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Wayne Curtis 1952 as
Painted by a Japanese artist

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George Wayne Curtis

Champaign, Illinois-
Korean War Veteran of the United States Army

"I did navigation chart work, and then also, we had to learn and use semaphore and use the flashing lights and so fourth. I was kind of a cross between that and a signalman."

- George Wayne Curtis


From an edited interview on September 30, 2003 with Charles Knox

I was born in Champaign in 1931. I went into the Navy in January, 1951. My Boot Camp was at Great Lakes. Boot Camp was challenging. We had many different classes. By that I’m talking about school classes that we had to go through on gunnery and do a lot of work along this line. The biggest thing I sure remember there, it was cold as Hades. Not Hades hot, Hades cold. I went in right on the 3rd  of January. It was a cold winter. I mean it was cold! Being out there on the old hard top marching and things, it wasn’t all that fun. But we survived it. I was in Recruit Company 21. It was fine.

When I graduated the Navy called the shots on assignment. When we got out of boot camp we were broken up to distribute to the fleet. I was sent to San Diego. When we got to San Diego we had a little more training. Then I went from there to the USS Andromeda over seas to Japan. When we were in Japan, we were there for a number of days. We got to see a lot of things right there in Japan. We were in the barracks and we had our meals and everything there. It was our stepping stone from coming over from the States to fleet assignments. I was sent to Yokasuka and assigned to the LST 1090. The 1090 was my main ship. I made Quartermaster 3rd Class on the 1090. I did navigation chart work, and then also, we had to learn and use semaphore and use the flashing lights and so fourth. I was kind of a cross between that and a signalman. In World War II they were split, but in a Korea, where we were, they had consolidated rates. When I was on the 1090 we actually got some more training down in Pusan area, on loading, off loading, tanks, and the LCVP’s. The LCVP, that’s what we would use when we would go ashore.

Wayne in Sasibo Japan 1952. Carrier Boxer in background
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During my enlistment I served in the Naval Amphibious Forces on the following ships: USS Andromeda AKA 15, USS LST 1090, USS Washburn AKA 108 and USS LST 772.

Loading tanks on LST 1090
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At that point we were really trained on landings. We didn’t have troops of any significance. The 1090 was in the follow-up behind the initial landings in Inchon. One of my duties was navigation and assist in trying to get into the channel at Inchon. It is treacherous, particularly because you could only get in that channel at certain times because of the high tide, and that tide is very high. It’s the highest in the world.

Wayne, left, in radio shack
on the LST 1090

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We did have some Marines that were cut off at Inchon. They directed us then to come in with the LST and beach it to get them. I think there were 8 Marines. We had to get them out because the Koreans were coming down on them. The LST came in and dropped the stern anchor and beached to pick them up. We picked them up and backed off and went on down the river.

We picked up prisoners of war at Inchon and then we would take them down to Koje-do Island which is a compound for prisoners. It is a big island and that was quite a monumental task. There were several hundred prisoners on board each trip. We did have to feed them because it was quite some distance from Inchon down to Koje-do. A day or two sail. We had hooked up on the ship the sort of a pot like a 55-gallon drum to feed them rice. We would use steam hoses hooked to a long sort of a pipe, and stick that down in the rice and then stir it and cook it and it worked fine. The prisoners were carried on the main deck. We also carried some war criminals. We brought them back separately. They were actually separated from the other Korean prisoners and the Chinese prisoners. They were criminals that had decapitated 6 Americans.

Chinese POW war criminals on board LST 1090 accused of beheading six American soldiers.

Chinese POW’s on way to prison camp on board LST 1090

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When we got down to the prison camp we off loaded them by using the LCVP’s. The LCVP’s were dropped down and then they would run a load to the beach. As I recall, the prisoners went over the side and climbed down landing nets to get in the LCVP. They would be taken up to the compound.

Wayne taking navigational sightings on LST 1090
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After the armistice in 1953 we delivered prisoners from the compounds to Pusan. Some did not want to be repatriated. They refused to come out of the compounds and that became a problem. So, what they had to do was to gas them with hand grenades in order to get them out of the compounds. We had to drag them out. When we got to the repatriation point, I don’t really recall they gave us a hard time once we got up there, they had to go and they got dumped.

40 mm cannon on the LST 1090
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Shortly after this I was transferred to the USS Washburn. She was an AKA Auxiliary Cargo Attack ship. We made a trip to Point Barrow, Alaska. That was done in the summer time. The trip was made once a year to bring in fuel oil and supplies to last a year. We loaded in California then we went up to Washington and loaded on the rest of the cargo. We were in company with the USS Skaggett bringing in supplies. The trip going up was very enjoyable. Right along side of our ship, were whales. They were coming along side and we were close to them where we could see them breaching and blowing water. And that was quite interesting. Then going on going up we passed Big Diomede and Little Diomede, that’s the divide of the boundaries between Russia and Alaska. As we continued on north we had to make an emergency anchorage for a while. The icebergs were coming down; we had to anchor for a day before continuing our voyage.

Wayne, center at
Point Barrow, Alaska

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When we got to Point Barrow it took about 3 days to unload. We had to hurry in offloading as we just had a window of a few weeks before we would get iced in as the Arctic winter returned. We were anchored out from Point Barrow. We were about 10 miles away. We had cranes aboard the Washburn and the Skaggett that could hoist those oil drums and then they would lower them down into the LCVP’s to make their run to the beach.

I was assigned to Shore Patrol. I was on the beach and spent some time there with the Eskimos who were very nice. The Navy took up crates of oranges and food to give to the Eskimos. This was one of the highlights of the year for the Eskimos. While I was on shore patrol I met a young lady. She was from Michigan and she had just been transferred, moved up there as a school teacher. I recall that she was a lovely lady. This was going to be her first winter up there. When we off loaded all the oil and everything, the sailors would play baseball with the Eskimos and that was quite a treat for them. What was so beautiful about the trip was after we were all finished, little babies, the Eskimos, whole families would come down to the beach to see us off. That was a treat for them and us. When it was all over with and we were ready to pull off the beach all the Eskimos lined up and started to sing to us. They were all smiling and waving and singing as were pulling off of the beach. That was touching.

USS Washburn AKA 108
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Following the Barrow trip I transferred to LST 772. We went to Korea and then to French Indochina where we were to evacuate French troops and civilians from what ended up being North Viet Nam. We were on our way down to French Indochina but we stopped in Hong Kong. On one of the days we were in Hong Kong, almost all of us woke up sick at one time. We had got some vegetables from the English and they gave us all dysentery. And, boy oh boy, everybody was on the throne. Seating was at a premium. While we were in Hong Kong I met a beautiful girl. She was Portuguese from Macau, the Portuguese enclave close to Hong Kong. We had a good time as sailors and pretty young girls will in any port of call.

French paratroopers being evacuated from Indo-China
After French collapse

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From Hong Kong we went to Indochina to the port of Haiphong. We had a month to get them out. We took some of them to Da Nang further down the coast in what was South Viet Nam. Sometimes we would go up stream from Haiphong towards Hanoi to pick up refugees. We picked up French Paratroopers and French Foreign Legion soldiers. After we got loaded each time we took our passengers south. When we were coming south we threw overboard a lot of guns such as rifles and things of this nature. We also took a lot of native civilians that worked for the French or were French dependents that lived in that area. We went to Da Nang, I always remember that we brought aboard civilians after we got the military. One time when we were bringing these refugees aboard there was this one lady, she was in labor and we had built a birthing room on the LST behind a curtain and that’s where that child was born.

We went to Saigon once. I’ll never forget when I went over there I was hungry and we got separated there. This fellow who had been a Navy man was French. He had been to our country back in the ‘30’s. One thing lead to another and he a fixed a meal for us. He fed us a sandwich or something. I’ll never forget one thing and that was the meat. It was horrible. Could have been somebody’s dog, it was dead. Anyway we were coming back and I was due to be discharged. We went through the Philippines. We were docking in Manila. The Skipper was a bullheaded type. He knew everything. The Captain was coming right along side of this ship and our ship’s davits, that held the landing craft, were still swung outboard. We tried to get it to him, that the davits were still swung outboard He didn’t pay any attention. We stood right there, we had to, its all we could do is stand there. Boy, he side-swiped that tanker and he just tore that davit just flat.

I flew back to the state in November and entered the University of Illinois for the spring semester of 1954.

Wayne and Martha Curtis 2002
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While at the University I met my wife, Martha Monical.  Martha was Dr. Shongert’s nurse and he was my doctor. I would go in there for Polio shots. And Martha’s a pretty little girl, just a cute little thing. I got real interested in her. When I first saw her I thought she’s a pretty little thing. There was an older nurse in the office and she kind of knew I had my eye on Martha. Anyway, I had 3 shots for Polio and I had a cold and I had gotten a couple shots for that. After 1 year and 7 shots we had our first date. Martha always comes back at me that when her father was introduced to me, Walt, Martha’s father, said "What took him so long." After 7 shots in a year, we had our first date. I graduated from the University and stayed on in the Geological Survey. Martha and I were married. We continue to live in Champaign. It has been a good life.



Letter from Wayne to his Mother

May 17, 1951
Inchon Korea

My dear Mother,

It is very late and I am very tired but just a line to say hello. I am in Inchon, Korea. We left Japan one week ahead of schedule.

We are about eight miles from the front lines. We can hear them firing in the day time and see them at night. The last time our ship was here in Inchon that they had just left and was gone about two hours when Inchon was bombed again. We have all our guns uncovered in case of an emergency. I was issued a new helmet and life jacket yesterday which I was glad to get. We are to be in Korea for about 20 more days then return to Japan. All the houses in Inchon have been bombed and shelled and the whole city is in a mess.

How is everything back home? I imagine that everyone is getting ready for the big wedding. How is the Pontiac running? Have you had any trouble with it?

I saw one just like it in Sasebo, Japan and it just made my old heart ack. Is it beginning to need a wax job yet? Have you seen Howard or Marie Bell lately?

Well Mother, I must close for now,, I am so tired I can hardly keep my eyes open.


From US Navy publication
By Alton R. Parker, JOSN, 1953


Amphibious Force LSTs in Operation "Little Switch"

Two PhibPac LSTs serving with Task Force 90 in the Far East recently carried out a vital part in the now famous "Operation Little Switch."

This operation, involving the transfer of sick and wounded North Korean and Chinese Communist prisoners from Koje-do and Cheju-do islands to Pusan, Korea, was undertaken by the LSTs 1090 and 1096 and was directed by LST Division 34 Commander, Lt. Cdr. R. D. McRae.

The LST 1090 delivered some 570 prisoners to the POW camp in Pusan during the first phase of "Operation Little Switch." The LST 1096 had trouble handling the first group of Chinese prisoners on arrival at Pusan, as they called a "sit down strike" and refused to leave the ship. For the second trip, specially constructed cubicles were built in the tank deck for the prisoners to eliminate a recurrence of the strike that delayed the unloading of the first group for four hours. During the first trip the prisoners hand been carried in a single group on the ship’s tank deck. The second group were North Koreans and were very cooperative...

The 1090 is commanded by Lt. David T. Hafner, and the 1096 is commanded by Lt. Ralph E. Fowler. ComLSTDiv84, Lt Cdr. R. D. McRae, carries his flag on the 1090.

Once the prisoners arrived in Pusan aboard the LSTs, they were delivered to Panmunjom on special hospital trains.

Sailors Observe POWs

Seven old-timers, aboard the USS LST 1090 when she transported prisoners from Pusan to Koje in 1951, said recently that the POWs the ship is presently hauling appear changed. They have better clothing, look cleaner, and even smile occasionally.

First Step to Release

With the LST 1096, the 1090 is currently busy carrying sick and wounded POWs from the island prison camp of Koje-do to nearby Pusan, their first step to final repatriation at Panmunjom.

This is the reverse of what the ship was doing in June, July and August of 1951. Then she was transporting POWs from the South Korean port to Koje. The LST made six trips from Pusan to Koje in the three month period, carrying 500 to 600 POWs on each shuttle.

One of these old hands, Dale W. Parks, FN, thinks the prisoners now being shipped look better fed and clothed than those transported in 1951.

"These present POWs don’t look as confused and bewildered as the others," he said.

Parks described five war criminals who were carried on the ship in 1951, as "the meanest-looking critters I’ve ever seen. They reminded me of thugs standing on the street corner looking for a fight."

Criminals Segregated

These war criminals, convicted of atrocities against UN forces, were shunned by other prisoners and were segregated from them to prevent any disorder according to the LST sailor.

To Ivan H. Harris, EN3, the present group "seems quiet and orderly, not much different than the other prisoners we transported to Koje. I didn’t see any rags around their feet like they had when first captured. This time they all had shoes."

Gene S. Jakubowski, ENC, aboard the LST 1090 since the ship was recommissioned in October, 1950, commented, "The first ones were carried to Koje looked like a bunch of school kids. The ones we are transporting now look a little older."

John A. Handte, QMSN, pointed out that instead of putting POWs below in the tank deck like the present groups, they were carried in the open on the main deck. Chinese prisoners were carried on one side with the North Koreans on the other.

Received Good Care

Another old-hand aboard, Hugh Longbrake, FP3, commented, "Most of the prisoners looked beat when we brought them to Koje in 1951. Now they look much more confident. They must have taken good care of them on Koje. Their uniforms look almost good enough to pass a navy personnel inspection," the sailor quipped.

Bob Kolosowsky, ME3, told of a case of a 12 year old North Korean prisoner who was house boy for a Marine Colonel stationed in Seoul. One day the hapless house boy ventured into the South Korean capital without any identification. He was soon picked up by security police and, as he had no proof that he was a colonel’s house boy, the authorities interned him. Before the lad knew that happened, he was on his way to Koje on the LST 10990 where Kolosowsky met him.

"Whether he was set free of not, I don’t know," said the young sailor.

The LST 10909 transported the first group of 500 North Korean sick and wounded prisoners from Koje on April 17, 1953. The ship, with the LST 1096, continues to haul POWs until all designated by UN authorities have been transported to Pusan for further transfer to Panmunjom.


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