Back to "Memoirs" Index page

Chris Christian
(Click picture for a larger view)

Charles V. (Chris) Christian

Dundalk, Maryland
Korean War Veteran of the United States Army
Nineteen-Year Veteran of the United States Air Force

"Looking back on things, if I had it to do all over again I would. I figure that you have to die sometime, and I can't think of a better way than to do it while serving your country to the best of your ability."

- Chris Christian


[A portion of the following memoir was submitted to the KWE by Chris Christian in May of 2006.  His memoir was expanded after a series of online question/answer sessions with Lynnita Brown of the KWE.]

Memoir Contents:

Back to Memoir Contents

Korea 1950 -1951
(My Time in Hell)


In some people's eyes, they see war as something glorious with a certain amount of adventure and glamour. Believe me, these people are few and far between and have rarely, if ever, been in a combat situation where they were faced with the split second decision of having to take another person's life or lose their own. There is a certain amount of adventure involved, but there definitely is nothing glamorous or glorious about killing another human being.  In a war-time situation, that's exactly what it boils down to.

What you are about to read are some of the experiences I had while serving my country as a combat infantryman. These incidents have absolutely nothing to do with glamour or glory.  They are accounts that I recall as best I can. There are some incidents that are best forgotten, but to do so would detract from the gist of what you are about to read.

There was nothing that the United Nations forces did that was disgusting and it is too bad the same couldn't be said for the North Korean and Chinese Communist soldiers. Some of the atrocities they committed were anything but legal under the rules of war, and just merely remembering the gruesome details about them can bring about a boatload of feelings of anger, depression, and sadness.

As an experienced combat veteran, I would be one of the first to tell you that war is an ugly business. It is not very pleasant to be standing next to someone and all of a sudden see his head blown open from a sniper's bullet or have to crawl through a rice paddy in freezing weather. Nor is it very pleasant trying to get some sleep while the raindrops keep pounding down on your steel helmet or the snow is falling and your feet are aching from frost bite.

As a father of two boys, I am extremely grateful and thank the Lord that neither of them had to experience the agony of war.  My heart goes out to those parents whose sons and daughters are in harm's way.  I can only imagine how my parents must have felt knowing that I could have been killed or severely injured at any given time and I am sorry for having to cause them such fears, but they were also proud of the fact that their son was doing something worthwhile for his country.  War really is hell!

Back to Memoir Contents


My name is Charles Vernon Christian, however, inasmuch as I abhor the name Charles, I prefer to be called "Chris."  I was born in Aurora, Illinois, on 21 June 1932, the son of Arthur Frederick and Viola Marie Stiles Christian.  My father was a machinist and Mom was a housewife who did work part-time at various jobs.  I had two sisters older than me--Bette Jean (now deceased) and Bessie Louise Evans, who is living in El Paso, Texas.

I went to grade school in Rock Island and Aurora, Illinois.  I never went to high school, but while in the Air Force (after my second hitch in the Army) I completed my GED high school equivalent.  I didn't participate in any after-school activities other than sports (track and field and football) at Central Junior High School in Rock Island.  I was in the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts.  We participated in various parades during national holidays.

I had some uncles who fought in World War II, but I don't recall who they were or what branch of service.  My father was too old and I was too young to be in World War II.  My father had served in the Army during World War I.  My school used to conduct war bond and war stamp drives, and had assemblies for that purpose.  Individually we gathered newspapers and metal whenever there was a used paper drive and scrap metal drive. As a family we also participated in blackouts and my father was an Air Raid Warden.  I remember the white steel helmet that he used to wear during the air raid drills.  During World War II, with the thought that we in the United States were not entirely invulnerable against air attacks, it became a practice to conduct air raid drills and blackouts.  During blackouts, street lights were turned off and a curfew was executed.  The lights of all residences had to be either turned off or window shades had to be pulled so there could be no visible light for enemy aircraft to use as a target.  It was the duty of the air raid wardens to check the respective areas of responsibility to ensure all the residents were complying with these rules.

After finishing ninth grade (junior high school), I had no intentions of continuing my education.  Much against my parents' wishes, I never returned to school after the summer vacation.  Later on in years I regretted that decision, but I have since made up for it, going on to earn a college degree.  When I was 16 years old, I lied about my age and joined the Illinois National Guard.  It has been so long ago I don't recall who my instructors were.  I do remember our unit going to Camp Cook, Illinois, for rifle range practice and two weeks of training.  I was in the 44th Infantry Division of the Illinois National Guard for about four or five months.

I then enlisted in the Army--mainly for the travel and adventure.  I had visions of romantic isles and the thought of possibly some military maneuvers or some other type of action.  After all, what does a seventeen year old kid know about life until he experiences some of it.  The recruiters didn't have to lift a finger.  I went to them rather than them coming to me.  Initially I attempted to join the Navy.  However, having failed three physical exams in Chicago because of lack of weighing enough (twice), and having a "charlie horse" on my third try, I said to heck with it and joined the Army.  No one else enlisted with me when I joined up on 15 September 1949.  My parents were proud that I was in the service for my country.  I was at the ripe old age of seventeen at the time.

I went from Rock Island to Junction City via the Rock Island Lines railroad.  At the recruiting station I met another guy, James O. Johnson from Galesburg, Illinois, and we traveled together after having our last night of freedom together in Rock Island.  Jim and I were in the same platoon all during basic training in Company H, 86tth Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division at Ft. Riley, Kansas.  Actually we were at Camp Funston, a subsidiary of Fort Riley that was located near Junction City and Manhattan, Kansas.  It wasn't the first time I had ever been gone from home, as I had been to a YMCA summer camp sponsored by the Rock Island Police Department on two occasions.

Back to Memoir Contents

Basic & Advanced Training

Camp Funston was pretty barren of trees and appeared to be as flat as a pancake with very few hills around.  To be perfectly honest, so many years have passed, I cannot recall a whole lot about basic training or the geographics.  I remember the first day of basic when we were issued uniforms, were assigned to a Company and barracks (platoons), and then were marched to the PX barbershop where we had our first GI haircut.  I think we were in the Third Platoon of H Company.  In those days, basic training lasted for fourteen weeks.  Believe me, after those fourteen weeks we could hardly wait to get back home.

Our quarters were the regular World War II-type wooden barracks with two squads downstairs and two squads upstairs.  There were nine men per squad.  The cadre rooms were at one end of the barracks with the latrine and showers on the ground floor.  It was not the Conrad Hilton, but it was adequate for our purposes.  At that time the Army was still segregated, so the black troops were in a different regiment in a separate area of the post.  Consequently, there was hardly any contact with them.

The first two weeks we were restricted to the company area with the exceptions of being marched to the PX and barbershop for that first haircut. On Sundays we were marched in formation to the chapel that serviced our unit for religious services. I guess in those days it didn't matter what our religious preference was.  We all ended up at the same chapel. Another exception was when we were marched to a football field where we were to root for the football team that represented our regiment.

I don't really recall anything about our cadre personnel with the exception of our assistant platoon sergeant.  He was an overweight PFC who for some unknown reason kept on my back about the slightest little thing until one night he called me into his room and asked me if I wanted to hit him.  I replied in the affirmative.  He held out his arms to each side and told me to give it my best shot--so I did.  I hit him with all of my might in the solar plexus and sent him to his knees.  He never gave me a bit of problem during the rest of my time in basic training.

During the fourteen weeks of training, we learned map reading, marksmanship, hand grenade training, hand-to-hand combat, bayonet training, transition courses, close order drill, first aid, and basic survival skills.  We were usually awakened by the Platoon Sergeant at about 0500 hours.  We immediately had to have our beds made and the barracks squared away.  Prior to going to breakfast, we fell into formation in the company street and were marched to the mess hall.  I could not complain about the food we were served.  As I recall, it was the normal food everyone else eats--eggs, bacon, French toast, pancakes, SOS, milk, coffee, and tea for breakfast, and various menus for lunch and dinners.  We were well fed with nutritious meals.  After chow we then re-formed outside the mess hall and were marched back to the barracks.  After a while it became pretty routine.

I took my basic training seriously because after Pearl Harbor and seeing the destruction of European towns and cities from the war in news reels and in the newspapers, I never felt completely at ease about the safety of our country from some type of invasion.  I wanted every bit of combat knowledge available in the event something like an invasion did occur, I would have the know how to protect my family and neighbors.  I always remembered my Boy Scout motto:  Be prepared.

I don't remember ever being awakened in the middle of the night.  Our instructors were strict, but they were fair.  The only problem I had was with the PFC in our platoon that I mentioned earlier.  We never received any corporal punishment, nor was I ever disciplined for any wrongdoing or see anyone else be disciplined.  The only troublemaker we had in our platoon was dealt with by the members of the platoon in the form of a GI shower that constituted of being scrubbed with GI brushes in the shower.  It was quite effective and cured the problem.

After three weeks we were granted permission to visit the PX and even venture to the main post (Fort Riley).  There were times when we had plenty of fun going to the PX and having a few cans of 3.2 percent beer or going to the service club and shooting a few games of pool--or just lying around doing nothing.  A week or so after that, we were granted permission to go to town, and that's when a bunch of us decided to get tattoos.  I was one of those that got a tattoo.  As a matter of fact, during the rest of the time I was in the Army, I got a few more.  No regrets.  They were mementos of places I'd been and things that I had done.

I didn't mind basic training.  As a matter of fact, I actually enjoyed it most of the time. Of course there were some aspects of it that I could have done without such as K.P. and pulling sentry duty, but I overcame those situations and became a better person for it--at least, I thought so.  I don't think there ever came a time when I regretted ever enlisting in the Army--even when I had to pull K.P. duty.  I made the best of it and took it with a grain of salt.  I guess the hardest thing about basic training was the homesickness I felt for the first couple of weeks, but that faded away after a while.  I later came to appreciate when I learned about first aid training when I got wounded in Korea.  I think it helped me from going into shock.

We finished up with basic training in December of 1949.  There was no ceremony, just as there was no ceremony when we returned from Korea.  When I finished basic, I felt that I could hold my own in a combat situation.  I felt that I had been trained sufficiently to meet the demands of combat.  I was more educated in certain areas and had more self esteem and pride in myself.  I felt that I could handle almost anything that came my way--good or bad.

Upon finishing basic training we were granted a two-week leave, which gave us the opportunity to spend the Christmas holidays with our families and loved ones. Now that I think about it, that was the last Christmas I ever did spend with my family. It was great being back home and making up for lost time with my girlfriend and my buddies. We had some great times that Christmas.  Inasmuch as my civilian clothes no longer fit, I was compelled to wear my uniform most of the time while at home.

A police officer friend of mine came by the house to see me and told me how proud he was of me and commented on my change of weight.  When I was a kid I had always wanted to be a cop and I hung around our police department like a flea on a dog.  I had made friends with Officer Joe Engle and once provided him with some information about a lot of bicycle thefts.  He was able to arrest the perpetrators and close out a lot of cases.  Ever since then we had become good friends.  He was the one who submitted my name for summer camp at Camp Hauberg.  I don't recall the name of the town it was near, but it was in Illinois.  When the word was received back home about my getting wounded, Officer Engle went to my house to ask my parents if there was anything he could do to help.

Shortly after the New Year began, I headed back to Camp Funston to await orders to my new assignment. After about three days of waiting, I finally got my orders to report to Camp Carson, Colorado, and was provided with the necessary transportation.  I traveled there by rail also.  In those days there was no advanced training.  We were assigned to a regular unit within the Table of Organization and Equipment (T.O.& E.).

Back to Memoir Contents

War Breaks Out

Upon my arrival at Camp Carson (which now is Fort Carson), I was assigned to Headquarters Company, 14th Regimental Combat Team. This was a terrific duty assignment.  I learned many things in the short period of time I was with the 14th RCT. I was selected for communications training, which consisted of both voice radio and Morse code training. I learned the voice procedures easily enough, but I never could get up to the thirty word per minute requirement for Morse code certification.  I was then trained in communication maintenance, which embraced the field laying of wires and establishing field switchboards and line communications. It was very good training and came in handy later on in my career.

The 14th was a Ski Regiment, so I was also trained to ski at Camp Hale, Colorado, located near the town of Leadville. I wasn't specifically selected for the ski troops--it was just a routine assignment and I enjoyed every minute of it.  A lot of people spend hundreds of dollars for a couple of weeks at a ski resort like Vail or some other resort, and there I was getting my skiing in for free. Granted, we didn't have the plush accommodations that one had at the resorts, but you can't have everything.  (Where would you put it?)  Rather, we were billeted in ten-man squad tents with wood burning stoves at each end of the tent. Needless to say, no one wanted to stay up during the night to stoke the fires in the stoves, so naturally when we woke up the next day we had to dress ourselves inside our sleeping bag.  This was one mountain sleeping bag tucked inside another one because at night the temperature dropped down to about thirty or forty degrees below zero. During the day though, we could walk around with just boots, socks, pants, and a tee shirt and be quite comfortable. Can you imagine skiing with only a tee shirt on?

After our two weeks at Camp Hale we were considered to be qualified skiers, even though we didn't receive any certificates of training.  We returned to our home base where I was assigned to the Pioneer and Engineer Platoon and was afforded more training of a different nature. This training was the art of making booby traps, how to destroy an enemy position with various types of explosives, and how to kill someone with our bare hands. We were also taught the art of camouflage and how to infiltrate and penetrate an enemy encampment. That was some real worthwhile (and fun) training. It was pretty exciting being able to sneak into someone's command post and take everyone prisoner without a sound.

At the outbreak of the Korean War on 25 June 1950, I had just turned 18 years old.  When the news of hostilities in Korea appeared in the media, I, along with thousands of other people wondered, "Where the hell is Korea?”  Well, in very short order I found the answer to that question.  Before the end of the month, I had received orders to go to Korea.  In the meantime, I hardly ever followed the newspapers or kept up with current affairs much.  As I said, I was only 17 and still a kid--but I grew up fast after arriving in Korea, and I  learned a lot.  I had no qualms about going to war.  I figured that someone had to do it, and there was no stampede to the Army Recruiter's office.  I never really gave war much thought at all.  To me, if we had to go over there we had to go over there, and I figured it would be over in a matter of a few months at the most.  Wrong!  I do think that, had it not been for the Chinese intervention, the war would have ended at least a year earlier than when the truce was signed.

Back to Memoir Contents

Journey to the Far East

I was granted a 14-day leave prior to reporting to Pier 91 in San Francisco for debarkation to the Far East. Naturally my parents and friends were concerned about my safety and welfare.  I'm sure they worried about me coming back home in one piece, but I didn't notice any tears being shed or anyone breaking down emotionally or mentally.  At 17 I didn't have very many possessions to deal with so I just packed my bags and headed out for Pier 91 in San Francisco, California.

Upon arriving in San Francisco in mid-July, I had absolutely no idea where in the world Pier 91 was. I wasn't alone though, because I met up with another GI who was in the same boat I was in--lost! We decided that the best idea was to grab a cab and have the driver take us there and split the fee. We hailed down the first cab that came along and told the driver where we wanted to go. The driver asked if we were headed to Korea and we answered that we were. He told us that he was a World War II veteran and didn't envy us at all.  Then he asked if we had eaten yet as it was lunch time. We replied that we hadn't and he said he had just the right place for us to eat. He took us to an Italian place where we could eat all the spaghetti and meatballs we wanted and drank as much wine as we could hold--all for a very reasonable price. We must have been there for over an hour and ate our fill. At that age I could really put the food away. As we were getting ready to leave, the cab driver grabbed the bill and said that the least he could do was buy us lunch considering we were going into a combat zone. A short time later, after getting a tour of what they call "snake hill”, we arrived at Pier 91.  When we got ready to pay the driver, he told us the ride was on him and wished us luck and a safe return home. We expressed our appreciation of his generosity and wished him the best of luck.  Then we parted company and reported to our assigned location.

Pier 91 was a Navy installation.  Not being familiar with the Navy ranks and designations, I wasn't quite sure as to who I should and shouldn't salute, so just to be on the safe side, I thought it better to just salute anybody that was wearing a hat with a visor. Later on I found out who had to be saluted, and as I wiped the egg off my face I just went on about my business of continuing to be lost. We never did find out where we were to report, and to this date I still don't have the foggiest idea as to how I ever got to Korea. I do remember boarding a C-52 transport plane wearing my khakis and carrying my duffle bag. As warm as it was in San Francisco, I didn't give it a second thought about wearing a coat.  But about an hour after we were airborne, I started getting cold as could be.  An Army major saw how cold I was and offered me his field jacket. That was a life saver. That being the first time I'd ever flown in a plane, I didn't realize it could get so cold.

After crossing the Pacific Ocean, we landed in Japan and I ended up at Camp Drake near Tokyo.  There was a huge smokestack with the patch of the 1st Cavalry Division painted on it. This was a sort of Replacement Company (called a Repo Depot) where it was determined which unit we would be assigned to. I spent about two weeks at Camp Drake and then found myself on a Japanese train en route to Sasebo, Japan. At Sasebo, we were loaded onto a converted Japanese liner and sailed across the Sea of Japan, landing at Pusan, Korea. As far as I was concerned, we couldn't get to dry land fast enough.  I got seasick during our crossing and couldn't wait for my stomach to stop acting up. I'm not certain as to the time of day we arrived at Pusan, but we did get off the ship as soon as it docked.  I don't recall any first impressions of Korea at that time.  I could easily determine that it was a war zone from all the munitions and materiel being offloaded from the ships and stored in the shipyard.

Again, I was placed in another replacement company, where I was fortunate enough to be assigned to the 2nd Squad, 3rd Platoon, Able Company, 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division (Tropical Lightning). I was transported to this unit via 2 1/2-ton truck.  I saw several groups of Korean refugees along the road.  It has been so long ago I don't remember the exact date I arrived in Able Company, but it was my new residence until I was sent back home.

Upon my arrival in Korea the weather was rather pleasant--much like it was at home.  But it was hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter.  Numerous troops ended up with frost-bitten or frozen feet due to the bitter cold in the winter.  Plus, sleeping outside with the snow falling all around us was no picnic.

Back to Memoir Contents

Protecting the Pusan Perimeter

I don't recall the exact location where the 35th was at the time I arrived, but I do know that we were assigned to protect the Pusan perimeter.  Able Company was located on a big hill nicknamed "Barbed Wire Hill” because of all the barbed wire and concertina wire surrounding it. In addition to the wire, we also had empty C-ration cans and ammo clips (used in the M1 Garand rifle) tied together and hung on the wire so when they were disturbed they would jingle, alerting us that someone (or something) was trying to penetrate our perimeter. They worked real well.  The only thing that did penetrate us was the incoming mortar and artillery shells.  As I recall, there were some trees on the hill, but not enough for any protection from incoming artillery or mortar fire (which we did get quite a bit of on a daily basis).  We didn't move around inside the perimeter.  Each unit was assigned their own area/sector of responsibility, and at this point in time, Barbed Wire Hill was our responsibility.

I was assigned to the 3rd Platoon and was lucky enough to be put in a foxhole with Bernard C. (Bernie) Neel. The Company Commander was Lieutenant Sidney B. Berry (now retired Lt. General Berry).  The Executive Officer was Lt. Luke Weaver (now retired Colonel Weaver).  My Platoon Leader was Lieutenant Charles Walz (now deceased).  All were outstanding officers who I would follow through hell and high water.  My Squad Leader was Sgt. Pete Benoit. Captain Berry was wounded once and was gone for a few days.  The EO, Capt. Luke Weaver, assumed command during the interim.  Captain Weaver was an extremely capable leader on a level with Captain Berry.

Bernie was from Chicago, Illinois and I was from Rock Island, Illinois, so we got along right good.  Bernie gave me a lot of very important information that helped me survive in Korea. I guess the most important bit of knowledge he imparted on me was what to do with the canisters that hand grenades come in. Never under any circumstances were they to be discarded. They are a dire necessity when nighttime fell and Mother Nature summoned us. "If you enjoy living," he said, "do not get out of your foxhole at night."  Hence the grenade canister. Without being graphic, I'm certain any person with the average intelligence can figure out how these canisters are used.

Bernie and I enjoyed each other's company and we kept making plans to improve our little abode, but for one reason or another these improvements never did materialize. While we were occupying Barbed Wire Hill, we didn't just sit around and look at each other. There was always some form of training going on--like learning how to sight and fire a mortar, the proper use of a compass, map reading, and how to fire a rifle grenade.  Another thing that I learned "on the job" in Korea that I hadn't learned in basic training was how to be afraid!

The mess tent was located at the bottom and rear of the hill. The Mess Sergeant was Sergeant Law.  For cooking in the field, the cooks did an outstanding job. I can still taste the pancakes and syrup that they used to make.  They were the best ones I have ever eaten to this date. Another of my favorite menu items was what was known as S.O.S. (creamed beef on toast). What with the location of the Mess Tent being where it was, going to chow at times was a real pain in the you know where. Going down the hill wasn't too bad, but the climb back up sort of took the enjoyment out of eating, particularly when it rained.  We had to use a rope to climb back up to the top, and all of us ended up slipping and sliding from side to side.  Every once in a while we would get some PX Rations of cigarettes, sodas, candies, and beer (Balantine Ale or Pabst Blue Ribbon). I sometimes traded my candy bars for beer and vice versa. It all depended on what my taste buds were hungry for at the time.

After being on the hill for about two weeks, I was selected to go on a reconnaissance patrol. I was armed with an M-1 Garand rifle, bayonet, several fragmentation grenades, and a couple of white phosphorous grenades.  I also had a personal weapon (.38 caliber snub-nosed revolver) that I kept concealed just for additional protection.  This was my first recon patrol, so I was naturally a little nervous, even though we had no idea when we started out that we would be engaging the enemy.  I recall that shortly after we left the hill, we came upon a small village with only a few Koreans living there.  It was suspected of being used by the North Koreans for targeting our hill with mortar and artillery fire. The Patrol Leader determined that it would be best to destroy the village.  Those Koreans that were there were given time to get their belongings and evacuate the area, then the dwellings were torched.

We continued on with our mission and eventually came under fire by the North Koreans. We returned the fire and soon were caught in a crossfire. As I was going up the hill, I was about to drop down under a large bush for concealment.  However, just before I dropped down I looked into the bush and saw about fifteen or twenty big spiders in there.  I had one split second to make a decision of joining those spiders or continuing up the hill. I opted for the hill, hoping that the North Koreans were lousy shots. Fortunately for me they must have flunked their marksmanship classes, as I was able to get behind a big boulder for cover. I don't recall how long this firefight went on, but we ended up being pinned down and called for artillery support, as we were out of mortar range. As luck would have it, all the artillery units had other firing missions, so we got fire support from Sergeant Hart and his crew of our Sherman tank that was sitting on our Barbed Wire Hill. They were able to lay enough 76mm shells on the enemy to give us an opportunity to withdraw from the area and make it to an area that was out of range of the enemy fire.

When I reached for my canteen for a drink of water, I realized that it was empty.  I had forgotten something else that Bernie had told me--conserve my water when on patrol. There was a rather large pond where we were located, but it had a lot of green scummy stuff floating on top. I was so thirsty that I went to the pond, knelt down, separated the green stuff, filled my canteen cup, and quenched my thirst. It's a wonder that I didn't croak from some sort of disease or at least come down with some type of a weird ailment. I didn't even get a case of the "GI's” from it.

After regrouping and taking care of the wounded and those that were killed, we returned to Barbed Wire Hill. That was my first taste of combat and to be perfectly honest, it had a very bitter taste. I learned also that the tank had fired so much and so fast that the breech of the 76mm tank gun had frozen up.  The tank had to be removed from the hill to go back to the rear for repairs. Without that big iron monster sitting where it was, the hill seemed as naked as a jay bird. That tank on our hill gave me a strong sense of security and I missed it being there.  This incident was the first time I saw any dead enemy soldiers.  It was also the first time I saw a dead American GI.  Sure, it bothered me seeing the dead GI, but I had to force it out of my mind and help get him off the hill we were on.  It bothered me then and it still bothers me now just thinking back to those days.

The first couple of months or so that I was in Korea, we were defending the Pusan Perimeter and fighting like hell to keep the North Koreans where they belonged.  After that, in September 1950, we started our big push north and kept extremely mobile from then on.  I liked the job I was doing, although I will admit that at times I wished I was a tank crew member.  But there is a certain amount of pride that goes along with being an infantryman.  Not to take anything away from the other services such as artillery, engineers, ordnance, etcetera, but infantrymen were the first ones who had to knuckle it out with the enemy.

As far as holding up emotionally, I think I was right there with the rest of my comrades.  As far as fear goes, if anyone tells you that he wasn't afraid while in a combat zone, he's either a liar or an idiot.  In combat one always had the fear of either getting wounded or killed or getting someone else wounded or killed due to our negligence, like falling asleep while we were on watch.  Casualties were almost an every day event.  When the action starts though, the adrenaline kicks in and overcomes the fear for a period of time.  The body, just like God, works in mysterious ways.  I always had a concern about being taken prisoner, considering what I'd heard about the way POWs were treated, so I always kept a single bullet in my pants pocket just in case I might need to do the "Dutch Act."  No one in my company was ever taken prisoner.

I thought we were very well armed, equipped and trained, in view of the various situations that came our way.  The only time we ran short of ammo was when we had unexpected, extended engagements with the enemy.  We were told that this was the last foothold we had in Korea, and as such we couldn't give it up.  Everyone I knew went hell bent for leather and gave 100% effort.  We held our ground and overcame the enemy, sending them back running.  It's rather hard to say where we were in Korea as we were on the move so much.  I do recall that when we were in Yongdong-po we discovered a beer brewery where we filled up one of our water trailers with Korean beer.

Back to Memoir Contents

DDT Burns

For a brief period of time I was assigned to a detail of guarding a bridge near our hill on the main supply route (MSR). Four other guys and I got to stay in a little Korean house that wasn't too far from the river. This was a pretty good detail and we did have quite a bit of free time on our hands, so there was a lot of 500 rummy being played with a deck of cards that was old enough to vote.

Almost everybody who served in Korea got at one time or another a case of crabs.  I was no exception.  The itching could almost drive a man insane. It was during this time on guard detail when I had my little bout with them, and I itched like crazy. I came up with a real brainstorm and sprayed my private area with some DDT. I had no idea what kind of effect it would have, but about three seconds after I sprayed myself, I felt that someone had set a blow torch to me. I think I made it to the river in record time and, with clothes on and all, I plunked my stupid butt in that water just waiting for the burning to quit. I don't recall how long I sat in that river, but I could hear all the other guys laughing their heads off at me. Well, it wasn't a total loss.  At least I brought some laughter where it was really needed. Of course, it goes without saying that I never did do another stupid thing like that the rest of the time I was there. As they say, we learn from our mistakes.

Another time, I had to take a message to the company command post (CP) on Barbed Wire Hill. For those not familiar with the password system used in the military, the way it works is that a soldier is given a countersign word to be used when challenged by a person guarding a particular area. In this case, the password was "plate” and the countersign word was "saucer”. It was starting to get dark and I thought I'd have enough time to get to the perimeter.  But as I approached the barbed wire, I heard someone shout, "Halt, who is there?  Friend or foe?"  I responded "friend” and the voice said "plate.” Then I realized that I had forgotten the countersign word to the password. For the life of me (which it was), I couldn't think of the damned countersign word.  I started rattling off all sorts of kitchenware, and when I heard the sound of a round being chambered into the breech of a rifle, I came right out and said I forgot the countersign word.  I told the person that I had a message for the CP and started rattling off my name, my serial number, my unit, and the name of my platoon leader. Thank God that was good enough information and the challenger allowed me to enter. After that little incident, I mentally forged in my mind every password and countersign word ever given to me.

Charlie Company was across the road and quite some distance from us on another hill. Every unit has some colored panels that were to be displayed on the ground and very visible from the air. They told our Air Force fighter pilots who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. The colors of the panels were changed every day and the Air Force was advised as to the current color panel to be displayed. Well, I have no idea how it happened, but someone in Charlie Company dropped the ball and didn't display the proper color panel, resulting in their hill being strafed a couple of times before we were able to notify the Air Force of the mistake. Thank God no one was hurt by this mistake, but since that situation, every day the color panel was confirmed between the companies of the battalion to insure there were no recurring acts like that one.

Sometime in September 1950, we left Barbed Wire Hill and proceeded north toward the 38th parallel. We took back a lot of real estate that had previously been taken by the North Koreans.  That was a long way away, and numerous hardships were met en route. Our primary mode of transportation was the soles of our boots, but once in a while we lucked out and got to ride in trucks or even on tanks.  There were also some lighter moments during that trek, too. I can recall marching up the dirt roads and taking in the scenery (if one can call rice paddies scenery) and envying the tank crews who could ride rather than walk. From what I could gather from the scuttlebutt, this move was the beginning of what was called the "Big Push” north. After more than fifty years, the memory isn't all that great, so I am not able to recall exact dates of incidents.  I'm lucky if I can recall the months that these incidents happened.

Beginning in late August and continuing through the month of September was the monsoon season in Korea, with rain coming down constantly.  Everywhere we looked there was mud (so much for the spit-shined boots). That reminds me of the time prior to me being the radio operator when we engaged the enemy and I found myself in a position where the North Koreans were on one side of a large ridge with a railroad track and I was alone on the other side. Someone had apparently called in an air strike because, as I looked up, I saw a British Spitfire diving straight for me as the pilot had released a bomb. I saw that bomb and knew right well it was going to hit me smack on the head.  As I was running, it seemed that with every step I took I picked up another five pounds of mud on each foot. Finally I couldn't take another step, so I dropped down and waited for the explosion to put me into the next kingdom.  But it never happened. That pilot really knew what he was doing, as the bomb cleared the train tracks and landed right in the middle of the enemy forces.  We were blessed with great air and artillery support, in addition to the superb help from our heavy weapons companies and platoons.

At some point in time I was given the position as BAR man. For those unfamiliar with military terms, BAR stands for Browning Automatic Rifle. A BAR team consisted of a gunner and an ammo man. Fortunately, this assignment didn't last very long because after a while that BAR seemed to weigh a ton.  Besides, another guy in the platoon wanted to be the BAR man.  That suited me just fine because the life expectancy of a BAR man in combat was about three minutes. Enemy forces hated BAR teams because of the firepower they could generate, so they tried to eliminate them as quickly as possible, concentrating their efforts to that end.

The ages varied among the enemy, as they did in our unit.  There were young guys and older guys combined.  The youngest Korean soldier that I came across didn't appear to be more than fourteen or fifteen years old.  In my opinion they fought pretty much as we did, with the exception of their "banzai" attacks every once in a while.  The enemy was armed with old M-1903 Springfield .30 caliber rifles, 9mm Russian "burp" guns, and Russian-made tanks.  They had hand grenades that were a little bit bigger than a flashlight battery with a long string attached to the safety pin and a ring attached to the string so they could slip the ring on their finger before throwing the grenade.  They also had Russian-made concussion grenades.  The reason they were called "burp" guns is because when they were fired, they sounded just like someone letting out a big belch.

Back to Memoir Contents


It was at this time that the Army made use of the radio training that I took at Camp Carson, Colorado.  Lieutenant Walz selected me to be his radio operator. Shortly after that, the third platoon made contact with the enemy.  As we were engaged in a heavy firefight, we were pinned down for quite some time. The main source of enemy fire was from a sort of foxhole with a steel plate over the top that the guys inside raised slightly enough to lay down harassing fire--then let it slam back down. They also used a hand-held periscope to monitor our movements, so rushing that position was somewhat difficult. As a matter of fact, it was completely out of the question. After a considerable amount of time, we were all getting frustrated by being held down just by a couple of guys in a man-made pillbox. In junior high school I was rather good at track and field and always ran the 50 yard and 100 yard dash, in addition to the 440 relay. Without bragging, I was a pretty fast runner (especially if I wasn't carrying around a lot of Korean mud on my boots).  I suggested to Lieutenant Walz to let me have his Colt .45 and a couple of hand grenades and let me rush the pillbox in a zigzag pattern. The Lieutenant wasn't all that crazy about the idea, but with the situation being what it was, there really weren't a whole lot of other options on the table.

After Lieutenant Walz tossed it around in his head, he reluctantly acquiesced and handed me his pistol. I unloaded the SCR 300 radio I had on my back and maneuvered to a position where it would be the shortest distance to the target. As the platoon laid down some cover fire for me, I made my zigzag sprint to the pillbox. I was shaking from fear and the adrenalin was rushing through my body in anticipation of what could happen. I pulled out the safety pin on the grenade I held in my hand and as the enemy troops inside the pill box raised the steel plate, I tossed the grenade inside and jumped on top of the steel plate just long enough for the grenade to blow and do its duty. I could feel the steel plate lift a little from the force of the explosion and I knew that some North Korean soldiers wouldn't be standing in a chow line that night. I ran back to my position next to the lieutenant, returned his pistol, and put the radio back on. Lieutenant Walz patted me on the back and told me what a good job I had done. I told him it was no big deal but that it was something that had to be done so we could continue with our mission. I'm not going to lie--I was scared as hell and afraid that I might not do it right and get everyone else killed. Later that evening as the lieutenant was writing his report, he told me that he was putting me in for the Bronze Star.  I told him I really wasn't interested in any medals.  I just wanted to get the war over and go back home.

A few days later, we out-gunned the enemy and took possession of another hill.  (Actually, it seemed more like a small mountain to me rather than a hill).  We dug in for the night and set up our perimeter. Fortunately, nothing happened that night and after my turn at watch I got to sleep all night through--which was a very rare occasion. We stayed on that hill for a couple of days and went out on a couple of recon patrols with a few contacts and minor skirmishes with the enemy. We checked out and searched a lot of Korean refugees heading south due to previous incidents of GI's being gunned down by North Koreans posing as refugees and concealing their weapons under their white civilian clothes. This time the refugees were all legitimate people who just happened to be victims of the war. I really felt sorry for them, too. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose one's home--to either have it taken away or to be bombed out of it--after having spent so much time, money, and effort into owning one.  We could see the disappointment in their faces as they passed by us, and my heart just went out to those poor souls.

In the morning, we finally left this hill and proceeded further north up the MSR (Main Supply Route).  As we marched along, we came upon some elderly Korean women standing alongside the road handing out baked sweet potatoes. I never was much for sweet potatoes, but I took one anyway as I was hungry and I didn't know when we would be getting a break to eat. After I took my first bite, I knew I had to go back and get another one or two if I could. The ladies just smiled and handed me two more and I gave them a bow out of respect and appreciation. Man, those were some good tasting potatoes.  If it weren't so far, I'd have gone back to get a couple more. Okay, as I said, I was hungry.

It was around this time that Bernie and I got separated.  I can't recall how that came about. I think Bernie had some medical problem with his feet that had to be taken care of or something like that. At any rate, his camaraderie was sorely missed.  This may sound cold, but I made it a point not to get too close to the other guys in my company, with the exception of Bernie and Bill Bloomer, another foxhole buddy.

Later in the afternoon I was told to report to the Company Commander.  I wondered what I had done wrong. Captain Berry told me that the battalion was going to be entering an area where they would be separated by a mountain range, and that they needed someone with radio experience to go on the ridge of the mountain to act as a relay for transmissions from one side of the mountain to the other. Four other guys were assigned as my escort so I wouldn't be up there all alone. We drew enough rations and ammo for four days and shoved off on our trek. It took us almost two hours to make it to the top of the ridge, but there was still quite a bit of daylight left.  After making contact with Captain Berry and getting instructions, we continued the march. It was a pretty long mountain range and as it got dusk we were ordered to halt where we were and dig in for the night. There were radio messages almost all night long that had to be relayed, so I didn't get a whole lot of sleep, but as a young kid of eighteen years, I really didn't need a lot of sleep. I have to say that other than the radio transmissions, it was rather pleasant there just looking up at the stars and enjoying the quiet solitude. We couldn't have any fire as it would give away our position and be an invitation for North Korean artillery or mortars.

Early the next morning we ate our cold C-Rations, I contacted the captain, and we continued along the ridge. After two days on that ridge we were finally ordered to return to the main unit. I reported back to Lieutenant Walz. It felt good to be back "home” again with my buddies. For the next three days we were placed in reserve status, which provided us with time for some additional training in areas that we were a little rusty with. It also gave us time to take a shower, do some letter writing, play cards, just loaf around, or read a book. We had one book that five guys were reading at the same time. When the first person read about fifty pages, they were ripped out and passed on to another guy who in turn passed them to another guy, and so on. Needless to say, there weren't any libraries in our neighborhood and reading material was really scarce. Every once in a while we got some issues of Stars and Stripes and we could read all about how the Wolfhounds (27th Infantry Regiment) were winning the war. That regiment had one helluva public relations office because we read about how the Wolfhounds did this and the Wolfhounds did that. You'd think they were the only unit in Korea fighting the war.

Back to Memoir Contents

Memories of Korea

I recall one of the periods we were in reserve and occupying a ridge that had some type of foliage growing that looked like a tobacco field. Inasmuch as we were out of cigarettes again, another guy and I took a hike into that field and gathered up a bunch of the dried out leaves.  We didn't know what kind of plant it was. When we got back to the bivouac area we got out some Red Cross writing paper and crumpled the leaves into a sheet of that paper and rolled our own cigarettes. We ended up with a cigarette seven inches long and about half an inch in diameter. When we lit them up they almost made our toenails curl up. Wow! Two puffs and that was it.  From then on we just bit the bullet and resorted to chewing tobacco or just suffered the withdrawal from tobacco.

I never really got too much mail, but what I did get was of a positive nature with good wishes and prayers for a safe and speedy return home.  Packages that were sent never did get to me.  I think they got rifled through by some rear echelon pencil pusher.

It was also during this time that a bunch of about twenty-five Koreans dressed in their native white clothing and their "stove pipe” hats were brought under guard to the base of our hill. Just as I had finished eating lunch and was heading back to my foxhole, some sergeant told me to assist guarding these Koreans while his guys grabbed a bite to eat. I didn't know if these Koreans were civilian refugees or what because the North Korean soldiers were famous for wearing civilian clothes under their uniforms.  In the event they got overrun by our troops, they were known to discard their uniforms and just stroll down the hills as though taking a walk through the park. They all appeared to have been victims of a napalm attack as their faces were all scabbed over and they had their faces protected from the flies buzzing around their heads by netting attached to their hats and tied around their neck. They smelled to high heaven and it took everything in me just hold down my lunch from their stench. After about a half hour, the other guys returned, stood the Koreans up off the ground, and proceeded on down the road heading south. As soon as I was relieved from that duty I practically ran up that hill just so I could get a breath of fresh air. The only time that I smelled anything as bad as those Koreans was when I happened upon a corpse that had been a victim of a white phosphorous grenade.  That smell hangs on forever and it's extremely offensive to the nasal tract. As a matter of fact, it almost made us want to lose our breakfast when we smelled it.

From this area we moved further up north.  After a while, we got to a burned-out village where we were given a break. The weather wasn't all that bad for a fall day. I sat down, leaned back against the wall of a burned-out house, and enjoyed the warmth of the sun as I started to eat some C-ration crackers and jam. As I was on my second cracker, a small Korean boy about six or seven years old came and sat right in front of me watching me eat. I put some jam on a cracker and offered it to the boy.  He ate it like he hadn't eaten in a century. I gave him all the crackers and jam that I had and we just sat there enjoying each other's company.  I chatted to him as if he could understand what I was saying. He just kept looking at me smiling. He probably thought that I was some kind of nut running off the mouth to someone who had no idea what the hell I was talking about. About a half hour later we were told to pack up and head north again. I scrounged as much food as I could from the other guys and gave it to the boy and was able to find a couple of elderly Korean women who agreed to take care of him. I wasn't all that much into kids, but I will have to admit he was a cute little bugger.  To this day I still wonder whatever became of him. If he is still alive, I wonder if he ever thinks about the GI that gave him some crackers when he was hungry. Who knows?

The next couple of weeks were difficult. We had some pretty rough engagements with the enemy and on one occasion we had a real big fight where we lost a few men. One particular fatality stands out in my mind because he did something that everybody knows you're not supposed to do.  He knew it, too, but he did it anyway and it cost him his life. When you overrun the enemy and take possession of the real estate they were occupying, the first thing you do before looking into a foxhole is toss in a grenade. Well, for some unknown reason this guy--who always played a harmonica--stuck his head over the edge of this particular foxhole and got a face full of bullets from a Russian burp gun. At that time about five grenades went into that hole and the North Koreans that were in there joined their ancestors. As long as I live I will never forget the sight of him lying on the ground with a mass of blood and tissue where a face used to be.

We entered the town of Pyongyang and set up inside of an abandoned school house. We finally got to sleep inside and out of the weather--which still was holding pretty well. In Pyongyang, a patrol ran upon a beer brewery. With the captain's permission, a water trailer was emptied out, filled with beer, and brought back to the company area. It wasn't Anheuser-Busch or Coors, but as the saying goes, "any port in the storm.” It really didn't taste all that bad and it was a lot better than some of the sake that we had come across as we toured the Korean peninsula.

Down times were infrequent, short, and consumed with training.  After a couple of days of rest and relaxation, we were called back to action and headed toward the Han River. Upon reaching our destination, we set up our perimeter with barbed wire and concertina wire.  As an additional safeguard, about fifteen 55-gallon drums were strategically placed about two-thirds of the way down the hill facing the river. These drums were filled with napalm gas which could be ignited by firing a tracer bullet into it.

A Turkish unit was assigned to cover our right flank and my foxhole was the last one on our right. They were fierce warriors and we didn't have a worry in the world about our right flank.  As dusk was quickly falling, a sergeant told me to go and make physical contact with the Turks. I looked at him like he had two heads and asked him if he was joking, to which he replied that he wasn't. I then asked him if he was aware of the fact that the Turks didn't ask "who's there."  Instead, they just cut off your head first and then asked "Who are you?” the next day. I told the sergeant that at the risk of a courts martial, I had to decline the invitation.  I told him that I would make voice contact instead. After some careful consideration, the sergeant agreed that would be sufficient, so I called over to them "merhuba” (hello in Turkish).  I got a response from them. As far as I was concerned, contact had been made.

At about eight o'clock that night, there appeared to be some activity near the barbed wire.  There was quite a bit of jingling of tin cans and ammo clips. A flare was shot in the sky and illuminated the entire area to see if enemy troops were trying to penetrate our position. The word was given to ignite the drums and the whole area lit up like Broadway. Even at our distance from the drums, we could still feel the heat generated from the napalm. As the napalm started flowing down the hill like a river of volcanic lava, we could see enemy troops running like hell to get out of the way. Once napalm got on someone, it was like glue and we couldn't get it off.  Trying to brush it off only caused it to spread. The only thing we could do was smother it with mud just as we would with white phosphorous. That put us in a "Catch-22” situation though, as there usually wasn't any way of making mud unless we happened to be near a river or stream. Of course, we could use the water from our canteen if we happened to have a canteen and if it had water in it. Like I said, it was a Catch-22.

A few days later we left that hill and continued north, ending up in a village that had been abandoned with the exception of what appeared to be a Catholic orphanage. The captain had information that we were possibly going to receive heavy mortar or artillery fire during the night, so the captain explained the situation to the nun in charge and suggested that it would be to their advantage to evacuate the area. Due to the fact that it was getting late in the day and darkness was setting quickly, the nun decided to wait until the next day to see about relocating to a safer area. Just as predicted, we unfortunately did get shelled that night with few, if any, injuries to American troops.  However, the orphanage didn't do so well. I don't recall the total extent of their damage and/or losses, but, needless to say there was much sadness being witnessed among the men in the company. It was a very gruesome scene with dead little kids scattered about. It was another scene engraved in my memory and that I can never forget.  It made me hate the North Koreans all that more. We helped the Nun take care of the wounded children and the dead ones and cleaned up the area as best we could.

From that position we pushed off again going north and the weather started to get a little nasty with the temperature rapidly dropping many degrees. Later in the day it started to snow and the morale started to drop just like the temperature. With this change in the weather we were issued new foot wear called "muck-lucks."  They came with two sets of liners. One set was placed inside the muck-luck and the other was to be kept inside our clothing next to our chest to dry out and keep warm. The object was to alternate the liners every day to help prevent frost bite or frozen feet. One of the new replacements mentioned that he didn't have any liners, so instead of me telling him to see the supply sergeant, I, like a dummy, gave him one of my sets of liners. This was probably one of the dumbest things I did all the time I was in Korea (with the exception of the DDT incident). As it turned out, a few days later I ended up having to go to the Battalion Aid Station because the pain in my feet was so bad I could hardly walk.  I didn't know what was wrong with them. Needless to say, I was diagnosed with frost-bitten feet and sent to the Regimental Clearing Hospital where I was hospitalized and treated for almost two weeks.

When it got to the point where I could walk without too much pain, I was transferred to a convalescent area where I remained for another week. While I was there I had an Australian roommate and we got along very well together. One day we pooled our resources and went to the PX where we purchased a case of beer (Pabst Blue Ribbon) and took it back to our room. Well, we didn't have any refrigerator to keep the beer cold so there was only one other solution--drink it all. I'll never forget how that room spun around and how I got as sick as a dog. I also remember how I felt the next day.  Ugh! I think I had the granddaddy of all hangovers and never drank another Pabst Blue Ribbon the rest of my life.

I was finally released to go back to active duty but for some reason I couldn't locate my unit.  After spending all day looking for my company, I ended up hooking up with an outfit of the British Army. These guys were unreal! They treated me like I was visiting royalty and I treated them as though they lived in Buckingham Palace. We had an extremely good relationship and I went with them on several patrols while their commander made efforts to locate my company. On one patrol we were on, we discovered a large pile of dead United Nations soldiers at the base of a cliff. They were all naked, although some of them did have ID tags (not American dog tags) around their necks.  Their hands were tied behind their backs with copper wire. All of them had multiple bullet wounds. Apparently they had been lined up at the edge of the cliff and then fell to the bottom after being shot. The British sergeant notified his command post of what we found, and shortly thereafter his commander and other staff members were on the scene and took charge of the situation. It was hard to sleep that night and that is when I vowed that I would never take another prisoner.  If they got in my sights, they were dead meat.

There was another time when we went to a supply center to replenish their PX stock items. Upon arrival at the site, the sergeant in charge told the soldier there what we needed, but we were directed to produce a requisition for our needs. It should be noted that at this time much of the supplies were being burned or otherwise destroyed to prevent its use by enemy forces who had made a breakthrough in our lines. The sergeant produced his Sten gun, shot off a quick burst of fire, and told the soldier that this was his requisition. We loaded the "cracker box” ambulance that we had come in and headed back to the base camp. Upon our arrival I was advised by the commander that my company had been located and arrangements were made for me to rejoin it. The next day before I left I got a lot of goodbyes, good luck wishes, and a back pack that was stuffed with cartons of Milky Way and Mars candy bars, as well as cartons of Lucky Strike cigarettes. The British commander had prepared a letter stating that I was with their unit to prevent me from being courts martialed for AWOL or desertion. I was naturally eager to get back to my unit, but I did really enjoy being with those Brits. I'm sorry that I can't recall the name of the outfit, but I do thank God for the opportunity to be with them as long as I was.

I have a positive opinion of the ROKs assigned to our company, too.  They were quite good, especially Bong, who was assigned to our foxhole.  He was very eager to learn the English language and did everything he could to please us.  He was a very good man and I felt very bad when he got taken out by a sniper.  I had very little contact with the Koreans except for the vendors that came around selling taffy and such.  We didn't have many problems with the civilians, but they were all checked very closely at the refugee checkpoints due to infiltrators ambushing UN troops.  We were never flanked by the Marines.

Back to Memoir Contents

Able Company - Damn Good!

I finally caught up to my Able Company and settled back in with the Third Platoon. One day a guy named "Tex” (every outfit had a guy named Tex) caught a stray pig and slaughtered it and cooked it up with some rice in a real big cauldron.  Everyone ate their fill, including me. It was right tasty and I think we had pig and rice for three days straight. A few days after we left that area we were occupying the high ground with a rather steep ridge to our front. We were in position there for a couple of days.  One night the fog came in and blanketed the entire area. We could just barely see our hand in front of our face, and nights like that were scary as hell. The enemy could sneak up on us and before we knew it, we could be leaking blood from a slit throat or strangled by a garrote.  In my opinion, the age groups of the enemy varied.  They were determined fighters, armed with Russian 9mm "burp guns" and Russian-made tanks and Russian-made concussion grenades.  I don't know anything about their heavy weapons.  Usually, most fighting took place during the daytime hours.  However, there were times when the enemy attempted to penetrate our perimeters at nighttime.  In those instances we could fight them with our grenades, as shooting at them would give away our positions by the muzzle flashes.

At these times, when we could hear our heart beating and it sounded just like a bass drum, we would swear that everyone else within fifty miles could hear it, too. We sat there and listened and listened and listened for the slightest sound that might alert us and put us on guard. Fortunately that night nothing bad happened.   However, early in the morning there was the sound of a lot of commotion further down the mountain side. We could hear the clunking of equipment and the rustle of the underbrush. Everyone was on the alert and ready for action, when all of a sudden the fog started to lift and there below us coming up to our position was what seemed like the entire Chinese Army.  The Chinese liked to throw in some psychological warfare with their attacks by using bugles, whistles, yelling, and blowing horns.  (We never bothered with that type of warfare as it didn't have much effect on us.  I imagine it wouldn't have had much effect on them either, and it seemed like a waste of effort.)

We were given the order to open fire, and it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Captain Berry ordered that just automatic weapons fire, so the rest of us just sat back and watched the show. There was a lot of ammunition spent that time.  I figured there must have been at least two or three hundred dead Chinamen down there, but when we went down on patrol for a body count and to see if there were any survivors, we couldn't find one dead body. I couldn't believe it. I knew our men were damned good marksmen and no one could miss that badly, but where did they go? Later on it was determined that those that were able carried out their dead so we couldn't get any idea as to how seriously we hurt their strength. I will give them credit for that--not leaving their dead behind. There was much talk about that episode for the next few days, but we never saw any of it in the Stars and Stripes. Hey, that's okay.  If you're good you know it and it doesn't have to be headlined. And believe me--Able Company was good…damn good!

We moved out again heading north towards the 38th parallel.  My feet were starting to ache real bad from the cold, so I jumped up on the back of an M-4 Sherman tank going in our direction and found out that wasn't such a good idea. When the tank was idling, the rear deck was nice and warm--pretty much like the subway grates with the heat coming up.  But when the tank started to move those mighty engines drew the air in for cooling, and believe me it was cold. I managed to get a position along the fender above the track and was able to ride for about two or three miles until we reached the point where we were going to bivouac.  The snow was still pretty deep in places, so digging in wasn't all that difficult. I learned back in ski training to use the snow to our advantage and that's what we did. We dug down into the snow and then used our shelter half for a makeshift roof.  We stayed fairly warm (not toasty, just fairly warm).

Our uniform of the day was fatigues--all year long.  We had been issued long johns, sweaters, and liners for our field jackets, along with muck-luck boots with liners, but my feet still got frostbitten and frozen, landing me in the field hospitals a couple of times.  The Korean winters were extremely cold, particularly when we were sleeping in the outdoors.  The weather even affected our heavy duty (water-cooled) machineguns.  They required anti-freeze during the winter months.  I'm not sure what the Koreans wore in the winter, but the Chinese wore padded uniforms and hats with ear flaps.

Two days later was Thanksgiving and Captain Berry made sure that his troops were fed well. We had turkey with dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, salad, deviled eggs, hot rolls, coffee, tea, and dessert. I would have given a month's pay for a nice, cold glass of milk. It was a very delicious meal and everybody ate their fill.  Some even went back for seconds, and the best thing about it all--there was no fighting that day.  We had time to reflect back, count our blessings, and thank the Lord that we were all alive and still in one piece.

That evening, we got the word to expect a heavy attack during the night or early in the morning. With this news we all reinforced our positions and made sure that we had plenty of ammunition and grenades. Then came the wait.  There was nothing worse than just sitting and waiting for bad things to happen, but that was all part of war. It must have been about one or two in the morning when we heard the bugles and the whistles. All the clamor and noise sounded like it was Chinese New Year. Everybody's eyes were aiming down the barrel of their rifles with their trigger finger ready to squeeze off the first round. The waiting continued and soon there was nobody to shoot at. The Chinese went right past our positions without even firing a shot.  I have no idea where, or even if, they ever engaged any of our forces. Maybe they didn't know that we were there. Only God will ever know that answer.

A day or so after the Chinese patrol passed us, we were ordered to make a "strategic withdrawal.” I also recall an officer telling us that if he saw any of us running he would put a bullet in our back. That was nice to know. The word we got was that Chinese and North Koreans had made a big break through in our lines and we were to fall back to regroup and reorganize. Captain Berry told us that we were to take delaying action and hold back the enemy advance to the last man. We were successful with that assignment without losing a man, and later joined up with the rest of our parent unit. This was a very demoralizing period of time. One day we were going north kicking North Korean and Chinese asses, then the next day we were making strategic withdrawals.  Then back again heading north, and then back again going south. I was beginning to feel like a ping-pong ball.  It was during this period that my feet became frostbitten again, resulting in another brief stay in the field hospital.  However, upon my release from the hospital this time, I was able to go directly back to my beloved Able Company.

There was one point in time when we were advancing north and had to cross a rather long bridge that spanned what I think was the Imjin River. As we approached this bridge we came under heavy small arms resistance, but we were able to make it to the near end of the bridge. We secured both sides of the road leading to the bridge and set up a barrage of automatic weapons fire in return for their firing at us. This exchange of fire lasted for about two hours and then suddenly there was a silence that almost made chills run up our back. It was like the enemy figured they were fighting a losing battle and decided to pull out, leaving the bridge to us. After a short time, a patrol was sent out to reconnoiter the area and check on any wounded or dead. I found a dead Korean boy who couldn't have been more than fourteen or fifteen years old with one foot blown off and a hole in his other ankle.  It looked as though he had gotten hit with a .50 caliber round. He was dressed in a North Korean Army uniform, was still holding a burp gun in his arms, and had a grenade in his hand as though he was about to throw it before he got hit. Even though he was the enemy, I sort of felt sorry for the kid to have his life snuffed out so early. At any rate, we took the bridge and secured it and then continued our march north.

That evening after we had just gotten into our new positions and started digging in, mortar rounds started falling all around us.  We couldn't see any flashes in front of us to determine where the rounds were coming from. As it turned out, we were being fired upon by our own mortar company, which had its coordinates all screwed up. Fortunately there were no injuries, but the next morning there was hell to pay and the commander of that mortar company was relieved of his command.  He was lucky that he didn't get a court martial out of it.

After three or four days of real fierce fighting with the Chinese, we were able to force them back several times--only to be forced back ourselves from their counterattacks. When I say fierce fighting, that is exactly what it was with hand-to-hand combat and bayonet fighting. Those Chinese troops were darn good fighters, but not as good as we were.  It was just a matter of time and attrition before we were able to get the upper hand and defeat them for good. There were dead Chinese laying all over the place and the hill--or mountain if you will--was ours. This scenario was duplicated on more than one occasion until there was no more enemy to fight.

Back to Memoir Contents

Potato Masher Grenades

On 30 March 1951 near a town named Sonju, we engaged the Chinese on a mountain side.  After another fierce firefight that lasted almost an hour and a half, we were able to force them to retreat and we occupied the positions they were holding. Once taking possession, we started to look for enemy stragglers or anyone left behind as snipers. Another guy and I discovered a large bunker at the top of the hill we were on.  It had a tunnel running downhill to another smaller bunker. This tunnel had a side entrance about halfway down the hill. We had sprayed the upper bunker with automatic carbine fire in case there was anyone still inside, and then we proceeded to the tunnel entrance and started to spray inside it, too.  But we both ran out of ammunition, and neither one of us had any grenades. I recalled seeing a crate of "potato masher” grenades on the floor outside the entrance of the upper bunker, so the other guy held my legs while I reached down and very gently lifted one (hoping that it wasn't booby trapped). Seeing that it was safe, I lifted it out of the crate very gently and we went back to the tunnel entrance. I was not familiar with this type of grenade and saw some writing on the side.  I assumed it was directions, but the writing was in Russian so I figured I'd just wing it. There was a small ring attached to a rather long cord which in turn was tied to a safety pin that was securing the triggering mechanism. The ends of this safety pin were not spread apart as the ends were on our grenades.

I later found out that it was the type of grenade used as an anti-personnel mine.  That was why it had the shape it had--so it could be placed on the ground without tipping over. The string was stretched to its length and then tied to a secure object. It activated when an unsuspecting person caught the string by his ankle, pulling the safety pin from the firing mechanism.  The grenade then exploded, taking out whoever might be in the vicinity. I held down the safety handle, pulled the pin, and threw the grenade into the side entrance of the tunnel.  Unfortunately, the grenade only traveled about three feet before it exploded. I caught the main force of the explosion, which lifted me off the ground and threw me back about ten feet, where I landed on my back. All I could remember was the boom and the flash. I called for the medics, and for some reason I had the sense of mind to take off my backpack, place it on the ground, then take off my helmet and place it on top of the pack.  I lay down with my head downhill and my feet upon the helmet to keep from going into shock.

All this time I was writhing in pain, as it felt that half of Korea was in both eyes. I remember hearing the other guy scream, too, but had no idea as to the extent of his injuries as he was about five feet behind me when the explosion occurred. I don't recall how long I laid there before the medics got to me.  (At the time, it seemed like an eternity.)  I never knew the names of the medics in our company.  As a matter of fact, I don't recall the names of hardly anyone in our company.  I know they did what they could for me when they had to carry me off the mountain when I got wounded.  They gave me something for the pain and then placed me on a stretcher and carried me off the hill to an ambulance.  I was transported to the battalion aid station, where they made an attempt to irrigate my eyes to remove some of the debris. From there I was taken to the Regimental Clearing Station where additional irrigation was attempted.  I was then transported to another unknown location where the people spoke with an English accent. I recall overhearing someone say, "That poor bloke will never see again.” Then I heard that person getting chewed out for saying what he did. Even though I couldn't cry real tears, I was bawling inside and gritting my teeth at the same time. The pain was almost intolerable, and everyone did what they could to make me as comfortable as possible.  They apparently gave me something real strong for the pain, because the next thing I knew I was in Japan in a hospital room at the Tokyo Army Hospital.

While in that hospital I had an incident where I was taken to an examining room by another patient named Riley, whom I had befriended. A female doctor told me to place my chin in the cup of this special machine for examining eyes.  After I did that, she turned on a switch and a very bright light was shined in my eyes, causing extreme pain. I removed my head from that machine to stop the pain and was scolded for doing that by the doctor. I was directed to put my chin back in the cup, so I did.  Then that doctor told me to open my eyes. I told her that I couldn't open my eyes.  She made some comment about my mentality, which I ignored. I opened my eyes with my fingers and then she shined that light in them again and the pain came back.  It felt like there were a thousand needles being put in my eyeball, and then it felt like someone was pushing their thumb into my eye as hard as they could. I couldn't keep my eyes open without holding them open with my fingers. That's when the doctor told me that I must crazy if I couldn't keep my eyes open by themselves. At that point I called for Riley, who came into the room.  I told him to take me back to my room. The doctor said, "You stay right here. I'm not finished with you yet!” That is when I lost it and told her, "Yes you are, and if you were a man and I could see, I'd kick your ass all over this hospital!”

When we got back to the ward, I told the head nurse what had happened.  She called my primary care doctor. Within minutes that female doctor was in my room with me, my doctor, and the head nurse. My doctor went up one side of her and down the other and ended up telling her, "After what this man has been through, you should get down in your knees and kiss his feet!” The female doctor did apologize, and I could hear her leaving the room in tears. I heard the head nurse mention to the doctor that after this session she would never want him angry with her.

I'm not sure how long I was in that hospital--perhaps it was a month or so--but I recall one day as I was lying in bed with my eyes and head all in bandages.  I was told there were some people to see me. I couldn't imagine who it could be, but an Army officer introduced himself and began reading a citation.  Then someone pinned a Purple Heart medal on my pajama top. That was the first medal I'd ever gotten while I was in the Army.

Eventually I was evacuated back to the United States.  Midway and Hawaii were refueling stops, and we were on the ground for a couple of hours for a crew change also. From there we flew into Honolulu.  When we arrived, I was taken from the plane to a bus.  After boarding the bus, some Hawaiian girls boarded too and placed leis around our necks, kissed us on the cheek, and told us Aloha! We ended up staying in Hawaii at the Tripler Army Hospital for about three days because the airplane had engine problems; however, due to both of my eyes being bandaged, I couldn't really see or appreciate the beauty of Hawaii.

From Hawaii we landed in San Francisco, California, where I was placed in Letterman Army Hospital. I underwent treatment there for a month or two, and was then transferred to Brooke Army Hospital at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.  I was at Fort Sam for an extremely long time, but after much treatment and eye exercises, I was able to regain part of my vision back in my right eye.  The eye treatments consisted mostly of some type of solution being put in the eyes to dilate the pupils and additional X-rays being taken on a recurring basis to determine if there was anymore foreign matter in the eyes.  The exercises were moving the eyeballs in various directions several times a day to determine the reaction time for refocusing from one object to another.

The left eye was still not responding too well to my treatments and exercise. Finally after a couple more months, my left eye started to get better and I was able to see some light through it.  About a month or so after that, my vision returned to that eye too.  In time (thanks to a miracle granted by God and accomplished by the terrific army doctors), my full eyesight was restored. I still have a scar across the cornea of my left eye and there is still some foreign matter behind the eyeballs which causes me to see spots in front of me in a distinct pattern. These spots do not affect my vision though.  Upon my discharge from the hospital, I was given a 30-day convalescent leave.

Back to Memoir Contents

Life After Korea

After this leave I received orders to report to Fort Lewis, Washington where I was placed in a replacement company (Repo-Depot). During this tenure we were just extra bodies, so we were always sent out on various details such as guard duty, prisoner chaser, kitchen police, etc. There was one detail where there must have been about twenty of us that had to be taken to our detail by truck. Well, the sergeant in charge must have been new to the job because he never bothered to take our names.  Every time that truck stopped for a stop sign, about two or three guys jumped out of the back of the truck. I was one of them, too.  I have no idea how many men he had when they got to their destination. Finally, after about a month of this nonsense I got my orders for my new assignment.

I reported for duty at Fort Worden, Washington, which was the headquarters of the 369th Engineer Amphibious Support Regiment (EASR). I was the first Korean War veteran assigned there and I was asked by the Director of the Service Club to give a presentation of my experiences in Korea and what it was like over there. I was not a public speaker, but I managed to stumble through it somehow.  I was provided with several opportunities to attend various schools of engineering such as heavy equipment operators school.  I was holding out hopes of being transferred back to an Infantry unit, so very foolishly I declined the offers. As it turned out, I never got the transfer and I blew my chances of learning how to operate heavy equipment. I think part of my decision was based on the fact that within the last several months I had been relocated five times and I was just tired of packing up and moving again.  I wanted to settle down to garrison duty and live a halfway normal life again.

I was assigned to Easy Company of the Shore Battalion which was located on Flagler Island and consequently named Fort Flagler. During World War II, Fort Flagler had been a coastal artillery base and the old ammo revetments were now being used as storage facilities.  There was one thing about this assignment that always mystified me.  We were the Shore Battalion (stationed on an island) and the Boat Battalion (stationed on the mainland). It seemed to me that it should have been the other way around with the Boat Battalion on Flagler and Shore Battalion on the mainland.

The host city was Port Townsend.  It had a paper mill, and on days when the wind was blowing in the wrong direction, we got the full benefit of the smell produced by that paper mill. Man, it could gag a maggot off a gut wagon.

This assignment did prove to be very interesting. Fort Flagler was located on Puget Sound, and even if we had a car or motorcycle, the only means of transportation to the main land was via the “M-Boats” (short for LCM, Landing Craft Mechanized). There were no bridges at that time to connect Flagler to the mainland. Consequently, I didn’t go to Port Townsend that often, except maybe on pay day when a few of us got together and went in for a few beers and to check out the town, which really wasn’t all that much. There were some restaurants, bars, a couple theatres, and a VFW and American Legion club. In a way though, it was sometimes an adventure just going to town in the M-Boat. One time when we were returning to Fort Flagler the fog had set in and we could barely see our hand in front of our face. I don’t recall exactly how far it was from the mainland to the island, but when we were out there in the water with a fog horn blowing constantly, hoping we didn’t ram into a freighter or a tanker, it seemed that we were an ocean apart. Luckily we had a good Bo'sn Mate and navigator that got us home okay--a few hours late, but we got there all in one piece, safe and sound.

When we had a regimental parade, we all had to be boated to Fort Worden.  Unfortunately, the boats never could get close enough to the shore where we could disembark onto dry ground.  We always had to wade to shore through knee deep water. They could always tell the Shore Battalion troops from the other troops in the regiment as we were the only ones with soggy boots and wet trousers up to the knee. Another way, too, was the fact that we had to have a red horizontal patch sewn on the outside of the legs on our fatigue pants at knee level.

Back to Memoir Contents

Atomic Bomb Experience

In 1951 we received orders for the whole battalion to participate in atomic bomb tests being conducted in the desert of Nevada at Frenchman’s Flat and Yucca Flats. We were transported there via troop train--a two-day trip. That was a very educational trip as I learned how to play chess--not very well, but I could hold my own.

When we finally arrived in Las Vegas it was rather pleasant weather-wise. We were taken to Camp Desert Rock by truck convoy, and we set about putting up squad tents and laying out routes of travel.  (I hesitate to call them streets or avenues--just routes of travel.)  In two days we were all set up and ready to go about our special duties. During this time I was assigned to various jobs, one of which was to climb the telephone poles that were installed along the road to connect us with the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). My job was to secure the cross beams that would be holding the conductors for the wires.

Everything was going fine and I had completed about ten of the poles. As I was climbing up the next pole, I was about three quarters of the way up when one of the gaffs didn’t dig in far enough into the pole and I lost my footing and balance. In training we were taught that if this happened we were to just lean back and depend on the safety belt to save us.  Well, that’s all fine and good in theory, but when you panic you forget a lot of what you’re told you should do.  Consequently, I wrapped my arms around that pole like I was in love with it and slid all the way to the bottom. I have no idea as to how many splinters I had in me, but it seemed to take an eternity to get them all out. During this “splinter removal” period, which lasted about two weeks, I was placed on light duty and every day I had to go to the Medical Aid Station for splinter removal. The old-timers never did let me live that incident down, but they were sympathetic to me too.

After I got all the splinters out of me, I was assigned to drive various types of trucks. One such truck was an old “deuce and a half” with a stake body and a huge open rubberized container inside the back. This was used to transport water to Camp Desert Rock from Indian Springs Air Force Base. One day I was dispatched to go to the air base and get water for the camp. Upon arrival at Indian Springs, the Air Policeman at the gate directed me to the location to get the water. It took about two hours to fill the rubber container and then I was back on my way to Desert Rock. When I approached the gate to Camp Desert Rock, the Military Policemen posted there normally just flagged me through, so I usually maintained my speed and went right through.  However, for some reason, an MP came out of the security booth and signaled for me to stop.  I immediately pushed on the brake pedal as I got to the gate and a cavalcade of water came rushing from the container, over the front of the truck and soaked that MP all the way to the bone. This was not done on purpose but that MP was ready to draw his .45 pistol and put some lead in me.  I got out and explained to him that I’m never stopped coming in the gate driving a GI truck. After a while he did settle down, but he had to go to his tent to get a change of clothing. See, there were some humorous things that happened out there on the desert.

After we were there for about a month, we got our first chance to witness an A-Bomb test. We were transported to the test site via convoy and upon reaching our destination we dismounted and fell into Company formation. We were given a briefing as to what to expect and what safety procedures we were to follow. After the briefing we marched to the hundred foot perimeter from ground zero and observed various types of equipment and live sheep both above the ground and in fox holes. Some of the equipment consisted of an M-4 Sherman tank, a couple of Jeeps, a weapons carrier, some mannequins dressed in both civilian clothing and military uniforms (both fatigues and class A uniforms), a small two-bedroom house with furniture, dressed mannequins inside at various locations in the house, an airplane, machineguns, and other types of weapons. From there we were taken to the next perimeter which was five hundred feet away from ground zero with the same type of equipment and animals. We were also taken to the one thousand foot perimeter and observed that equipment as well.

After viewing all these different perimeters we were given a lunch break.  After we ate we were instructed to get in a real long and deep trench and wait for further instructions. At this time they allowed us to stand up in the trench so we could observe the detonation of one thousands pounds of high explosives so that we would be able to make a comparison between that explosion and the one we were about to witness. About thirty minutes later we were instructed to put on our gloves and gas masks, make sure our pant legs were bloused inside our boots, and insure that our field jacket sleeves were buttoned tightly and all the way up to the neck. We were told that at the end of the countdown to make sure to cover our closed eyes with our hands and stay all the way down in the trench. Then it began:  ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, zero! The noise was deafening and after about thirty seconds we could feel the wind from the blast blowing over the trench.  Then after another thirty seconds we were told that we could rise up and see the mushroom cloud (if we so desired). It looked magnificent.  We were then told to get back in the trench.

After about an hour we were told that it was safe to get out of the trench and get in formation. Once we were assembled we were taken again to the various perimeters to see what they looked like and what condition they were in.  Amazing! The Sherman tank that was at the one hundred foot perimeter was no longer there.  It was at the five hundred foot perimeter.  The tank that was at the five hundred perimeters was nowhere to be found (even though we knew it had to be somewhere). The houses were completely destroyed, along with the mannequins inside them. The sheep that were above ground were gone and the sheep that were in the fox holes had their fur either badly singed or burnt off. They were later put to sleep after being checked for the amount of radiation to which they had been exposed.  The weapons that were still at their locations were melted down or twisted and deformed so as to make them inoperable. At all of the different perimeters there was total devastation. After viewing the various perimeters we were then marched to a checkpoint where the radiation badges that we had been issued were checked for the amount of radiation (or roentgens) absorbed in our bodies.

We were told that it wasn’t enough to be dangerous and we didn’t have to worry about not making babies, lighting up at night, or glowing in the dark. This was a daylight shot.  As impressive as it was, the pre-dawn shot was even more spectacular. We went through the same drill as before, with the exception of visiting the various marked off perimeters. With this pre-dawn shot, after we were given the countdown we were then advised as to when we could raise up out of the trench momentarily to view the fireball. Upon seeing this massive ball of fire, I was so awe struck by it that I forgot my counting.  If it hadn’t been for my trench mate yanking me back down into the trench, I would have been blown away with the power of the blast. That was one magnificent sight to behold.  It was amazing how something as beautiful as that could be so destructive. The beauty of the fireball filling up the darkness was indescribable. You would have to have been there to really appreciate it.

All in all I think I participated in four or five of these tests (and I still don’t glow in the night).  To be honest, I found them to be very interesting and informative. This was an experience that not very many people have had. I guess a lot of them wouldn’t want it anyway.  I could write a book about those six months, and maybe one day I will. Besides being involved with three or four of the tests while helping to build Camp Desert Rock, Nevada, in an engineer outfit, one learned to be a jack-of-all-trades. Besides being a lineman, I was also a driver of dump trucks, six by sixes, and a Jeep once in a while. I operated a jack hammer and various other construction tools. I once lost a watch while using a jack hammer.  The vibration of the jack hammer caused my watchband to break and fall off my wrist, unbeknownst to me.  I didn't discover it missing until we went on a break, and by then it was too late to even try to find it.  It wasn't a Rolex or Elgin--it was just a cheap PX watch.  Like I said, it was an interesting assignment. After we returned to Fort Flagler it was routine duty.  Then on 2 October 1952, I was honorably discharged.

Back to Memoir Contents


I purchased a 1942 Indian Chief from one of the civilian employees working at Flagler. I paid $125.00 for it (right now it would be worth at least $20,000 or more).  Once I had those discharge papers in my hand, I got on my motorcycle and headed east. My first stop was in Seattle, Washington, where I got a hotel room and dropped my bike off to have a few things repaired on it.  Several months later, unfortunately, I had an accident with a 1951 Ford and totaled the Indian Chief. This all happened while I was working at Boeing Aircraft Company.  In those days, that was a terrific company to work for as they covered all my medical expenses and they had benefits that were out of this world. I got a call from my sister telling me that my dad had been involved in an accident, so I had to leave Seattle and return home to Rock Island, Illinois.  After arriving back home I was able to get a job at International Harvester, where they made farming equipment. This lasted for almost nine months until they decided to go on strike.  I said "to hell with it” and re-enlisted in the Army. I guess I just wasn't cut out for civilian life, because the next 22 years was spent in the military.

Upon my re-enlistment I was sent to Fort Sheridan, Illinois, where I was supplied with the various uniforms I would need and assigned to one of the barracks. Fort Sheridan was the receiving station of new recruits also, and when our Platoon Sergeant told us to make up our cots he began to show us how.  But before he had half the words out of his mouth, I had my cot already made. When he saw this he asked if I had prior service experience and I proceeded to tell him my qualifications. No one else in the platoon at that time knew that I was a "retread” either, so when I appeared with my CIB and service ribbons on my uniform, they all seemed quite impressed. It was not my intention to impress anyone, but I was damned proud of my CIB above all the other "fruit salad.” The CIB says it all.

After about three weeks at Fort Sheridan, I received my walking papers and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division.  Inasmuch as I was promised an armored unit, I ended up in Headquarters Company of the 44th Tank Battalion. Don't get me wrong, I loved the Infantry.  But there is a lot to be said about riding somewhere rather than having to walk. After about a year and a half at Fort Bragg, I decided to go to jump school.  It was torture for the first two weeks. That's the period where we learned all about PLFs (parachute landing falls), "suspended agony” where we were placed in a parachute harness that was suspended from a beam and we were taught how to guide our parachute by slipping to the left, right, front, rear, and diagonally. The reason it got the name of "suspended agony” was if we don't get the harness on exactly right, when we started to be suspended our "family jewels” could get caught under the leg strap and…well, you know what I mean. We also had to learn the proper way to exit a plane.  They had a thirty-four foot tower for that. We put on a harness with the risers attached to a pulley that was attached to a very long steel cable. When we jumped out of the door of the tower, it was like jumping out of an airplane.  If we were not in the proper jump position, we were likely to receive some riser burns as we fell towards the ground and stopped abruptly. This was to simulate the opening shock of the parachute when we made our actual jump. And then, of course, there was the running.  Everywhere we went was on the double.  Every morning after roll call, the entire class went on a mile run. The first few days guys dropped out left and right.  I had even given dropping out some serious thought myself, what with all the smoking I did then.  But I persevered and made it through those tortuous two weeks.

The time came for us to make our five qualifying jumps. This was the week we had all been looking forward to and the drill instructors were even a little more lenient. Before if we screwed up somehow, we heard, "Drop and give me ten.” "Drop and give me twenty.” I lost count of how many times I had pushed North Carolina away from me. This was also a disastrous week for me as this was the time that my legs got tangled up in the suspension lines on the drop zone as I was attempting to collapse the chute.  I tripped, landing on my left shoulder and causing a dislocation--and automatic disqualification from jump school. I was heartbroken.  All that hard work and training and not getting my jump wings. I've had nothing but trouble with that shoulder ever since those days.

Back to Memoir Contents

Operation Sagebrush

While I was with the 82nd we participated in "Operation Sagebrush." It was a three month maneuver which took place in Louisiana in the fall of 1955.  I was the Tank Commander of an M-48 Patton tank with three other crew members (driver, gunner, and loader) in the 44th Tank Battalion.  As I recall, it was in September or October that we departed Ft. Bragg by truck convoy headed to Camp Polk, Louisiana.  The weapons rack inside the M48 tank where the 90mm ammunition was stored was slightly larger in diameter than a fifth size bottle of vodka or whiskey.  Prior to loading our tank on the train, we (the crew) went to the Class Six liquor store and purchased various bottles of liquor and took them back to the tank.  After wrapping them in towels, they could be inserted in the ready rack tubes and pushed way down where they wouldn't be detected (unless someone shined a flashlight down into the tube).  After securing our stashes, we then placed a heavy duty padlock on the turret hatch and hoped that our tank would arrive in Louisiana without being entered.  That evening the train pulled out and the next day we departed for Louisiana in truck convoy.  There were two tank crews assigned to our truck, and we had a blast all the way down to Louisiana.

The first night we stopped at Fort Gordon, Georgia, and bivouacked out on some parade ground.  We had unloaded our gear from the truck and then proceeded on into the main base where we went to the NCO club and started partying.  All in all we had a terrific time and the night couldn't have ended any better than it did.  The next morning we were up at 0500 hours and by 0600 hours we were back on the road.  At around 1800 hours we pulled into a state park in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and set up bivouac.  After putting up our tent, Sgt. Jake Thompson and I decided to check out the area.  We ended up about three miles out of the park in some sort of a cocktail lounge.  We decided to have a couple of drinks at the bar and then head back to the campsite.

That's when I had my first taste of brandy.  Jake kept telling me how good it was and kept insisting that I should at least give it a try.  Well, I eventually gave in and Jake bought me a snifter of Courvoisier (or something like that).  I drank it down...UGH!  That was the first and last time I ever had any brandy in my mouth.  I guess it's a lot like scotch, where one has to develop a taste for it.  After a while we headed back to the park and our little old pup tent.  I slept good that night.

The next day we finally reached the small town where our tanks were unloaded from the train.  I can't remember the name of the town, but I do recall that they always served their coffee with chicory in it (unless we requested that they omit it).  I tried the coffee their way a couple of times but honestly, I preferred it with just sugar.  What is chicory anyway?

We found our tank and naturally the first thing in our thoughts was, "Did anyone get into our tank and find or steal our stash?"  In a minute I was on top of the turret with my key in my hand.  After I unlocked the hatch and entered the tank, I found it just as we had left it.  Everything was intact--just as it should have been.

After our tank was unloaded we took command of it and drove to the marshalling area where the rest of the battalion was gathered.  Charlie Company was short a few tanks and we were temporarily assigned to that company.  The platoon leader we had was a second lieutenant with very little training in armor warfare and experience, so I more or less took him under my wing (which sometimes I regretted), even though he had his own platoon sergeant who totally ignored the young whippersnapper.

During these maneuvers we were all over the state of Louisiana and had a lot of interesting experiences.  One of these was the time when we were in a bivouac area and we had introduced ourselves to the other tankers and played a few hands of poker.  Prior to this I had staked out my sleeping area and spread out my shelter half and sleeping bag and had it all ready for when I decided to go to bed for the night.  Well, unbeknownst to me, Louisiana was loaded with tarantula spiders.  That night I had just gotten into my sleeping bag and zipped it up when I felt something down around my feet.  I shined my flashlight down there and there were about three or four tarantulas playing with my feet.  I have a great fear of spiders and before you could blink an eye, I was out of that sleeping bag and on the rear deck of our tank.  From that time on I always slept either in the luggage rack we had on our tank or on the rear deck.

Another time we were in a convoy going through the town of Deridder during rush hour traffic.  When traveling, the tank gun was supposed to be located over the rear deck and secured in the travel lock.  Well, the commander of one of the preceding tanks failed to have their gun in the travel lock and it was sticking out in front of the tank in combat position.  It was unfortunate, but a city bus had somehow worked its way into the convoy and it stopped suddenly right in front of this tank.  The gun went right through the rear window and halfway down the aisle.  It was a wonder that nobody was injured, but there was a lot of damage done to the bus.  The tank gun had to undergo some4 second echelon maintenance.  Needless to say, the tank commander was relieved of his duties and re-assigned to a non-tank position.  He was lucky that he hadn't gotten busted down a stripe.

There was another time when we were traveling at night in our tanks on a very narrow single-lane road.  We must have gone about five miles when the company commander discovered that we were going in the wrong direction.  Terrific!  It took almost an hour just to get our tank turned around, and that required a lot of jockeying back and forth and up and down a steep embankment.  Working in close quarters like that caused us great concern about throwing a track.  Ever since that night that C.O. was known as "Captain Where Am I?"  After we were all turned around, we proceeded to our destination and linked up with the adjoining unit.

There was a person called the Quartering Officer whose job it was to precede the organization and make arrangements with civilians to quarter various units of the division.  I'll never forget the time that we pulled into this big field one night after a heavy rainstorm the day before.  The Quartering Officer had gotten permission from the farmer for the troops to bivouac in his field.  The only thing was that the Quartering Officer neglected to tell the farmer that it was a company of tanks.  When the farmer woke up the next day and looked out the window and saw all those big olive drab monsters in what had been his fields, he saw red.  He came storming from his house with a twelve-gauge shotgun in his hand, demanding to know "who was in charge of this bunch."  Man, that guy was furious.  I think he would have shot somebody until he saw he was outnumbered and out-armed.  When tanks are positioned in certain locations, the ground does get churned up and big ruts are made in the fields.  The farmer was advised that after the tanks had pulled out, the Army would send in engineers and road graders to level his land again and put it back in its original condition, in addition to some sort of monetary settlement.  This pleased him and he even waved goodbye to us as we left his property.

At about 0800 hours we had hardly pulled our tank onto the highway when a team of umpires signaled us to pull over to the shoulder of the road.  We complied and then the chief referee came over to us and told us that our tank had just been hit by artillery fire and there was extensive damage to it that would require at least eight hours to repair.  So they put a "damage tag" on it.  I radioed the platoon leader and advised him of the situation.  He told us to catch up to them when we were able to proceed.  He said he would keep in radio contact to let us know their location.  So we just sat there and watched all the civilians driving by on their way to work or some other place.  Needless to say, everybody that drove by kept gawking at us and our tank.  I guess a lot of them had never seen a real tank up close.  Some of them even stopped and asked if they could look inside the tank, so we let them (if we had charged an admission fee, we could have cleaned up).  It just so happened that there was a bar and grill about 200 yards up the road, so at lunch time I let two crew members go there for lunch.  Then when they came back my driver Leo Dembrowski and I went for lunch.  We just sat there with nothing to do so I decided that two of the crew could go the bar and grill for an hour and then when they came back Leo and I went up for an hour.  This went on until the eight hours were up and it was time to move out and catch up with the rest of the unit.  The only problem was rush hour and a tank was not the easiest thing to maneuver in city traffic.  I radioed the platoon leader and requested a Military Police escort.  There were no MP's available and as luck would have it, a state police officer arrived at our location.  I explained to him our situation and he said to follow him.  He gave us an escort all the way to where our unit was.  That was great going through the red lights and driving "hell bent for election."  We thanked the officer and invited him to eat with us, but he declined due to other pressing matters.  After we finished eating, the platoon sergeant came over to our tank and told me he wanted me to sneak our tank into a certain position and camouflage it.  I started laughing and the more I thought about what he said t he more I laughed.  When I finished laughing the sergeant asked me, "What was so damn funny?"  I asked him, "How in the hell do you sneak a tank?"  Tanks do make quite a bit of noise when they move, so you can't sneak a tank anywhere.

For some unknown reason, one afternoon my tank was selected to perform inspections of various sites for crossing a rather wide creek.  The creek was only about two feet deep and about twelve feet wide.  It ran between two embankments about ten feet high.  I first inspected the bridge spanning the creek and determined that it wasn't strong enough to hold the weight of our tank, let alone a company of them.  Our young lieutenant suggested that we cross the creek by going down the embankment and up the other side.  I reconnoitered that area and determined that it would be too dangerous as it would be a perfect tank trap and the possibility was great of throwing a track.  The lieutenant disagreed and Sergeant Dembrowski sided with him.  I told them that I was not going to be held responsible for what might happen and disconnected my radio chest set, got my binoculars, and turned command of the tank over to the lieutenant.  Leo got the tank down the embankment just to the right of the bridge and just as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, he got the tank trapped and couldn't get it up the opposite embankment.  Both he and the lieutenant turned red with embarrassment and the lieutenant even apologized for not listening to my decision.  They even asked me what they should do next.  I told them we had no alternative but to call for a tank retriever.  It took about an hour for the retriever to arrive at our location and when it did, it was determined that it would take two retrievers to get our tank out.  As they were pulling our tank up the embankment, the right track was thrown and all operations had to stop until the track could be put back on the rollers and bogey wheels.  This was a time-consuming ordeal and we hadn't eaten in about seven hours, but they finally got our tank back on the road.  I performed a walk-around inspection and checked that the track was in good shape.  I then gathered everybody together, including the lieutenant and put it straight on the line.  I told them, "I am the tank commander and as such I say what goes on with this tank.  "Lieutenant, you outrank me, but as long as I am in charge of this tank, I don't care if you have five stars on your shoulder.  What I say goes.  Is that perfectly understood?"  There was never any more question as to who was in command and after apologies were made and accepted, we continued on our merry way.  Ever since that incident the lieutenant always came to me for advice rather than his own platoon sergeant.

Thanksgiving came and everyone got a three-day pass.  But not everyone could leave at the same time, so we split the crews in half.  Two guys went for three days and then when they came back the other two guys took their three days.  Sergeant Dembrowski and I stayed at the tank while the gunner and loader took their passes.  There was nothing to do because of the stand down, so we broke out the deck of cards and some of our "stash" and played a little poker with other tank crews.  I never was very good at poker, but for some unknown reason Lady Luck must have taken a liking to me, as I was raking in pot after pot.  By the time we finished playing for the day, I was ahead about $130.00.  That came in handy too when Dembrowski and I took our three days pass.  We went to Shreveport by truck and arrived there about 1000 hours.  We were dropped off at the Greyhound Bus Depot and advised to be back at the same location at the same time after our three days were up.  If not, we had to find our own way back to the bivouac area.

We proceeded to the Captain Shreve Hotel and got a room on the eighth floor.  We rode up on the elevator and by the time we got to our floor I had a date with the female elevator operator for that night.  We got settled into our room and decided to have a drink or two before heading out to check out the area.  We had brought some of our own "private stock" from the tank with us, so we just settled back and watched TV for a while.  About two hours later we went out into the town and just walked around enjoying the sights of the city and glad to be among civilization again.  For some reason we ended up in Bossier City (pronounced Bozhier) and did a little bar hopping.  Before we knew it the time was 9:30 p.m. and I had forgotten all about the date with the elevator operator.  Oh, oh.  Bad news.  Well, the damage was already done, so we proceeded to enjoy ourselves.  We got back to the hotel about 2:00 a.m. and went right to sleep.  Man, it felt great sleeping in a nice soft bed rather than in a sleeping bag on the rear deck of a tank.  The next day the elevator girl asked where I was last night and I told her what had happened.  She agreed to a date that night...I kept it, too!

Our three days finally came to an end and we returned to the tank and our war games.  We were still assigned to Charlie Company and the same platoon, and one later afternoon after about two days of rain we pulled into this great big field and established our perimeter.  As I mentioned earlier, tanks do churn up a lot of dirt when they make their turns and we had several deep ruts right next to our tank.  These ruts had filled up with water and we had to walk very gingerly to keep from stepping in them as they were about two feet deep.

That night as I was trying to get some sleep lying in the luggage rack with the tarp pulled up over, I kept hearing the lieutenant calling for me.  "Sergeant Chrisman, Sergeant Chrisman."  (He never did pronounce my name right.)  I ignored him but he kept calling and the voice kept getting nearer.  I could hear him climbing up the tank and figured he was standing on the edge on top of the tool box.  I threw off the tarp and yelled, "What the hell do you want?"  This sudden movement startled him and he lost his balance and fell off the tank right into one of those big water-filled ruts.  He was so embarrassed I guess he forgot what he wanted me for and just slogged away in the mud back to his quarters.  He never came around our tank again during the nighttime hours.

It must have been almost another month just before Christmas when the war games finally ended and we returned to Ft. Bragg.  These maneuvers were the best time I ever had during my three years with the 82nd Airborne Division.  As a matter of fact, I really hated to see them end because then we were back to the routine of garrison life and back to all that spit and polish.  But that's the way it goes in the military.

It was after we were back in our barracks at Fort Bragg and everyone was getting ready for an IG (Inspector General) inspection when my left shoulder woes began. For those uninformed, an IG inspection was very in-depth. The supply room was inspected for any excess property and the billets were inspected for cleanliness, maintenance, and the proper display of military equipment. The inspectors looked for everything. I was sharing a cadre room with two other NCOs.  At 0500 hours, as we were stashing some of our gear in the overhead, I had to go up to make more room.  As I was lifting myself up through the trap door, my left shoulder gave out and dislocated again. My roommates took me to the Battalion Aid Station and from there I was transported by ambulance to the Post Hospital emergency room. I reported to the nurse on duty and told her about my shoulder. She had me sit in a chair and gave me a codeine pill and told me to wait for the doctor. I sat there in that chair with my arm stuck up in the air and in quite a bit of pain.  When I asked when I could see the doctor, I got another pill stuck in my mouth. This went on until 0800, when I finally got to see the doctor. He reduced my shoulder and asked me when it happened.  I told him about 0500 hours. He then asked why I was just now seeing him.  I told him that I'd been sitting out there in the ER since 0530 and that I had kept asking about seeing a doctor to no avail. The doctor called the nurse in and asked her how long I had been there and she told him since about 0530. He then asked why he wasn't called sooner to take care of the shoulder.  She stated that she didn't want to wake him. Man, his face got as red as a tomato and he lit into her like you wouldn't believe. He chewed her up one side and down the other, and told her to get out of his sight. I don't know what ever happened to that nurse, but because of her negligence, when my arm was taken out of the cast six weeks later it was discovered that my whole left arm was paralyzed. Consequently, I had to undergo additional electric shock treatments, along with physical therapy, and keep my arm immobile in an "airplane splint” for six more weeks. In time, I got my left arm back to normal about a month before my discharge. I was told by the doctor that I should have the shoulder operated on as soon as possible because another dislocation could result in permanent paralysis. I advised him that I was going into the Air Force and once I was settled in, I would have the surgery. It was also at Fort Bragg where I became married twice.  Both marriages ended in divorce.

Back to Memoir Contents

US Air Force

Being stationed at Bragg, Pope Air Force Base was our next door neighbor.  They provided the airplanes that we jumped out of.  I could see those Air Force guys almost every day and noticed that they didn't have reveille every morning.  Nor did they have retreat in the evening.  It looked like they were living the life of Riley, so I figured I'd give the Air Force a shot after I was discharged from the Army.  For the next 19 years, that's where I stayed.

In June 1956 I reported to O'Hare International Airport and was assigned to the 63rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS) of the 56th Fighter Wing. I was assigned to the Armament and Electronics (A&E) section which was responsible for the loading and downloading of the missiles and other armament in addition to the proper maintenance and repair of the radar elements on the aircraft. It was at O'Hare Field that I was told by the Wing Sergeant Major that I couldn't wear my CIB on the Air Force uniform because it wasn't an Air Force decoration. I asked him to show me the regulation or manual that stated that and he referred me to AFM 35-10.  I read it and went back to his office where I advised him that the manual stated "…the wearing of the Combat Infantryman Badge, Parachutist Wings, Combat Medical Badge, and Submariner Badge is discouraged…”. I also advised the Sergeant Major that he could try to discourage me all day, but I would still wear the CIB as I had earned it. It was (and is) as important to me as the Medal of Honor. That was the last time the Sergeant Major said anything about that subject.

While stationed at O'Hare, our unit was deployed to Yuma, Arizona, to participate in the William Tell gunnery competition. That was a gunnery meet of various fighter groups, not unlike the Navy's "Top Gun" competition.  The time I was in it, it was held in Yuma, Arizona.  While loading one of the aircraft, I dislocated my left shoulder again and was sent to the Balboa Navy Hospital in San Diego, California, where I had my first surgery (called the magneson repair) on the shoulder. I spent three months at Balboa and then returned to O'Hare. During this assignment I also had the additional duty of escorting AWOL or deserted prisoners back to O'Hare for courts martial. There are some good stories there, too. It was also during this assignment that I participated in the first Air Defense Command judo tournament at McCord AFB, Washington.

I took judo lessons at one of the YMCAs in Chicago.  There were only four of us judokas on the base.  We had to compete with various other bases to win a berth on the ADC judo team.  Inasmuch as I had had martial arts experience and was a former infantryman with knowledge about weapons, I was made the Duty Sergeant of my squadron while assigned to the 56th Fighter Group at O'Hare International Airport.  The First Sergeant assigned me the escort duty which was a pretty good duty because I got to travel quite a bit at the government's expense.  There were a lot of good trips during those years.

In 1958 I was reassigned to 539th FIS at Goose Bay, Labrador. That is where I met Mary Buranelli from Tenafly, New Jersey, to whom I was married for 30 plus years and who provided me with the two best sons a man could ever hope to have.  Mary was a schoolteacher at the Department of Defense Elementary School at Goose Bay.  At the "Goose" there was allegedly a woman behind every tree.  But they only had five trees there (a little humor--damn little).  Mary and I started dating and one thing led to another.  The next thing we knew, we were in love with each other.  After my return to the CONUS, we were married on 9 October 1960.

In 1960, after Goose Bay I was assigned to the 1st Armament and Electronics Squadron of the First Fighter Wing at Selfridge Air Force Base, Michigan. During this assignment, my two sons Daniel and Edward were born. It was also during this time that our unit was deployed to various parts of the United States due to the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was sent to Patrick AFB, Florida, near Cocoa Beach.  I was the Loading Crew Chief.  Being the only person qualified to arm and disarm the drop tanks and the missiles of the planes after they returned from a sortie and before they took off again on another mission, it was imperative that I be on the flight line 24 hours per day. We were flying around-the-clock sorties, so we had planes coming in and going out all the time.  I had to have my meals brought to me, and I couldn't even leave the line long enough to take a shower or shave or even brush my teeth. They did have a latrine on the flight line, but when I had to use it, it was in and out. After about five days, another loading team arrived and so did another Loading Crew Chief.  I was then ordered to the Detachment Commander's office, where he told me to take three days off, but to stay in touch in the event they needed me back sooner.  At Thanksgiving I was allowed to go back home for a few days and then returned to Patrick for the duration of the Mexican standoff with Cuba.  There are a lot of stories that could be told about that period of time too.

After our return to Selfridge, I started my investigative career working part-time as a private investigator for the International Recovery Bureau, a private detective agency in Detroit. While at Selfridge I became the "trouble shooter” for the weapons release systems of the F102 Delta Dart and F106 Delta Dagger, and was given temporary duty with their detachment at Niagara Falls Municipal Airport in New York. The Weapons Release system was composed of the radar on the aircraft, along with its armament.  I was involved with the armament part of it.  We loaded everything from 2.76mm Mighty Mouse missiles to the Falcon missiles and the MB-1 Atomic Rocket.  In addition to loading the various weapons, we were also responsible for the maintenance of the electronics and hydraulics of the armament system, which included the armament bay doors operation and the proper operation of the missile launchers.  A trouble shooter was one who was extremely qualified in his/her career field and capable of coping with extraordinary situations and produce a satisfactory closure.  They were sent out to various units that seemed to be having problems morale-wise and efficiency-wise.  They were to correct these situations and bring that particular unit up to operational standards.  About six months later, after I got that section cleaned up and functioning normally, I was permanently assigned to the Niagara Falls Detachment as the NCOIC (Non Commissioned Officer in Charge) of the Armament Section.

In 1965 I was given a humanitarian assignment to McGuire AFB, New Jersey. Mary had given birth to our second son Matthew, however he only lived for a couple of days and then he died.  At the time, we were stationed at Niagara Falls and on leave in New Jersey.  Upon my return to my base, I requested and was granted the humanitarian reassignment to McGuire AFB so I could be nearer my family while Mary recuperated.  At McGuire I was assigned to the 59th FIS that was equipped with F-106 Delta Daggers. The F-106 Delta Daggers was a delta wing fighter aircraft armed with four Falcon missiles.  It had the capability for an MB-1 Atomic Rocket.  During this assignment I was selected to go to Pleiku AFB, Vietnam, but being on a humanitarian assignment, I was frozen for eighteen months and didn't have to go to Nam. While at McGuire I started writing articles about military history, customs, and traditions for the base paper called The Vindicator. I even had my own byline.

The year 1967 saw us being reassigned to First Air Force Headquarters at Stewart AFB, New York. There were no family quarters available at the time so I took a month leave between assignments to allow time for quarters to become available. We took a side trip up to Vermont and got a motel room in the little village called Bellows Falls. After checking into the motel, we headed for one of their attractions called Steam Train Town, USA.  As we were waiting for traffic to pass to make a left turn into this attraction, we were rear-ended by some young kid of about seventeen. Fortunately the oncoming traffic had passed prior to the accident, because the impact sent us across the road.  Had I not been able to keep the car under control, we would have gone down a very steep ravine with big boulders at the bottom. I got my family out of the car and then went for the other driver, who was yelling and cursing at me. As I got to where he was, I cocked my arm back and was about to put him into next month, but someone grabbed my arm. I turned to see who it was and there was a Vermont State Policeman holding onto my arm. This was a real mess as we had a lot of our personal effects and valuables with us rather than trusting them to the movers. My coin collection was all over the road, as was my wife's jewelry box contents.  We recovered them both.

The trooper gave us a ride back to the motel and I contacted our insurance company (GEICO).  Their adjuster was about as helpful as a broken arm. This is a long story so I won't bother you with the details, but we had to call Beatrice, one of my sisters-in-law, to come and get us. Beatrice arrived about three hours later with her Kharmann Ghia, and it was like a circus act with three adults, two young boys, and several suitcases all jammed into one small car. It's a wonder we ever made it back to New Jersey. At any rate, we finally were able to get settled into Stewart AFB and my job with the First Air Force Headquarters Information Office. I was the Administrative NCOIC and had the opportunity to continue with my writing projects. During the time we were at McGuire AFB, we had acquired a family dog that was being kept by Beatrice while we were changing duty stations. Her name was "Pokey”--a non-pedigree dog that looked just like Benjie. She was actually Dan's dog and he named her. After about eighteen months at Stewart, we acquired another dog while on vacation in New Jersey. Brandy was a Saint Bernard. Brandy, still in his puppy stage, had a fear of climbing stairs, so I had to carry him up whenever we went somewhere and took them with us. Saint Bernards are heavy dogs and Brandy finally overcame his aversion to climbing stairs. Just as luck would have it, three months after we got Brandy I got reassignment orders to Wheelus Air Base in Libya. Due to the climate of Libya, I checked with the base veterinarian to see if Brandy would be able to handle it.  I was assured that due to his age he would be able to adjust to the weather pretty easily.

While at Wheelus, the Libyan Colonel Muamar Quadafi decided to have a revolution and take the country away from its ruling monarch, King Idris. I will give Quadafi a lot of credit as there was only one shot during the entire revolution, and that was only by accident. Needless to say, he did spoil my retirement plans, as I had thought about retiring from the service while I was there and get a job with one of the oil companies. They were making money hand over fist and were living in some really fine homes in an area called Georgempopoly. At first we were living in Tripoli in a section called Suk-el Jiuma (Friday's market) and our villa was across an alley from a mosque. We were told that the mosque wasn't used anymore, but at 0500 hours the next morning, the loudspeakers on the minarets started blaring with music and the Arabic call to prayer. Both Dan and Edward came running into our room as scared as could be, and I wasn't all that happy about it either.  But after a while we got used to it and didn't even notice it. What with the revolution and Quadafi being of the communist persuasion, we were in effect kicked out of the country. It took us a while to shut down the base and all of its facilities, then in March of 1970 we were on our way back to the United States.

Upon our arrival in the USA, we were unable to land at McGuire AFB due to a severe winter storm.  All of the runways were iced over. Consequently, we were diverted to Baltimore, Maryland.  At that time Baltimore was not an international airport, so no one could deplane because there were no customs inspectors. After about two hours, we were allowed to land at McGuire.  About forty-five minutes later we touched down at McGuire and proceeded through customs. Beatrice was waiting for us, and again we all got into her Kharmann Ghia and drove to Tenafly, New Jersey. It was great being back in the USA, but we had all had a great time while we were in Libya.  We made some very good Libyan friends, and I had the opportunity to learn to speak Arabic.

Our new assignment was with the 351st Strategic Missile Wing at Whiteman AFB, Missouri. My position was NCOIC of the Mail Distribution Center with the responsibility of handling all the official military mail on base. This included all Top Secret documents, too, so I was investigated by the OSI (Office of Special Investigation) and the FBI and given a Top Secret security clearance. This was a very interesting assignment as one of my workers, an Airman Second Class, appeared for work one day wearing several ribbons on his uniform, one of which was a Purple Heart. He wasn't old enough to have been in the Korean War or the Vietnam War, so I asked him where he got the Purple Heart. He told me that he was on guard duty at Anchorage, Alaska and was fired on from a Russian patrol boat.  He was wounded in the foot from one of their bullets. I proceeded to the Military Personnel Records office and reviewed his military record and discovered that the only ribbon he was authorized to wear was the National Defense Service ribbon. With this information I proceeded to the Orderly Room and spoke to the First Sergeant, who in turn discussed the matter with the Squadron Commander. The Airman was summoned to the CO's office where he was stripped of his ribbons and advised that he was facing a Special Court Martial. He was found guilty of all charges and specifications, reduced in rank to Airman and reassigned to another field out of my jurisdiction.

I had another worker, Hugh Brown, who had a drinking problem. As his supervisor, I tried to help him as best I could. At nights sometimes he would get to drinking and feeling sorry for himself and get picked up by the Air Police.  As his NCOIC, I took custody of him. I was able to get him into a rehab program because he was on the verge of being discharged under other than honorable conditions. Everything started to change for him for the better and he was no longer dependant on the alcohol.  After three months into the program he was driving back to the base after doing some grocery shopping and was killed when his car hit the stone wall of a bridge. His death was initially classified as a suicide, but I investigated the case and had the classification changed to accidental death. I was selected to escort his body back to Wisconsin for burial and was glad when that assignment was completed.  It was a very depressing job, but someone had to do it.

While I was at Whiteman, I was also selected as the Outstanding Administrative Technician of the Year for the 351st Strategic Missile Wing, 15th Air Force, and the Strategic Air Command. I was also promoted to Technical Sergeant after fifteen years in grade as a Staff Sergeant. Shortly thereafter, in 1972, we packed up our goods and were on our way to Arlington, Virginia, as I had been reassigned to the Pentagon to the Air Force Programs and Resources Directorate. It took us a while to get settled in.  We lived in temporary quarters in a Navy section of Bolling AFB. Within a few weeks we were able to buy a house in Arlington and get moved in. The job in the Pentagon lasted about a year and I was reassigned to duty as Air Force Liaison Officer for the billets occupied by Air Force personnel at Fort Myer, Virginia. This was a terrific job and I had a great bunch of men working with me. I held this position until I decided to retire from active duty.  On 1 September 1974, I stood in my last military formation as I said goodbye to the military service.

On 1 October 1974, I started working at Georgetown University as Chief Investigator of the Department of Public Safety (Campus Police). This was the best job I had ever had in my life, with full arrest powers both on and off campus. This was such a terrific job that I have just completed writing a book about my sixteen years there--all my experiences, the cases that I was involved with, and the various notable people I came in contact with during those years.   "Cops on a College Campus" was published in March of 2006.  It is a print-on-demand item ($9.31 plus postage) and can be ordered through the Author House Book Order Hotline 1-888-280-7715 or through the website:

On 7 September 1990, I stopped on the way home and bought a birthday cake to take home as it was my wife's birthday and I was going to take her out to dinner. When I entered my house, I saw her lying on the kitchen floor.  When I went to her, there was no response and she was cold. There was no pulse beat and no evidence of any breathing. I called 911 and reported the death of my wife.  I then went outside and waited for the police to arrive.  The next worst thing was to call my sons and tell them that their mother had died of a massive heart attack. I would rather have been sucked out of a jet at 30,000 feet than to have had to make those calls, but they had to be told. Four days later we had the funeral ceremony at the Fort Myer Chapel.  Mary was placed in a niche in the columbarium of Arlington National Cemetery. I immediately put our house up for sale and in the interim I bought a house in Tappahannock, Virginia and moved out of Arlington.

After six years of being a widower and surviving two open heart surgeries, I met Sandra Melton and in November of 1996 we started dating. A month later I was diagnosed with oral cancer and Sandi decided to quit her job at the Moose Lodge to help me with my fight with the cancer. Had it not been for Sandi, I wouldn't be sitting here now writing this.

Back to Memoir Contents

Four Bouts with Cancer

Oral Cancer

My wife Sandi and I, prior to our marriage and my first case of cancer (December 1996).
(Click picture for a larger view)

My initial contact with this dreadful disease began after a visit with my dentist in December 1996 at Williamsburg, Virginia. Just prior to leaving his office after a routine appointment I asked him to check inside my mouth as I was experiencing quite a bit of discomfort from one particular area. Upon examining my mouth he suggested that I see an oral surgeon for further consultation and he made arrangements for me to do so. I went directly to the oral surgeon he had recommended, and after his brief examination he suggested that I have a biopsy performed of that area as soon as possible. In view of this, as soon as I got back to my home I contacted my primary care doctor at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, and he made all the arrangements for me.  I had the biopsy done on 6 December 1996.

One week later my fiancée and I returned to the Ears, Nose, and Throat (ENT) Clinic for the results of the biopsy. Of all days, this was Friday the thirteenth, and believe it or not, the doctor’s name was Grimm. Dr. Grimm informed us of the biopsy results…positive for oral cancer. I felt as though someone had punched me in the stomach just hard as they could, and the tears started welling up in my eyes. Dr. Grimm gave us some privacy and time to get our thoughts together, and I thank God Sandi was there.  She did her best to console me.  As she had had breast cancer in the past and overcame it, she knew exactly what I was going through, and she shed some tears with me.  After the initial shock wore off and we had regained our composure, the doctor returned to us and discussed the various modes of treatment.  He suggested radiation treatments. After Sandi and I discussed it, I agreed to this form of treatment, and arrangements were made with the Radiation Department.

On my first visit in January 1997 with the radiation technicians, I was fitted for some type of mask that would be placed over my face during every treatment. I was advised that these treatments would be every day except for the weekends and on holidays. Sandi was with me every single time I had to have a treatment.  After the first couple of weeks, it got to the point where I couldn’t drive.  Sandi had to drive the fifty miles to Richmond and the fifty miles back home. To this day I thank the Lord for Sandi because if it hadn’t been for her I wouldn’t be sitting in front of my computer writing this now.  Sandi and I had met in early November and had just begun dating before this whole business started. I think a lesser person would have said, “So long, Mister.  I don’t need anything like this in my life,” and split the scene. Sandi had been trained as a Certified Nursing Assistant and quit her job so she could devote her time taking care of me. It was like having my own Florence Nightingale by my side.

As the treatments progressed, I regressed.  It got to where I couldn’t keep anything in my stomach. I no longer had an appetite, and when I did eat I had a very difficult time trying to swallow food. It got to where all I could eat was soup, pudding, or ice cream, and then it was a toss of the coin if I would be able to keep it in my stomach. The dizzy spells and nausea were almost unbearable. At times, when Sandi was out shopping or unavailable and it became necessary for me to cross the room, I had to crawl across the floor due to dizziness.  Every day I kept getting weaker and weaker, and within the three months of treatment I went from 150 pounds to a mere 110 pounds. I will have to admit that those three months were almost the worst three months of my life. The only other time that was worse was during my recovery from being wounded in the Korean War.

About a month into the treatments, nausea was so bad it became necessary for Sandi and my friend John Shropshire to take me to the hospital, where I was admitted. It was there that they inserted a tube into my stomach for feeding, as I had gotten to the point where I could barely swallow anything. I was practically nothing but skin and bones. After about two or three weeks I was granted leave from the hospital and was allowed to return to my home where Sandi took ideal care of me. God, what a fantastic woman she is.  It was at this point in time that I told Sandi that I was not going to continue with any more treatments. They were too much for me to deal with anymore, and I just wanted to stop. Of course, Sandi, being as bull headed as anyone can be, refused to hear it and forced me to continue. I was too weak to fight with her and when it came time to go for another treatment, Sandi practically carried me to the car for our fifty-mile trip to the VA Hospital.

As time passed and I continued to deteriorate, it became necessary for me to return to the hospital and stay there until my treatments were over. Unless they’ve been through it, no one can imagine what it is like.  I dreaded every single day that I had to go for a treatment. The technicians were extremely sympathetic to my reactions to these treatments and even said they had never before seen anyone with reactions like mine.

During my hospital stays Sandi was there every day as soon as visiting hours started, and they almost had to force her to leave after visiting hours were over. It was during this stay that we had a real bad snow storm and I called Sandi and told her not to even try to come to the hospital as I didn’t want her to take any chances of being in an accident and getting injured or worse. I might as well have been talking to the doorknob, because about an hour and a half later Sandi came waltzing into the room with a smile on her face and a “Hi, Honey”. Of course, I was glad to see her, but I did have to admonish her for taking such a chance.  Fortunately, when it came time for her to leave, the snow had stopped falling and the roads had been pretty well cleared off and salted. After Sandi left my room and started for home, I was on pins and needles until I got the call from her telling me that she had made it home okay with no problems. I let go a big sigh of relief and went to sleep thanking the Lord for putting Sandi into my life.

Finally the day that I had been waiting for arrived. The date was 23 March 1997.  I had my very last treatment and I was discharged from the hospital. The cancer was gone, but so were a lot of other things, such as my taste buds, my saliva glands, my singing voice, my appetite, and my ability to swallow. I still had a feeding tube stuck in my stomach, and Sandi made certain that I was fed properly every day.

Two weeks after my discharge from the hospital, I had to go back for a follow-up visit.  While we were there, Sandi talked to the doctor about removing the feeding tube as she was concerned that it might grow into my skin and my throat muscles would atrophy, making it impossible for me to eat normally again. The doctor agreed and I was placed on a gurney in one of the examining rooms. The doctor told me he was going to count to three and then pull out the tube so I could prepare myself. Well, I listened to him count…one, two and WOW! Out came that tube and I let out one helluva yell and mumbled something in Spanish that I’m glad no else understood.  I asked the doctor, “Whatever became of three?”  He just laughed as he placed a bandage over the hole that was left from the tube, and told me to lie there for a while. About a half hour later we were walking out of the hospital with a clean bill of health as far as the oral cancer was concerned.

Now came the rehabilitation and getting my weight back--well, trying to get my weight back. It took a long time of eating soup, pudding, and ice cream before I was able to even try to eat a hot dog (without the roll).  Eventually I got to where I could eat a couple of hot dogs, but they had to have the skin removed and had to be pretty well squashed up. It seemed to take an hour just to eat two hot dogs, but I did get them down and I was able to keep them down, too. Of course, I couldn’t taste anything until about 1998.  That was after we had moved from Virginia to Maryland.

If you have never been without taste buds, you would never know what it’s like to eat something and not have the slightest clue what it tastes like. I finally got that sensation back and I could hardly wait to chomp down on a delicious strawberry. When I did though, I felt that my mouth was on fire. I hadn’t realized how sensitive my mouth had become to certain foods, and to this date (April 2006), it is still sensitive to some things.  But now I can eat a lot of things I couldn’t even think about eating several months ago. My throat muscles returned to normal and became useful again, allowing me to swallow some things. My vocal chords had also come back to life and my voice became stronger as each day passed.  It was just a matter of time before I was able to sing again. Things were really starting to look good and it was beginning to be a pleasure again to be alive and enjoying life.

In June of 1997 I proposed marriage to Sandi and she accepted.  On 22 July 1997, we were married at the Little Chapel of the West in Las Vegas, Nevada. My son Edward came from Los Angeles and video taped our wedding, and helped us celebrate. Edward left the next day to go back home and we stayed for a few more days enjoying the sights and the entertainment in Las Vegas. It made my heart fill up with joy just to see Sandi smiling and having a great, relaxing, and enjoyable time. She certainly deserved it.

Prostate Cancer

After recovering from oral cancer, in late 1997 I was notified by the VA Hospital in Richmond, Virginia to come in to the Internal Medicine Clinic for an examination for possibly having prostate cancer. Sandi and I met with the hospital personnel in that clinic and shortly thereafter I was scheduled for another biopsy for this type of cancer.  We kept the appointment for the biopsy and as Sandi waited in the patient lounge, I underwent forty-five minutes of pure agony and hell. Without being too graphic, this procedure is intrusive, extremely painful, and somewhat embarrassing to say the least. It was a real blessing when it was over and I could hardly wait to get back home again and away from pain and misery.

About a week later we got the results and as it turned out, I had another case of cancer…this time prostate cancer. I was beginning to wonder if the Lord was testing me to see how much I could stand. After just recovering from one form of cancer, the last thing I wanted to hear was that I had another form of cancer. I mean, how about giving me some kind of a break here?

It’s not uncommon after getting news such as this to get a little emotional and shed a tear or two, and that’s just what Sandi and I did again…for a little bit. Then we bit the bullet and decided that we just had to deal with it, like it or not. The doctor told us the various options for treatments.  I shied away from the radiation option, having had such a bad experience with it before. Of all of the options, I figured that surgery would probably be the easiest with the shortest recovery period. To be perfectly honest with you, I was getting pretty fed up with all this ungodly cancer business.

On 26 January 1998 I underwent surgery to have the prostate removed, along with all of its cancerous tissues. I have no idea how long this surgery lasted, but my best friend Kevin McCarthy came down from Maryland to be with Sandi and give her moral support and help in any way he could. After the normal routine of post-surgery recovery, I was placed in the Surgery Intensive Care Ward for a day or two, and then transferred to a normal room. Just like clockwork, Sandi was right there with her smiling face and loving attention. Sandi made certain that I was being cared for properly and the surgical dressings were clean and fresh. I think sometimes the nurses hated to see Sandi come to visit me.

I don’t recall how long I was in the hospital that time, but every single day as soon as visiting hours started Sandi always walked through the door. After a certain period I was able to get out of bed and leave the ward, so Sandi pushed me in the wheelchair and we took a little stroll around the hospital.  In time I was discharged from the VA hospital and Sandi brought me home. What a relief that was to be home again in my own surroundings. The only problem though was, due to the surgery, I still had no control over my urinary functions.   I had to wear a bag attached to my leg which was attached to a catheter still inside me. It seemed that I had to wear that thing forever, but after about three weeks we went back to the VA for a follow-up and it was decided to remove the catheter and bag. I still didn’t have complete control yet though, and it became necessary to use underwear liners. After about three more weeks I had total control and no longer required the liners.  Life again started to return to normal.  I still hadn’t gained much weight back from the initial case of cancer, even though Sandi was making me super protein milk shakes along with my other food and cans of Ensure.

During this rehabilitation period, I began to be more active and was able to get out and cut the grass (on a riding lawn mower) and be more productive. I was even able to return to my job as a People Greeter at Wal Mart in Tappahannock.  After about a month I had to give up that job due to a hernia that was driving me crazy. At least that made Sandi happy, as I could spend more time with her now.

It was also during this time that I was about to become another year older…sixty-five. Unbeknown to me, Sandi had arranged a surprise birthday party for me that I will never forget the rest of my life. She had contacted my sister Bessie, who lives in El Paso, Texas, my two sons Daniel and Edward, my best friend Kevin McCarthy, and a lot of my other friends and relatives. It was a fantastic party and everyone one had a good time with plenty to eat and drink. You can’t imagine how surprised I really was when I saw Edward, his wife Mary, and her daughter Emily, who came all the way from Los Angeles. I’ll tell you, Sandi did a marvelous job keeping everything so secret from me and not letting me know what was going or what she was doing. She never fails to amaze me the things she can and does do. What a remarkable lady.  I am extremely grateful that I have her.

Oral Cancer Revisited

In August 1998 we moved from Virginia to Maryland so Sandi could be closer to her grown children who lived in the Baltimore area. It took a little getting used to living in another state because I was very familiar with the laws and the state of Virginia. Plus, almost all of my friends lived in Virginia and I didn’t know a soul in Maryland. It should also be noted that during my last ten years in the United States Air Force I was reassigned every two years, causing me to develop a very strong aversion to moving from place to place. But after all that Sandi had done for me, the least I could do for her was move to Maryland.

We bought a very nice little three bedroom rancher with a nice deck, big corner lot with a humongous pine tree in front, and a great garage big enough for a car and my motorcycle.  After getting settled in, I worked for a year for a firm in Catonsville, Maryland, as a private detective. In December 1999, I responded to an ad on the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) website for a campus police officer (part-time) for the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. I was interviewed for the job and hired the same day, and I’ve been there ever since up to the present time.

In March or April of 2002 I kept feeling an irritation in my mouth on the right side near the rear of the tongue. It felt like I had a slight case of swollen glands. For quite a while I just ignored it and bit the bullet thinking it would go away.  But it just kept hanging in there.  It finally dawned on me that it was the same sensation I felt when I was first diagnosed with oral cancer at the VA Hospital in Richmond, Virginia. Consequently, I made an appointment with the ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat) Clinic at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. I don’t recall the exact date of my first appointment with them about this problem, but the irritation was an ongoing problem with no relief. At times the area swelled up so much (it felt like the size of a ping-pong ball) that it became extremely difficult just to swallow. Additionally, talking seemed to aggravate it more and the pain increased. There were times when the pain was so severe that tears came to my eyes. Every time I went to my appointments, the doctors that I saw stated that they could not see anything that was causing the discomfort. This went on for several appointments.  On the third to last appointment, the doctor prescribed a pain killer (Tylenol 3 with codeine).  However, the pills had little or no affect whatsoever on this pain. All those pills did mostly was keep me awake at night. When I saw the next doctor, I advised him of the affect these pills had and he prescribed Oxycodone (a liquid form of Percocet), a stronger pain killer. The Percocet helped a little bit more, however its effect wore away too soon, and there was a limited amount I could take in a certain time frame.

On my last visit to the ENT Clinic, I was able to convince the doctor that nothing was helping me with the pain and he finally acquiesced to performing a biopsy of the affected area. At this point I must interject that prior to this action I underwent a CT scan and an MRI test, but these tests didn’t show anything abnormal. On May 29, 2002, Sandi and I reported to the Same Day Surgical Ward of the VA Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and the biopsy procedure was accomplished. I was scheduled for another appointment with the ENT Clinic for June 7, at which time I was to find out the results of this biopsy.

On Sunday, June 2, 2002, I woke up with the right side of my face swollen with a particular swelling around and behind the right ear. At the time I couldn’t even swallow any pain medication, so Sandi crushed two Tylenol 3’s and mixed them with a little water so I could get some relief from the extremely severe pain. After that initial dosage and later being able to swallow somewhat, I got through the day with the continued use of Percocet or Tylenol 3.

On Monday morning, June 3, 2002, I contacted the ENT Clinic at the Baltimore VA Hospital and made arrangements to have them take a look at this problem. Dr. Hao Tran examined me and determined that one of my saliva glands was infected and prescribed an antibiotic (clindamycin) and additional Tylenol 3. Dr. Tran also advised to apply heat to the affected area for twenty minutes three times a day. This treatment was successful in relieving the pain and the swelling.

On Wednesday, June 5, I reported to work at the Peabody Library of The Peabody Institute at 2:00pm. All day long there had been this nagging pain in the biopsy area and the right side near the ear, but I figured I could deal with it.  I had brought some Tylenol 3 in the event the pain got to be too bad. I did take one Tylenol 3 at about 6:30 pm and got some relief until quitting time at 11:00 pm.

Friday June 7, 2002 we received the results of the biopsy. Positive for cancer. I could have told them that three months ago, and as a matter of fact, I tried to on several occasions.  However, everybody kept saying they couldn’t see anything. I even pointed out where the pain was located, but still nothing could be seen. Dr. William Caldwell, Jr. made the necessary arrangements for surgery to take place on June 20 at the VA Hospital in Baltimore. I think had it not been for my insistence on a biopsy, I would still be wondering where all this pain was coming from.  At least now we know the source.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002: Upon getting out of bed I did not feel well at all. I was able to clean up the dog droppings in the back yard while having a cup of coffee. After that I felt that I should go back and lie down on the bed. This was about 8:00 am.  I didn’t wake up again until almost 2:15 pm, when Sandi came into the bedroom to check on me and see why I hadn’t answered the phone while they were out at the store. I had no idea that they (Sandi, Tina, and the kids) had even left the house. At that time I got dressed and started feeling somewhat better, which was good because Sandi came down with another migraine headache and I was able to give some aid to her and convince her to lie down for a while. Sandi got back up at about 4:30 pm and was feeling quite a bit better.  By 6:00 pm everyone was doing pretty well.

Wednesday, June 12, 2002, we had planned to take Kyle (my wife’s grandson) to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania, but the temperature had reached well beyond 90 degrees and Sandi couldn’t stand that kind of heat.  Additionally, I was not in much of a mood for an amusement park, as my throat was extremely sore and I had a slight dizzy feeling. I was able to make it to the dump to get rid of some trash and tree clippings, but upon returning home I went back to bed and stayed there until the next day.  Thursday and Friday were pretty much the same as the other days had been…waking up with pain and popping Tylenol 3 or Percocet whenever the pain got to be unbearable.

On June 20, 2002, Sandi, Tina (my stepdaughter) and I reported to the Same Day Surgery Clinic to be prepared for surgery. At approximately 11:30 am, I was transported to surgery where they removed the cancerous tumor.  It was reported to be half the size of a golf ball. Unfortunately, in doing this they also had to remove part of my tongue, resulting in my having somewhat of a speech impediment. From the Operating Room I was transported to the Surgical Intensive Care Unit where I got excellent treatment and remained all night. Sandi, Tina, and Daniel came to visit with me, however I was in and out of the twilight zone and couldn’t talk. After a while they all left because they had been there all day long and Daniel had to fly the following day.  Besides, I was no company to them at all. All night long I tossed and turned and did not get very much sleep, plus, the nurses came in every so often to check on me, which didn’t help getting any sleep.

On June 21, 2002, I celebrated my 70th birthday still in the Intensive Care Ward. Doctors Tran, Caldwell, and Taylor all came in to see me at various times. Dr. Tran was the first one to see me and changed the amount of oxygen that I was receiving. Later on Dr. Caldwell visited, did his thing, and said that I could be moved to the ward later that day.  Last, Dr. Taylor came in quite a while after Dr. Caldwell and told me that I could go home on this date. He provided me with some type of juice to see if I could swallow it and was satisfied that I could, so he made the arrangements for my discharge. My attending nurse, Sharmaine Stewart, came in after Dr. Taylor left and got somewhat upset when she saw that I had juice.  She wanted to know how I had gotten it. I told her from Dr. Taylor and she mentioned that he had not written any orders to that effect. At any rate, I was getting to go home.  Dr. Tran called all my prescriptions into the pharmacy that morning, however it wasn’t until after 3:00 pm that they were ready to be picked up so I could leave the hospital. By 3:15 pm we pulled out of the VA Hospital parking garage and arrived home at about 4:00 pm. Upon arriving home I placed myself in the recliner with a blanket that Sandi had provided, and laid back to rest. Later Sandi prepared an Ensure with some medication in it for me to drink, as I would be on a liquid diet for at least a week. Shortly after 6:00 pm I fell asleep in the recliner and didn’t wake up until shortly after 8:00 pm--and that was only because the phone rang. That is when I discovered that Sandi had been outside cutting the grass, which I did not want her to do. God truly blessed me when he put Sandi in my life. It is amazing that she is still with me after all I have put her through, what with all my medical problems that she had nursed me through. When you speak about guardian angels, I couldn’t have a better one than her.

It seemed that we had finally reached the end of this mystery as to the “unknown cause of pain”. We had discovered what it was, removed it, and now all that remains is the recovery process.  But before I close, I want it made known that Sandi has stood by me every minute of this time and without her I don’t really know what I would have done. She is, without a doubt, the greatest wife any man could ever hope for and not only that, she is also the greatest friend I have ever had.

As of July 17, 2002, it had been 26 days since I had the surgery. I could speak more clearly by then, although I had to speak rather slowly. I was still having a problem with swallowing solid food. Sandi made a delicious meal and I tried to eat the mashed potatoes and gravy, but it didn’t fare too well. I was able to eat about three or four forks of it, but it seemed too gravely to swallow…even with milk as a wash down. I did eat one and a half egg though, but it took quite a while. There was still some swelling in the gland area, and occasionally some pain. I was able to drink sodas (at room temperature).  I prefer root beer or Dr. Pepper. That was the day I had my first cup of coffee too since prior to the surgery…tasted good. In addition, I should mention that after my first case of oral cancer, my mouth was constantly dry.  I had to carry a bottle of water with me every where I went. Now after this surgery and the removal of part of my tongue, my mouth was always watering.  For the longest time it seemed that I was always drooling. I have been able to control that right well, but I always carry something in my pocket just in case there is some slight drooling. There are times, too, when it is difficult to make myself understood.

I went back to work on 8 July for the first time since mid June, and I was looking forward to being able to express my thanks to various persons face to face. Many of my coworkers had called several times expressing their concern and wishing me well, and some had even sent floral arrangements…even Dr. Robert Sirota, the Director of Peabody Institute.

I was scheduled for a follow-up at the ENT Clinic, but Dr. Taylor was not there, so I was able to reschedule it for Friday to see him. Dr. Taylor has been involved with my care since prior to the surgery and knows all about my situation, whereas Dr. Lin was more like an outsider being unfamiliar with my case. I had seen him once before and I just didn’t feel as comfortable with him as I did with Dr. Tran, Dr. Caldwell, or Dr. Taylor.

On Friday, July 19, 2002, I had another ENT appointment, but again Dr. Taylor was not there, so I was seen by another doctor whose name I don’t recall. He checked me over and ran a camera down my right nostril to view the inside of my throat.  He stated that everything looked real good, however I was still scheduled to see a radiation doctor with the University of Maryland Medical Center on July 30, 2002 at 10:00 am. The purpose of this meeting was to determine if radiation follow-up would be necessary or not. After my previous experience with radiation treatments, I prayed to God that this wouldn’t be necessary. One can only hope and pray for the best.

On July 30, 2002, after meeting with Doctor Santo of the University of Maryland Radiation Department, it was determined that any further radiation treatment could be dangerous to my jaws. Consequently, he advised against it.  However, upon examination, there was some sort of ulcer noticed on the right tonsil area and we were directed to go back to the VA Hospital ENT Clinic so I could be looked at by one of those doctors. Doctor Ali examined the area, probed the inside of my throat, and also used a suction device to clear away the affected area. I was advised to gargle with salt water and return in one week to determine if another biopsy was necessary.

I kept my appoint with the ENT Clinic on August 6, 2002, and was seen by Doctor Lin who examined the same area.  He determined that another biopsy was necessary, however this one was performed right in the examining room. Dr. Lin sprayed the inside of my mouth and throat with some sort of numbing agent and then injected another numbing agent which I presume might have been Novocain. Dr. Lin then proceeded to remove three pieces of tissue from the affected area for analysis.  I was directed to return on August 16, 2002 for the results and discussion of the findings. It should be noted that at this time I also advised Dr. Lin that I was still unable to swallow any solid foods. There was quite some discomfort from the biopsy, and upon my arrival at home I did take some Extra Strength Tylenol PM (two crushed and mixed with water) and slept for about two hours.  The pain was still present, but I just bit the bullet.

On Friday, August 9, 2002, there was still quite some discomfort from where Dr. Lin did the biopsy. The night before I attempted to eat some solid food, but I still couldn’t swallow anything other than liquids.  On August 16, 2002 Sandi and I kept my appointment with the ENT Clinic at the VA Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. I told Sandi that it wasn’t necessary for her to go with me, but she insisted on being by my side in the event there was bad news again. This time we saw Dr. Taylor, who examined my mouth and throat and said that everything looked good.  He also advised us that the biopsy was negative…no more cancer was evident. Needless to say, those words were like music to our ears because Sandi and I were on pins and needles the whole previous week after I had that last biopsy. At last we could get on with our lives. Doctor Taylor also ordered a consultation with a speech therapist to help with being able to swallow solid foods.

After surviving cancer for the third time it is a welcome relief to get a clean bill of health from that nasty disease.  I must give the Lord His due. Sandi and I, along with my family members and numerous friends, did a lot of praying for my deliverance from this cancer. Before we left the house on August 16 to go to the VA Hospital, Sandi led us in a prayer.  On the way there, I had this indescribable special feeling that everything was going to come out good.  I had faith that God was not going to let us down this time, that He was going to see us through.

Skin Cancer

I don’t exactly recall when I first started having a problem with this form of cancer.  It just seemed to appear from nowhere. At some point in time I had developed a sore of sorts near the center of my left ear in the area of the temple. I had no idea what caused it or how it even started, but it was there and kept itching, so I kept scratching.  Eventually it started to scab over. For some unknown reason, I kept picking at that scab and soon the sore started to get bigger.  It got to be quite ugly to look at, so I started covering it up with Band-aids until it got to the point where Band-aids weren’t cutting it, even after I tried to cover it with the largest size possible.

I don’t know why it never occurred to me before to see a doctor about it. I guess I just figured it would heal itself or eventually go away.  But that wasn’t the case. I called Doctor Udyavar, my primary care doctor at the Fort Howard VA Medical Center, and made an appointment with him.  He, in turn, referred me to the Dermatology Clinic.  The day I went to Dermatology I was examined by a lady doctor who decided to take a biopsy of the area.  She bandaged it up and told me to return in a week for the biopsy results.

When I returned the next week it was disclosed that the area was malignant and the only treatment available was to have it removed surgically. So, there we went again.  I was fortunate to have Doctor Taylor doing the surgery, as I had all kinds of faith in him after having him perform surgical procedures on me two times previously.  Initially I was supposed to have been hospitalized after the surgery for at least one day, but everything went so smoothly I was allowed to go home the same day. That was a relief because I hate having to be in the hospital for any reason. I don’t mind going there to visit someone, but let me get out when the visit is over.

Two weeks later I returned to have the staples removed and at that time I was advised that the size of that tumor was about the size of my thumb. In a way I wish I had been able to see what it looked like just to ease my curiosity. Of all the cases of cancer I had, I was never able to see any of the tumors. It never occurred to me to ask the doctor for a look at them.  It didn’t take too long for the healing to be complete.  You would never know just by looking that I had ever had any surgery done in that particular area…no scars or anything.  As of this writing, 30 April 2006, (and I’m knocking on wood) I appear to be cancer free.

In view of everything that I have been through--being nearly drowned as a child in the Mississippi River, having my throat cut as a teenager, being wounded in combat while fighting in the Korean War, being in a near fatal car accident, surviving parachute training, two open heart surgeries, three motorcycle accidents, and these four cases of cancer, I feel somehow that the Lord is keeping me around for some particular reason.  I only wish that He would reveal to me what that reason is. Maybe it is to witness to others the way He has been looking out for me all these years, and I have been doing that. Every day I thank the Lord for all the blessings He has given me--like allowing me to stay here on this earth, giving me such a wonderful wife as Sandi, giving me two terrific sons that I am extremely proud of, and a wonderful family and friends that are priceless. I have lived a very full life. I have seen and done things very few other people have ever done or could even think about doing, so if I were to die today, I would die a very wealthy man. Maybe not financially, but there is more to life than money.  At the present time we are living in Dundalk, Maryland, and I am still working (I'd go crazy if I couldn't work) as a Campus Police Officer at The Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.

In September 2003, tropical storm Isabel totaled our entire first floor after we had just invested over $10,000 and eight months of hard labor into making this house a decent, livable abode. This house had been a HUD home and as such, required a lot of repairs due to the previous occupants' destructiveness. Almost every wall had holes punched in them, and the kitchen was a total disaster. There was no front door and there was no picture window either--just plywood closures. All the carpeting had to be replaced and new appliances had to be purchased. From January to September we worked on our house almost every waking moment.  In all honesty, Sandi did the majority of the work while I worked at Peabody. On my days off I did what I could and we also had the help of Sandi's father Tom Shoemaker, as well as her ex-husband Henry Kowalevicz. Henry did most of the outside siding in the back and side of the house. He also did the plumbing repairs that needed to be done. In August we had the house inspected by the HUD representative and it passed with flying colors, even though there were still some minor things to be corrected. Then the big storm hit us in September, flooding our whole first floor.  We had to start again from scratch, and as I write this we are almost finished with the repairs. We are on the last room now, with just a few more items to take care of, then we will be finished.  At the present time we are living rather comfortably and I am now working full time at Peabody Institute with Thursday and Friday as my days off.  Oh yeah.  We have two dogs that share our lives, too.  "Mr. Peabody" is a 140-pound Old English sheepdog and "Shadow" is a Golden Retriever weighing about 75-80 pounds.

As far as advice for others who may be faced with a cancer crisis, all I can suggest is that you have someone near to you as compassionate as my Sandi to comfort and offer moral and spiritual support. I was fortunate to have Sandi by my side. It should be known that not only does the patient suffer the pain and agony that accompanies cancer, but those that are close to the patient also suffer in their own special ways. Place your trust in the Lord and let Him do His will. I am willing to lend an ear for others that may be faced with similar procedures of this nature or for those who have already been through what I have been through and want to talk about it. I can be contacted via email at:

Back to Memoir Contents

Final Reflections

Being in Korea did have an effect on me.  In short, I went to Korea as an 18-year old kid and came back an 18-year old man.  You grow up fast when you're in combat.  Once back in the states, nobody ever mentioned seeing any changes in me.  The subject of the Korean War was pretty much avoided like the plague as I didn't particularly care to talk about it and my family respected those wishes.  I haven't told my kids or my wife about Korea.  Talking about it can be quite painful at times, and sometimes it is best to leave sleeping dogs lie.  Even in the process of writing this memoir--written 55 years after I was evacuated from Korea--it has been a little difficult having to relive some of the times best forgotten.  But I realize it was something that had to be done.  I've never actually revisited Korea--except a lot of times in my sleep when I have bad dreams that wake me up.  I have no desire to revisit Korea.  I've had enough of that country to last me a lifetime.

God bless those gallant comrades of ours that never made it back home to their loved ones. Though this war may be a forgotten war, those brave men and women who gave their lives so that others can live in freedom will never be forgotten.  I might be in the minority, but I think we should have sent troops into Korea.  Someone had to help the South Koreans, and as usual it was the United States of America.  I didn't see any other country "jumping up from the bench" to lend a hand until we were there--and then they started to get into the fracas.  I have no regrets and was proud to have helped.  The South Koreans got their freedom back and didn't have to live under a communist regime.

In my opinion, I think MacArthur did a darned good job.  Almost all the guys in my company didn't want to stop at the 38th parallel.  They wanted to go all the way to the Manchurian border.  To me, one of the biggest mistakes of the Korean War was when Truman relieved General MacArthur.  There were too many politicians sticking their noses in where they weren't wanted, just like in the Vietnam War.  If the Army had been left alone to do its job, I think the Korean War and the Vietnam War could have been terminated a lot earlier than they were.  I also think that it is good idea to still have troops in Korea.  One never knows when the North Koreans may decide to give it another shot of taking over the entire country again.

For those students who read this memoir to try to gain an understanding of the Korean War, I would like them to know that we--the USA--were not the aggressors.  I want them to know that this great country of ours is willing to step up to the plate and take its stand to support and aid any country that is being bullied by another force.  Just like the kids in school that get picked on by the bigger kids, they need someone to step in and tell them to knock it off or face the consequences.

I imagine the nickname "the Forgotten War" derived from the Korean War following in the shadow of World War II with its fighting on two fronts.  It had ended only four years previous to the outbreak of hostilities in Korea.  When we came back from Korea, there was no fanfare, no parades down Fifth Avenue in New York, or anything else for that matter.  We were just a bunch of GI's doing what we got paid for--nothing more, nothing less.

After my discharge I was granted a 10% disability rating for my eyes, but when I re-enlisted that rating was taken away.  At various points in my post-Korea military career, I had other injuries.  I was injured in the parachute training and that required two surgeries (Magnesun repairs) to the left shoulder.  I also developed seven ulcers--three peptic and four duodenal.  At the present time I am still rated with a 10% disability for my ulcers, with nothing for the eyes or the left shoulder.  (I have limited motion and use of that shoulder.)  I have submitted claims to the VA, but they were disapproved for everything but the ulcers.  I still have a scar across the cornea of my left eye, and there is still some foreign matter behind both eyeballs.  To have this material removed would require the removal of both eyeballs, and the possibility that I would never see again would be 50/50.  So I've decided to bite the bullet and live with it the way things are.  I see spots before me, but they're not bad enough to interfere with my vision.

Back to Memoir Contents

Able Company Reunion

This photo was taken August 6, 2005 at the VFW Post 5467 in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania on the occasion of the first reunion of some of the surviving Korean War Veterans of Able Company, 35th Inf Reg, 25th Inf Div commanded by Sidney B. Berry.
Bottom Row (Seated):
Alex Harkness, General Sidney B. Berry, Lester Blevins and
Charles V. Christian.
Top Row (Standing): Tom Frazier, Bob Liberty, Joseph Drozd,
Robert Kisner, William Doyle and Don Wrightson.

(Click picture for a larger view)

About 1995 I received a list from retired Lt. General Sidney B. Berry of surviving Korean War veterans of Able Company, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. It was at that time that I thought it would be a good idea for all of us to get together at least once before we all went to join our maker. I had written to some of the guys on the list about that idea, but unfortunately, the responses never came back.  I decided that if nobody else was interested in the idea, why should I bother.

That idea kept nagging at me for years and the names on the list kept getting fewer and fewer.  In December of 2004, I decided I'd give it one more shot.  I sent out letters to all of the twenty remaining members on the list. From that mailing I got a few responses that favored the idea, so I set my brain to work and started organizing this event.

By that time, General Berry had relocated from Arlington, Virginia to Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. I had also been in communication with one of our members, Alexander Harkness, who lived in Connecticut. Alex was very eager for the reunion and was a terrific help in making phone calls to those that we had phone numbers for, and getting their feedback.

Next it was necessary to determine a location for the reunion, and it was at this time that I got a letter from Tom Frazier in Alexandria, Virginia, advising me of a reunion for the 25th Infantry Division that Bob Muzzy was hosting in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in the early part of August 2005. Cherry Hill is about a forty-five minute drive from Kennett Square.  A few of the guys from Able Company were going to be attending that reunion. I decided on having the reunion in Kennett Square for two reasons.  One was out of respect for General Berry so he wouldn't have to travel any great distance.  The second reason was that it would make it possible for the guys at the Cherry Hill reunion to join us.

Inasmuch as none of us was familiar with Kennett Square, it was necessary to have a central locale for all of us to meet.  I contacted Mike Pralle, the Commander of VFW Post 5467 in Kennett Square, and explained our situation to him.  He agreed to let us use his post as a marshalling area. The original plan was to have Alex and his wife meet with the General and his wife at a predetermined restaurant and the rest of would show up there and surprise the General. It just so happened that the General's wife Anne was involved with a family reunion at the same time, so we went to plan B. I contacted Mike Pralle again and told him about the change in plans and asked if we could have the reunion at his post, to which he agreed. Everyone was notified of the plans and were sent copies of maps provided by General Berry of Kennett Square, showing how to get to the VFW Post.

On 6 August 2005 we finally had our reunion with ten of the twenty survivors attending. It was a brief reunion that only lasted about three hours, but there was a lot done in those three hours. It was the first time that we had all ever been together since 1953, and it was the first time for me to ever meet many of the guys. It was a distinct pleasure to have everyone there. During the reunion I suggested to General Berry that we have a minute of silence to remember those that didn't make it back and he was kind enough to lead us all in a short prayer for them and their families and friends.

Mike Pralle was a very gracious host.  He was extremely helpful and provided us all with a memento from his post. He had decorated an area for us with tables and glassware and little vases on each table with an American flag. He also provided us with snacks, a cheese tray, and soft drinks.  All in all, I think everything turned out quite well, and I was thankful to have finally realized a dream that had been haunting me for so many years.

Those that were at the reunion was Lt. General Sidney B. Berry (Retired), Kennett Square, PA; Lester Blevins, Amelia, OH; Charles V. Christian, Dundalk, MD; William Doyle, Ravenswood, WV; Joseph Drozd, Albrightsville, PA; Thomas Frazier, Alexandria, VA; Alexander Harkness, Thomaston, CT; Robert Kisner, Kent, OH; Robert J. Liberty, New Dartmouth, MA; and Donald L. Wrightson, Pendleton, OR.

Back to Memoir Contents

Memorial Day - by Chris Christian

This is me ready to ride in the annual Memorial Day Rolling Thunder ride--a ride to the Vietnam Memorial of more than 250,000 bikers and veterans to support the efforts to locate and return all POWs and MIAs. This incidentally, was after my second bout with cancer (May 1999).
(Click picture for a larger view)

"I think the USA is doing the best it can under the circumstances and restraints for the return of our MIA's and POW's.  The Communists are not the easiest people to deal with.  I've ridden in many "Rolling Thunders" to encourage our government to do more in this area and honor those that have not returned."

What really is Memorial Day?  To some it's an extra day off from work.  To others it's a day of parades and flag waving.  And yet, to others it's a day for families to get together.  To me, and I guess to a lot of other veterans, it's a day of think back when we were sitting knee deep in water in a foxhole, or crawling through a rice paddy in freezing weather, or laying in a hospital bed with frozen or frostbitten feet.  It's a day to think back and remember all the guys that didn't make it back home to their loved ones or those that had to leave parts of their bodies in some foreign land.

I guess it's also a day for rejoicing in the fact that we are still breathing the fresh air of freedom, even though it comes at the very high price of someone's son or daughter, or brother or sister, or perhaps a best friend.  Freedom is not free!

Upon my return from Korea and my release from the hospital, I was back to active duty.  One night as I was sitting on my bunk in my barracks spit shining my boots, another GI from Indiana came over to me, took my hand and shook it, and said, "Thank you for fighting in Korea for me and getting the Purple Heart."  That was the first time I'd ever been thanked for just doing my duty, and I have to admit it did bring a lump to my throat.  I never expected any thank you, and I doubt that any other veteran did either.  Since then, while shopping in the Home Depot or Wal-Mart or Giant, I have had people approach me and offer their thanks.  Every time, I get that lump in the throat and a feeling of pride...proud to have served my country when it needed me.  And whenever I see a person wearing a World War II Veteran hat, I shake his or her hand and thank them, too.

So, this Memorial Day I urge you to give it some thought as to what it really does mean.  And if you are watching a parade, as Old Glory passes by, stand tall and give her the respect that she deserves, for so many have paid the supreme sacrifice for her.  Be proud of the fact that you are living in a country filled with men and women who are willing to give their all for the freedom that we hold so dearly.

God Bless America and all of its veterans!!!!

Back to Memoir Contents

The Choosing of the Unknown Soldier

I have written many articles about military history.

Back to Memoir Contents

Photo Gallery

(Click a picture for a larger view)

This is me in the driver hatch of my M-41 Walker Bulldog tank, taken at Ft. Bragg when I was assigned to the 44th Tank Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division on my second enlistment in the Army (circa 1955).

Bernie Neel and me, taken fifty years since our last meeting in Chicago, Illinois. Bernie was my foxhole buddy in Korea and taught me a lot of things I needed to know for survival. This photo was taken in our house in Maryland while Bernie and his wife, Carol, were visiting in 2002.

Wearing my Air Force blues. The picture was taken in my home about 2003. This, by the way, was after my fourth case of cancer.


Back to "Memoirs" Index page back to top

| Contact | What's New | About Us | Korean War Topics | Support | Links | Memoirs | Buddy Search |

© 2002-2012 Korean War Educator. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use of material is prohibited.

- Contact Webmaster with questions or comments related to web site layout.
- Contact Lynnita for Korean War questions or similar informational issues.
- Website address:

Hit Counter