somebody didn't clear that gun and it was still hot.  One of the guys in the other section in our platoon was walking by when a round went off and he was shot in the leg.  I don't recall his name, but they evacuated him out and his time in Korea was over.  He was one of the first guys wounded in our platoon.

We were at Masan during Christmas. I remember that a Catholic chaplain announced that there would be a Mass right near where we were.  I wasn't feeling good, but I wanted to go to Mass and thank God that I had made it back out of there.  I was still hobbling around on feet that were still kind of black.  Even my toes were kind of black, and that didn't go away for a long time.  A couple of other guys and I went to the Mass.  It was in a stable, just like the first Christmas.  It was one of those things that stick in my mind.

After that Mass I don't remember too much because I ended up on a cot in sick bay.  I was there for about a week and I was out of it for about three days.  I had frozen feet and a fever.  I thought it was a terrible case of flu, but they said I had rat fever, a form of malaria.  During the summer before, I hadn't taken the huge pill that I was supposed to take because I didn't think I needed it and I wasn't a pill-taker.  It gave everybody diarrhea with the idea that it was supposed to clean us out.

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Steve Duro

After I got out of sick bay I was feeling better, but I was still pretty weak and was on light duty.  I was in a squad tent that could sleep six or eight guys.  At night we had a pot belly stove that we could burn with raw gasoline to get it red hot. The woman that I had worked with at Marshall Fields sent me a little fold-up Christmas tree, sardines and some other things.  It was late coming and it was after Christmas, but it was neat.  I always loved sardines. By then it was January 1951 and I spent my 21st milestone birthday in Korea.

A lot of the professional Marines were alcoholics back in those days--I was probably becoming one myself.  I was sitting on my bunk which was across from Steve's bunk.  He came in one night all drunked up again and sat down on his bunk.  Steve started talking to the stove.  He was seeing images of his Indian ancestors in the stove and was really getting out of it.  We threw his ass out of the tent. 

The next day I composed a letter to my folks.  I hadn't written home since before the Chosin Reservoir campaign, so I figured I'd better sit down and write to them. I got an envelope for the letter, opened the tent flap, and walked out.  Steve was coming in at the same time I was going out.  He was still all hung over.  I walked up the street a few hundred feet where the company had a mailbox.  On the way back from mailing the letter to my folks I heard B-A-N-G!  Steve had decided to clean his .45 and had a round in it.  He let the thing go and BOOM!  It fired right through where I had been sitting.  I would have got it right in the groin because the bullet went through my sleeping bag, out of our tent, and into the tent next door.  My sleeping bag had a hole in it.  I wanted to strangle him, but he was twice the size of me so just I called him every name in the world.  Here I had so far come through the war and it was almost time to go home, but I could have been shot by some stupid drunk.  Duro got office hours.  He had been in the Corps probably 12 years at that time.  He never made higher than corporal because he was always getting busted down.  That was just Steve Duro.  Whenever he was sober he was the best guy in the world, but when he was drinking he just couldn't handle it.[KWE Note: At one point Duro rescued an injured tanker, carrying him out in his arms.]

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Court Martial

After we came down from the north there was an incident that resulted in court martial after we pulled into an Army city.  One of the tankers was a former Army guy from World War II.  He had later joined the Marines.  He was a nice guy, but he was a little strange.  He slept with his eyes open.  He had the bunk next to me Stateside before the war and I used to talk to him thinking he was awake because his eyes were open, but in reality he was sleeping.  First thing in the morning he opened his locker box, get a pint out, and took a swig as soon as he woke up.  Then he smoked a cigarette.  He didn't come over to Korea with us.  Instead, he came over to Korea as a replacement to "A" Company after the Chosin campaign. While we were in the Army city someone made him mad.  While a group of officers were in a meeting, he took a bucket of hot water or something and threw it all over the officers.  He got court-martialed.  I don't know what happened to him.  He wasn't with us very long.

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Screams and Leprosy

Down near Masan one night we were in some town when we heard a woman screaming inside of a house.  Our corpsman decided he wanted to go see who was hurt.  He and I went inside and found a woman giving birth to a baby.  She was almost fully all the way through by that time.  The corpsman helped deliver the baby while I stood and watched him. The Koreans tried to give us rice wine, food, and all that, but we told them no.  We wanted to get the hell out of there.  We had been in a hurry to get inside, but on the way out we saw an old woman with leprosy sitting on the front porch of the house.  Her nose was gone and so were her fingers.  To tell you the truth, I'm not even sure if that person was a woman or a man because parts of the face were decayed away.   I thought I was immune to all this, but I still remember it.  She (or he) was the first and last leper I have ever seen.  It was really sickening. 


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North Again

I think we probably stayed at Masan a couple of weeks to recoup, then we started heading up north again. The Chinese had retaken Seoul at that time. [KWE Note: They recaptured Seoul on January 4, 1951.]  Allied troops fought back and forth, working up along the east coast of Korea going through Taegu.  There was no railroad car that I remember at that time.  This was all by road. There was still a lot of snow in South Korea and as we tried to get up a hill we just kept sliding sideways.  We had to go back down and get a better gun position and field of view.  We were pretty road-bound.  It was very rare that we ever got off the road to chase something down so to speak, and the Korean tanks were pretty rough.

We didn't really have much activity at that time.  There were reports of a couple of rounds of sniper fire here and there where we saw some Chinese.  Most of the Chinese or North Koreans that we ran into were in such bad shape.  We saw them with their feet just rotting off.  They were still alive, but they were sitting there in pain.  They were dying and a lot of them wanted to be shot.  In some cases we shot them instead of taking them prisoners and treating them.  We probably would have lost most of them anyway because their feet were black and the skin was falling off of them.  

We saw a lot of Army outfits.  The commanders had a lot of Army bodies along the road where their artillery outfits had been ambushed.  There were hundreds of trucks and dozens of 105s and 550s.  I came down with the same flu that I had just had in Masan.  When we went into one of the towns I had the rot gut.  I didn't want to wake anybody up.  I heaved my guts up.  I had the chills and all.  I was really sick.  I guess that being up north had taken a lot out of me, and that weakness lasted eight or nine months.  I had lost a lot of weight by that time.  When I came back I was pretty thin.

After Seoul and Inchon we were attached to the 5th Marines, but now we were supporting the 1st Marines. Chesty Puller had the 1st Marines at that time.  Near Andong Puller was in his helicopter doing some scouting and ordering forward positions.  When the helicopter came down it hit some high power lines that used to run from one hill to another.  The helicopter made a hard landing and one skid collapsed.  I think the pilot broke his arm because he was holding it.  The landing was right near where our tank park was.  We didn't know that  Puller was on the copter at the time.  Puller was like Lincoln.  Everybody recognized him.  Chesty was cramped in the helicopter, saying, "Somebody get me the hell out of here."

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Catholic Mass

When we got to Andong the town was virtually flat.  People were living in cardboard lean-tos.  The town was in a valley and there was a big schoolhouse there.  Wow!  It was a big, probably four-story type thing like a university or something.  The town was all bombed out.  Nothing was standing except a Methodist church on one end of town on a hill that was shot up a little bit.  There was a Catholic church on the other side of the hill that had hardly any damage at all.  I wondered why would those two churches be the only two buildings standing when everything else was just flat.

We called our next interpreter Murphy,  He was from Masan.  It must have been Sunday because he said, "Does anybody want to go to Mass?"  There were about five of us who wanted to go.  We were not really religious, but we said we would go just for the experience, I guess.  We also thought we needed it.  We still wore leggings with our boondockers back in those days.  We had to take them off to go into the church as was the Oriental custom.  Other than that, it was still the old Mass identical to any Mass.  Of course, the sermon was in Korean.  It was a pretty full house in a nice, beautiful church.  I was an altar boy when I was younger and attended a Catholic school. I don't think I ever went to confession while I was in Korea, but I probably should have. (Ha ha)  Going to that service in Andong was meaningful to me.  When they passed for a donation we probably put every dime we had, be it American or Korean, in that bucket.

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Mayor Venlos

I guess we were pretty charitable to the people, too.  The kids were all looking for candy and this and that.  I used to line kids up whenever we came into any town on a flat car, get a can of C-rations out and a little plastic spoon, and teach them to say, "Yay, Venlos.  Yay, Venlos."  Then I would give each of them a scoop of the C-ration whatever it was--corned beef hash or lima beans or whatever.  The kids used to love it.  Whenever we got candy like a piece of Tootsie Roll here and there the kids all said, "Yay, Venlos!"  I could have run for Mayor in any one of those towns. (Ha ha) 


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Going Home

It was springtime, but it was still cold.  We had come all the way back up through Wonju and Andong and were almost where the war basically started.  One particular day we were going up to an area when an Australian plane came in.  Somebody had called them for air strike support because there were Chinese up on a ridge.  Before the Marine Corps air service could get there with napalm, the Australian pilot decided he could handle it.  He came in straight towards us and dropped napalm.  He was so close I could see the insignia on the plane and when the napalm went off, our eyebrows were all singed.  Our hatches were open because we were waiting to give fire up there.  Our tank had ground to air radio so we got on there and said, "Get the hell out of here, you dumb Aussie."

Towards the end just before we came home we were dug-in and stationary for a few days.  We had the Greek brigade on one side of us and the Turks on the other side.  The Greeks and Turks never do get along.  The Turks had a reputation of being pretty ferocious.  They were weird people, too.  They wore turbans all the time and did the Muslim prayers and this and that.  We heard stories of them going out and coming back with ears and noses of the Chinese. 

We were up near Chunchon when I was told I was being rotated home.  The war was still going on pretty heavy when I left.  I kind of hated to leave, but I was on that draft and I guess that I had enough points to go home.  Maybe my Purple Heart helped, too, because some of the guys that went over with me at the same time didn't get to leave yet.  Lark didn't come back until a little later.  In fact, I think he was still there when they got the M47s about a month or two after I came back.  Lark and I were closer than my own brother was to me.  We were tight over there and during the war we looked out for each other.  I was one of the fortunate ones because after that it was a stalemate type of back and forth war.

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Wrong Place/Wrong Time

I didn't see Korea as being a country worth fighting for.  We didn't look at it that way.  It was what our job was really. We lost some guys along the way.  Outside of Seoul we got a new sergeant.  He was a nice guy who was constantly showing pictures of his wife and kids.  He, Dent, and a couple of South Koreans went up to where some firing was going on and he was shot.  He really didn't last long in Korea at all.  He was probably there less than a month.  I can't remember his name.  Another time a staff sergeant--a good Marine, had to get out of the tank because he was claustrophobic.  He got out mumbling that he wanted to get the hell out of there.  And there was that kid who got shot in the leg with a round while he was clearing the piece.  It isn't that some of these guys were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  We were ALL in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Ha ha)  I don't know what happened to them, but I can see how claustrophobia could happen.  That one particular day when we lost two tanks and it was raining, I got an itch on my back side from my seat.  It was raw.  I was ready to kill Heine to get out of that damn tank.

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Black Feet

Once I was told to pack up my things because I was going home, I came all the way down through Korea on a truck for miles.  As I said, it was still cold.  I refroze my feet real bad.  A buddy of mine was on the same truck with me.  We were in an assembly area where we were being relieved so we could go home.  When I went to jump down off the truck I just collapsed.  I couldn't feel.  Harold helped me into a building and we got a fire going.  I took my shoes off and my feet were pretty well black.

When we got to Pusan to turn in all of our gear I was hobbling around.  We turned in all of our stuff before we boarded the ship.  As we walked down to the dock there were piles of pistols, canteens, and whatever for the replacements.  We could have taken our .45s stuffed in our clothes and nobody would have said anything, but we didn't want any part of it anymore.  I don't remember lying around there too much.  The Red Cross gave us coffee and doughnuts and I think we went onboard the ship USS Randall pretty soon after that. 

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The Flashback

I was still kind of stunned that I was going home that first night aboard ship.  Our bunks were tiered.  I had learned on the way to Guam to get a top bunk because when the guy on top got seasick and let go, you shouldn't be on the bottom.  Knowing that we were just going from Korea to Japan, I got the second bunk up. During the night I was dreaming about dead people walking toward me and then I heard a BANG that sounded like somebody was closing a burial vault.  It must have been about 2 o'clock in the morning.  I don't know how dreams coincide with reality, but it just so happened that a sailor was coming off watch, had closed the hatch, and was walking down the bunk aisle.  I jumped up, grabbed him by the throat, and started strangling him.  I woke up during this and the poor guy was screaming.  I let him go and he started running.  Everybody woke up and said, "What the hell is going on?  Why are you trying to kill that sailor?"  That was the last kind of flashback that I ever had.

While on the trip to Kobe, Japan, I went to sick bay because of my feet.  The doctor told me that I had better turn in and that when I got to Kobe the military hospital doctors would probably want to amputate my feet.  I told him, "No way!  Can't you treat them?"  He gave me some salve and something like sheep skin so I could wrap my feet.  I cut holes in my boondockers and walked around.  That kind of did the trick.  I was still hobbling around, but I was able to put shoes on then.

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Liberty in Japan

We had a couple nights liberty in Kobe.  Half the guys got off the ship one night and the other had starboard watch on the ship.  Waldoch and I went into Kobe and were drinking and singing in a bar.  There were girls and everything else there.  We were supposed to be back at the ship by curfew, which I think was 11 o'clock.  It was like 1:30 in the morning and we were still in the bar when in came a couple of other drunken Marines.  They said the MPs were after them and asked where they could hide.  Waldoch and I said, "Let's get the hell out of here." We went out the back door and started heading back to the ship.  When we got to the gang plank there was a guard signing in people.

Waldoch had just made buck sergeant at that time and said, "Oh shit.  I'm gonna get busted for sure."  He went onboard and was restricted to the ship.  That was the only punishment he got.  I thought, "To hell with it.  What can they do?  Bust me?"  So I went back to the bar in town and started drinking.  When I went back to the ship the next morning there was a garbage can near the ship.  I was still in my dungarees, so I picked it up and walked right on the ship like I was a worker.  The next night was not supposed to be my night off the ship, but I told another guy to grab hold of a garbage can and we walked off the ship.  We did the same thing coming back.  Going up it just looked like we had a detail.  Nobody bothered us. 

One night when I came back from liberty I was standing at the urinal.  On a ship this was a trough with running water in it.  This guy came up next to me and threw up a big, long, white worm.  He said, "Will you look at this damn thing!"

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Cheers and Tears

I think that out of the couple hundred that were on the ship, a bunch of guys didn't come back at that time. We sailed on to Yokohama where they had flown about 350 war dead from Korea to Japan.  There was a big ceremony in Yokohama.  MacArthur was there and the ship's newspaper heading read, "Cheers and Tears for Marines."  We hadn't gotten new uniforms yet, so we were still in our dirty, grubby dungarees.  They didn't want us on deck to see the ceremony because we weren't dressed for formality.  They tried to get us to go off the deck, but most of us just didn't give a damn.  After nine or ten months over in Korea nobody was gonna tell us to get off the deck, especially some swabbie.  They got out hoses to hose us down so we wouldn't be a disgrace to the ceremony going on.  The Army instructed the Navy to "get those Marines off the rail".  Some were making cat calls and shouting obscene things because there were women down there.  They just didn't want to let us stand on the ship overseeing this thing.

Some sea-going Marines came up on the ship in their dress blues.  They were part of the ceremony and instructed us, "Get down below, you Jarheads."  Some of the infantry guys put those guys over the fantail in their dress blues.  The next day before we pulled out with the 350 war dead in caskets, there was a showdown.  Two Marines lined us up because they were trying to pick out who did it.  We were grubby because none of us had changed yet.  Those Marines never did find out who did it because we all looked alike. 

I had a cribbage board that I probably picked up in Japan someplace, so Harold and I played cribbage all the way back to the States.  We played for a penny a point.  When we finally quit playing the game we weren't that far apart--maybe a dollar or something.  After we got out we still continued this game, wasting a lot of years playing cribbage.


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Back in the States

I remember that when we saw the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco it was really inspiring.  We knew it meant that we were home again.  We landed in Oakland where there was a band.  There were motherly "Doughnut Ladies.  I don't know if they were volunteers or not, but they gave us doughnuts and coffee.  It was just great.  And then later on, when I ended up in the hospital a couple of times with an ulcer, they brought a cake to me on my birthday.  They treated us really good.  It was a great organization.

I called my folks from San Francisco.  When we got to Oakland we rode in convertibles in a parade.  We were like big heroes coming back.  There was a big ceremony and each of us was given a card with the key to the city.

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Stinky Job

We were supposed to have physicals, do different tests and this and that once we got Stateside.  We weren't supposed to, but we got liberty the first night back.  The next day everybody was hung-over.  We had to do this embarrassing thing--defecate in a cup for a stool test.  Then we had to take that cup to a Navy corpsman who looked for worms and this and that.   One of the tankers I served with sat that thing down and tried to pass his stool into the cup, but he was so drunk he never hit the cup once.  He did it all around it.  The smell in the corpsman's room smelled worse than anything I had ever smelled in Korea.  I thought, "Wow!  How can a guy get a job like this in the military?"  It was the worst job I had ever seen.

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Train Ride Home

I wasn't a plane rider.  I was always the "trainer".  I can remember when I was in peacetime taking the train to what used to be the city of Los Angeles. I had a good time.   I just loved trains back then.  Coach cars.  Club car.  Diners.  Trains were a nice mode of transportation.  Kind of classy.  Harold was in a hurry to get home so he made a reservation to fly home.  I decided to take a train home.  Harold got fogged out in Frisco and couldn't get out.  They had to fly down south someplace and land there.  I got home the same time he did taking the train.  I think then it was like a two-day ride or something.

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Jim Wagner

I spent a lot of time with family and friends when I got home.  Many of the guys I grew up with were now being drafted into the Army and stuff like that.  I went to grammar and high school with a guy named Jim Wagner.  Every time I came home we got together and played baseball.  He got married rather young.  About the time I came home from Korea his wife was expecting.  Jim never told the draft board that his wife was expecting, otherwise he would have gotten a deferment.  But he was gung ho from hanging around with me when I was home.  He volunteered for the Marines instead of going into the Army or Navy.  He ended up going to Korea.  In fact, when I ended up in the hospital after I got back out to the West Coast, his wife was a couple doors over from me having a baby.  When Jim was in Korea he had a 35mm camera. He took a lot of slides and loaned them to me one time.  I never realized how beautiful Korea was.  The scenery of the country was just beautiful.


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Virginia to California

After my leave I had to report to Dahlgren, Virginia.  It was a naval proving ground about 90 miles south of Washington, DC on the Potomac River.  I had made buck sergeant by then.  I was the standing sergeant guard with five other sergeants.  I had to stand duty every fifth Friday, so I had good duty.  We did a port and starboard watch and were on duty one day on and off the next.  I used to go down to Virginia Beach and up to Washington, DC quite a bit on long weekends.  We went up to the home of one of the guys in Hartford, Connecticut, then to another guy's home in Philadelphia.  The base had nice shows, movies, and a nice little nine-hole golf course.

It was probably the best duty I had while I was in the Marine Corps.  In the morning we had steak and eggs cooked any way we wanted them.  Woody Herman came and entertained one time.  Like I said, we had a small component of duty time on the base.  We had 50 Marines, 150 sailors, and about 2500 civilian employees on the base.  The outer gates had civilian security guards and we did the inner security patrols.  We also did some Potomac work at that time where we were responsible for the Corps part of the base. 

It was all spit and polish because it was a Navy base.  We wore dress blues half the time and half dressed uniform the rest of the time.  We used to have to ring a bell like they do aboard a ship.  Two bells for every hour or half hour and post colors every morning with the loudspeaker bugle and all.  It was what some people might call the "real" Marine Corps, but I always wanted to be a field Marine.  It's probably a good thing I didn't stay in the Corps because I would have ended up like my former tank commander as an office sergeant or something like that.  

Frederick Dent was a World War II Marine.  Nobody ever heard what happened to him after Korea.  I heard that he wanted to stay in Korea.  They let him stay for one draft, but then finally they made him rotate back to the States.  I also heard that he wanted to go back and I thought, "Boy!"  Then after I was home a couple of months, especially after I got in a guard company in Dahlgren, I wanted to go back to Korea, too.  I could not have taken being in an office.  It was really soft duty in Dahlgren, but I missed being in tanks.  There was just still too much of the war in me.  I guess I liked the action and excitement of war and combat.  The adrenaline flowed doing a job that I thought I was doing good and doing some good for some people, too.  It was an experience, and if I had to, I would probably do it all over again.

They wouldn't allow me to go back to Korea since my return from there had not been that long ago.  I had met a girl up in Hartford and she was near the Marine base up there, so I put a letter in to transfer there.  It came back refused.  I heard that G.G. Sweet, one of my lieutenants, was in Quantico with a tank training platoon.  I went down to see if he could get me down there.  I put letters in for that because he said I had to make a formal request.  I put in for a couple of schools and put in to go back to Korea, but everything came back refused.

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3rd Marine Brigade

Chesty Puller was reforming the 3rd Marines back in Pendleton at that time.  He said, "Give the men more beer and whiskey and forget the pogey bait machines."  I put one letter for that man and I was back out on the west coast fast because they wanted experienced veterans to train while the new 3rd Marine Brigade was being formed.  That brigade later became the 3rd Marine Division.  I stayed with them for two years.  When I got to Tank Camp 3 in California, there were big Quonset huts.  Although Chesty Puller had said to get rid of all the pogey bait machines, there was more ice cream, pop and candy machines than I had ever seen before in the PX.  It was good propaganda, but it didn't work!

I was a tank trainer of sorts, although it wasn't really training. The kids in my platoon were going to end up in Korea.  They weren't actually kids, but I called them that because I was maybe three or four years older than they were, and I knew what they would be getting into when they got to Korea.  There were very few Blacks--I only had one Black kid in my platoon.  There was a shortage of tank men, but some of the members of my platoon had been through tank school and were already in tanks.  About half of them were reservists who had been called up and some of them were World War II guys.  One of them, a corporal from the south, had nine kids.  Now why was the government recalling him?  Because he was in the Reserves when he got called up.  He finally got out on hardship.  He was an older guy like about 32 years old at that time and had no business being there.  There was a tank outfit in San Diego that came up to Pendleton for their summer training.  We trained them on tanks. 

We had the nicest guy in the world for a lieutenant, but he was a real playboy.  He was in the Army during World War II, but his job was bartending on Eisenhower's plane flying between England and France.  When he got out he joined the Marine Corps Reserves.  He had some college, became a corporal, and then got a commission as lieutenant in the Corps.  He had just passed the bar, so he was a lawyer. He was married and he and his wife lived in a big house that he rented down on the beach in San Clemente.  He shouldn't have, but he associated with everybody and was always trying to get the guys to come down to his house, have a beer, and party.  There were girls there and the booze was flowing.

We were supposed to be out in the field doing problems, but then the lieutenant would say to me, "Gunny, why don't you go back and get a couple of cases of beer for the guys."  We were supposed to be training, but he thought it was all a big joke.  I started getting complaints from some of the kids in my platoon because they knew they were going to Korea and they weren't learning what they were supposed to be learning.  I went to the reserve captain a couple of times, but he just said, "Sir, we're working on this."  The complaints kept coming so I went to the captain again and said, "Sir, I can't serve under this man.  He's detrimental to the troops that are going over to Korea."  I took my job as a trainer seriously and was always concerned whether or not I was doing enough for the guys in my platoon.  The captain said, "Okay.  We've got to take action."  The next time I saw the lieutenant he was in a machine gun platoon trooping and stomping with them. 

At first we had no tanks.  We were up main side just doing all blackboard-type things.  Once we did get tanks it was to my advantage because the kids wanted to be tankers rather than infantry.  This was an anti-tank platoon with four really old M4 Sherman tanks with 75s as guns, not the 105s.   We had acquired them through scraping and begging so the kids could have some training on tanks.  We had to do our own maintenance on them using no matter what tools we had.  We could barely keep them running.  The tank gear had probably been upgraded to some reserve outfit while we were downgraded. 

There was another platoon that was a .75 recoilless platoon.  This was just before they brought in the Ontos, a little tracked vehicle like a small tank, but with six .75 recoilless rifles that could be fired in a volley.  Once they were fired they left a tremendous backlash of dust and there was no way to protect yourself from it.  You gave your position away every time you fired that darn thing, so you learned to get the hell out of there, even though you still had the protection after you returned fire.  None of the kids wanted to be in that 75 platoon, so I kept all the good ones and sent the ones that were goof-offs over to the staff sergeant in the gun platoon.  Nobody could stand him either. I think I was pretty popular because I wouldn't ask the kids to do anything that I wouldn't do.  I ran maneuvers with them, fired the machinegun, and tore down weapons.  I still hear from a half dozen or so of them. 

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Chesty's Inspection

I started running the troops.  Our tank park was about a mile from Tank Camp 3, so I thought for physical education we would double-time to the tank park, have lunch, and come back double-time.  At first the guys hated it, but I still felt like it was good fitness.  I was always a runner myself and a pretty good one, so I ran with them.  After a while my troops took pride in it, but the guys in other troops looked at us like we were goofballs.

One day Chesty Puller showed up for an inspection.  Even though we only had half the gear we were supposed to have, we got ready for it.  We took the different tools that we did have and put them on display.  At least everybody had tank helmets so we could stand there and look like tankers.  It had rained a little bit before the inspection, so we were standing in water.  We opened ranks so he could come for inspection, look over our gear, the personal arms of each tanker, and the tankers themselves.  Chesty came tromping through in his quarters [shoes].  His shoes were underwater and the bottoms of his khaki pants were all wet, but that didn't stop him.  In his rough voice, Chesty said, "Good lookin' outfit, Sarge.  Do you ever get to run those tanks?"  I told him, "Not near enough.  Too many of these boys are going to Korea."  He asked me if I went to Korea and if I had ever served under him.  I mentioned the incident with the helicopter and he said, "Oh.  That damn thing.  I was so mad that day."  He hardly ever swore, but he was swearing that day in Korea.  He kind of chuckled it off and then asked me if I was the sergeant who had been running my troops every day.  When I said yes, he said, "Good man.  I'm going to get the whole damn brigade to do this."  And pretty soon they were.  I must have been hated by everyone, but it was good physical fitness.   

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Wet Documentary

I was content with being an instructor and I was all for it when the 3rd Marine Brigade was supposed to go to Hawaii.  There was a rumor that we were supposed to go to Kanoni Bay.  We participated in a documentary for the Los Angeles television by going on a mock amphibious landing.  They had television cameras on the beach filming it.  Earlier in this memoir I mentioned the high tubes on the older tanks that were used to transport gear through a certain amount of water.  The tank couldn't be submerged, of course.  Underneath a tank was a round, metal inspection plate with bolts.  When the bolts were unscrewed we could take the plate off, drain oil and check different things on the tank.  Some of our tanks had two or three bolts missing.  Since we couldn't get replacements for them, we improvised by taping the plates over with waterproofing. During the maneuver in California I saw one of my tanks lean to the left as it was coming off the landing craft, but the driver made it to shore. I told the driver on the tank we were on to go way wide and we hit another one.  The driver came swimming up to the roof because the water had come pouring in the tank.  All that was sticking out of the water was the turret. We finally did get ashore.  It was one of those things that was unavoidable.  Who knew that a tidal basin was there.  They changed all the time because of the surf.  My two other tanks got ashore.  When the documentary came out on the Los Angeles television station, there we were sitting about 50 feet from the shore with water all around us.

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I'd Rather Be Wounded

After that we had a night problem.  We had short crews at that time, so I put a man on each of the four crews.  During the problem I started getting yellow and started throwing up blood.  They rushed me to the hospital and did all the tests.  I was diagnosed with a bleeding ulcer and had to stay in the hospital about 30 days.  I was somewhat healed with a very limited sipping diet and by doing a lot of the wrong things that they did for ulcers in those days, like banning milk.  They didn't have the endoscopy back in those days, so I had to undergo the terrible experience of the old-type test where they put a little hose in my mouth, dropped in  chemicals, and extracted harmful stuff like acid.  I would rather have been wounded because I think I would have healed a little sooner.

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Chesty's Intervention

I was sent back to the company after I got out of the hospital and reported to the company officer.  He told me that everybody was out in the field and that I should take the rest of the day off.  So I went over to the PX and got a a magazine.  I was walking back to the Quonset hut looking at the magazine when I heard, "Hey you."  I didn't pay much attention and kept walking.  Pretty soon I felt a hand on my shoulder and I was kind of spun around.  There was a 2nd lieutenant with shiny 2nd lieutenant bars.  He asked who I was and what outfit I was with. I told him I was in "A" Company tanks, my name was Staff Sergeant Venlos, and I was a platoon sergeant.  He said, "Then you should know better.  Don't you know that you have to salute officers?"  He really chewed me up and down in the company street.  I said, "Yes, Sir" and gave him a high boy salute.  A couple days later I was called into the office where I was told I had office hours with the Major because I had failed to salute an officer.  He told me, "Go there and just tell them that you wouldn't salute an officer over in Korea.  We didn't because it would draw attention to them."  When I reported to the Major's office the lieutenant was sitting outside there giving me dirty looks.  The lieutenant proceeded to read the charges against me--that I had failed to salute a commissioned officer and disrespected him.  He had made up a whole case against me. 

Puller's office was right next door and evidently he was listening to this.  He stuck his head through the door and said, "Major, would you mind if I handle this?  Lieutenant, Sergeant, come in here."  We both went in there and stood at attention.  He said, "At ease.  Lieutenant, have you been to Korea yet?"  The lieutenant said, "No, Sir.  I just reported from Quantico a week or two ago."  He was some infantry platoon leader.  They were very scarce.  Puller was a Brigadier General by that time and he proceeded to chew the lieutenant out, saying, "Well, this man was where you're probably going to be.  You better not have anybody salute you there because that's when you're going to draw attention to yourself.  We have a hell of a time enough keeping lieutenants alive over there as it is without somebody drawing attention to them."  He dismissed the lieutenant and told me to stay there.  I thought, "Oh boy.  I'm about to get chewed out for disrespecting an officer."  Puller kind of chuckled and said, "You're the one who runs your troops in the tank platoon, aren't you?"  When I told him that I was, he said, "You look like a good Marine, but don't you know better than to not salute shiny, brand new lieutenants like him?"  I told him that I did now and he told me to get the hell out of his office.

We used to see Chesty riding around in a Jeep with a twin boy and girl.  I thought they were his grandchildren because he was an older man.  Later on I met his son at a 1st Marine Division reunion in Washington, DC.  When I told him about seeing him riding around in that Jeep, he said he remembered doing that when he was a little kid.  Twenty years later he was a young Marine Corps lieutenant serving in Vietnam.  I asked him if he had any bad feelings about his dad and if he had been forced to join the Corps.  He said no, he had always wanted to be a Marine.  He stepped on a mine in Vietnam and lost both of his legs and almost both hands.  He wrote a book and I have one that he autographed.  A year or so later he committed suicide. 

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World Series

The playboy lieutenant was still there when I came back from the hospital.  One day the 1951 World Series was going on and the New York Giants were playing.  That's when Bobby Thompson made "the hit that was heard around the world."  The lieutenant insisted that he bring a television into our Quonset hut so we could take the day off to watch the World Series.  Sure, the guys liked it, but it was not on the approved training schedule.  The lieutenant was not following the training mission.  He thought it was all fun and games. That's when we finally got rid of him.  I wonder if he went to Korea or not or if he ever got back.

About a year later I was a platoon sergeant.  The brigade was supposed to go to Hawaii and re-form as a full division, but when they got overseas orders they went to Okinawa and Japan with a stop-over in Hawaii.  I wasn't helping my ulcer because I was still going out eating pizza and drinking beer--things I wasn't supposed to do.  I probably did things I shouldn't have been doing, but I just wanted them to learn as much as they could.  I talked Marine Corps and tanks with them and went on liberty with them trying to get as much in them as I could.  I also got wasted.  Eventually I ended up in the hospital  When I got out and returned to the company, I still wasn't feeling well, so I went to the mess hall to get some milk.  There was a mess officer who said, "How come you're getting this milk?"  He was giving me a bad time for it.  I was kind of ornery at that time with the pain I was going through almost constantly.  I think a lot of the guys in the platoon saw it, too, and kind of eased back on me when I did get a little cantankerous.

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Medical Discharge

About that time there was a tech sergeant who had been in the Marine Corps twelve or thirteen years and had fought in Korea.  They were serving him out of the Corps because of his drinking.  The same thing could have happened to me, so I went before a naval retirement board to request a discharge in January 1952.  A couple of former Navy captains and doctors deemed that I was not physically fit to serve, but I had the option to stay in and be treated.  In the back of my mind I decided that if I wasn't able to perform my duties they might throw me out of the Corps like they did the tech sergeant, so I chose the discharge.

I regret that I missed the overseas assignment, but I know I did the right thing.  I dated a girl named Annie in Compton, California before I got out of the Marine Corps.  I told her that I would come back to California after I got discharged, but I never did make it out there until about 25 years later.  I was sent home to await discharge, and during a two-week leave they mailed my discharge to me.


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Civilian Life

My folks threw a welcome home party for me and the people next door came.  They were bricklayer contractors and asked me if I wanted a job.  Being a neighbor, I didn't want to embarrass my folks and tell them no because I wanted to wait a week or so and take some time off, so I said that I would come to work for them the next morning.  I probably went back to work too soon.

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Job Hunting

That summer and winter I worked for them as an apprentice bricklayer, pushing bricks and mortar up to them on ramps.  Bricklaying was dirty, hard work, but it was healthy. I think I kind of rebuilt myself up after Korea because I was torn down with the ulcer and all that.  I worked in the hot and I worked in the cold.  When winter came it was very slow.  The pay as an apprentice was terrible.  The guys I worked with were pretty good drinkers, so we had a habit of stopping after work to drink.  It just got to be old, and I was hurting too bad trying to go along with them.  All the salary that I was getting as an apprentice was about a buck and a quarter an hour, so at night I went to work in a box factory doing whatever work needed to be done.  I wasn't married yet.  I got off the bricklaying job at 4 p.m. and started the box factory job at 5 p.m., working until 1 o'clock in the morning.  I worked with a couple of women in the factory and they invited me to have a beer with them, so I didn't get home until 2 a.m. Sometimes I didn't get home all night.  I'd go right from one job, change clothes on the job and go right to work on the other.  It was really starting to take a toll on me, so I finally quit the bricklaying job because the work was just so slow.  Eventually I left the box factory, too.  I didn't like the night work.

Some guys that I worked with joined what was called the Fifty-two Twenty Club.  Any discharged American veteran who had no job could receive $20 a week from the federal government for up to 52 weeks.  It was kind of like compensation as they tried to get their lives back together.  I kept looking for a job instead of joining the Fifty-two Twenty.

I applied for a utility job with the telephone company and then the fire department, but they told me they were already filled up.  All of their people who had been called away to Korea had jobs waiting for them when they came home.  I was told I could be hired temporarily and was put on a list.  After college Harold Waldoch had gotten a job with the city of Chicago testing civil service applicants for different jobs in various Chicago departments--police, fire, city foremen, all that.  Every time a job came up he told me that I should go take the test because the job paid good money.  I would go down and take the test, spending a Saturday taking them, but there was always some political clout that I didn't have.  For instance, I took a test for a city foreman's job to be in charge of a bunch of trucks.  I had been in charge of a bunch of tanks, which was different, but I knew how to control people.  Seventy-five percent of the test was test score and the other 25 percent was on-the-job training.  I scored very high on the test, but they threw it out because all of the city guys who had political clout complained that they had the training and had been doing the job, but I was civil service.  They turned the test scoring around, retested us and I still scored high, but now 75 percent of the test was seniority and 25 percent was test score.  I took a test for a fire department job and passed it, but I was five foot six inches at the time and didn't have the required height.  Later on I learned from several retired firemen that in the city of Chicago, one of the big wigs in the fire department was a former Marine and all I would have had to do was go see him. Then I would have had the clout needed to get the job, but I was still a kid and kind of naive at the time.  

There was a job offering in the newspaper for Raytheon Television.  They made television tubes for a lot of years, but they also made televisions and such. I went in for an interview that lasted from 8 o'clock until 9:30.  They sat me down in a spray booth, put a mask on me, and as television chassis came by on a conveyor belt I had to spray the inside of them with some kind of lacquer.  Come 10 o'clock there was a break for about a half hour.  I thought to myself, "What the hell am I doing here doing this?"  I got up and walked out, not telling anybody there that I quit.  I just walked out and didn't collect any pay.  They probably wondered where I was.  I then worked in a small punch press factory for a friend of a friend.  The money for running the punch press was pretty good, but it was just poke - poke - poke, doing the same thing over and over again.  Come lunchtime I said, "Hey, pal.  I can't do this."  I quit the job and walked out.  I just couldn't get adjusted to civilian life at that time.

A buddy of mine that got out of the Marine Corps, Buck, was working for a small excavating company in River Grove, Illinois.  He got a guy by the name of Badger--a grammar school friend of mine who had also been in the Marines, a job and he got me a job with the excavating company, too.  I drove a truck and ran heavy equipment.  We did excavation of home basements and that type of thing, as well as some road work.  I worked for them for about two years.  I then went on to work for a bigger construction outfit that another friend of mine worked at, running heavy equipment there.  I was a licensed heavy equipment operating engineer.  Although I wasn't supposed to, I carried two teamster's cards from two unions in case I was stopped because I drove both a truck and ran heavy equipment.  From there I went to a much larger outfit when they were building the toll roads around Chicago.  I ran heavy equipment on the toll roads and drove a dump truck.  I worked construction for about five years.

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Reverse Dear John

I didn't have a girlfriend when I went to Korea, but there were a couple of girls from back home who wrote to me.  There was one that I liked, but she sent me a Dear John letter after I got back from Korea, telling me that she was engaged to some lieutenant in the Air Force.  She later called me and said that she would like to see me.  She had broken off her engagement and wanted to get back together, but I had no feelings for her anymore.  I kind of gave her a Dear John in reverse. It was not a serious love affair, but she hurt me.

I remember going to see her once when I came home from Korea.  I got on a bus and was riding down along the lake in a double-decker bus.  I had a seat, but a little old lady got on and I got up to offer my seat.  There were a lot of people standing and then before I could catch her attention, some nut--a Jewish businessman-- squirmed into that seat.  I said, "Hey, Pal.  I got up to give the lady my seat."  I was in uniform and he said, "You damn servicemen.  You think you own the world."  I'm not prejudice or a racist, but he made me mad.  I grabbed him, threw him out of the seat, and put the old lady in it.  The bus driver stopped to throw me off the bus and everybody started applauding. People just didn't appreciate servicemen.  Like I said earlier, I was in a parade in Oakland when I got home from Korea, but that was all there was to it.

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Beautiful Donna

I had a dog named Queenie that loved beer.  I used to pour beer on the porch stairs and she would lap up the beer.  I was sitting on my front porch one day with Queenie when Donna Mae Schulz walked by.  She lived two blocks up on the same street, but I had never seen her before.  I just thought she was beautiful.  That particular day she was coming home on a weekend pass from her nurse's training at Grant Hospital.  Queenie ran out to greet her, barking as she went.  Donna asked me, "Does she bite?"  My response was kind of smart aleck.  I said, "Not too deep."  (Queenie wouldn't hurt a fly.)  She said, "Oh.  Smart guy", and walked on.  I was smitten with her and I think she kind of had her eye on me, too.  I walked by her place to see where she lived.

There was a tavern on the corner.  I used it as an excuse to go have a beer every night, but I actually just wanted to walk by Donna's house thinking that she might see me go up to the tavern.  I ran into her again and asked her if she wanted to go out for a drink.  She said yes.  On the outskirts of Chicago where we lived there were a lot of what they called dairy stores that sold milkshakes, sodas, and that type of thing, so I took her to one of them to have a milkshake. She was all dressed up thinking we were going to a cocktail lounge, so she wasn't impressed with the dairy store.  I had taken out a couple other girls before I met her, but it was nothing serious. Donna and I went out for a few drinks and dated, but we didn't get along too well at the time.  We fought like hell and I guess we still do, but with our 44th wedding anniversary coming up in a few days, I guess something worked.

Donna claims to be Norwegian because her mother was.  Donna was born up in North Dakota on her grandfather's farm.  During the depression days her father came up to North Dakota to work and that's how he met her mother.  They married up there and had three daughters.  One died very young, Donna went into nurse's training, and her sister Betty became a schoolteacher in Germany in the armed forces. 

After her training at Grant Hospital Donna had to do advanced training at Cook County Hospital.  I think that's where the television program Chicago Hope was filmed, and I think the show ER was filmed there, too.  I finally settled down and went to work for a construction company where my brother worked.  Donna graduated from her nurse's training and went to work in a small hospital.  Even though we weren't married yet, when she told me that one of the owners of the hospital had started hitting on her, I wanted to go down there and kill the son-of-a-gun.  I had her quit there and she went to work for a pediatrician who was one of the nicest doctors we ever knew.  He has since passed away.  She then went to work at the hospital where she took her nurse's training and was there almost 40 or 43 years on and off.

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Drunk Ulcer

Right after I got back from Korea I developed an ulcer.  When I first started dating the nurse who became my wife, I would double up in the car and she had to drive even though she didn't have a driver's license.  It was very painful and I did a lot of suffering with that damn ulcer.  Forty years later I found out that, like 60 percent of all ulcers, it was a bacterial-type ulcer.  I had stomach cramps and severe pain.  A lot of people complain about them seasonally and because of the change of climate, but mine was year-round.  I abused it, too.  I ate pizza and drank beer, thinking that if I got that ulcer drunk enough it wasn't going to bother me.  I had it treated at the VA.  I had many endoscopies to check on the ulcer and then one time they did a proctology.  They went beyond and up in my stomach and that's how they found it.  They treated it with antibiotics for about a week.  It was like a miracle. 

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Marriage, Jobs, Family

Donna and I were married in November of 1955, and 13 months later our daughter was born in December.  Winter months were slow for construction work.  I had a lot of days off and it was degrading to have to collect unemployment.  I had a family to support.  My brother worked as the manager of an air freight forwarding outfit and asked me to come and work with the company driving a truck, doing air freight, and this and that.  Donna worked a lot when the kids were little.  I worked days and she worked nights.  I had the kids during the night, then she came home in the morning and got them off to school or took care of them during the day while I went to work. We always liked to pay cash for everything.  We never bought anything we couldn't afford since we were brought up in the depression years.

I worked in air freight for about 15 years.  Then one of the guys that I worked with started his own company and asked me to come over with him.  I worked for him for a couple of years and then his company folded up.  For eight years or so after that I worked for a cylinder gas company pumping liquid gas into big tanks and delivering hospital, welding, and industrial gases to factories and hospitals, as well as oxygen for airline tanks. Most of my time was spent driving locally in and around the Chicago area, but I did some over-the-road driving for a guy.  I wasn't gone for weeks like some of the truckers.  We were maybe one night away, had a layover, and came back the next day.  My whole career was as a teamster, but because I was in different unions at that time, I wasn't credited with it.  After twenty years I took early retirement and drew a pension from the teamsters union at age 57. 

I then went to work for a little welding shop and then worked for my brother doing courier work, flying legal documents around the world.  I went down to South America, to Japan, and to France once.  Sometimes I would be up early in the morning to fly into Toronto to deliver something, then come right back, maybe take a drive down to Southern Illinois, and then night fly into Dallas, stay overnight, come back the next day, and maybe be in Toronto again that same day.  One year I flew over 100,000 miles.

I have three children now.  Susan is the oldest, then we had our son William Christopher (Bill) three years later.  Wendy is now 35 years old and is expecting her third child.  My son has three daughters.  One is in college now, one is a senior in high school, and the other is in seventh grade.  My oldest daughter has a son Michael in high school.

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A Little Too Salty

After Donna was expecting our second child I thought that I should get some education behind me instead of being a dumb truck driver.  Oh, I was making good money in construction when I was working, but I had a thirst for knowledge.  I went to night school at a Junior College and took some classes that I just couldn't agree with.  I guess I had a pretty strong mind set.  I took a sociology class where the teacher talked about  poor Black children.  The professor teaching the class had written a book and everything in the book was supposed to be "the Bible".  He said, "The poor Black child doesn't have a chance."  I stood up and said, "Those people don't know what it is to be poor.  I was poor when I was that age--poorer than these people ever thought of being poor.  Now they have all kinds of social reforms, Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) and everything.  We didn't have any of that."  I argued with him and I even walked out of his class one time. There were a lot of seventeen-year-olds who had just got out of high school taking his night course.  I said, "I'm a veteran and maybe a little too salty.  You can BS these young kids here, but you're not fooling me."  He came after me when I walked out, and I passed his course.  I took a philosophy class, too, and argued with the professor about the Trinity.  I never was a good student.  I learned to talk back. I passed that course, too.  I took a creative writing course.  I really liked that and thought I did some good work, but I had Harold, an English lit teacher, proofreading my stuff.  He said that I was my own worst critic because my writing was good.  But it was not what I wanted, so I would start the whole thing all over again.  We did that several times and he always told me to go ahead and keep doing it.  He gave me more help mentally than I did doing the writing.


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Final Reflections

I haven't told my kids about Korea.  I haven't even told my wife about it.  Nobody wants to listen.  The only ones that want to talk about it are those that were there themselves.  Even veterans who served often don't talk about it because everybody thinks they're lying--"Oh, it couldn't be like that."

I think we should have been in Korea.  It was a worthwhile action because otherwise the North Koreans would have come through and Chang Ki-shek would have swept all of Formosa.  The Philippines would have been communist with them rising.  Vietnam did go communist.  Japan would have been communist, too.  I mean the whole Pacific ring would have been communist, so I think it was a necessary war in a necessary time.  It did the job.  He didn't advance more than he did and I'm very happy with it.  When I was there it was a good war.  We were always moving.  I couldn't have stood being in trenches like it was World War I all over again.

It would have been a whole different world if communism had gotten a foothold in South Korea. Russia never would have collapsed because they would have had too many satellites.  Maybe China and Russia would have eventually gone to war, claiming rights as to who was the better continent.  You see where China is now.  The whole world could have been like that because China was encroaching.  I had a lot of friends that went over to Europe during the Korean War.  I thought they were in a more dangerous position that we were basically because if the Russians had ever started anything they would have swept through there and wiped everybody out with their manpower and the military tank might they had at that time.  Russia really made a mistake.  If they wanted to they could have done it very easily.

I regret that MacArthur was so foolish as to send us up to the Chosin Reservoir and didn't hold the line further down, probably along Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.  We should have stopped there because that was the narrowest part.  If we had held the line there, it wouldn't have agitated the Chinese.  The Chinese warned us.  The Indian delegation that came back from China told us, but MacArthur said we were going in.  We had no business in North Korea, I don't think.  They should have sent South Korean troops into North Korea. By that time they should have been able to clean up.

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Traumatic Reminders of War

About 23 percent of Korean War veterans became psychiatric.  I think we all did to a certain extent.  Lark, for instance, had some bad dreams and flashbacks.  I really only had that one flashback on the return ship to the States.  Harold was a school teacher, but he actually smoked and drank way too much.  He turned himself into the VA hospital and after five days he checked himself out.  I helped him cut down half of what he was drinking and told him what to drink.  We drank together.  I never came to the point where I needed a drink, but I smoked too many years.  I quit nine years ago, but I still have a little emphysema because of it.

When I first met my wife and we were dating, there was an automobile accident right near us.  There were two women leaning pretty heavily against a fence after they had been pulled out of the wreck.  It really bothered me.  I almost got faint seeing people here who were hurt.  Over in Korea it didn't bother me, probably because of the hardness of war.  It all left me when I got home.  One time I went to visit a girl who was in another automobile accident.  I had taken her out a couple of times.  She was all scarred up and I could hardly be there in the room with her.  Another guy that was in Korea about the same time as I was had his appendix taken out or something minor like that.  I went to visit him in the hospital, but I just couldn't stand to see him in the bed.  That went on for a couple of years.  Now it doesn't bother me.

The question, "What was the hardest thing for you in Korea?", is a hard question to answer.  There were so many things that were really difficult.  The heat.  The cold.  The death.  Seeing dead people a lot.  I did get hardened to that, but I couldn't harden myself to the weather elements like the monsoon rains.  The living conditions that I was in were really terrible.  I stop and think, "How did I exist doing that?"  I don't think I could do it all again--young boys in boot camp training being told, "You can't do it."  Then they do it as a unit.  I'm sure it was, in effect, brainwashing.

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Veterans' Organizations

I belong to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and the Korean War Veterans Association.  I am the past commander of the American Legion Post in River Grove, Illinois, and a life member of the Marine Corps Tankers Association.  I belong to others, but I've only been active in the American Legion.  I am a member of the Chosin Few, but I've never been to a meeting.  I figure I could never be one to belong to a whole bunch of outfits because I could never do justice to what I promised to do for that outfit.

When we lived in Franklin Park, Illinois, I knew only one Marine.  He was a peacetime veteran.  Out here in Galena there are about five of us guys who served in the Marines.  We attend the annual Marine Corps Birthday Ball.  We all fly the Marine Corps flag every day.  There are probably another eight or ten former Marines in town.  Five or six of us and our wives started getting together at one guy's house.  The next time we went to another guy's home and then we started getting more and more guys until we now have to meet in a restaurant here in town.  It gets bigger and bigger every year, and we have included World War II, Korean War and Vietnam veterans from other branches of the service. 

We have one Navy corpsman who joins us for men's coffees.  A group of about 30 of us get together and take turns buying doughnuts and coffee.  He always kids me, saying that he was a sailor.  He won't admit it, but he is so proud of being a Marine.  He has a big pickup truck with a big Navy sticker on the tailgate of the truck. One day I plastered a Marine Corps sticker about twice as big as his next to the Navy one.  I put a round, gold one on his windshield, too.  He never attempted to take either of them off.

One of the guys in our group is an old Marine named Bob.  He was on Guadalcanal during World War II.  He is the holder of two Silver Stars.  After he got out of the Corps he got married, went to college, and became a school teacher in Oak Park, Illinois.  He joined the Marine Corps Reserves and was called back to Korea but he didn't see any action because he was in supply. He is one of those guys that you can't sit down and talk to without putting on a helmet and flak jacket.  He talks about the war all over again. He can't hear worth a damn so when we walk in we say, "Hi, Bob" and give him the Marine Corps salute.      

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Visiting South Korea

I made a revisit to South Korea.  The Koreans that I've known personally are nice, but I wouldn't trust most Koreans because, as I said earlier in this memoir, they are very barbaric.  For instance, they drove like they were seven years old--whoever got there first.  In the airport when we were leaving I was pulling my suitcase and had another one.  A South Korean woman in open high heels and one or two other Koreans walked right in front of me.  I accidentally stepped on her and she said, "Oh, oh, oh."  I said, "Good for you, dammit."  My buddies told me to apologize to the woman and I said I wouldn't.  Another time at the hotel we were waiting in line to change money or pay a bill or something.  A Korean businessman all dressed up like an executive type came rushing up to the front of the line.  I said, "Hey, pal" and pushed him back.  My buddies apologized to him, but I asked them why they were apologizing to him.  I said, "They're ignorant and when they act like that I say they have to be treated like that."

This wasn't leftover resentment from the war.  Some of the Korean people were so gracious.  The Korean Marines furnished us with a bus and on the front of the bus it said, "Korean War Veterans."  There were only four of us and there were about eight former South Korean Marines. They were younger than us and hadn't been in the Korean War.  We were like an exhibition everywhere we went.  The Korean Marine Reserves had a Jeep that had a siren going as we went through the towns.  Most of the old people and the very young were very gracious.  They wanted to kiss our hand and hug us.  They bowed to us and thanked us.  I took a bunch of centennial quarters with me to Korea and passed them out to the little kids and others as a souvenir.  The mothers came up to me and thanked me and the kids looked up to me.  The 25 to 30-year old group of Koreans were yuppie types that walked around with a little cell phone in their ear.  They were always in a hurry and didn't say excuse me or anything.

When I went back to Korea in 1998, I couldn't believe Seoul was the same town that I saw in 1950.  Jim and I got down to an old section of Seoul where the streets were winding.  We saw a Catholic church and Jim wanted to see if we could find it.  We saw it, but we couldn't get to it because the streets were just like old Seoul.

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Snarky Comments

One time at a Marine Corps convention we were talking about what I refer to as "coming down from the Reservoir."  Somebody told me that "A" Company was never up in the reservoir.  I said, "Then neither was "B" Company because it never got further north than Hagar-ri, which is at the base."  The whole Chinhung-ni area was considered part of the reservoir area.  I felt like telling him, "If our company had been further up we wouldn't have bugged out like some of you guys."  There were some reservist tankers up there who were not a credit to the Marine Corps.

I mentioned old Sergeant Kuntz earlier in this memoir.  He went to Korea after I did with, I think, "C" Company.  Years later I saw him in Oceanside.  He was coming out of a movie theater as I was going in.  I said hello to him and mentioned that I heard he had gotten wounded in Korea.  He said, "Yeh, I got shot in the ass because some of the guys abandoned their tanks." 

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Keeping in Touch

My wife and I went to Camp Pendleton for a reunion.  The tankers had a firing problem there and they took us down to watch.  Another time my wife and 12-year old son went there.  I wanted to show them where I had been stationed at the tank park.  We got on the base and drove out to Las Pulgas.  I went in the office and asked if I could show my son a tank.  I told them that I had served with the Brigade in Korea as a tanker.  They rolled out the red carpet for us.  The colonel was off the base at the time, but a captain showed us around and took us to the tanks.  My son got in a tank with a little Hispanic corporal and he showed him all the lasers and computers.  He was so sharp.  As smart as these kid were, compared to them we old tankers were a bunch of dummies.  They really took their job seriously. My son was grasping it all, but he never had an inclination to go into the Marines.  He was born on the Marine Corps birthday. When my wife delivered him the doctor came out and said, "Well, you've got your Marine."  We had an older daughter at the time so I said, "Which kind?  You know they've got women Marines now."

My buddy Joe Moreno got married in California before the Korean War.  I was at his wedding when he married a half-Italian/half-Spanish girl in the old Watts area before they burned it down.  Joe was the sweetest guy.  He just never swore.  He had a nice family.  At the time I visited them his wife was nine months pregnant, but you couldn't even tell.  They already had a little boy who must have been three or four years old when I visited them.  Their little boy was the spitting image of Joe.  They invited me over for dinner one time after the Korean War and after I went back out to California with the 3rd Brigade.  Joe's little boy was watching one of those cowboy shows like Gene Autry or something, and he was walking around with a cap pistol.  On the TV show the good guy got his gun knocked out and Joe's little kid said, "Here, take mine" and then he threw it and broke the television set. I saw Joe one other time.  He never came to tanker association reunions, but one time his lieutenant in the 3rd platoon, G.G. Sweet, called him up and told him that he was coming to that year's reunion.

As I mentioned earlier in this memoir, my buddy Frank Falbert was on Guam when I arrived there.  He was still there when I was sent to China, still there when I returned, still there when I went back to the States, and still there when I was in Korea.  He ended up in the MPs.  He used to write to me while I was in Korea saying, "Greek, get me over there.  I'm going nuts.  Do you know anybody that can get me over there?"  I wrote him back and said, "Frank, stay where the hell you're at.  They're shooting.  You'll be right up there where they're getting shot."  Once back in the States I was stationed in a Naval proving ground in Virginia.  I had to go down to Quantico for some business and there was Frank as a guard at the gate.  He was a corporal.  He got out shortly after that and was on the Chicago Fire Department.  I think he was always in trouble and in fights there.  For discipline the fire commissioner sent Frank out to O'Hare field. He found a home there.  He used to do the cooking for the fire guys, and he loved it.  

My friend Harold Waldoch was in Korea in the Marines.  After we were discharged from the Marine Corps he went to the University of Illinois, got his teaching degree, and became a high school English lit teacher at Prosser High School on the northwest side of Chicago.  Prosser was one of the toughest schools in Chicago.  Harold was the type of teacher that took no guff from those kids.  Even though corporal punishment was not allowed, he still put kids up against the blackboard.  The kids were from the inner city--Latinos and Blacks.  He told me stories about some of the kids and their parents.  He called up the parents to say that their kid wasn't doing his work and he could hear the parents swearing and cussing the kid.  There was no one to encourage the kids to do better.  One time he gave the kids a test and 60 percent of them flunked.  He wasn't going to let them move on to the next grade, so he was called into the office.  They told him, "You can't flunk those kids."  Harold said, "The hell I can't.  They're not doing their work.  They didn't pass the test so they're not graduating."  When they told him that he couldn't do that, he said, "Either that or I'm walking."  He walked out and the principal came running after him.  A couple of blocks down the principal said, "Come on back and we'll talk."  They let him flunk the kids.  He retested them and they finally did their work and passed.  

One time when I was doing courier work flying legal papers around the world, I was coming back from Washington, DC to Chicago.  A young Marine in dress blues sat down next to me and I started talking to him.  He was a Latino kid who was really squared away.  He said that he was one of the security guys stationed at Camp David.  It was during President Reagan's time and he showed me a presidential plate that Reagan had signed.  He was very proud of it.  I asked him where he was going and he said he was going home to Chicago.  When I asked him what school he went to he said Prosser.  I asked him if he happened to know Harold Waldoch.  He answered, "He's the reason I'm in the Marines, otherwise I would have been in jail.  He was tough, but I respected that guy so much.  He taught me more than any other teacher.  My first stop when I get off the plane is going to see Mr. Waldoch."  I talked to Harold the next day.  He said that quite a few of his kids ended up in the Marines.

I was in San Diego recently.  Marine tankers have the highest reenlistment of any other branch in the Marine Corps.  It's a good life.  Many that I knew from the old days didn't really stay in tanks.  One mentioned in a Pusan Perimeter book got out of tanks and went into recruiting.  He was a sharp Marine who was really on the ball.  My old tank commander basically stayed in tanks, but he got ranked.  He was no longer in the field--he was in an office.  I had a feeling for years that maybe I should have stayed in.  I got a medical severance so I couldn't have stayed in, but I often thought that it would have been a good life if I got ranked.  There was still some adventure.

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Willing to Stop and Fight

I'm sorely insulted when people say that the Korean War was the first war that we didn't actually win.  Like I said earlier, if we hadn't stood there--hadn't held, communism would have been all down through the Philippines and probably Japan.  It would have been a whole different world if we hadn't stopped communism.   We were willing to stop and fight.  I'm still content that at least when I was there we took everything back and had more than what they had when we got there. 


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Addendum

In Memory of the Brave Men of the
First Marine Provisional Brigade's
"A" Tank Company

August 1950 Roster
 

Amaro, Joseph Anderson, Kenneth D. Antolosky, John
Ashcraft, Daughn R. Bacon, Delbert I. Baker, Earl E. Jr.
Barth, William Bauer, William L. Baughman, Prentiss
Beltran, Hector H. Benkert, Oscar A. Bennett, Merl F.
Best, Bill E. Bigelow, George H. Birush, Robert
Bloom, Edgar Jr. Bogart, Robert H Jr. Bouffard, Joe T.
Brathovd, Leonard E. Breland, Kenneth D. Bresnahan, Jeremiah
Brummitt, Doyle W. Bruner, James C. Bruss, Gordon
Burnell, Patrick H. Bustos, Everardo G. Byrnes, Patrick P.
Caparazzo, John Carolan, Patrick J. Carson, John S. - KIA
Catterino, Leo P. - WIA Centner, Raymond J. Chavarria, Basillio
Chavez, Robert Chomiak, George Christenson, Merril
Christopherson, Robert Glenn - WIA Churchill, Chester Collins, David A.
Collins, James A. Jr. Cooke, Curtis V. Copeland, Wesley J.
Cordes, Evan D. Cornelius, John W. Jr. - WIA Cornwell, Kenneth O.
Cosby, Conrad C. Cottrell, Johnnie C. - WIA Craig, Robert J.
Cram, Gordon S. Crawford, Robert E. Crews, Paul H.
Crook, Herman O. Crosby, James L. - WIA Davidson, James D.
Davis, Jimmy R. Davis, Keith U. Davis, Lester C. Jr.
Delre, Tony Jr. Dembinski, Raymond Dent, Frederick B.
Depreker, Peter L. Derr, Fredrick H. Jr. Desimone, Peter R.
DiNoto, Paul F. - WIA Dial, Everett - WIA Dial, Jack
Dillon, John M. Dodge, John F. Dorman, Grover D. - WIA
Dougherty, Vernon H. Doyel, Grant R. Drenning, David A.
Duro, Steve Eichman, F.N. English, Gearl M.
Fannin, Wendel H. Fike, James Flippo, C.B.
Flower, Norman L. Fors, James H. Fouts, Charles J.
Fowler, Lloyd C. Freeby, Robert L. Freeman, Herman
Frink, Robert J. Frye, Harvey G. Fullerton, Cecil R.
Gagnon, Donald R. Gokee, Lyle D. Graves, James D.
Greenwood, Leo E. Griffin, John F. Hargis, James W.
Harlin, Edgar E. Jr. Harwood, Kenneth M. Hauschen, William J.
Hayes, Ernest D. Haynie, John P. Heine, Robert
Henry, Francis R. Hermans, Theodore M. Herndon, Carroll W.
Herrington, John C. - WIA Hobson, Gerald W. Hoffman, Robert W.
Hoffmann, John A. Hopkins, Franklin H. Hubert, Joe D.
Jewett, Harry R. Kelsey, Joe  
Kemper, Donald F. - WIA King, James E.  
Kuhn, Robert J. Lambright, Whitley Lark, Robert L.
Louttit, Robert E. Luft, David Jr. Lundgren, Allen C.
Lundhagen, Louis F. Lynn, George A. Jr. - WIA Marinaro, Joseph J.
Martin, Dale L. McClead, Everett Jr. McGuire, Robert C. - WIA
McKissick, Charles Merlino, Jack A. - WIA Masagna, Pasquale J.
Miller, Paul F. Miller, Robert B. Mock, Robert A.
Moore, Eugene W. Moreno, Theodore F. Moss, Clifford J.
Munoz, Frank T. Murphy, Ernest P. Nasko, John Jr.
Nystuen, Keith C. O'Brien, Joseph L. - WIA O'Keefe, Joseph F.
Oberle, Walter I. Obersham, Edward J. Parker, Melvin G.
Peavler, Donald R. Peralta, Francisco Plumbley, Robert J.
Plumley, J.W.C. Pomeroy, William D. Prince, Frank W. Jr.
Rankin, Robert W. Reynolds, William M. Rhoades, Charles J. "Tiny"
Robinson, William E. - WIA Roth, Harry L. Rowe, Ocie
Salotti, Arthur Joseph Jr. Sandy, Walter E. - WIA Sant, Keith D.
Sargent, William E. Scalzi, Carmen F. Schaedel, Treadwell -
Scott, Alford C. Sherar, Donald R. Sleger, Joseph Jr.
Smith, Charles J. Smith, Wade D. Smoot, Wilbert W.
Solheid, Roger C. Southward, Charles Stedina, William L.
Stephenson, Joseph B. - WIA Stevens, Douglas L. Storm, Edward R.
Sweet, Granville G. Swinicke, Gerald F. Tarnowski, Stanley "Ski"
Thompson, Jack W. Thompson, Robert T. Thorpe, Claude D.
Tischler, Thomas S. Tomicek, Frank Trofholz, Richard Fred
Van Slyke, Donald A. Venlos, William G. - WIA Ververis, Kostas
Viveiros, Eugene P. Welsch, Lawrence J. Wilkie, Percy A. Jr.
Willard, Donald W. Williams, Allen R. Williamson, Eugene
Winter, Robert M. - WIA Yaikow, John W.  

 

September 1950 Roster
 

The following men were added to the existing "A" Company tank roster in September of 1950.

Blandford, Donald P. Braden, William G. Brott, Carroll L.
Dindio, Antonio Jr. Flores, Fidel G. Flores, Richard E.
Francis, Henry J. Harris, Darris L. Hertel, Charles G. Jr.
Jackson, Edwin F. Lindsey, Jimmy E. Niemann, Lewis K.
Petty, Joseph F. Smith, Horace L. Stockwell, Roy E.
Stranger, Joseph C. Tirrel, James R. Wild, Joseph H.

[KWE Note: The above lists were compiled by Robert Speights, a member of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade.  All credit to the compilation of them is given to him.  Robert died July 30, 2015 in Austin, Texas.]


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Picture Gallery


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From the making of Sands of Iwo Jima with John Wayne
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From the making of Sands of Iwo Jima with John Wayne
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William Venlos with his mother, Marion Habada Venlos
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William Venlos' high school photo from DuPaul Academy
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William Venlos with Harold Waldoc (1950)
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William Venlos' Combat Action Ribbon
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William and Donna Venlos
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S/Sgt. William Venlos
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Tank Platoon
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